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Printscreen KeyHave you ever wondered what the purpose of that mysterious “PRTSC” key on your PC laptop keyboard is? Depending on which brand of laptop you own, the actual key on your computer could be labeled “Print Screen”, “Printscreen”, or even “PrtScr”. If you’re not familiar with exactly what this key is used for, it would be very easy to think that you can press this button when you want to print whatever is currently displayed on your computer screen. This is a very easy mistake to make and it certainly makes sense.

I have to admit that before I knew what the key was actually used for, I thought it was simply a shortcut key that I could use to print out whatever I was working on. I’m actually a bit embarrassed to tell you how much time I spent trying to figure out why this key wouldn’t send my documents to my printer.

After trying for quite some time to get this button to work, I figured that this particular key must have been broken and that was the reason why it didn’t work on my laptop. Eventually that old laptop finally died a slow, agonizing death and I upgraded to a newer, shinier touch screen laptop.

It might seem silly to you but one of the first things I was eager to try out with my new toy was the printscreen key. I have to admit that I was a bit bewildered when, once again, absolutely nothing happened when I pressed the print screen key. It was then that I set out on my quest to learn how to use print screen on laptop computers.

How The Print Screen Key Originated

The first thing you need to know about this mysterious key is that its history begins way back in the days of the DOS operating system. Most of you who read this article probably won’t even know what DOS is. For the sake of making things as clear as I possibly can, I’ll take a minute and explain what DOS actually was. Way back before Microsoft unleashed their first “Windows based” OS, DOS was the operating system that came installed on the first generation of home computers. It was an acronym that stood for “disk operating system”.

DOS screenshotThere were no icons or colorful graphics included with DOS. As a matter of fact, the earliest versions were nearly all white text on a black background. If you wanted to do anything with your computer, you had to memorize several DOS commands. It was during this era that the print screen button emerged and it was actually one of the few luxuries that computer users had in those days.

You could simply press the print screen button and whatever was currently displayed on your computer’s screen was immediately sent to your old dot matrix printer and the magic of creating a printed document began. You need to realize that back then, having your own printer was a pretty big deal! If you’re not old enough to remember the days of DOS, it’s probably pretty difficult for you to realize how cool this key was way back in the day.

Fast Forward To 2011

Okay, now that we’re done with our short trip down memory lane, lets talk about how to use print screen on laptop computers. First, it’s important to get it through your head that no matter what you do, pressing this button isn’t going to send your work to the printer. For some strange reason that I’m not aware of, the modern day purpose of this key is to save a screenshot of whatever is currently displayed on the screen to your computer’s clipboard. It’s important to understand that this captured screenshot is stored as an image file on the clipboard. You can’t simply paste the text that was captured from your screen into a document editor and begin editing it.

Why On Earth Would You Want To Use The Print Screen Key?

You might be wondering what practical purpose there could possibly be for using this key in today’s world. After all, if you’re creating a document in your favorite word processing program, you don’t want to save a copy of “everything” that is displayed on your computer screen when you’re finished. You want to click on the print icon and print your document out on your printer.

Let’s take a minute and talk about why you might want to use this key.

  • Capturing screenshots of error messages: If you’re having a problem with your computer that requires technical support, instead of simply trying to describe your problem to the tech, you can use the print screen button to “take a photograph” of exactly what you are seeing on your screen. I can tell you from personal experience that being on the receiving end of someone who is trying describe what they are seeing on their screen can be quite frustrating. If you can simply capture a screen shot of exactly what you are seeing and email it to the person who is trying to help you, their job will be much easier and they’ll be able to help you get your problem fixed much quicker.
  • Capturing Images of screens to help you remember things: Imagine that you need to have one of your employees create a document of some kind that is rich in text, graphics, and images. Imagine that you found a website on the Internet that inspired what you would like the end result of the document to look like. You can simply capture a screenshot of the website that depicts what your vision for the finished document should look like and email it to your employee.
  • Remembering layouts for web design: Imagine that you are hired to work on a client’s website but they want the overall look and feel of the website to remain the same. The last thing you would want to do is to just start hacking away at the code because the chances of you remembering exactly what the client’s website looked like before you began working is pretty slim. By using the print screen button to capture screenshots of every page on the site, you’ll have an accurate photo record of exactly the way things were to refer back on. Then, you can make your changes and refer back to the original screenshots to make sure that your changes didn’t alter the overall look and feel of the website. Having access to these screenshots could really save your bacon if you happen to accidentally make a change that radically alters the appearance of the site. You might think that the changes you made look great but your client will be unhappy because you didn’t follow the instructions that you were given.
  • Creating technical documents: When you are creating technical documents, being able to capture an image of the screen or window you are referring to can make your job much easier. I actually used both print screen and Window’s screen capture tool (more on that in a minute) many times while creating this article.

How Do You Use Print Screen On A Laptop?

It’s no secret that in order for computer manufactures to fit all the keys on the limited space of a laptop keyboard, they have to be a little creative. This can make adjusting to a new laptop keyboard quite difficult if you’re used to typing on a full size keyboard that is designed for desktop computers.

What you need to keep in mind is that many times keys on a laptop computer can perform more than one function. Whenever this is the case, you’ll usually see two things printed on the key. The primary function for that key will usually be printed in white or light gray lettering. The secondary function for the key will be printed in an alternate color that corresponds to a “Function or FN” key that it located somewhere on your keyboard.

