capsule review

Clarify makes it easy to create annotated images and how-to documents

At a Glance
  • Blue Mango Learning Systems Clarify 1.0.2

    Macworld Rating

I’ve covered a good number of screenshot-related utilities in Mac Gems. Part of the reason is that we take a lot of screenshots here at Macworld. But the other part is that our readers are really interested in the topic—for example, my video on screenshot tips was one of our most popular.

I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. After all, screenshots are widely useful, whether you’re sending an image of an error message to a developer, sharing something interesting with friends on Twitter or Facebook, or explaining to someone how to perform a particular task. But the last of these examples can be a hassle, because in addition to sending an image, or multiple images, you often need to include text instructions, and possibly even annotations or other markings to make your instructions clear. You might even need to create a basic how-to document that you can distribute more widely.

Clarify (Mac App Store link) is a standout utility that makes creating such documentation easy. The program is designed, as the developer puts it, to create a sequence of screenshots and turn them into a document. Although that description is slightly backward—first you create a new Clarify document, and then you add steps and screenshots.

You create a new text-only step by clicking the New Step (+) button and then entering the desired text. But the more-useful option is the Capture Image (camera-icon) button, which lets you take a screenshot and then automatically adds that image to a new step. (Clarify also offers a systemwide menu and keyboard shortcuts for initiating screenshots.) You just take screenshots as you perform the task you're documenting, and Clarify creates sequential steps containing the corresponding images.

Clarify’s screenshot tools are simple, but they handle most situations. After clicking the Capture Image button, the Clarify window disappears and a crosshair appears on your screen. Drag the crosshair to select the area of the screen you want to capture—Clarify displays the selected area’s position and dimensions—and then click the Camera button to take the snapshot. If you want to capture a particular window, pressing Spacebar toggles between crosshairs and window mode; in window mode, you just click the desired window.

Clarify's document window

While choosing what to capture, pressing C shows or hides the mouse pointer, and if you need to perform an action (such as opening a menu) before taking your screenshot, you can add a capture delay of two, four, six, or eight seconds. My favorite feature, though, is that pressing R cycles through every screen selection—position and dimensions—you previously used in the current document, making it easy to recapture the exact same area of the screen. Clarify even offers a Replace Step Image command if you need to retake a screenshot for a particular step.

Your new screenshot appears in a new step. The initial name of the step is the name of the window or document you captured, though you can change any step name by double-clicking it. You can also crop the captured image, resize it, or rotate it. Clarify also includes an option to automatically scale all images in a document to a particular size so your steps are visually consistent.

(If you want to use an existing image in a Clarify step, you just drag the image into Clarify, or right-click anywhere in the step list and choose New -> Step With Image File. Similarly, if you’ve got an image on the Clipboard, you can choose New -> Step With Clipboard Image. Text-only steps also provide buttons to capture or import an image.)

Once you’ve got a new step with an image, it’s time to flesh it out. Every step includes a text area where you can explain that step; you just click and start typing. Although you can’t choose the text font, you can apply basic formatting (bold, italics, underline, code block, text color), as well as format selected text as a list, superscript or subscript text, or a link. You can also choose whether the text area appears above or below your image.

You can also add annotations to your image or the resizable canvas surrounding it. You can add arrows, rectangles, and ovals; highlight any rectangular area; add numeric callouts and text; and blur any area of your screenshot—for example, to obscure an email address or username. Each annotation provides options such as color and size; you can even choose the annotation-text font (but not size). The annotations look good and are easy to apply. My only beef here is that if the last step in a document is shorter than the previous one, there’s no way to scroll all the way to the top of the window—part of the previous step remains lodged between the toolbar and the final step, which can be confusing when working with the annotation tools.

Once you’ve finished your document, Clarify offers several options for sharing it. You can save it as a PDF file (either to your hard drive or automatically attached to an email message), copy the document to the Clipboard as rich text or as a PDF document, or share the document via the Web using either a Dropbox account or a free Clarify-it.com account. Whichever option you choose, the resulting output is even more attractive and polished than what you see within Clarify. For example, I shared the simple Clarify document shown above; you can view it in your browser via Clarify-it.com. You can even add Clarify's HTML output to your own website (although doing so requires that you first share the document via Clarify-it.com to generate that HTML—it would be nice if HTML was simply one of Clarify's export options).

You can also export, to a folder on your Mac, all the annotated images in a Clarify document, or just a particular annotated image. Alternately, you can right-click on any image and copy it, annotations and all, to the Clipboard for pasting elsewhere—for example, into the body of an email message. I’ve found myself using Clarify to quickly create an annotated image to include with a bug report.

Clarify’s online documentation—which appears to have been created with Clarify—is very good, and the company also provides a number of useful tutorial videos.

If you just need to show someone exactly what you mean when referring to something onscreen, you could likely get by with a free program such as Skitch. But for more-complex annotations, or if you’d like to be able to quickly put together clear how-tos, Clarify is a standout program. Compared to creating the same types of images and documents in Word, Pages, or TextEdit, Clarify is dramatically easier and faster, and it produces better-looking results.

(Clarify is also available for Windows. A license covering both platforms is $40.)

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At a Glance
  • Blue Mango Learning Systems Clarify 1.0.2

    Macworld Rating
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