Knowing how to create a good quality screencast video is an extremely useful skill to learn. This can help you with the creation of product demos, internal or external training sessions, support videos, or even creating videos to share whatever your’re passionate about. The list is endless, especially considering we now live in a YouTube society.
I’m going to show you the main elements you’ll need in order to create great screencast videos. I’ll show you what I use myself, and I’ll also give you additional options in the instance where what I use may cost more than what you’re willing to spend (including free options).
If you’ve never seen any of the videos over at Khan Academy, I highly suggest you do. This will introduce you to the “whiteboard style” of screencast videos. I’m personally a huge fan of this presentation method, and I’m going to show you the tools which are needed in order to create that style of video content. For those of you who are more artistic than I am, you could even create a “videoscribing” video such as this lecture on “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“.
A Digital Tablet
- scribble over your Powerpoint slides
- press “Ctrl + P” for pen mode
- press “Ctrl + A” to return to arrow mode
- press “E” to erase your scribbles
- use the whiteboard and blackboard built in to Powerpoint
- press “W” for a white background and “B” for a black background
- use a 3rd party product in order to do whiteboard annotations, with more advanced functionality such as the use of layers
Using an iPad
For those of you who already own an iPad, you may not realize that there’s an app called ScreenChomp (free) that lets you create whiteboard style presentations which includes your voice narration. It’s actually made by TechSmith, who is the same company that make the Camtasia Studio software I’ll mention later in this blog post.
Whiteboard drawing software
In theory, you could use any type of graphics editing software for this function, but what you’ll find is that not all of them will allow you to smoothly draw on the screen. Many of them will give you jagged lines when you try writing something.
A second aspect is being able to make use of layers, which is extremely helpful. This allows you to create a background layer, perhaps either just filled in with black to make it look like a blackboard, or it could be a graphic of some kind which you then can draw on top of. By having your markup/scribble layer above the background layer, you can now erase your scribbles without affecting what lies in the background.
The software I currently use for this function on the PC is SmoothDraw, and the great news is that this is a free software program.
If you want to use a much more advanced graphics program, which is similar in power to Adobe Photoshop, then consider using Gimp, which works on both PC and Mac and is also absolutely free.
The first requirement is having a good quality microphone. Again, this is another area where there are hundreds of options available.
You’ll get a huge step up in audio quality by using a USB microphone, instead of a traditional microphone which you plug into the microphone port of a laptop or computer. Don’t worry, USB microphones are relatively cheap, and there are many to choose from, such as the Logitech H555 ($44) or the Samson Go Mic ($40).
If you’re willing to go to the next level up, then look for USB condenser microphones. These microphones will give you the best audio quality for your recordings.
The microphone I personally use is the Blue Yeti USB condenser microphone ($80), which you see above. If you want a cheaper model, then I would suggest either the Blue Snowball ($66) or the Audio-Technica ATR2100 ($40).
If you’re looking to do “talking head” style video, where the viewers are seeing your face as you speak, then you may want to get a lavalier microphone which clips onto your collar and stays out of sight. I personally use a wired Audio-Technica ATR-3350 ($22). If your video camera has a mic input, then you can plug this lavalier mic directly into your camera.
If you’re on a tight budget and you have an existing traditional microphone which plugs into a microphone jack (which I don’t recommend on its own), then a good option is to buy the Griffin iMic ($24). This product takes a traditional microphone as input on one side and then converts the connection over to a USB port. This effectively converts your traditional mic into a USB mic, and will give your audio a surprising boost in quality at a very low cost.
Screen and audio recording software
Let’s start with what I use, and consider to be the best, and then work our way down from there.
Camtasia Studio now works on both PC and Mac, but I do also need to point out another excellent screencast recording technology on the Mac, and that’s ScreenFlow (free trial; $99 for Mac).
I realize that those prices may be far more than what you’re willing to spend, so here are my recommendations for software with a price tag of zero dollars:
- if you’re on a PC, download the free CamStudio product
- if you’re on a Mac, the built-in Quicktime X application now has the ability to act as a screencast recorder (therefore free)
Aside from the above, there are many other screencasting technologies out on the Internet. I would recommend sticking to the above options, for either paid or free versions, but if you feel like having a browse then here are some additional free options:
- Screencast-o-matic (15 minute limit)
- Jing (10 minute limit)
- Microsoft Expression Encoder 3 (10 minute limit; training videos; FAQ)
- Screenr (5 minute limit)
Post-production for PCs
Once you’ve recorded your video, if you want it to look professional and maximize the impact of your video, you’ll need to run through various steps of post-production. This means that you’ll be editing your audio and video in order to clean it up and make it as effective as possible.
