A Guide to Taking Screenshots in Parallels Desktop

Taking a screenshot is a common task for many people, but the exact needs of any two users can vary widely. Because of this, the best tool for one person may not be the best tool for another. This blog post contains a list of different screenshot tools so you can pick the one that’s optimal for your current needs. One tool may be best for you today, but a different tool might be best for your needs next week.

Someone who uses Parallels Desktop™ has additional tools available, as well as specific needs that other users don’t have, and that is the main reason for this blog post.

Personally, I am at the extreme end of the screenshot-making users, since preparing and using screenshots is one of my main tasks here at Parallels. At one time or another, I have used all the tools described here, and I keep them all installed and up to date so that I have just the right tool for whatever task comes along.

Tools built into the operating system

Both macOS and Windows 10 have screenshot tools built into the operating system (OS). On the Mac, these tools got a major revision in macOS Mojave. In macOS Mojave and Catalina, the screenshot command (⌘-Shift-5) displays all the screenshot tools (Figure 1).

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Figure 1_macOS Catalina Screenshot tools

You can choose between a screenshot of the full screen, a single window, only a portion of the screen, or a screen recording (to be the subject of its own future blog post). These tools all create a file, which by default is placed on the desktop.

In Windows, the screenshot tools have been present since Windows 95 and have not changed very much over the years. Unlike Mac, the built-in tools in Windows don’t create a file but put the screenshot onto the clipboard. You can then paste that screenshot into an application. You can access this tool with the Print Screen button that most Windows computers have. In recent years, in some versions of Windows, the screenshot can be automatically saved to OneDrive (Figure 2).

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Figure 2_You can set up Windows to store screenshots in OneDrive

Note: The Print Screen key is usually located in the upper right-hand corner of the keyboard. Some keyboard models label the Print Screen key differently, such as PrintScreenPrntScrnPrntScrPrtScnPrtScrPrtSc or a similar abbreviation.”

“Other keyboards may not have a separate Print Screen key. In this case, you can perform the Print Screen function by pressing and holding down the Fn + Insert keys together.”

“The Print Screen function operates slightly differently in each Windows operating system.”

– from the Dell support pages

For the Parallels Desktop user, the Print Screen button is virtual (Figure 3).

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Figure 3_The virtual PrintScreen button in Parallels Desktop

Tools built into Parallels Desktop

If you want a screenshot of the entire Windows desktop in a Parallels Desktop virtual machine (VM), you can use the Print Screen menu item in the II menu in the Mac menu bar (Figure 3), or you can use the Take Screenshot menu item on the View menu (Figure 4).

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Figure 4_Thr Take Screenshot menu item on the View menu in Parallels Desktop

One advantage of these tools is they grab only the Windows bits and none of the Mac bits (Figure 5).

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Figure 5_The Take Screenshot menu item in Parallels Desktop capturs only the Windows bits

Often, this is exactly what a particular task requires, and grabbing only the Windows bits with other screenshot tools can be quite tricky and require some editing clean-up of the screenshot. When possible, I try to minimize the need for time-consuming editing, and these two tools makes this quite easy.

These two tools built into Parallels Desktop are only available when you are in Full Screen or Window mode. If you use Parallels Desktop in Coherence mode, you won’t see them.

Tools bundled with Parallels Desktop

For several years now, Parallels® Toolbox has been bundled with Parallels Desktop. (The exact details of the bundling depend on how you purchased Parallels Desktop.) Parallels Toolbox contains four screenshot tools, as shown in Figure 6.

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Figure 6_The four screenshot tools in Parallels Toolbox

All the tools in the Parallels Toolbox are designed to do one task extremely well, with no effort on your part to learn how to use the tool.

The first three of these tools are self-explanatory and extremely easy to use. The fourth tool, Screenshot Page, takes a screenshot on an entire webpage, even scrolling the page to get the entire thing. This tool then stitches all these partial screenshots together to create a long, skinny PDF. This tool is so useful that there is a blog post devoted to its use.

If you just need to quickly take a screenshot, these tools are what you want.

Tools for purchase

There are a number of full-featured screenshots applications that can be purchased—the Mac App Store lists more than 50 screenshot apps. Two full-featured screenshots applications that I like and use are Capto and SnagIt. Typically, full-featured apps like this include the ability to manage a library of all the screenshots you have created, as well as a graphics editor. Figure 7 shows my Capto library of recent screenshots and Figure 8 shows the SnagIt graphics editor. Unlike the tools in the Parallels Toolbox, these full-featured apps require some learning on your part to use effectively, but they give you many more capabilities.

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Figure 7_A Capto library of recent screenshots
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Figure 8_The built-in SnagIt graphics editor

So, which is the best screenshot tool? Unfortunately, there is no quick, easy answer for this. It all depends on what the end goal is, and how “perfect” you want your screenshot to be. When a screenshot I create is going to be put on the Parallels site, then I want that screenshot to be perfect. This means I might have to take several versions and then edit the screenshot so that it is exactly what is needed, with zero portions that will detract from its main purpose. (That can happen, and it can be quite embarrassing.) To minimize the editing work, I try to use a tool that gives me as close to the final screenshot as possible.

If I’m taking a screenshot to report a bug in a Windows or Mac app, then I want to minimize the amount of work and the amount of time to create the screenshot. In that case, I want to use the tool that is right at my fingertips and has no startup time. Usually, this will be one of the tools in Parallels Toolbox.

I hope this list and my observations help you find the best screenshot tool for your current needs. Let us know in the comments if you recommend a tool that I did not mention.

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