10 ways to make better looking visuals for your technical guide

10 Ways to Make Better Looking Visuals for Your Technical Guide

In this tutorial, we’ll use Snagit to show you ten techniques to help you make great visuals for any technical guide or tutorial.

Snagit crosshairs being used with the magnifier to set the edges of a capture at specific, pixel perfect edges

#1: Capture Exactly What You Need

Every screenshot is an exercise in composition. Capture too little and your viewers won’t have enough context to understand what they are seeing. Capture too much, and the shot will take more effort for users to decipher. Aim for the happy medium where you capture just what you need. Often, if you’re documenting software or an app, the right amount is the application window, a specific dialog, or a particular panel of the interface.

The crosshair magnifier helps you with pixel perfect precision. The magnifier, which appears when you are selecting what to capture on your screen, shows a pixel-by-pixel view of the crosshair location on your screen. Use it to place the start and end points of your capture right where you need them.

An image being cropped in Snagit.

#2: Crop it Down to Size

Sometimes you end up with a little bit more than you meant to capture. Snagit’s cropping features make it easy to cut out unnecessary portions of an image. Use the handles on the canvas to crop images and adjust the outer edges, to focus the user's attention on exactly what you want them to see. For best practices on how to crop images, check out this blog post.

Snagit's image size controls with a callout stating "To maintain picture clarity try not to change width or height unless required."

#3: Try Not to Resize Images

When it comes to image clarity, screenshots can be finicky. Shown at their original size, they normally appear crystal clear, but scaling them up or down can quickly cause distortions. For this reason, it’s usually best to display screenshots at their original size. Of course, there will be times when it’s not possible because of the size of a particular shot. In those cases, try to scale the image as little as possible, or crop or use visual effects to cut the image down to size without scaling.

Turning on the Auto-Fill feature in Snagit Editor, then selecting part of an image, deleting it, and the deleted portion is automatically filled.

#4: Remove Visual Noise

Some screenshots contain unnecessary information. This excess content can make it harder for a user to recognize what they are being shown. Removing visual noise like unrelated menus, buttons, or tooltips, can help reduce the complexity of a screenshot. In the example below, Snagit is used to remove a section of a dialog by enabling Auto-Fill, selecting part of the image, and then pressing delete. Snagit is able to fill in the deleted area to match the surrounding colors or gradients.

Dragging an image from the Snagit tray to the canvas.

#5: Combine Screenshots or Images

When explaining an action or process that includes a distinct visual change, it’s great to be able to display the change with side-by-side images, so the user can clearly see the difference. After capturing your subject in two different states, you can combine two images to create a comparison. This technique is also helpful for showing a progression from one screen to the next. Click an image in the tray and drag it to the canvas to combine it with another image.

Arrow and rectangular outline callout used on a screenshot to identify particular interface elements.

#6: Choose Classy Callouts

Callouts are critical when it comes to technical documentation. They provide context and can make directions easier to follow. here's a few tips for selecting the right callout for the right occasion:

  • Arrows and shape outlines work particularly well when you need to identify an interface element that is referenced in your documentation text.
  • The Step tool is great for showing the steps of a process or identifying different areas of an interface in a reference diagram.
  • Speech bubbles and callouts that include a tail are great for pointing out a specific section or feature with additional context. Callouts can be used to add tips, tricks, reemphasize an important point, or add the author's own advice.
Drawing a rectangular callout and then switching the drop shadow off so that it does not distort text and parts of the image

#7: Use Drop Shadow Sparingly

Drop shadows are an interesting topic. While they can be used to great effect, they can also easily be misused or detract from the greater design. Ideally, drop shadows are used sparingly and for very particular cases. In Snagit, drop shadows are applied to callouts and other annotations by default. Control the drop shadow of tools in your images in the Tool Properties panel. Click the blue check in the Shadow grid to turn off drop shadow on an arrow, shape, callout, text, stamp, or pen drawing.

Clicking the plus sign to add a callout or shape quick style to the properties panel.

#8: Create Consistent Styles

After editing a callout, shape, or text, you can save it as a Quick Style that can be used with other screenshots and images. This speeds up your workflow and helps keep everything consistent across projects. To create a Quick Style from a shape or callout you created, select it on the canvas, and then click the plus sign on semi-opaque option in the Quick Styles panel. This will add the tool or shape with the selected properties to the Quick Style pane for later use.

An image without a border and then a version of it with a border to show how a border helps the appearance of screenshots and images on a page.

#9: Use Borders

Some screenshots lack a defined border and this can make it harder to set the image apart from the background on which it is placed. Often, this is a result of a user interface with a white or lightly shaded background and in this case, it can be harder to set the image apart from the background on which it is placed. Applying a border can solve this issue and adds to the sense of organization within your documentation. In many cases, it’s good practice to include a thin 1 pixel black or dark grey border on all the images.

Simple illustration depicting a PNG and a JPG file.

#10: Pick a Suitable File Format

The final step with any screenshot is saving it for use in a guide or help article. With so many file formats to choose from, it’s sometimes hard to make a choice, however, under most circumstances, PNG (.png) tends to be the ideal file format for screenshots, because they aren’t compressed, so they don’t lose quality and they maintain transparency. For these reasons PNGs work well for real-world imagery, too, but tend to have a larger file size. When saving real-world images, we suggest the JPG (.jpg) format, since it allows for more control of the overall file size.