The Best Apps for Simple Image Annotations

There’s screenshot tools, and then there’s screenshot tools. There’s the apps that let anyone quickly grab something off their screen, mark it up to show what they mean, and share it simply. Then there’s the apps that help you capture anything, organize it, sort the shots into detailed libraries, and much more. I’m currently writing a comparison between the best pro screenshot library tools for the Mac, but truth be told, that’s not what most people need. Indeed, even for those of us who do need more advanced screenshot and image tools, it’s still the quick and simple tools that are often the most valuable even if they’re the cheapest.

So, whether you’re on a Mac or PC, or a Chromebook even, here’s the very best tools for simple and quick image annotations — the apps to circle something and add some text, and save without a hassle, whether you’re annotating a screenshot or any other image. These are the best image annotation apps for getting the job done quickly.

The Built In Option: Preview

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It’s really, really hard to argue with a built-in free tool that comes with your Mac, especially when it’s as good as Preview. Preview’s claim to fame is being the app that keeps us from having to install Adobe Reader, but it’s so much more than a PDF viewer. Just take a screenshot with the built-in Mac keyboard shortcuts (CMD+Shift+3 for a full-screen shot, CMD+Shift+4 to shoot a selection), then open it in Preview and select the pencil-in-a-box icon on the top right of the toolbar. That’ll unveil every annotation tool you could need, including (surprisingly) mask options that’d let you easily delete something based on its color. But there’s the more practical stuff in there too, like text annotations, arrows, and while there’s no blur tool, you can delete anything. Plus, there’s nice resizing built-in to get your shots in the size you want.

Preview continues to be the way I do simple annotations, and it really is one of the best built-in tools on a Mac. You can get something similar done on a PC with Paint, but really, if you need to do annotations there, keep reading for info on Skitch. But on the Mac, Preview makes it almost unnecessary to even try the alternate apps. It’s that good.

Further Reading: Preview: The Best App for Simple Image Edits and Annotations, Period.

The Cross-Platform Option: Skitch

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Skitch was app that defined simple image annotations. Everyone loved it. And then, Evernote bought it out, released the brand new v.2, and everyone hated it. What had been the simplest image annotations app was turned into something far more basic that was confusingly tied into Evernote. It just didn’t make sense.

But never fear: the Skitch of today is not the original Skitch, and not the 2nd Skitch, but something far better. It’s regained its annotation features, trimmed down the Evernote integration, and made simple annotations and file sharing as simple as it was supposed to be all along. You can open an image in Skitch or take a new shot directly from the app, add the annotations you need and quickly blur out sensitive info, and then drag the file from the bottom of the app to wherever you want — an email app to send it as an attachment, Droplr to share it online, or just to Finder for safe-keeping.

Skitch is free, simple to use, and works on Macs and PCs. What more could you ask for?

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Then, best of all, Evernote has brought Skitch-style annotation to the web with its latest Evernote Web Clipper for Safari and Chrome. It’s still mainly designed for snipping sites and articles to your Evernote library, but you can also annotate screenshots of web sites and apps with built-in Skitch tools and share it directly from the tool. It’s Skitch’s simple annotations on the web, and they work better there than you’d ever expect.

Further Reading: Evernote Brings Skitch to the Web

The Browser Option: Awesome Screenshot

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If you’re doing a lot of online screenshots, though, you might want something a bit more full-featured and designed to the web. That’s what Awesome Screenshot is for. It’s a browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox that regularly shows up on our roundups of favorite browsers extensions, and before Evernote added the Skitch features to their Web Clipper, it was the only great way to take screenshots online without a native app. And still, it’s got its advantages. You can take a shot of a full-length website, add simple annotations including blurs, text, shapes and more, then share the annotated screenshot directly or save the image to your computer. It even works with offline sites — a great way to add quick annotations to a local copy of the site you’re working on with your colleagues to let them know what you’re thinking.

The Pro Option: Napkin

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Everything we’ve talked about so far is free — well, if you don’t include the fact that you have to buy a Mac to get Preview. And then, you’ve got Napkin. At $39.99, it’s far from a free app, and yet its annotation tools are so great that if you have to spend any significant amount of time tweaking screenshots to explain stuff to people, you’ll be tempted to spring for a copy. There’s all the normal annotation tools you’d expect, though with a finesse that you’d expect from a more advanced graphics app complete with arrange tools and more. Then, there’s the rather awesome canvas that lets you add as much stuff as you want to one graphic to tell your own story with annotated images, and the call-out tool that makes it easy to highlight what you’re talking about in a more elegant way than just drawing a circle around it. If you’re left feeling like you want more than just Preview and Skitch, but don’t want to fire up Photoshop to tweak screenshots, Napkin is the app for you.

Further Reading: Napkin: The Simplest Way to Sketch Your Thoughts On Your Mac

Your Call

There’s dozens of other simple screenshot and image annotation apps, but those are the best ones in my opinion — and there’s one for almost every need you could think of just from this small selection. But if you have a favorite simple annotation tool — not a full featured image editing too, or a screenshot library app — that’s not on this list, then we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Now that your images are annotated, you’ll need to share them — so be sure to check out our comparison of Droplr and CloudApp, as well as the new Jumpshare. And, of course, there’s tons of other quick file sharing tools as well.

Happy annotating and sharing!