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Using the Windows Print Screen Command Button

written by: •edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 12/15/2010

A list of all the things you can do with the Windows Print Screen command button on your keyboard.

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    Print Screen Key

    In the upper right hand corner of most standard size keyboards you will find a row of keys that include Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause/Break. The names of these three keys are sometimes abbreviated, and they are probably the least often used keys on your entire keyboard.The Print Screen key was originally designed for use with DOS programs to literally print what was on screen. This was before such a wide variety of printers were available and when print output was limited to text and basic images.

    In this article, we'll look into the purpose of the Windows print screen command button and what all you can do with it. These keyboard shortcuts will not only save you time, but you can do some neat stuff with them.

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    Two Main Uses for the Windows Print Screen Command

    Print Scrn - Scroll Lock Most people who do use the Print Screen button will use it in either one or two ways, and that is by hitting either Control-PrintScreen or Alt-PrintScreen in order to take screenshots or capture open program windows. Here is how they work:

    • Alt-PrintScreen - Pressing the Alt key and then pressing the Print Screen button will take a snapshot of the current open window and copy it to the clipboard.This is great for capturing pop-up messages and other dialogue boxes for when you don't need a graphic copy of the entire screen.
    • Control-PrintScreen - Pressing the Control key and then pressing the Print Screen button will take a screenshot of your entire Windows screen, including the taskbar.

    Whether you press Control or Alt and Print Screen, the image data will reside in the clipboard until you copy something else. From there, you can paste the image into Windows Paint or Adobe Photoshop. In fact, Photoshop will detect the image data in the clipboard and automatically set the image size when creating a new image for pasting the screenshot.

    Capturing screenshots is a great way to help with troubleshooting, especially when reporting problems to your IT department. You can capture a screenshot and paste it directly into an Outlook email so that a tech can see an exact error message rather than you having to retype the whole thing. They are also great for making instructional documents and 'how to' guides with visual aids to help reinforce learning.

    (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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    Other Ways to Use Print Screen

    There is one other main way to use the Windows 7 Print Screen button besides simply capturing screenshots.

    • Alt-Shift-PrintScreen - This will turn on a special high contrast visual mode in Windows, and it is designed to help the visually impaired by using contrasting colors that are easier to see on screen. To turn it off, just hit Alt-Shift-PrintScreen again. In Windows 7, it will prompt you before activating. This can be a fun prank to pull on unsuspecting co-workers.

    Note: On laptops or keyboards that include the F-Lock key, you may need to press that key before you can access the Print Screen command.