Jing: Create and Share Screenshots and Screencasts

An explanation for a task in an online world can be a tricky thing to pull off. It’s just difficult to explain how to do something on your computer without actually showing how to do it. Wouldn’t a screenshot with some notes be helpful? Or maybe a screencast to really offer a complete explanation? Jing is a piece of software that is able to accomplish the basics of these tasks in an elegant and completely functional way.

Jing takes screencast recording and screenshot taking down to its nuts and bolts. There are certainly more robust options out there (in fact, the company that develops Jing is also the developer of the insanely robust Camtasia), but Jing has found a sweet spot in my regular workflow and has been my go to tool for snapping a quick screenshot or recording a short screencast for a couple years now and I’m not sure I could do without it.

Design and Interface

As I mentioned, the actual functionality of Jing is fairly basic. At least when compared to some of the more robust tools in this functional category. The design of the interface follows suit. The purpose of Jing is to either take a screenshot or record a screencast. Each of these tasks begins with selecting an area on your computer that you’d like to record.

By default, Jing will use what it calls “the sun” as it’s launcher. This is just as it sounds. You’ll see a little sun in the corner of your display. When you hover over the top you’ll have options to select an area, view the history or look at more options.

Sun launcher

Sun launcher

It is also possible to switch to using a menubar icon, which may or may not be better for you. I find myself using the default sun option as I only have Jing open when I need it. If you decide to have it launch when your start your machine, the menubar icon would be less invasive. I should also mention that you can set a shortcut key combination to begin the area selection as well.

Displaying the menubar Jing icon

Displaying the menubar Jing icon

Once you’ve chosen to select an area to record you’ll be presented with a large set of crosshairs and Jing will suggest some areas to begin from. It will look for application widows and even other noticeable segments of applications as well. You can drag the crosshairs to create your own specific area if you wish. Once the area has been settled upon, you’ll see a small menu below your selection. Here you’ll select whether you’d like to take a screenshot or if you’d like to begin a screencast. There are also options to cancel or redo the current selection. You’re not presented with many options so it’s very quick to get started.

Showing the crosshairs reading to select an area to record

Showing the crosshairs reading to select an area to record

If you’ve chosen to record a screenshot the image will be snapped based on your selection and the editor will open up. Here you can make some notes on the screenshot, but as you’d expect the functionality is pretty basic and straightforward. We’ll look at this functionality in more detail shortly.

Along with being able to add notes to your screenshot, you’ll also see options to save and share your screenshot. The basic options will allow you to save it to your machine, to Screencast.com, or to simply copy the image. Again, the options are basic but very useful. We’ll also take a closer look at this aspect of Jing in another section in this review as well.

If you’ve selected to record a screencast a similar process follows. The video recording begins and you’re given a countdown until the recording begins. You’ll see some options below your selection to allow you to control the screencast. Once completed you’ll see options to save and share your screencast.

The available functionality is dynamic and changes based on where you are within the application. It essentially walks you through each process and I would say that it is actually kind of difficult to get lost or confused along the way. The developers of Jing have successfully cut down the process of recording screenshots and screencasts down to the absolute basics.

Screenshots

A screenshot can be useful in a variety of situations while working on your Mac. This portion of Jing has come in handy for me more times than I can count. The two main situations I find this useful most regularly is for taking screenshots for application reviews or to use in guides and also for taking quick snapshots of things I want to remember. For example, before I make some DNS changes on one of my client’s websites I’ll take a screenshot of the current settings. That way I can easily refer back as needed.

To take a screenshot, you’ll begin by selecting the area you’d like to take record. Again, this is the first step you’ll take whether you want to do a screencast or just take a screenshot. Once you’ve selected the area you’ll need to select the option to use that selection as a screenshot. Once this has been done the editor will open.

Editor

Many times the screenshot itself is all you need. But sometimes it is helpful to add some notes on top of your screenshot to better explain yourself. The Jing editor doesn’t provide a ton of options for doing this, but you’re able to make some basic annotations rather quickly.

There are for items you’re able to use for marking up your screenshot. You can add arrows, text, boxes or highlights. Changing the color of all those items is also possible. This doesn’t seem like a whole lot of functionality, but I’ve spent some time with more full featured screenshot editors and find these core features are completely sufficient for me. Very seldom do I need to do anything more and if I do it is probably time to turn to a tool such as Photoshop. There’s no fumbling around trying to figure out how it all works. You select an item and add it where you want. Simple as that.

The screenshot editor

The screenshot editor

Screencast Recording

If a picture is worth a thousand words than a screencast is worth ten thousand. I use screencasts a lot to help to show clients how aspects of their website functions. Recording a screencast with Jing is incredibly easy.

