Whether you’re recording professional tutorials or just want a few quick video clips you can leave on your parents’ computer so they have a simple reminder how to do basic tasks like send email, you need screen capture software to make them. What these screen recording apps do is record everything you do on screen (or on a section of your screen) so you can save it as a video. You can then publish that video on a platform like YouTube. You could even sell them to make money online, or just send them on to the person you made them for.
There are also game streamers who post on services like Twitch, either for fun or profit. While they’re superficially doing the same thing, they also need slightly different features to successfully broadcast their gaming.
Finally, there are also some people who use screen recorders to capture live broadcasts. This kind of use can often be illegal so, if you’re going to do it, check beforehand that you’re legally allowed capture a live stream. In some cases, capturing a live broadcast for your own use will be permissible. Capturing one and sharing it online will almost certainly not be.
What Makes the Best Screen Capture Software?
What makes a good screen capture app depends on what features you care most about (and what your budget is). If you’re a professional, making money from what you capture on your screen, then the features you require and the amount of money you’re prepared are going to be very different to someone who wants to do one or two quick tutorials for a YouTube channel. Rather than try to claim that X, Y, and Z features are essential, I’m instead going to list some of the features that you may want. The best screen recorders will have some combination of them, so pick the one that works for you.
- Screen Capturing. This one is kind of a gimme. Every screen recording app has to be able to record what’s happening on your screen. If it can’t, you’re looking at the wrong app. With that said, there is some variation in how much control screen capture software will give you over what’s recorded. Do you need to be able to only capture a small section of the screen? Do you need to be able to record footage from your web cam at the same time? Do you need to be able to record from multiple monitors? What about from your mobile devices? These are all different features to think about.
- Editing. A lot of screen capture software comes with basic (or not so basic) editing features as well. This means you can use the one app to capture and edit your screen recordings. The better editors have screen capture specific features, like the ability to highlight the cursor or follow it around the screen, that regular video editors don’t have. If you’re planning to edit your screencasts so they flow better, then you might want to think about getting one with a decent editor. On the other hand, if you are planning on streaming live or just posting up raw videos, you might not need them.
- Live Streaming and Publishing. All screen recording apps offer a way to save your captures out as a video you can do what you like with, but if you know exactly where you’re going to publish your screencasts, it might be worth looking for an app that integrates with your preferred service. For example, if you want to stream on Twitch, having an app that posts directly to Twitch is going to make your life a lot easier, than using some workaround. Similarly, if you want to live stream on YouTube, you will need an app that supports live streaming.
- Price. There’s a wide variety of prices for screen capture software. Some are free and open source, others are professional suites costing hundreds of dollars. While price isn’t necessarily correlated with quality, it does correlate with how much development time can go into new features and how much support you can expect from the developers. If you’re just starting out (or only need to do a few quick videos), try a free open source app to make sure screen recording is for you. If it’s your career, consider investing in some professional software.
Professional Screen Recording Apps
Let’s start with the super high end. Each of these apps costs at least a hundred dollars (or has an expensive subscription model). These are all fully featured options for creating serious online courses. If you’re just looking to throw together a few quick screencasts, they are definitely not the apps for you.
1. Adobe Captivate
At $1,099 for a full license (or $29.99 per month with a 12-month contract), Adobe Captivate does not come cheap. It is, however, the absolute best app for putting together e-learning courses. As well as having the best screen capture and editing tools available on Windows or macOS, you can capture screencasts from iOS apps and integrate them with other assets.
Where Adobe Captivate really shines is with its publishing features. With it you can take your screen captures and turn them into fully featured, interactive, e-learning courses. Adobe boasts that it’s the choice for 80% of Fortune 500 companies and it’s easy to see why.
For simple screen capture, Adobe Captivate is serious overkill. Most people simply don’t need the feature set. But if it sounds like it’s the one for you (and you’re prepared to pay for it) you should check it out.
2. Camtasia Studio
Camtasia Studio is the go-to app of many an online educator. I know a few of the course staff here at Tuts+ use it. It’s available on Windows and macOS for $199. Every couple of years there’s a new version with new features and previous owners get a discount. There’s also a 30-day free trial so you can check it out if you want.
Camtasia Studio is a complete screen recording and editing package. It has all the tools you need to put together professional tutorials. It even has features like chroma keying that aren’t available in most screen recording editors.
