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Creating faded edges and spotlights on screen captures with MadCap Capture

Creating faded edges and spotlights on screen captures with MadCap Capture

Like some technical writers, I habitually reach for an image-editing tool other than MadCap Capture. But having attended Paul Pehrson’s terrific session at MadWorld 2013 on Capture, I started rethinking my habit. As a MadCap Flare author, I already use Capture for callouts and for harnessing the power of variables and conditions from my Flare projects. But could I use Capture to make my screen captures more visually engaging?

As I was reading up on Capture on MadCap Software’s website, I noticed some nice images like the one below. I liked the fade-out effect on edges of the base image, and I especially liked the “spotlight” that gave a zoomed-in effect to a portion of the image.
Image from MadCap Software website
Perhaps because I have never bothered to figure out how to get effects like these using Capture, I assumed Capture could in fact not produce them. Furthermore, I suspected that MadCap hadn’t used their own product to create these nice images.

And that got me wondering: Could I reproduce similar effects using nothing but Capture?

When I first considered this problem, I thought that I would need to enlarge the spotlight portion of the image. Then I realized that I actually needed to reduce the full-window image so that the spotlight would be actual size or perhaps just a snitch smaller. The effect would be a zoomed-in spotlight image.

Finished image with faded edges and spotlight, produced with MadCap Capture

Follow me through the process I came up with.

I assume you are familiar with using MadCap Capture. My intention is not to teach you how to use Capture, but rather which Capture features to use to achieve certain effects.

Capturing the full window

Obviously, I had to stage an image to capture, so I decided on running the Windows Calculator and soon had a window in mind to capture. I then started up Capture.

Because I planned to show the Calculator window with a drop-down list open, in Capture, I selected Edit > Time Delay. Then I used File > New Screen Capture > Capture Window and selected the Calculation application.

While Capture counted down the time delay, I opened the drop-down list in Calculator and waited until Capture took the shot and opened the image in the Capture Editor.

Full window as captured by MadCap Capture but not yet edited

Capturing the spotlight image

I now needed to get ready to capture the spotlight image. I would be capturing this from the full-window image I had just captured, not from the Calculator application.

Through experimentation, I realized that I first needed to make sure that the full-window image (the file, that is) had a transparent background. (I’ll explain why later.) On the File Properties window’s Appearance tab, I set:

  • Background to Solid
  • Fill Start to (transparent)
  • Fill End to (transparent), just for good measure

Now I was ready to capture the spotlight image.

I learned in the Capture documentation that I needed to capture a shape area. The first step was to draw the shape.

I selected Oval Mode and drew a circle over the portion of the full-window image that I wanted in the spotlight. (And to make sure it was an exact circle, I checked its properties to make sure its width and height were the same.)

Full-window image with a shape area drawn on it

Next, with the circle still selected, I used File > New Screen Capture > Capture Shape Area.

Here’s how the second image looked in the Capture Editor:

Captured shape area in the Capture Editor

Editing the spotlight image

Now for making the effects on the spotlight image.

First, I wanted to reduce the entire image to 90%, as my experiments had shown that 100% wasn’t necessary for a good result in the final image. On the File Properties window’s Image Effects tab, I set:

  • Background Scale to 0.9

Back on the image itself, I next wanted to add the light gray circle to frame the spotlight effect. I selected Oval Mode and drew a circle over the spotlight image, tweaking its position to be exactly over the image.

Next, I modified the circle’s properties. On its Properties window’s Appearance tab, I set:

  • Transparency to 50
  • Line Width to 7 pixels
  • Line Color to a light gray

The result looked pretty good…

Spotlight image with a gray circle around it

… but I noticed that part of the circle was bleeding off the edge, resulting in a cut-off effect.

To fix that, I added some padding, not to the circle, but to the image. On the File Properties window’s Appearance tab, I added 8 pixels of padding on all sides, and that fixed the bleeding.

I then saved the spotlight image and returned to the full-window image.

Editing the full-window image

First, I deleted the shape area—that is, the circle—I had previously drawn because I no longer needed it.

Next, because I wanted the full-window image to be reduced in the final image, I edited its file properties. On the File Properties window’s Image Effects tab, I set:

  • Background Scale to 0.6, which yielded an image scaled to 60%

Full-window image reduced to 60%

But I wasn’t quite ready to bring in the spotlight. I still needed to figure out the fade-out effect on the left and bottom sides.

Achieving the fade-out effect took two steps. First, I selected Rectangle Mode and drew a rectangle at the right edge of the image. (I had to tweak its position a little to align it precisely over the right edge, but that wasn’t hard.) Then, I edited the rectangle’s properties. On its Properties window’s Appearance tab, I set:

  • Background to Left to Right
  • Fill Start to transparent
  • Fill End to white
  • Transparency to 15
  • Line Width to 0, effectively removing the border

Then I drew another rectangle at the bottom edge of the image. I set its properties the same as for the first rectangle, except I set the Background to Top to Bottom.

Below is how the image now looked. (I could ignore that the fade-out rectangles appeared to have gray borders. That’s only in the Capture Editor, so one can see these objects. There won’t be any borders in the final image.)

Full-window image, reduced to 60%, with faded right and bottom edges

Assembling the final image

It was all downhill from here! I could now combine the two images.

In the full-window image, I used Edit > Insert Image and selected the spotlight image to insert it over the full-window image. I positioned it at a pleasing spot.

Remember how I had set the background color of the full-window image to transparent before I captured the spotlight image from it? If I had not done that, then when I inserted the spotlight image, it would actually appear as a white square with the spotlight within it, which is not what I wanted.

Here’s how the final image looked in the Capture Editor:

FinishedImageInEditor

While experimenting, I also found that I had to reset the background color of the final image. If I left the background transparent, it would come out black when the image was placed in a document, so we’d see black at the right and bottom edges where the spotlight bled off the image. To avoid that, I had to set the background to white.

Here’s the final image. Not bad, I think!

Finished image with faded edges and spotlight, produced with MadCap Capture

Final advice

One of the golden nuggets I picked up at Paul Perhson’s MadWorld 2013 session was the power of Capture profiles.

I don’t want to get into the intricacies of profiles here, except to say that I could save in one or more profiles all the various property settings I had been manipulating in the individual image files. With a profile, I could quickly apply to an image all the background colors, padding, background scale, and so forth, in one operation. I could have a “60PercentProfile” to apply to the full-window images and a “SpotlightProfile” to apply to spotlight images.

I need to explore more about profiles before I’m ready to offer concrete advice. The goal will be to streamline the process.

If you missed Paul Pehrson’s MadCap-sponsored webinar, Picture This: Optimizing Images with MadCap Flare and Capture, you can catch the recording here.

Did MadCap eat its own dog food?

Do I still suspect that MadCap hadn’t used Capture to create the images with spotlights on their website? Well, maybe they did use Capture after all!

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1 Comment
  1. Dear Nita,

    THANK YOU! Just what I’ve been looking for. 🙂

    Yours,
    Peter

MAD Certified in Flare

MadCap Advanced Developer (MAD) certified in Flare since 2009

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