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Screen Capture Tools and the Evasive Mouse Cursor

By January 17, 2009 September 24th, 2012 Tips & Tricks

So, here’s the thing:  I was taking screenshots for another article, and then I noticed that the cursor was not present in them – and I needed it to be. I’ve used Print Screen for a long time now, and I never really needed the cursor to appear. Whenever I did need to have it the screenshot, it was for work – and there, we have SnagIt, which has an option to show the cursor. While SnagIt is a great application, I wasn’t ready to buy a license for home use just yet. I wanted to look for free tools first… so I began my search. I found out a couple interesting applications along the way.

Snipping Tool (Windows Vista only)

I was surprised to discover a new screen capture tool from Microsoft, already preloaded on my Vista machine… sounded cool. When you run it, it grays out the screen, and the interface pops up:

Snipping Tool - Interface

The Snipping Tool interface

You can then drag the cursor and select an area to capture. It even has “free-form”, “rectangular”, “full-screen”, and “window” selection modes.

Snipping Tool - Capturing

Selecting the are to capture with Snipping Tool

Whatever you select is then presented to you, and you have the option of saving it in a number of formats. Not bad, Microsoft, not bad. Unfortunately, there is no way to capture the cursor. I was starting to wonder if this was particularly difficult to achieve. I found a webpage that mentions the following:

Because of the way graphic interfaces work, your cursor usually isn’t captured in an image. Pressing the Print Screen key will not capture your cursor. But all commercial programs that do captures do have some kind of option to capture the cursor.

But there’s a trick—screen capture programs can’t really see the cursor, either. So what they must do is add their own special cursor, and because cursors change shape, if you want a special cursor, you need to tell the program what cursor to capture. Each program has its own way to do this.

Funny thing is, I had that approach in mind – achieving it via image manipulation, but I wanted to avoid it, since it isn’t a convenient long-term solution. Reading what he had to say really made me want to know how the cursor works altogether – why is it so different? I’ll take some time to look into that, and will write a post about it afterwards. For now, back to the tools:

Jing

Jing is actually from TechSmith, the same guys that make SnagIt. Interestingly, they have a free version to offer. I found the interface particularly unique, unlike anything I’ve seen before.  It features a “sun” icon that you can place anywhere on the outer bounds of your screen. Once placed, when you hover over the icon, it expands to show you more controls, as seen here:

sunicon

Left: The sun icon being dragged ; Right: Extra controls upon hover

 To get a better idea of what the application really looks like, check out their entertaining intro video.  Put simply, Jing allows you to capture part or all of your desktop as either an image or a video. It then gives you options to annotate, and all-that; but he’s the cool part. You can automatically upload your recorded videos (which include audio) to a website, which then allows you to easily share it via a link.

Unfortunately for me, Jing’s screenshot functionality didn’t include the mouse cursor. After discovering this, with yet another application, an interesting idea popped into my head. Surely, the video feature would feature the mouse cursor – otherwise the video feature would be pretty useless. I tested my theory, and I was right. So, theoretically, I could take a screenshot of a video, and then I’d have the mouse cursor captured as well. Sneaky, I know – but it did the trick.

So, all-in-all, I didn’t find a tool that did exactly what I wanted, but the “take a screenshot of the video” idea was actually easy enough to do – so I’ll probably use that approach whenever necessary; that is, until I give in to SnagIt.