Creating Beautiful Screencasts with ScreenFlow

Winner of the Apple Design Award 2008, ScreenFlow is a full featured screencasting application. It’s provides the full start-to-finish process for making professional quality screencasts. Having previously covered a roundup of different screencasting applications, today we’re focusing upon one.

This how to will provide an overview of ScreenFlow, and explain how easy it is to get started using the app. From hitting “Record” to exporting a finished screencast – we’ll take you through the process.


ScreenFlow captures everything. It’s the only screengrabber I know that doesn’t have an option to just capture a portion of the screen – and for good reason. The application knows what’s going on on your desktop, so it intelligently dedicates processing power for only certain ‘active’ areas of the screen. The result is a low CPU overhead while capturing everything in full quality video. I’ve never noticed any slowdowns while capturing with ScreenFlow.

Capturing with ScreenFlow

Capturing with ScreenFlow

In addition to that, you can capture video from your iSight (so you can guide your presentation), record audio from any of the inputs, and record audio coming out of your computer. Once you’re done capturing, it’s time for editing, which then brings up the main user interface.

Editing Video

The editing interface takes up your entire screen, very much like any other video editor. Featuring time-line based editing, which includes clips and streams, the UI is very familiar for anyone who has done even a little bit of video editing.

The Timeline

Divided into streams of video and audio, ScreenFlow can have many of these stacked over one another. Think of them as Photoshop layers over one another (sheets of paper, if you’re not familiar with Photoshop). Audio plays over another audio stream if two of them collide, and video can be given a specific opacity so you can see two streams at a time.

The ScreenFlow Timeline

The ScreenFlow Timeline

You can split clips, delete bits, and move them around like blocks of ice. Just place the trackhead at the desired point, and go to Edit > Split Clip. I did find the keyboard shortcuts and moving around the blocks a little unusual at times, but it’s certainly workable. You can of course make the timeline bigger or smaller using the zoom slider at the bottom.

You can add picture frames, compatible videos, and soundtracks to the timeline. Simply drag in media into the timeline to add them there.

Resizing Video

As with most screencasts, you may want yours to be cropped right down to the app window itself. Click the Resize Canvas button at the left to crop your video to your desired size. This crops your entire document, including any other visual media you may have added to your timeline.

Adding Additional Recordings

Aside from just dropping in media into ScreenFlow, you can capture and add additional content to your project. From the file menu, select ‘Add Additional Recording’. This will allow you to grab more video of your desktop, or just video from your iSight. Once you’re done, the video will be shown as a clip in your media browser.

Adding Media to Your Screencast

Adding Media to Your Screencast

Adding Actions

The real power in ScreenFlow lies in actions. Using video actions you can change the opacity, the zoom, the rotation, the size and a lot of other properties of a video clip.

screenflow Actions

ScreenFlow Actions

Video actions behave much like keyframes do in an animation sequence. With one difference, the actions can be more than one frame long. An action covers up a certain block of your video frame, which you can extend to make it longer or shorter. Throughout that block of video, the action will perform a task of any one of several video properties.

For instance, if I want a slow zoom in effect, I will add an action, increase the length, and add a zoom of 150% to it. At the start of the action I’m at 100% zoom, in the middle of the action I’m at 125% zoom and at the end of the action, I’ll be at 150% zoom. I can change multiple properties for a video for the same action. So I can zoom, rotate, and change opacity all at the same time. This provides immense possibilities in terms of creating visual effects, and adding great production value to your screencasts.

Similar to videos, you can add actions for mouse pointer clicks, keyboard presses, as well as manipulate audio. In most cases though, you would want to apply these functions to the entire document, so there’s no need to ‘add action’. Just change the settings and you’re done.

Callout Functions

You can add callout actions to your mouse movements. Unlike traditional approaches of zooming into the video to show something up close, you can now use a callout function, to overlay a zoomed video over the full video frame. This way there are no random fast movements, and the viewer knows exactly what you’re doing. You can adjust the background opacity, add blue, and feather your callout.

Adding a Callout

Adding a Callout

Adding Text Boxes

New with ScreenFlow 1.5 is the ability to add text boxes. There’s nothing revolutionary about this, but it completes the set of editing tools. Previously if you wanted to add titles, you had to drag in bitmap images and arrange them in your timeline. Now you just add a text box and resize. You can then edit the outline, the background color, the font, and position your text box anywhere you like it.

Exporting Video

ScreenFlow uses the built in quicktime H.264 rendering engine to deliver great quality video in a small file size. Export options are very simple and easy to understand. Just stick to the presets, and specify your output size. You can also use Motion Blur to add high quality visuals while zooming in and rotating, but this might add to your output size.

Exporting Your Screencast

Exporting Your Screencast

Video Chapters

One interesting export feature, is chaptering your video. This allows the viewer to skim through topics of interest. This is usually a feature seen in audio podcasts, but would also be useful in certain video screencasts. To add chapters, simply go to Edit > Markers > Add. It will add an orange dot, along with the opportunity to add a name, to wherever your trackhead was present at the time. Move the trackhead to the next position, and do it again to add another chapter. When the time comes to export, simply checkmark the chaptering box!

What it all adds up to

If you need a professional screencasting application, ScreenFlow is where it’s at. You can create sophisticated videos, while using an easy-to-use all-in-one package. Right from capturing, to editing, to exporting your files, ScreenFlow has mastered it all.

At $99 for a single-user license, ScreenFlow does not come cheap. If you are looking for a basic screengrabbing application, ScreenFlow may be overkill. You can get screencasting applications that are quite capable of producing good quality results in the range of $20-$30. If producing a regular screencast or looking for professional features, download a trial of ScreenFlow to give it a go.