The price is a little steep, but for a lot of professionals (and certainly any using Windows) it’s the app to go for.
At $129, Screenflow is a bit over half the price of Camtasia Studio and a lot more than half the app. While it doesn’t have all the same advanced features, it’s still an incredibly capable screen capture and editor; it can even capture from iOS devices. It’s the app I used to record and edit all my Tuts+ courses.
Like with Camtasia, there’s a new version every couple of years with upgrade pricing. There’s also a fully featured free trial with no time limit. The trial version does however watermark your videos, which takes away from the professional look.
If you’re a macOS user and don’t need Camtasia’s more advanced features (which is probably most people), then Screenflow is the best app available. There’s a reason I use it.
The Best Affordable Screen Recording Apps
Now that we’ve got the big guns out of the way, it’s time to look at the best screen recording software for most people. If you just want to put together a few quick screencasts, these free (or at least affordable) apps are the ones to go for.
4. Filmora scrn
Available on Windows and Mac, Filmora scrn (yes, that’s how they title the app) is the best, cheap option. A lifetime license for one PC or Mac is $24.99 (an annual one is $19.99 so probably not worth considering).
Like Camtasia and Screenflow, Filmora scrn is both a screen capture and editing app. The screen capture features are actually free to use with the time-unlimited trial, but it’s the editing features that pull it together.
For a fraction of the price of one of the more powerful options, you get 90% of the feature set. Unless you are sure you need a more expensive app, Filmora scrn is the one to go for.
CamStudio is a free and open source solution for Windows. It’s by far the most basic app on this list, but it does exactly what it says. It captures your screen and doesn’t cost you a penny.
CamStudio doesn’t have the editing features of the previous options, but since you can just save the video and edit it in any other app you want, this might not be a big issue for you.
For a lot of people, CamStudio might be a little simple, but if you really just need something to capture your screen, it works perfectly. It’s not flashy, it’s not fancy, but it records your screen when you want it to.
If you have a Mac, there’s already a free screen recording app you can use. It’s a feature built into QuickTime. We’ve actually already covered how to use it here on Tuts+.
QuickTime’s screen recording is basic at best and doesn’t really hold a candle to any of the paid apps. But, it is free and already on your Mac. If you aren’t really fussy about the level of polish of your screencasts, it’s an option that’s definitely worth exploring. At the very least, it saves you the time and effort of finding another free app that does the exact same thing.
The Best Live Streaming Screen Recording Apps
All the software tools so far have really been designed for recording your screen so that you can upload it or publish it somewhere else later. If that’s all you need, then awesome. But if you’re looking for a way to capture your screen and stream it live, you need one of the following apps.
7. OBS Studio
While OBS Studio can also just be used as a screen recorder, the free and open source app available for Windows, Mac and Linux is at its best when you’re live screening. It has all the features you need to set up a Let’s Play channel on any of the major platforms.
There’s a bit of a learning curve, as there often is with open source software, but if you want to start live streaming without dropping any cash, it’s the best screen capture software to go for.
While Gameshow serves much the same purpose as OBS Studio, this $29.99 Windows and Mac app has a lot more polish and developer support. It’s also designed explicitly for streaming (and recording) games in high resolution while still keeping the CPU use low so as not to take precious cycles away from your gaming.
If you’re starting to get serious about live streaming yourself playing computer games, Gameshow is well worth a look. There are plenty of professional streamers who use it to make money from Twitch.
9. XSplit Broadcaster and XSplit Gamecaster
The most professional options in the live streaming space, XSplit Broadcaster and XSplit Gamecaster are two slightly different Windows apps that you get with the same license. XSplit Broadcaster’s feature set is geared towards broadcasting multi-camera set ups rather than just your screen while XSplit Gamecaster is designed just for gamers to live stream.
Professionalism, however, doesn’t come cheap. A twelve-month license is $59.95, although a lifetime license can currently be had for $199. At this price, you've got to really need the professional production level you can get with the XSplit apps to justify the purchase.
There are a lot of good screen recording apps out there. There are even some free screen recorder apps.
The best screen recording software for your needs depends entirely on what you’re trying to do and on what platform. Almost all the paid apps have free trials, so it’s worth checking them out before you buy--especially for the more expensive options.