This blog entry will be a multi part one, because there is too much to be said on the topic to do it in one concise, brief blog posting. No need to drag it on longer than need be, right? Right.
So this week's Part 1 topic is - SCREEN CAPTURES (a.k.a. screen caps) - determining what's really important on your screen.
I've been team lead for roughly two years, but I've been working on the graphics team since March 23, 2006 (a pivotal moment in my working life) - so needless to say, since then I've seen A LOT of screen caps. And I've seen some really great ones and ones... yeah... notsomuch.
So here I am, hoping to educate you bit by bit on how to create exceptional screen caps.
When you get ready to make a screen cap, ask yourself a couple of questions as you look at the window on the screen:
1 - Is it relevant?
Do the people who are reading your article/tutorial REALLY need to see your tool bar? Tabs in your browser on unrelated topics? A partially drafted e-mail to your mother or signifcant other in the background? The answer is simple - NO
Our readers aren't THAT interested in what's going on in your background for you to include it in the screen cap. So make sure you only run that program/browser, or only screen cap the one you mean to without the party going on behind it.
2 - How much of the screen is ABSOLUTELY necessary to convey your message?
Do your readers really need to see the bottom right hand side of the screen cap? What about all the empty white space?
Focus your screen cap on what you're... well... focusing on. If you capture your entire screen for one little icon, so you can then point six red arrows to it - that's too much information (as well as being inaccessible - which is a blog topic for another time)! Try to capture just the icon itself or even just the toolbar section with the icon highlighted. If it's an error message, capture just the error message window - not the error message window over the entire window. If it's the upper left hand side of the screen for the menu, then capture just the left-hand hand side of the screen for the menu; the rest of the window is irrelevent. Noticing a trend yet?
Keep your screen caps concise and focused. So much more information can be conveyed to your readers and they will spend less time visually editing out the extraneous pixels, if they don't get distracted in the meantime.
3 - How big is the screen cap?
So your screen capture is 1400 pixels wide x 800 pixels high. You've asked yourself, is all of this screen cap relevent? And you've answered - YES! You've also asked yourself - Is ALL of this screen ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY? And you've also answered yourself - YES! (amazingly enough). So you think you're good to go - don't you? Well guess what? YOU'RE WRONG! O_O
The dimensions that work within our templates (both article AND tutorials) are 580 pixels wide. ::does some quick math:: So you're 820 pixels OVER! So what can we do? As the graphics team, we can take this image and scale it to 905 pixels wide and include it in a sidefile in your article. But you're still 495 pixels too big! Let me give you a visual here - since I'm a visual person and it makes sense, at least to me.
Your original image is 1400 x 800. Mythbusters style, we're going to scale this down to 1/3 scale, for the sakes of all our monitors - so it's now 400 x 229.
Now if we take that and try to cram it into 193 pixels (580/3 = 193.3333) - this is what we get.
Notice the difference in size? Look at how much of the image is lost! So we would be scaling your image to fit that - which means all legibility would be lost - and that's not good.
"But wait!" you say. "You mentioned something about a side file!!" I did... and this is what you would get...
So if you MUST go larger to convey your message in your graphic remember that developerWorks' max size is 905 pixels - and let the professionals handle the rest. :D
So after reading this rather lengthy blog post what have you learned today?
Make sure you focus your screen caps on what's relevant, and omit anything that isn't (this also includes your background). And remember - size matters when it comes to graphics.