Screencast countdown

Screencast countdown

As with the screenshot, you’ll begin by selecting your recording area, except this time you’ll select the option to record a video. The recording window of your selection will open and you’ll see a countdown to give you a moment or two to prepare yourself. The recording begins and off you go. You’re able to record a microphone input if you so choose and this can be toggled on and off in the controls of the recording below your selection. You’ll also see buttons to finish, pause, redo, and cancel the recording.

A screencast in action

A screencast in action

As you’re recording you’ll see a progress bar above the controls. You are limited to a five minute recording. When I first started using Jing I thought this would be an issue. I just broke up recordings as needed and after some usage I found that the shorter, more focused recordings were actually more helpful. Anything longer than five minutes and people start to become overwhelmed and attention can be lost. So this limitation I’ve found to actually be helpful. I just do short recordings on specific tasks and then group them together later on. Those specific tasks are much easier to digest as well as refer back to.

After you’ve finished your recording you’ll need to decide what you’d like to do with the screencast. You can save it to your machine or save it to Screencast.com. It is also possible to configure other instant share buttons that would allow you to share to Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter or an FTP site.

There is no editing of recordings. This could be an issue for some folks, but for those that are doing more serious, in-depth recordings a more robust application, such as Jing’s big brother Camtasia, may be the way to go. For brief recordings I haven’t found the need to do any editing. If I don’t like how something came out, I’ll just re-record.

History

One of the main functions you’ll see is viewing your history. This will show you all of the screenshots and screencasts that you’ve saved. You’ll be presented with a thumbnail of the media and hovering over each will give you some meta data about the item. You’ll see information such as the name and location along with the dimensions and file size. You’ll be able to open each directly from here or delete items if you’d like to clean things up a bit. There is also an option to share the screenshot or screencast on Screencast.com. So if you’d previously just saved a recording to your computer and you’d like to share it with someone else, you can select that option and the video will upload to Screencast.com. You can then just send someone a link to view the recording.

History of images and videos

History of images and videos

Storage and Sharing

Recording a screencast or snapping a screenshot is only half of the battle. You need to be able to store this media and a lot of times you need to be able to share it as well. Jing has thought of this and gives you a few different options to store and share your images and videos. You’ll always have the option to store to your computer. The files created are not proprietary to Jing. Once you save them to your Mac you’ll then be able to do whatever you like with them. This is a perfect solution for many people who just need the tool to create these things. For other folks, having a central place to be able to share from would be a huge asset.

By signing up for Jing you also sign up for a Screencast.com account. This gives you access to some free storage space out there on the Web. By default you’ll see many options throughout the application to upload directly to Screencast.com. This is handled quite seamlessly by Jing. You select the option to share via Screencast.com and you’ll be notified once the file has been uploaded and ready to share. A link to the file will even be copied to your clipboard. Paste that in an email or IM and you’re sharing. It’s that easy.

It is also possible to manage the files you have loaded to Screencast.com. You can create folders to better organize. You can share folders or specific files straight from the web interface. I’ll often group together several screencasts into one folder and then share the folder with someone. That way they have everything in one space. I won’t get too deep into the web interface of Screencast.com, but I will say it is fairly robust and quite useful for managing and sharing your files. I use it regularly.

Free vs. Paid Version

Jing is available as a free version or as a paid version ($14.94 per year). The added features of the paid version include the ability to record as different video file types, the ability to upload directly to YouTube and record video from a webcam. With the paid version the Jing branding is also removed.

I have been using the free version for about two years now. My original intention was to try out the free version and then eventually upgrade to the “Pro” version, but to be honest I’ve found the free version completely sufficient for my needs. $14.95 for an entire year certainly is not an outrageous cost, I’ve just never felt the need for those specific features that are only included in the paid version.

Jing can be thought of as a bit of a gateway application as well. If you eventually feel the need to create much more elaborate screencasts and screenshots, the developer (TechSmith) has you covered. They do offer SnagIt for screenshots and Camtasia for screencasting. I’ve spent some time with both of these applications as well and can say that they are fantastic, but just overkill for me in nearly every situation.

Conclusion

Visual aides can be incredibly useful for illustrating a point whether it be for instructional purposes or simply for your own notes. If the tool that you use to create these images and videos is quick and easy to use you will be more apt to use it. I think Jing really takes much of its value from being easy, simple and quick. I can be recording a screencast within 30 seconds from the time I have the idea and I can be sharing it a couple minutes later. Now that is handy.


Summary

A basic tool used to create and share screenshots and screencasts.

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