Sunday, January 14, 2007

Do You Make Step-by-Step Directions on a Mac?

If you spend time making illustrated, step-by-step directions to show your staff how to complete certain tech tasks, then let me share a few programs I started using.

At work on my Windows XP machine I have SnagIt! which is a great screen capture program that lets you highlight, add arrows, and add text to the image after you capture it. It does a lot more than that, actually, but that is how I am using it.

Now that my parents have a Mac at home, I find myself wanting to send them directions but hated the thought of taking all those screen captures, importing them into a word processor, and then saving them out as a PDF or JPEG. I found it especially annoying that using the screen capture tools built into OS X creates a PDF instead of a JPEG. You can open the image in Preview and save it into a different format, but you lose image quality. And you could pull it into Photoshop or Graphic Converter, but I just want to send them some quick directions, not take on a big project.

The good folks at the EdTech listserv gave me good suggestions and I found a few on my own. Let me share them.

InstantShot! from Digital Waters is a free tool for creating screen captures and saving them into the format you want, including JPEG, TIFF and PNG. It is simple to use and works well. Using it already seems like second nature.

However, InstantShot! does not let you mark up the image, so I invested in FlySketch from Flying Meat which cost $20. It is powerful but not as intuitive as I'd hoped. However, they have a good manual and it gets the job done.

After buying it I heard about ImageWell and it is my new favorite tool. It is free and it lets you mark up an image. It also makes it really easy to resize an image and save it into the format you want. It watermarks and adds drop shadows. It packs many features into a compact window and even has iDisk integration. There are other features available for a fee, such as batch processing and being able to work with more than one image at a time.
(Note: This is NOT an image capture program. It works with images that you have already captured.)

I've already used it to make nifty directions and to add speech balloons to family photos -- my cats have never been so talkative.