Take and Annotate Screenshots with Open Source Tools: ZScreen and Paint.net

Online teachers and instructional designers need access to good tools for capturing screenshots and annotating them. These tools are invaluable for giving step-by-step computer instructions to students and faculty, and can really help you communicate information visually.

If you’re new to screen capture, the idea is simple– these tools allow you to take a snapshot of your desktop and save it as an image file that can be emailed or posted to the web. You can type text directions onto the screenshot and/or draw arrows and shapes to help your viewers understand how to work with a piece of software.

When I was teaching in a Mac ecosystem, I used Skitch for this purpose, but Snagit is the dominant tool in my new Windows-based world.

ZScreen: Powerful, customizable, and open source

I recently made the switch from the very capable Snagit to an open source alternative called ZScreen. I like supporting the open source alternative whenever it can effectively fit my workflow, and this definitely has the chops. It features a staggering array of options that allow you to customize

  • The hotkeys you use to invoke it
  • The free image hosting services or FTP server you want to upload to
  • Characteristics of the screenshots like their file type, watermark, and cursor visibility
  • whether you would like to save a copy to File, Clipboard, a hosting service, or multiple locations
  • If you’d like to auto-open the screenshot in an image editor once it’s created
  • and more more more that I haven’t delved into yet.

Though I was overwhelmed by all the options at first, I waded through them and was able to craft an awesome workflow that fits my needs. I made it so ZScreen invokes with a keystroke, allows me to draw a capture window on my screen, then opens my new file in Paint.net for editing before saving it to file.

The open source image editor Paint.net handles all the annotation functions I need while remaining light and snappy on my system. It works so well, I’m looking at the open source CamStudio as an alternative to our regular video screencast software, Jing. Updates to come….

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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1 Response

  1. February 9, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ted Curran, Ted Curran. Ted Curran said: Open Source EdTech Toolkit Part I (Windows Edition): ZScreen + Paint.net: Online teachers and instructional desi… http://bit.ly/eF0qOi […]


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