Making Screenshots Work in PowerPoint

fryScreenshots (-grabs, -captures, -caps) are used in a lot of PowerPoint presentations to show software product user interfaces, web content, results from analysis software, etc. They are probably essential in software training presentations.

The problem with screenshots in presentations is that they are almost always illegible. Presenters do little more than paste the image onto a PowerPoint slide, not understanding that the audience sitting more than a few feet from the projected image will not be able to discern the text or other details; if a “widescreen” monitor is used, the problem is even worse. Any value that the screenshot adds to the presentation is lost.

Excuse me while I engage in a brief rant:

  • Presenting illegible material is not only pointless, it is irritating. It is a symptom of a major (and astounding) fault in most presentation designs: failure to consider the audience
  • Presentation gurus will often tell you to “simplify” – in your world, you may deal with complex subjects and your challenge is to present complexity clearly. Making screenshots work for you is an example of how to approach this challenge.

You will usually use screenshots because they add credibility – the software exists and it really works, the analysis tools show these results. etc. The challenge is to show details within the context of the screen. This suggests zooming in and out of the screen; I’ll show you a few techniques in this post.

To capture a screenshot In Windows, press a function key (look for “print screen” or a similar caption) or a function key plus a modifier to copy the current screen contents to the clipboard. Software is available to capture screens on other systems/devices. In Windows, adding the Alt key captures only the active window or you can use the Crop tool to get the appropriate part of the image after Pasting the image to a slide.

PowerPoint 2013 includes Insert/Screenshot which allows you to capture (and crop) any active window directly.

If your screenshot comes from someone else, try to get a high resolution version since we will be enlarging parts of the image for clarity.

For no particular reason, the examples will use a user interface screenshot for Audacity, an open source audio editor:


Imagine that the presenter wants to explain individual parts of the Audacity interface; for example, the “toolbox” at the top center.

To start, make a copy of this tool box – duplicate the screenshot, position the duplicate directly over the original and crop the duplicate to contain only the tool box. The copied/cropped tool box should be directly over the original:


Next, enlarge the toolbox, while keeping it in position – use Shift/Ctrl while adjusting the corner handle or use the Size and Position pane to enlarge the image by a specific percentage. The larger toolbox is outlined in red for this demonstration:


Add the Enter/Zoom/In animation effect to get this result:

Another slightly more convincing zoom uses Grow/Shrink animation. Start with the duplicated toolbox at its original size and position and apply Enter/Fade animation followed by Grow/Shrink/200%; this is the result:

You may notice that the result of the Grow is poorly rendered. You can correct this by replacing the Grow result with enlarged version of the original after the Grow animation. Here are the steps:

  • Set drawing guides to locate the center of the cropped tool box.
  • Copy the cropped tool box and Paste/Special to convert to png (this step will allow the outline to be scaled in the next step).
  • Use the Size and Position pane to resize the png 200% – this is the amount used in the Grow animation,
  • Using the drawing guides, position the png over the original cropped toolbox.
  • Apply Appear to the png and Disappear to the cropped toolbox after the Grow.

Here’s the animation sequence:


Here’s the result:

The rendering of the Grow animation is improved in recent PowerPoint versions; you may not need this replacement step.

You can add a motion path so that the original location of the tool box is not obscured – this will make the context clearer. Here’s the process:

  • Set drawing guides to the target location for the “zoomed” tool box (the center of the slide in this example).
  • Add a Down motion path to the tool box and move the endpoint to the target location identified by the drawing guides. To move the endpoint, click on it and drag to the target location.
  • Order the animations so that the motion path occurs With the Grow.
  • Move the replacement tool box to the target location and add the Appear effect as before.

Here’s the setup:


The resulting animation looks like this:

You can relate the zoomed tool box to its location in the user interface more clearly by adding a “beam” that connects the tool box to its location, The beam is a semitransparent Freeform with a Wipe/From Top animation With the motion path. Here’s the setup:


Here’s what the animation looks like:

You can add a call-out to indicate the properties of the tool box:

An alternative approach is to zoom in on the screenshot and highlight the area of interest (the tool box).  I used techniques like this in the Prezi style PowerPoint post; it might help to refer to that post. Here’re the steps:

  • Copy the screenshot and enlarge it by 200%.  
  • Position the enlarged version so that the tool box is in the center of the screen.
  • Draw lines between the midpoints of opposite sides of the enlarged screenshot (the endpoints of the lines will be red when the line is located exactly at the midpoint). The intersection of these lines is the target for a motion path (see below)
  • Here’s the setup so far:


  • The slide boundary is highlighted in red to show that the tool box is at the center of the slide.  The “target” lines are yellow.
  • Now add the animation: apply Grow/200% to the screenshot With a Down motion path; the endpoint of the motion path is moved to the intersection of the yellow “target” lines which are then removed.  Then apply Disappear to the screen shot and Appear to the enlarged screen shot.  Here’s the set up:


  • To highlight the tool box, add a mask to “gray out” other parts of the screenshot. The mask was constructed by starting with a Frame shape, converting it to Freeform and editing the points. A semitransparent fill was added. Apply Enter/Fade to the mask at the end of the animation sequence. Here’s the setup with the mask:


  • Here’s what it looks like:

  • To get back to the original perspective on the screenshot, make a copy of the last slide and remove the animations.  Then Fade out the mask, Shrink the enlarged screenshot by 50% and add a motion path back to the center of the slide. Here’s what this looks like:

Obviously, there are other applications for this technique; block diagrams, floor plans, networks, scientific illustrations, assembly drawings, maps and even spreadsheets come to mind. In any situation where you want to show a complex slide and show the details in context without losing legibility, try zooming.

If you want a copy of a PowerPoint file demonstrating these techniques, or have suggestions for other blog topics, please use the form below:

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