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How to Record Your Desktop

Most of us have heard of a screenshot, but what if you want to record video of what’s happening on your computer screen?

Whether you want to document a process or show your IT department how often your email crashes, here’s how to record your desktop and share it.

Screenshot vs. Recording Your Screen

The difference between taking a screenshot and recording your desktop is simple, but significant. While a screenshot captures a static image of your screen at one point in time, when you record your screen (also known as “screen casting”), you’re capturing video of what’s happening over time, which you can then share as a video or animated GIF.

So, imagine you wanted to show someone the steps necessary to log in to an online account. You could record your screen, including typing the address into your browser and all your mouse movements and clicks to show exactly where to go and how to get there (see the videos below). Or, as noted above, it’s also a great way to show your IT professionals exactly the steps you’re taking before your software crashes.

You can even include audio when you record your screen, as narration from your computer’s built-in microphone or an external mic, or you can record your system audio (that’s the sounds that comes out of your speakers).

Short, simple recordings that won’t require much editing can be done with something like Snagit (which is what I use most of the time). For longer or more complex recordings that may need more editing, something like Camtasia will be better. Camtasia even allows you to enhance the video by zooming in on areas of emphasis, highlighting your mouse clicks, adding text or graphic call-outs and more.

I’ll be using Snagit and Camtasia for Mac, but you can easily record your screen with the Windows versions, as well.

How to Record Your Screen

Step 1: Open Your Screen Recording Software

Choose the software you’ll use. As noted above, Snagit is great for simple, short desktop recordings, while something like Camtasia might be better for longer, more complex jobs. However, recordings made with Snagit can be easily shared to Camtasia and assembled into longer, more complex videos there.

Step 2: Choose the region of your screen you want to record

For some things, it may make sense to record your entire screen. However, if you’re only showing the steps necessary for a particular piece of software or where to click on a website, you may want to choose to record only that window (or a portion of it), rather than the entire desktop, to ensure your users can focus on what’s important.

Step 3: Record!

Now that you know what and where you want to record, go ahead and do it! If you’re documenting a process, it’s not a bad idea to have some notes about what you want to include and the order you want to include them, just to avoid confusion. If you’re narrating your recording, having a script or at least some talking points is a good idea to ensure you say what you want to say in the way you want to say it.

Note: If you’re doing a full screen recording, it’s a good idea to clean up your desktop a bit so that it’s not too cluttered or so you’re not revealing anything you might not want the whole world (or at least your customers or colleagues) to see. The same goes for bookmarks or your browser history, if you’re going to be recoding any browser activity.

Also, you’ll notice in the video below, I have blurred out my username when I log in to WordPress to avoid anyone trying to hack my account.

Step 4: Edit

Once you’re finished recording, you’ll probably want to edit it a little. Even the most carefully planned recordings will have something you want to cut out, such as any wasted time at the beginning of the recording or the part at the end when you move your mouse over to stop the recording. With Snagit, you can easily trim your recording to remove unwanted pieces.

Step 5: Share

Once you’re done editing, there’s nothing left but to share it with the world (or at least with the people you need to share it with). With both Snagit and Camtasia, you can save your video as an MP4 (one of the most widely compatible video file formats) or as an animated gif. Camtasia for Mac also allows you to export as a QuickTime .mov file.

Both Snagit and Camtasia offer a wide variety of options for sharing directly from the software, including YouTube, Screencast.com, Google Drive, Dropbox and more. You can also save as a file to your local drive.

BONUS TIPS!

  • Camtasia’s advanced (but SUPER-easy-to-use) editing capabilities allow you to add audio tracks after you record your screen. Whether you want to record your narration after the fact or want to add some plucky music, you can do it!
  • Be prepared to record the your a time or two to get what you want. Almost everyone messes something up along the way. But recording your screen is so easy, it won’t matter if you have to do it again.
  • That said, don’t get TOO hung up on making everything perfect. If you’re demonstrating a process, make sure the steps are clear and easy to follow. If you’re narrating, you can decide how many “umms” and “uhs” you can live with. It also depends on your audience. Things meant for people outside your company probably need to be more polished than things you’re sending to one of your fellow employees.

Have you tried recording your desktop? I’d love to hear your questions or comments below!

Posted in Tips & How To's
Author
Ryan Knott

Ryan Knott is the Public Relations Specialist for TechSmith.
Follow him on Twitter @ryanknott and connect with him on Instagram where you'll mostly find photos of pit bulls and food.
Fun facts:

  • Ryan is a nerd
  • Favorites: Alien (and Aliens), his dogs and iced tea
  • Secret talent: Coaching roller derby
  • Reading list: Anything by Neil Gaiman