Review: Layers, a high-quality screenshot creation tool

A Spanish company by the name of Wuonm Web Services created the best screenshot creation tool I’ve ever come across, Layers. Layers adopts a completely new approach to screenshot taking, making the job of educators, editors and everyone else who is involved with screenshot creation on a regular basis a lot easier and efficient. The secret of Layers is not just ‘photographing’ what you see but grabbing what is there.

When you use Layers as a simple screenshot utility, you can just hit one of the key combinations on the keyboard and have the complete screen or front most window captured to an image file. The difference between the two modes is that a full screen capture results in a Photoshop PSD file, and a front most window in an ordinary PNG or JPEG, or whatever you have set as default capture format.

Layers doesn’t know about other modes, such as different key combinations to capture menus, and it soon becomes clear why not. The concept of Layers is not based on taking a snapshot of what is on the screen, but on grabbing the actual screen elements. This makes it possible to take a screenshot of the whole screen and later reveal a complete window that was obscured by another one.

Photoshop is the file format Layers uses for anything but the most simple of screenshots, simply because it supports layers and layer grouping. In Photoshop, you can also see for yourself how Layers literally dissects the interface elements — ranging from the window background to the shadows cast by it, and even the individual icons.

In Layers itself there is an Inspector which also allows you to show these elements. The Inspector has a preview at the top and a list of interface elements at the bottom. If you want to isolate an icon you know is located behind a window in the screenshot, you can scroll down until you find it (it’s even represented by its icon!) and click on it. The Inspector will dim the rest of the screenshot preview and show the icon in all its glory.

With these capabilities, Layers is an excellent tool to grab such those screen elements that you need, move screen elements to a better location after taking the screenshot, removing background items that you don’t want, etc. In one word: Layers gives you control over what you want to show in ways that were impossible before.

It improves your efficiency by enabling the take of one screenshot to present many different screen elements, while allowing you to quickly grab some screenshots and remove the distracting elements later, in Photoshop, by removing the layers that hold them.
The Inspector further allows you to experiment with different settings, such as turning off the opacity of specific windows, making the screenshot border white, changing the framing, etc. The Inspector also comes with a button called “Offscreen”. While the developer seems to regard this as a toy feature, it does show literally all elements drawn by the system on the screen, regardless of whether it is actually visible or not.

For example, the Quick Look black translucent window is not visible as long as nothing has been selected and the Space bar has not been pressed (or the menu option not selected), but in Layers, you can see it is there all the time — and you can add it to a new screenshot; this time made with Mac OS X’s standard tools. Finally, the Inspector allows you to save the screen as layers, a bunch of images or a composite image, adding to Layer’s already impressive flexibility.

In my view, Layers is more than just another screenshot capture utility. It’s a time saving, efficiency boosting tool for everyone who needs to show screen elements. Its concept is innovative and effective. A Layers demo can be downloaded from the Layers web site.

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