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What is Print Screen?

The print screen key on a computer keyboard.
Article Details
  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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Print screen is a keyboard function that takes a quick “snapshot” of a computer screen, copying it to the clipboard. By pressing the labeled key, then opening a paint or image program, the screenshot can be pasted in as an image file, and from there, it can be saved or printed. If the computer user doesn’t need a snapshot of the entire screen, but only wants an image of the active window, he or she can hold down the alt key while pressing the print screen key. This is a great way to save menu screenshots for instructional web pages, making it easier for people to follow along when configuring software, for example.

People may also use the feature when ordering merchandise online. Once the ordering process is complete, a confirmation page is normally displayed. Rather than printing this page, the buyer copy an image of the screen and save it until the merchandise arrives. This means that there's no need to use up paper or ink.

The print screen feature only preserves what is readily visible on screen, however. Users will not be able to “scroll down” if the page extends beyond the bottom of the screen. In order to have scrolling ability, a user can save the page as an HTML file instead. To do this, he can select File from the top toolbar, then choose Save Page As, and use the default extension.

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Popular word processors like Microsoft Word® allow images to be pasted into documents by using print screen. Once the key has been pressed, the user can just open the word processor, and from the top toolbar, choose Edit then Paste. Alternately, he can right-click on an empty part of the page within the document and choose “paste” from the right-click menu.

The print screen key is located on the top right portion of a standard U.S. 102-key keyboard. It can be found by the scroll lock and pause keys. In decades past, pressing this key sent the screenshot to the printer port, automatically printing the screen. Today’s keyboards only copy the snapshot, allowing greater flexibility.

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Discuss this Article

wavy58
Post 8

My friend played a trick on me at work with this key. While I was at lunch, he used print screen to capture the image of my desktop, and he pulled it up and maximized it.

When I got back, I tried to click on the icons on my desktop, but nothing was working. Frustrated, I asked my friend, and when he started snickering, I knew that he had something to do with it.

He showed me the trick so that I could use it on other coworkers. It's a good way to have a little bit of fun at work without actually doing any damage!

julies
Post 7

There are some buttons on my computer keyboard that I have no idea how they work or what they are supposed to do. This is great information, and now I can think of several reasons I can finally put this button to use for.

SarahSon
Post 6

I try to eliminate as much paper and clutter from my desk and computer as possible. The main reason I use the print screen feature is one of the benefits this article mentioned. When I order something online, instead of printing the confirmation, I just use this feature and save it until the item arrives.

Once I have my order and everything is OK, I can just delete it. If there is some reason I need to print off the confirmation, I know I will have access to it until I am confident I can delete the document.

lighth0se33
Post 5

@John57 – It is a bit confusing, isn't it? I mean, if you see the words “print screen,” you automatically assume that it will literally print your screen.

I started to capture images with print screen when I began painting nature scenes. I would search for public domain images online, and I would capture them instead of printing them on glossy photo paper in full color, which can get very expensive.

I needed the images to serve as subjects for my paintings. I would set up my easel and canvas next to my computer and pull the image up right there.

golf07
Post 4

@shell4life-- I am not very familiar with a Mac computer, but I am sure there has to be an easy way to do this. My son would not use anything but a Mac because he says everything is so much simpler and user friendly.

What I really like about this feature is the ability to save something I need to print later. If my printer is out of ink and I need to print something off, I know I can save it and print it off later when my printer has ink in it.

I think this does offer more flexibility once you learn how to use it this way. If you just push the button and expect something to automatically happen, you will be disappointed. Being able to save the document to print later has saved me many times.

healthy4life
Post 3

@shell4life – Yes, there is. I learned this print screen shortcut at my first job, where I used my first Mac computer.

You hold down Shift, Command, and 4. Then, you will have the chance to draw a box around whatever it is you want to capture an image of, and I like being able to customize my options like this.

John57
Post 2

I am not very computer savvy and thought this function was easier to use when all you had to do was push the print screen button and it would automatically print off whatever was on your screen.

After reading this article I finally understand how to correctly use this tab on my newer computer. I kept pushing it expecting the printer to automatically print, but nothing ever happened. This is now going to save me some time and frustration.

shell4life
Post 1

My keyboard doesn't have a print screen button. I'm using a Mac. Is there some sort of keyboard command that I can use to print the screen?

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