Let me use the laptop that I’m typing this article on as an example. It’s a Toshiba brand and the secondary functions of the keys on its keyboard are printed in red. If I want to use the print screen function on this laptop’s keyboard, I have to press and hold the red “FN” key while simultaneously pressing the “END/PRTSC” key. On my keyboard, the “FN” key is located at the bottom left corner of the keyboard. More specifically, it’s located between the “left CTRL” and the “Windows Key”.

If I were to simply press this key without holding the “FN” down at the same time, the only thing that would happen is the cursor would jump to the end of the line of text that I was working on.

What Do You Do After Pressing Print Screen On A Laptop?

screenshot of www.touchscreenlaptopinfo.comAfter successfully capturing the screenshot by using the “END/PRTSC” on my laptop, I can paste the image of the screen that was captured into any word processing software, photo editing software, or even an email. I can then do whatever I want with the image.

I should point out that you need to use your new found power to capture any image from any website with the press of a button cautiously. All applicable copyright laws still apply to these screenshots. If you happen to find an image that you would like to use on your website or on a product label, the rights to use that photo are still owned by someone. In most cases, the owner will be the person who took the photograph. In other cases, the rights will belong to the person who purchased the rights to use the image from the photographer.

What Else Can You Do With The Print Screen Key?

Screen Capture Of Current Window:
screen capture of current windowLet’s take a minute and talk about some of the other things you can do with this button. What if you don’t want to capture everything that is displayed on your screen? Let’s say that you’re on the phone with someone who is trying to help you resolve a computer problem that you’re having. In this case, you can use printscreen to take a snap shot of the active window that is displayed on your screen. To do this you simply click on the window that is displaying the error message (this will make it the active window) and then press “ALT +FN + PrtScr“.

Turn On High Contrast Mode: Pressing “Left ALT + SHIFT + PrtScr” will activate a high contrast mode setting on your computer. Turning on high contrast mode applies a special color scheme to help improve readability for the computer user. On a laptop, you’ll need to remember to press the FN key at the same time so it’s a bit like playing twister with your fingers. You need to press “Left ALT + SHIFT + FN + “PrtScr” all at the same time.

How Does This Work On a Mac?

You’re not going to find a print screen key on a Macintosh computer. You can, however, still use some similar screen capture tricks on a Mac. To do this, you simply press “Cmd + Shift + 3” to capture an image of the entire screen or “Cmd + Shift + 4″to capture an image of the currently selected window.

You should know that instead of capturing an image of the current screen and copying it to the clipboard like the Windows operating system does, these combinations of keystrokes will automatically save a copy of the image to the desktop. If you would prefer that your Mac behave more like a PC, simply add the “Ctrl” key into the combination of keystrokes.

What About Free Screen Capture Software?

I have to admit that I don’t personally use the printscreen key on my computer very often. As a matter of fact, I find that I rarely use it. Even though I don’t use this particular screen capture method, that’s not to say that I don’t use screen capture software when I need to grab a quick screen shot of something that I’m working on.

Let me take just a minute and describe my preferred method of capturing screenshots. I prefer to use the free screen capture software that comes with Windows called “Snipping Tool”. If you’ve never heard of this tool before, your not alone. It’s a surprisingly useful tool that many Windows users aren’t aware exists.

To find out if it’s already installed on your Windows 7 computer, simply click START and then type the phrase “snipping tool” in the text box that is labeled “search programs and files”. If it’s installed on your computer, you should see the “Snipping Tool” displayed at the top of that window. Next, all you need to do is click on the word “Snipping Tool” and the tool will open.

If you search for the tool on your computer but it doesn’t display in the list of results when you search for it using the above described method, you can use this snipping tool download link to download and install it on your computer: Snipping Tool Download

How To Use Microsoft’s Snipping Tool?

windows free screen capture softwareOnce you click on the link to start the Windows screen capture software, a little window will pop up that looks like this window. You notice that everything on your computer screen gets a bit dimmer but the actual window that the tool is displayed in will be normal brightness.

To use this software to capture a screenshot, simply click and hold anywhere on the topmost section of the tool’s window and drag the window to a spot on your screen where it won’t obscure the portion of the screen that you would like to capture. Next, click and hold with the left mouse button down when your cursor is next to the edge of the image you want to capture and drag the box that appears on your screen around the portion of the screen that you would like to capture. When you have finished making your selection, lift your finger off of the left mouse button and a new window that contains the image you just captured will pop up.

Windows Snipping Tools Features:

  • New Snip: This is used for capturing a new screenshot if you weren’t happy with the way the first one turned out.
  • Save Snip: This is used to save the image to your computer.
  • Copy: This feature will copy the image to your computer’s clipboard.
  • Send Snip: This feature will allow you to send the snip in an email either as an attachment or simply paste it into the body of the email.
  • Pen: This is a handy feature that will allow you to write notes on the snipped image.
  • Highlighter: You can use this feature to highlight a portion of the snip in florescent yellow.
  • Eraser: This feature will allow you to erase any pen marks or highlights that you may have made to the snip.

Hopefully this article has done a good job of showing you how to use print screen on laptop computers as well as how to use the powerful and free screen capture software from Microsoft. As always, I’ll end this article by reminding you that if you still have questions about this topic, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do to help clear things up for you.

I’d also like to remind you about my collection of articles that are designed to help you solve your common computer problems. Maybe my article titled Free Computer Scan And Virus Removal or How To Remote Desktop Over Internet would be articles that might help you out in some way.

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  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Print_screen
  2. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Use-Snipping-Tool

I receive compensation due to affiliate links or endorsements on this website: Disclosure of Compensation