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If you’ve never used a screen recorder before, your life is about to get a whole lot easier. Screen recordings are more than just straight videos of what’s happening on your screen, though those can be useful in multiple ways.
Most people record their screens to demonstrate how to do something, such as in a tutorial. Others use recordings to document malfunctioning apps and websites so that someone can help troubleshoot. Some people even use hidden screen recorders to catch and verify intruder activity.
Here are three particularly useful tools and how to set each of them up, though you shouldn’t need all three of them. Pick the one you think will best fulfill your needs.
1. Problem Steps Recorder
One of the most unappreciated features in Windows is a hidden tool that comes bundled with the operating system. In fact, it’s a feature that’s been around since Windows 7 and it’s called Problem Steps Recorder (or just Steps Recorder in Windows 8 and 10).
As you might be able to guess from its name, the tool is meant to make it easy for you to demonstrate the series of steps taken that lead to a specific problem, such as an error message or an application crash. It can also be used to demonstrate the steps needed to solve a problem.
To launch, open the Start Menu, type steps recorder, and select Problem Steps Recorder (in Windows 7) or Steps Recorder (in Windows 8 and 10). Once launched, all you have to do is click on Start Record to begin.
While recording, the tool will track all mouse clicks. Every mouse click generates a screenshot as well as a text description of where the mouse clicked. You can also add comments to each step, describing what you did or why you did it.
Click Stop Record to end. This generates a preview of all the steps you took and all the comments you made. If you’re happy, you can Save it as a ZIP file, which you can send to others. The ZIP file contains a single MHT file, which is a special HTML file with the screenshots embedded and doesn’t need any special tools to read.
Be aware that, by default, the tool caps the number of steps to 25. If you need more than that, you can change the number to whatever you want in the tool settings.
Hidden Capture is a free third-party tool that’s almost the exact opposite of Problem Steps Recorder above. Rather than aiming to help you troubleshoot issues or enable you to help someone else troubleshoot their issues, it’s main goal is to track what an intruder does on your system.
By intruder, we don’t mean Internet hackers who somehow gain control of your mouse and keyboard from afar (though this could be used for that). We’re mainly talking about when you walk away from your computer and someone hops on without your permission.
Once installed, all you have to do is launch Hidden Capture. A menu pops up where you can choose to Start Capture, Start Manual, Hide and Wait, or Change Settings. Regardless, the program sits in the background and won’t be detectable in the system tray or the taskbar, but will appear in the task manager unfortunately.
To stop capturing, you’ll have to enter a password, which is blank by default. If an incorrect password is entered, the recording will continue.
It has six configurable hotkeys for things like starting or stopping records and choosing what kind of recording mode you want (Desktop, Active Window, Element Under Cursor, etc). You can also set the auto-capture interval (defaults to 2.5 seconds), the screenshots format (either PNG or JPG), and the destination folder.
Of course, you could easily use Hidden Capture for non-surveillance uses. Launch it, record a bunch of demonstrative steps, then close it. Tada! Now you have a series of screenshots showing how to do something. It’s actually quite versatile. The only downside is the lack of documentation, but it’s simple enough to use.
Like Hidden Capture, Automatic Screenshotter is a free third-party tool that sits in the background and let’s you start taking periodic screenshots whenever you need them. Unlike Hidden Capture though, Automatic Screenshotter has no intention of being a secret or hidden application. It lives plainly in the system tray.
What’s unique about this tool, however, is that it doesn’t produce screenshots at fixed time intervals. Instead, it uses an algorithm — based on certain rules and settings — to determine when a screenshot should be taken. Not only does this cut down on the number of unnecessary frames, but ensures no important steps are missed.
For example, it won’t snap a screenshot if the screen hasn’t changed much since the last screenshot. It won’t take images of applications that you’ve added to its blacklist. Another option is that it can focus strictly on programs in a whitelist. Or you can disable these rules if you don’t care about them.
Automatic Screenshotter also has a setting that prevents you from running out of hard drive space. When the limit is reached — either on the number of total screenshots or on the amount of space used — it will delete the oldest one before creating a new one.
All in all, it’s really useful. Plus, it’s maintained by Donation Coder, a community that’s been creating 100% free and clean software for over 10 years, funded by nothing other than user donations. No need to worry about malware or anything like that.
Other Ways to Record Your Screen
Traditionally, if you wanted to record your screen, you’d have to use a tool that actually records your screen as a video. The downsides are two-fold: you need a powerful computer for smooth capture and video files are way larger than screenshots.
Still, if you want to record your screen, then we absolutely recommend OBS Studio over every other tool currently available. It’s 100% free, open source, with lots of advanced features, and is used by thousands around the world. It’s actually for livestreaming, but has a local video record option, so use that instead.
Or you can record your screen directly as a GIF, which is a good compromise between videos (big file sizes) and individual screenshots (inconvenient to view in succession). LICEcap is a free program that handles all of this for you. In fact, if you want to make screen GIFs, no other tool is better.
Or you could go with a more all-in-one screenshot tool, such as ShareX or Jing. These can take periodic screenshots at fixed time intervals, but can also take manual screenshots, auto-share and auto-upload screenshots, and all kinds of other stuff. Check out our roundup of the best screenshot tools for more like these.
But if you want step-by-step captures, then you’ll probably want to use either Problem Step Recorder (for troubleshooting), Hidden Capture (for surveillance), or Automatic Screenshotter (for general use). The one that’s right for you depends on what you need done.
Which tool do you think is most useful? Or do you think they aren’t worth using at all? Are there any others that we missed? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments!