How to Use Windows Vista's Snipping Tool - dummies

How to Use Windows Vista’s Snipping Tool

By Woody Leonhard

Although you can use the Print Screen button on your keyboard to capture what’s on your screen, if you know how to customize the defaults for Windows Vista’s new Snipping Tool, you can really customize what you are capturing, even extending the image beyond what is immediately visible on your screen. And that’s just one of the ways that you can customize the way the Snipping Tool operates.

When you use Print Screen to capture a screen shot (by pressing Alt+PrtScr), Windows copies the entire current screen onto the Clipboard. Vista brings something new to the party, a lightweight and snappy application called the Snipping Tool that makes taking screen shots a snip . . . er, a snap. (Vista Home Basic users don’t get the Snipping Tool, but everybody else can snip along.)

One of the Vista Snipping Tool’s handiest features is its ability to take screen shots that extend beyond the narrow boundaries of a selected window — even if you only want to go a little way beyond.


In fact, the Snipping Tool lets you choose any area on your screen, edit it, and then copy, save, or mail the shot. The only problem with the Snipping Tool? It’s saddled with some really strange default settings. Here’s how to get a good snip:

  1. Choose Start→All Programs→Accessories→Snipping Tool.

    Vista asks if you want to add the Snipping Tool to your Quick Launch toolbar.

  2. If you want the Snipping Tool on your Quick Launch toolbar (you probably do), click Yes.

    Your screen goes gray and the Snipping Tool appears.


  3. Drag your cursor to display a box indicating the area you want to capture.

    Straight out of the box, the Snipping Tool puts a garish thick red border around your screen shot. This border will appear on the final image.

  4. If you like to put red neon around your shots, don’t do anything. But if you have finer sensibilities, click Tools→Options.


    The Snipping Tool Options dialog box appears.

  5. Adjust any of the customizing options you want. Then click OK.

    At the very least, don’t let the Snipping Tool save that garish red border. When you finish setting the options, the Snipping Tool remains open on your desktop, but it’s no longer active.

    Most of the customizing options are self-explanatory. The Include URL Below Snips (HTML Only) option comes into play if Internet Explorer is open. If you take a screen shot while Internet Explorer is running in the active window, and most of the shot includes the IE window, and you save the shot as a Microsoft proprietary single-file HTML file (MHT), the Snipping Tool puts the address of the active Web page at the bottom of the shot. It’s a rare combination of events, yes, but if you’re working with MHTML files anyway, you probably want the URL.


  6. Click the New icon.

    The screen goes gray again.

  7. Click and drag a box around the section of the screen you want to grab.


    As soon as you release the mouse button, the Snipping Tool’s edit dialog box appears, with your screen capture showing and a few basic tools at the top. (The Snipping Tool also places a copy of the captured screen on the Windows Clipboard.)

  8. Experiment with the Pen and Highlighter tools (click the appropriate icons).

    Note how the Eraser tool erases whatever line or highlight it touches. If you draw a line and decide you don’t want it, click the Eraser icon, and then click anywhere on the line to make the line disappear.

    Edits take place much as you would expect them to, with one exception: Whenever you edit the picture, the Snipping Tool modifies the image on the Windows Clipboard, replacing it with whatever you’ve added. In other words, the Copy icon is superfluous.

  9. When you’re done, click the Save icon and save the file.

    You can save Snipping Tool files as PNGs, GIFs, JPGs, or Single File HTML (MHT).

The Snipping Tool has loads of limitations — for starters, it won’t save in TIF or BMP format — but you can work around some of the problems by using Windows Paint. When you combine the best of PrtScr and the Snipping Tool with Paint, you have a fast, free, easy way to take, manipulate, and annotate lots of screen shots.