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Vista Aero Glass Screenshots with Transparency

Sunday 28 January, 2007, 07:43 PM

If you've ever tried to write an article, blog entry, or PowerPoint deck that contains screenshots from Windows Vista, and if you're discerning about how things look, you'll have noticed a problem. If you just use the normal Alt-PrtSc shortcut to grab an image, it ends up looking like this:

Crappy screenshot of Aero Glass, with background showing through

There are two obvious problems with this. First, you can see a blurred version of whatever happened to be behind the window in the title area. Of course this is exactly what Aero Glass is supposed to do, but it only looks right in context - put the screenshot in a different context (e.g. a blog entry), and the stuff in the glass area just looks odd and out of place. The second problem is the corners look wrong - Alt-PrtSc grabs a rectangular image, even though windows have rounded corners in Vista. Worse, it has included the dark area caused by the shadow in the corner. This would be fine if the whole shadow was included, but it's not. So it just looks wrong.

I say these are obvious problems, but judging by the number of screenshots I see with wildly out-of-place stuff in the glass, and squared off corners, apparently lots of people are completely oblivious to them. But to me, screenshots with these problems look just dreadful.

For a long time, I've been dealing with this by carefully placing the window over a completely white background (e.g. an empty Notepad window), taking a full screen screenshot, and then cropping it down to get the whole window plus shadow. This is why shots such as those in this article on data binding include the shadow, and don't include any cruft in the title bar.

It's a bit tedious to do that by hand. It's much worse if you need anything other than a white background. If you want to put a screenshot into a PowerPoint presentation which is using a colourful textured background, you need to grab a screenshot of the window over the part of the presentation you're intending it to cover, which is a real pain. Either that, or do something nasty like put it inside a white box so the problem isn't apparent. Fortunately there's now a better way.

Kenny Kerr To The Rescue

Kenny Kerr has created Window Clippings, a utility that does perfect Windows Vista Aero screenshots with minimal effort. In the latest version, not only does it include the shadow automatically, it actually generates a transparent image - the shadow and glass have their alpha channel set so that they blend with the background colour.

This makes life way easier if you want to incorporate a screenshot into a PowerPoint deck (or any other scenario where you want a screenshot over something other than a white background). Since the shadow and title area are semi-transparent in the screenshots, they blend with whatever the background colour is.

As Kenny points out, this isn't a perfect simulation of what real Glass does - it won't blur the area behind the title bar. This is because there's no way of building a bitmap file that will have such an effect. But given the limitations of what you can do with existing bitmap formats, Kenny's utility is as good as it's possible to get.

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