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Issue #206: July 3, 2011

Q: I’ve been wondering for years how to use the Print Screen key, so I was excited to try your directions in today’s paper (I.G.T.M #205. – June 26, 2011). Long story short, it didn’t work. I followed all the steps as far as opening Paint, but there was no image there to paste or save. Am I missing something? I have a newer HP laptop with Windows 7. Incidentally, when I searched the Start menu for Clipboard, I got no hits. Also tried the NumLock, since the Prt Sc key is there. That key is also the home key, with prt sc in a small box below Home. Is this relevant?

– Mike A.
Bluewater Bay, Fla

A: What’s relevant is that the words “Prt Sc” are in a small box, Mike.  The reason the instructions didn’t work as-written for you is that when I wrote the column I didn’t take into account the differences between desktop machine keyboards and laptops.  Most desktop systems include keyboards that have at least 101 keys on them, but that’s too many to fit on most laptops. Even though they have fewer keys, laptops still need to perform the same key functions as their larger cousins. To provide the extra functionality the manufacturer assigns secondary functions to some of the keys, which you trigger by using a special purpose key that is often labeled “Fn” and usually located on the lower-left side of the keyboard, between Ctrl and the WinKey. The printing on the Fn key is usually different than the printing on other keys, and the key labels for the secondary functions are similarly different to match it.  On some laptops, Fn and the secondary functions are printed in a different color.  On almost all HP laptops – including yours – the secondary functions are annotated with a box around the label.  Regardless of the style, the marking difference is there to let you know that you must use Fn to activate that key function.  So, if you press and hold Fn, then press Prt Sc (with or without ALT thrown in there as your needs dictate) you’ll capture an image to the clipboard.  Look around at your keyboard, and you’re likely to find a whole bunch of these multi-purpose keys, including an entire numeric keypad built right on top of the letter keys.

The Windows Clipboard is not anything you’ll find on the Start menu, because it’s not a program. It is an intrinsic feature of Windows that provides a means of moving data either around within a program or between programs.  If it helps to conceptualize it, the Cut/Copy/Paste features you see in almost all programs in a sense ARE the clipboard.  It’s really something that you USE more than something you SEE (although there ARE ways to look at it, which I don’t have room to talk about here).  Armed with your new knowledge about the clipboard, hopefully you’ll understand that doing a screen capture is nothing more than performing a COPY of the contents of the screen.  So, you shouldn’t expect to see an image in Paint until after you perform a Paste operation like I described in last week’s column.  So, head back to that issue and go over those instructions again, and I think you’ll have more success this time.

Reader Tip of the Week: Reader James Y. wondered why I didn’t recommend the Windows Snipping Tool as a means of performing screen captures.  Well James, the simple answer is that the Snipping Tool is not available to all my readers – only those who have Vista or Win7.  There are also a bevy of free utilities on the market that I didn’t mention, such as SnagIt.  For those readers who DO have Vista and Win7, you can find the Snipping tool on your Start menu.  It provides far more flexibility in selecting the area of the screen to be captured, and you don’t need to use the clipboard or Paint to see the image.

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