[Windows] Take a screenshot of only the active window or program with ALT + Print Screen [Tip]


dotTech has reviewed the best free screenshot programs for Windows. However, screenshot programs aren’t for everyone and some people like to stick with the ole fashion Print Screen -> paste in Microsoft Paint method. The issue with tapping Print Screen to take a screenshot is it takes a screenshot of your whole screen. Sometimes this is desirable while other times it is not. The good news is Windows has the ability to take a screenshot of just your active window or program, too — so you don’t have to be forced to take a snapshot of your whole screen. This article shows you how to do just that


Before you learn a trick on how to take a screenshot of the active window, it is a good idea to actually know what ‘active window’ means.

It is actually pretty simple. ‘Active¬† window’ is simply the window or program that you are currently in — the window or program that you are actively using. For example, let’s say you have three windows open — Firefox, Internet Explorer, and My Documents. Then let’s say you are currently using Firefox. The active window, therefore, is Firefox. If you switch to Internet Explorer and start using it, Internet Explorer becomes the active window. Same holds true for My Documents or any other window or program that you have open.


As already mentioned, tapping Print Screen (or PRT SC, as some keyboards call it) takes a screenshot of your whole screen. If you want to take a screenshot of your active window only, you need to hold ALT while pressing Print Screen. In other words, pressing ALT + Print Screen takes a screenshot of only the active window.

Once you press ALT + Print Screen, a screenshot of the active window is copied to Windows Clipboard; you need to open up your favorite image editor (e.g. Microsoft Paint), paste the screenshot, and save it — just like you would do if you used just Print Screen.


People that use screenshot tools have no issue capturing active window only. However, people that prefer to stick to Print Screen will definitely enjoy the added capability of active window only. Enjoy!

[Thanks Grantwhy, image via Phil Sexton]

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  • donna31

    If you have PaintShop Pro you can take screenshots like this http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/screenshots/ it’s pretty handy and easy, with just a click. And the screenshot is in high quality, unlike with windows tools.

  • Mike

    Another cool option would be to have CREATE NEW FILE FROM CLIPBOARD.
    And have it work this way:
    1. Copy anything you want to the clipboard – text, image, screenshot, etc.
    2. Open windows explorer and go to the folder where you want to place the contents of the clipboard.
    3. Right-Click in a blank white area or a folder name.
    4. Select NEW then click option “CREATE NEW FILE FROM CLIPBOARD”
    5. New file is created just like normally, so you type in the file name and its extension as well.
    6. File would auto open.
    7. PASTE your clipboard inside the open file.
    8. Close SAVE.
    (9. Open file to test.)

  • Mike

    [@Eduardo] I really like the W+PrintScreen… but once i added a second monitor to my computer, that feature now takes screenshot of both screens and creates a huge image… it would be nice if another keyboard key could be used as a switch between (1) Monitor 1, (2) Monitor 2, (3) Both monitors, and (4) capture the Active Window. And I’m talking about all 4 of these options to auto save to the Screenshots folder “C:\Users\UserName\Pictures\Screenshots\”

  • MoniqueQ

    Though the traditional way of pressing “Alt + Print Screen” hotkeys to screenshot active window is pretty easy, there are other free tools that allow you to take screenshots, annotate images and upload photos for sharing conveniently. Discover it here: http://screenshot.net/screenshot-active-window.html

  • smith


    I use http://grabilla.com application for capturing and upload screen shots.
    It’s very useful and simple.

  • Patara

    Snipping Tool in Win7 can be used to capture Menus and Context Menus by Opening it and then clicking Esc Key.Open the Menu you want, Use Ctrl+PrtScn [ make sure F Lock is off ] and then continue on with the capture as normal by drawing around the menu area.

  • Karen

    Or you can use the Snipping Tool located under Accessories (W7) and chose the entire screen or parts by drawing a square around what you want to save/print.

  • Eduardo

    @Ashraf: @Trev: Don’t know it. I made the jump from Vista to Windows 8.

  • Ashraf

    @Trev: I agree.
    @Eduardo: Interesting. Is this only for Win8? I tried Windows key + Print Screen on Win7 and it doesn’t seem to autosave the shots.

  • Eduardo

    If you press W key + Print Screen, Windows 8 create a folder in Picture and save your prints chronologically. Easy.

  • Trev

    Also the Alt + Print Screen trick is handy if you have more than one monitor. Cause if just Print Screen is used you get the lot (all screens) in one big image.

    Also Alt + Print Screen is good if you want to record those little error messages.