This is also where Camtasia Studio shines, since it has a very powerful post-production editor which is very easy to use. Recall that Camtasia Studio has a 30 day free trial, so you could potentially use that month to create the videos you want to produce, and then make up your mind if you want to purchase it.
For those of you not interested in Camtasia Studio, then a great general purpose video/audio editor on the PC is Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11 (starts from $33). This software can be used both for doing post-production of your screencast videos, as well as any other general purpose videos you may want to tweak, such as your family vacation videos.
Sony have a good 1 hour introduction training video which will teach you the basics. I personally use both Camtasia and Sony Vegas for video post-production: Camtasia for screencasts, and Sony Vegas for general purpose videos.
I’ve also got a separate blog post showing you how to take a video captured with Camtasia Studio and then import it into Sony Vegas in order to do post-production. Note that with the recent versions of Camtasia Studio this is no longer necessary, since the post-production video editor in Camtasia is now of excellent quality, but if you want the extra power of Sony Vegas then go ahead and follow the advice given in that article.
Some people like Adobe Premiere Elements ($64) as their general purpose video editor, but I prefer Sony Vegas over this product.
Post-production for Macs
For those of you running Macs, apart from the Mac version of Camtasia Studio ($99), and ScreenFlow ($99), you can’t beat the simplicity of Apple iMovie ($15). You can use iMovie as both a general purpose and screencast video editor. Last Halloween my kids were dying to make their first “scary” YouTube video, so we put together this short 1 minute scene using an iPhone 4 and iMovie.
For audio post-production on a Mac, you can either use the Audacity (free), or the excellent Apple GarageBand ($15) product.
Other options for a general purpose video editor would be Adobe Premiere Elements ($64), as well as Final Cut Pro ($300). When talking about Final Cut Pro, you should take note that the movie Iron Man was entirely edited with this program, so this is Hollywood grade technology (which is extreme overkill for our screencast video needs).
In terms of what I personally use on the Mac, I’ll typically use Apple iMovie for simple general purpose home movies, and for screencasts I use Camtasia Studio for Mac.
Free options for video post-production
Unfortunately there aren’t many free options for this step. Two viable options as simple online video editors are: YouTube Editor (tutorial), and Pixorial. For audio post-production there’s a great program called Audacity, which is free and works on both PC and Mac.
If you’re looking to spice up a short family home video, or want to create a “snazzy” product intro video, you should check out Animoto. This service grabs your photos, videos and music and turns it into something which looks like a music video. Creation of very short videos (30 seconds long) is free, and it’s a paid service for anything beyond that.
In a later blog post, I’ll be explaining the process by which you create a screencast (rather than the technology which is the focus of this post), and I’ll list the various post-production steps I typically go through when creating videos.
Uploading Your Video To A Video Hosting Provider
If you have a video which is under 15 minutes in length, then upload your video to YouTube. Note that YouTube now have certain conditions where they’ll allow you to upload videos longer than 15 minutes, providing your account is in good standing and you verify your account with a mobile phone (via text).
For videos longer than 15 minutes, you can also upload them to Vimeo. Vimeo allow you to upload one HD quality video per week, and give you a maximum storage capacity of 500 MB per week, per free account. One of the specific things I like about Vimeo is that they allow you to mark a video as private (which YouTube can also do), and also lock it down with a password (which YouTube cannot do). For more details on their free accounts, see the FAQ.
There are other options for HD video hosting out there, but I tend to stick to YouTube and Vimeo, and have not had a need to look anywhere else.
If you want to outsource some of your video needs, then be sure to check out the video and graphics section on Fiverr. This is an outsourcing site where people will do almost anything (and I mean that literally) for $5 a pop. Stick with people who have a lot of good reviews, and you’ll be amazed at what great value this site can provide.
For more professional level outsourcing, you should typically be able to find what you need, such as design and multimedia experts, on oDesk.
You can do this !
I’ve told you the exact products and software I use for almost my entire video needs, so if you want to save time and the prices are within your budget, then go ahead and just go with what I currently use. If you need cheaper options, I’ve also given you a picking of the top products in each category, and even given free options for most sections as well.
I realize that we’ve covered a lot of ground, but please don’t feel overwhelmed. It may sound complex now, but once you dive in and start playing with the technology I’ve listed, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
Don’t worry about your first few videos not being perfect. Just crank them out, and try to make the new one a bit better than the last one. Before you know it, you’ll be a video guru impressing your family and friends with great holiday videos, and impressing your boss, colleagues, and customers with sales and training videos.
Have some fun with it !