When it comes to blogging, there are very few tools I feel compelled to rave about or wonder how I got along without.
For example, I edit my sites with Mars Edit because it is easier and faster. However, I am just as comfortable with my browser and the vanilla WordPress editor as they get the job done just the same.
Skitch, however, is an exception to that rule and is both a tool that makes my life much more simple and a great service that I don’t know how I got along without.
For any blogger (on a Mac) that takes a modest amount of screen grabs or likes embedding images into his hosts, Sktich provides an easy and powerful service that combines capture, editing and hosting all within the same application. For me, it has sped up the process of taking screen captures and enabled me to include many more in my posts.
How Skitch Works
When you see something you want to grab, you can click on the Skitch icon and choose either crosshair snapshot, which enables you to grab just a small section of the screen, full screen snapshot or a snapshot from a camera. You also have the option to view Skitch, which then allows you to drag and drop other images from your computer into the Window.
Once you have an image, the fun begins. Unlike most screen capture programs, which just allow you to save your grab, Skitch lets you edit your photo without leaving the app. By dragging the corners of the window, you can resize the image to a precise size, you can crop it by dragging the corners of the image, you can also draw on the image to highlight important elements or add text to the work. In most cases, this prevents you from having to open an external image editor in order to fine tune your image for upload.
However, once the image is edited, Skitch also excels at putting the image to work. Through use of the “Drag Me” tab, you can drag your created image anywhere you can ordinarily drop an image file. This includes to you hard drive, desktop, into an email or an IM. This is great for quick saves and sharing an image with friends.
But even better is Skitch’s Webpost feature. With a click of the mouse, you can instantly upload your image to your Flickr account, an FTP server or Skitch’s own photo hosting site, Skitch.com. Like other photo sharing services, Skitch.com lets you upload images and embed them directly into your blog or a forum.
However, unlike most other sites, Skitch allows you to combine image capture, editing and uploading into one application, meaning there is no need to switch between programs or have multiple applications running at once.
Unfortunately, this isn’t to say that Skitch is perfect, there are several limitations to the product that will keep many potential users away.
Drawbacks and Limitations
The biggest limitation to Skitch by far is that there is currently no version of the program for Windows. Though one is in development, no date has been announced. Until the Windows version is released, Skitch remains a Mac-only product, thus shutting most computer users out.
Second, Skitch is currently free but that is only during the beta phase. However, there is no word as to when the beta phase will be complete or how much Skitch/Skitch.com will cost when it exits beta. This makes me very nervous about relying heavily on the software or making it a major part of my blogging routine in case it winds up being too expensive.
In terms of features, Skitch also has a few annoying limitations. For one, while Flickr and Skitch.com are both great services, there is no support for other popular photo sharing services, including PhotoBucket. Though you can work around this by either A) Using FTP to upload to your PhotoBucket Pro account or B) Using the Flock browser and the “Drag Me” tab to upload straight from Skitch to PhotoBucket. it is still a limitation that forces the users to resort to less than elegant solutions.
Also, despite the excellent video provided by Skitch to instruct on use of the software, some of the more advanced commands rely on hot keys and the combinations seem strange at first, especially to those who are used other photo editing applications. Once they are picked up, everything goes smoothly but expect to hit “edit/undo” a few times as you learn.
Finally, Skitch is not going to replace your more robust photo editing apps. Skitch can not adjust brightness or contrast. It can not modify levels or convert to grayscale. It also has no filters or layer effects (other than the drawing effects). Sktich was designed solely to grab images, annotate them, tweak them and then upload them.
But despite these limitations, Skitch remains a very powerful program and a great tool for bloggers, however, with that power comes a very real danger of using it incorrectly.
A Word on Copyright
Obviously, whenever you are taking screengrabs, you are likely capturing at least some copyrighted elements, especially when doing so from the Web. It is important to take a moment and consider the copyright issues involved in taking screenshots.
Considering that virtually all software and content on the Web is copyrighted by someone, taking a screenshot of anything other than your own site and your own work is, almost certainly, a potential copyright dispute. Though the most common use of screenshots, to demonstrate, educate or otherwise aid in a larger discussion, favors a fair use argument, there are many situations where once could see a screenshot as crossing the line and becoming an infringement.
To avoid any ugliness with copyright when dealing with screenshots, it is worthwhile to take a few reasonable steps to ensure you don’t cross any lines.
- Take Only What You Need: When using Skitch, I only use the crosshair capture and I zoom in tight on exactly what I need. The less you grab and the smaller the screenshot, the less likely the person will complain and the more likely you will have a valid fair use argument should a dispute arise.
- Always Attribute: Most of the time you take a screenshot it should be clear where you got it from as you are talking about it in your article, such as with the screenshot of Skitch in this article. However, if for some reason it is not, attribute appropriately.
- Make It a Part of a Larger Work: Screenshots are supposed to aid in an ongoing conversation, either to help explain how something works, prove a point or or otherwise assist the writing. If you create a new work based upon the screenshots, it not only helps build up a fair use argument, but also reduces the likelihood of someone having an issue with your use in the first place.
- When in Doubt, Seek Permission: If there is any doubt about the use, seek permission before posting it. Always. Generally, I get permission before taking screen shots of a new service if I know it is going to require more than one or two small images. I’ve never yet had a site turn me down.
Of course, the most important thing is to just use Skitch, or any other screenshot tools, in good faith. Definitely do not engage in any clearly bad behavior including using it to crop out watermarks to plagiarize images or capture logos to impersonate a company. That kind of use will almost certainly bring trouble to your door.
On that note, there is an excellent write up on the JISC Legal Information site. Though the write up is for the UK, the discussion, including the inherent fuzziness of the issues, applies directly to the U.S.
Also, bear in mind that fair use and other arguments depend heavily on the specifics of the case and, though you can take steps to improve your arguments, there is never a guarantee of success.
All in all, Skitch is a very powerful screen shot tool that makes it easy for bloggers and other Webmasters to share information, add visual elements to posts and create more clear guides and tutorials.
It’s all-in-one nature makes going from screenshot to embedded image as fast as possible and greatly streamlines the workflow. It has single-handedly replaced three applications on my Mac (my old screenshot program, my photo editor and my FTP program) when it comes to uploading images for articles.
If you are a Mac user and would like an invite to Sktich, feel free to leave a comment below as I have a few left. You can also obtain an invite quickly off of Invite Share or simply request an invite at Skitch.com.