Documenter’s toolbelt – essential tools for preparing documentation materials

Here’s a list of the tools I use to prepare graphics for my documentation. I’ll cover four categories: screenshots, gifs, screen recordings and diagramming tools. Good tools are everything. While it’s true that you get a lot of great stuff out of the box, bundled with your OS already, these tools will save you so much time and will make your work look even more professional.

I’m mainly using macOS these days so there’s a macOS alternative where the cross-platform option is not available.

Screenshot capture

Every document I prepare includes at least one screenshot. Taking the screenshot is just the first part of the story. I often need to focus my reader’s attention by adding arrows, and different kinds of boxes, occasionally I need to add step count or blur some text… And I need to do it quickly and with as little friction as possible not to distract my flow. The following two tools will allow you to do just that.

Mac: Shottr

Here the link

This tool is gold! Really. It’s so convenient and easy to use. It recently became a paid program, but it’s worth every penny. It all starts with a simple
Cmd + Shift + S

This little window appears allowing you to either open the editor, copy the screenshot or do OCR and copy text directly (OMG!). From here, I can simply copy the screenshot using Cmd + C or press enter and open the editor

If I mistakenly close the small window, I can reopen it using the toolbar icon and edit the screenshot without retaking it.

The editor is sleek and contains just the features I need:

I can easily add arrows (and they look good!), boxes, step counts, and text callouts. It knows some magic tricks too – instead of just blurring, it can delete JUST THE TEXT without deleting the background! That’s blurring on steroids. I can’t overstate how cool this program is.


GreenShot is my go-to Windows screenshot tool. Here’s the link:

It’s very convenient as well. It does all the essentials as well – boxes, arrows, step counts, blurring, text, … It does the job, but (I may be biased) it doesn’t look as good as Shottr 🙂

When I started using it I had a hard time figuring out how to copy the screenshot after you edit it – there are two “copy” icons, which look quite similar to me and if you don’t read the callout, then you can try to copy as much as you possibly can, but you won’t get out the image 🙂

Jokes aside, it’s a great tool and I really like it when I’m on Windows.


GIFs are important (and sexy). I know for myself that if I see a moving picture in my email or in a document, it’s guaranteed to grab my attention. They can convey information much better, especially if video is not an option.


On macOS, I’ve settled with GIPHY Capture. Here’s the link: (also available on the mac App Store)

It’s a simple software that allows you to easily capture a portion of your screen for a short period of time. To set the capture area, simply resize the green window using the handle on the bottom right side. Press record and do your magic.

The GIFs you record are stored internally until you choose to export them (that’s the film strip at the bottom).

I tend to be less of a perfectionist when it comes to GIFs. The resize tool (before the recording) and the crop tool (after the recording) are the only tools I really need, so the simple interface is good enough.

The software can export MP4, but I rarely use this option.


My preference on Windows is ScreenToGif:

This tool is gold! I really miss it on mac. It looks really good on Windows. The interface is really powerful. Similar to GIPHY, it allows you to set the capture area by resizing the capture window.

Unlike GIPHY, this one is loaded with options. You can delete individual frames from the animation or add custom ones if you want. You can add more text or delay individual frames to grab attention. You can do a lot.

But my statement still stands: I don’t really need all these features that often. It’s good to have them on hand, though.

Screen Recorder

The definitive winner is OBS Studio:

This one is a beast. It’s an open-source cross-platform software for screen recording and streaming. It’s very customisable – you can mix different sources together and add effects on top. By sources, I mean different cameras or screens and you can do transitions between them using keyboard shortcuts while you are recording.

You can place different sources on top of one another, crop parts of them and apply masks and other effects.

It may seem intimidating at first because it has so many options and it’s true – you need to spend some time with it initially to find the setup that works for you. Then OBS makes it very easy to save your setups and restore them later as needed. It exports both MKV and MP4, which is exactly what I usually need.

While OBS is perfect for recording video, it doesn’t have any features for editing it.

Diagramming tool

My choice: (

It’s an open-source web-based (cross-platform) tool for creating all sorts of diagrams. It’s more convenient than some other tools (like Visio or Lucidcharts), but I’m still not fully satisfied with it – still searching for a better solution.

It does the job, though. You can create any diagram and style it as you want. It requires some getting-used-to, but after you do a couple of diagrams, the workflow gets much smoother.

While it’s a web-based solution, you can install it locally and use it as a regular app.

When it comes to diagramming, the mouse is your enemy – while dragging and dropping seems the best way to go, it takes so much time to do the basics and my perfectionism doesn’t help either. As I said – this category is still on my to-do.


Having the right tool and knowing how to use it are the factors defining your efficiency. The tools I mentioned here have proven to be very useful and – after the initial “training” – very efficient as well. But as always, there are alternatives and it’s often best to stick with what you know and get the best out of it until it starts to limit you considerably.

Let me know about your preferences, especially if I missed something amazing 🙂

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