Everything you ever wanted to know about Print Screen

What ever happened to Print Screen? When I press the “PrtScn” key on my keyboard (upper right), nothing seems to happen.

For those not familiar with Print Screen, it is a feature that caused the printer to print an exact copy of what appears on the screen of the monitor. The normal “Print” command also can print what is on the screen but lacks some desirable features of “Print Screen.”

Let me give you an example. Suppose you are writing an article that needs an illustration of a computer screen inside the text. Print Screen allows you to capture a copy of the screen and insert it in the document. This is how the illustrations in computer books are composed.

So what happened to the “PrtScn” key on my computer? When Windows came along, the programmers at Microsoft got tricky. They left the Print Screen feature in but sent it to a location inside the computer’s memory instead of sending it directly to the printer. This is because Windows uses an important feature called “cut/copy and paste” and they wanted you to be able to “paste” the Print Screen anywhere inside any program that supports “cut/copy and paste,” like Word, Excel or many other applications.

When you press PrtScn, what happens? Now an image of the screen is “copied” and sent to a memory location inside the computer called the “Clipboard.” There it remains to be “pasted” or the computer is turned off. If I want to print a copy of the screen, I can open Microsoft Word, position the cursor where I want it, right click on the mouse, and “paste” the screen image. A copy of the screen appears and it becomes part of my Word document. I can position it where I want, change its size if desired and add text above, around or below the image. To get a print, I simply “print” the Word document. Neat!

The Clipboard is the internal program that makes “cut/copy and paste” work. When you highlight an item, the cut or copy of that item goes to the Clipboard awaiting your “paste” command.

If you wish to view the contents of the Clipboard, go to Start – Run and type “clipbrd” (no “ “).

Now the Microsoft programmers got even trickier. The Clipboard only supports a single cut or copy. If you were to highlight more than one item in a document, the Clipboard only shows the last item cut or copied. The same is true for a screen image. Only one item at a time gets put in the Clipboard.

Microsoft Word, Excel and other Office applications, however, support multiple cuts and copies. This works by using a separate internal file that stores these items and makes them available for “pastes”. Up to 24 items can be stored. To use multiple cut/copy, open a new document and click on Edit, Office Clipboard. A small screen will appear on the side of the document and it will display the cuts/copies as they occur. This is not “print screen” but is similar.

There are advanced variations of Print Screen and “cut/copy and paste” but they are not important here.

If you would like to hear more about the Windows Clipboard or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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