The best free screen recorder 2019: record or stream all the action

Girl using free screen recorder while gaming
Image credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

A free screen recorder is just what you need if you're looking to make a video of what's happening on your desktop. Like an advanced version of a screenshot, screen recording enables you to create demonstration videos, record gaming achievements for posterity, and create videos than can be shared online on the likes of YouTube.

It is important to choose the right free screen recorder depending on what you intend to do with the footage you capture. Different recorders offer a range of differing features, can save captures in varying formats, or capture footage from external sources such as a webcam – and some even give you the opportunity to upload to the internet directly from within the program. Some run nicely on average hardware, while others are more demanding. The point is that there is plenty of choice.

No matter what you're hoping to do with footage captured from your computer, you need the right tool for the job. And this is where our look at the best free screen recorders can help – take a look and see which one is best for you.

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OBS Studio

OBS Studio gets our vote for the best free screen recorder. It's feature-packed, and nothing is hidden behind a paywall (Image credit: OBS Studio)

1. OBS Studio

The best free screen recorder for capturing or streaming games, packed with features to help you achieve high-quality recordings

HD streaming and recording
No restrictions on video length
Setup takes a little while

If you’re a keen gamer, OBS Studio is easily the best screen capture software for you. Unlike the hugely popular FRAPS (which only lets you record for 30 seconds at a stretch unless you’ve bought a license, and applies a watermark to the resulting footage), OBS Studio is open source, and completely free to use without restrictions.

Editor's choice award: OBS Studio

Free screen recorder OBS Studio supports both streaming and recording in high definition, with no restrictions on the number or length of your creations. You can stream live to Twitch or YouTube gaming, save projects and come back to them later, or encode your footage in FLV format and save it locally.

Because OBS Studio can record directly from your graphics card, it’s able to capture games running in full-screen mode (many other screen recorders can only record if the game is windowed), with customizable hotkeys to control the recording. OBS Studio can also make full use of multi-core CPUs for improved performance, and can record at 60FPS (or even higher).

It might take a little while to set it up exactly how you want, but OBS Studio is by far the best and most powerful screen recorder for gamers.

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Flashback Express

Flashback Express is refreshingly simply to use and beautifully designed (Image credit: Blueberry Software)

2. FlashBack Express

Another feature-packed screen recorder that's ideal for recording games and capturing footage from your webcam

Well designed interface
Built-in video editor
Choice of output formats

OBS Studio is our top choice for recording from a desktop or webcam, but Flashback Express comes an extremely close second. Despite being a free version of a paid program, FlashBack Express won't put ugly watermarks over your recordings or impose time limits, and it's packed with features and tools that rival many premium programs. Its interface is less intimidating than OBS Studio, so if you've never used a screen recorder before, it's an excellent choice.

You can record from your whole screen, a window, a selected area, or a webcam. Once you’ve finished, your recording will appear in a simple editor, where you can crop and trim it to suit your needs, then export it to YouTube, an FTP server, or your PC.

That’s all fairly standard fare for a free screen recorder, but take a minute to dive into Flashback’s advanced options and you’ll find a wealth of thoughtfully designed settings that will make your desktop recordings look truly professional. The recorder can automatically obscure passwords entered on screen, replace your silly wallpaper with a plain one, hide messy desktop icons, and highlight your mouse pointer to make it easier to follow. There's also a dedicated gaming mode that lets you define the number of frames recorded per second.

There’s no limit on the length of your recordings unless you choose to set one, which can be useful if there’s a chance you might accidentally leave the recorder running. You can also choose to break long recordings up into chunks – a brilliant touch that helps you avoid creating huge, unwieldy files. Your recordings won’t be watermarked, either.

Following a recent update, Flashback Express can export in WMV, AVI and MP4 formats, eliminating the need for a separate video converter, and it no longer requires a free license key for activation – just install the software and you're ready to start recording.

Developer Blueberry Software has also released a free screen recorder designed specifically for games – FBX. This recorder captures HD in-game footage, with hardware acceleration for AMD and Nvidia cards, and Intel CPUs.

If you're thinking about upgrading to FlashBack Pro, Blueberry software is offering TechRadar readers an exclusive 25% discount.

Apowersoft Online Screen Recorder screen grab

The online version of Apowesoft's free screen recorder lets you record your screen with no time limits (Image credit: Apowersoft)

3. Apowersoft Free Online Screen Recorder

An in-browser recorder more powerful than most desktop apps

No time limits or watermarks
Lots of export options
Not suitable for games

If you want to record a presentation, software demonstration or tutorial, give Apowersoft Free Online Screen Recorder a try. It's a browser-based tool, which means it's not suitable for games, but for any other tasks it's ideal.

The first time you use Apowersoft Free Online Screen Recorder, you'll be prompted to download a small launcher application. You'll then be provided with a control bar packed with more options than you'll find in most desktop screen recording software. You can capture footage from your desktop or a webcam, and record audio from your PC, microphone, both or neither.

You can record the whole screen, select an area manually or choose one of the preset resolutions – ideal if you’re recording a clip for YouTube, for example, and don’t want to use a separate video editor to resize it later.

Apowersoft Free Online Screen Recorder also offers customizable keyboard shortcuts for speed and convenience. You can choose whether or not to include the cursor in the recording and take your pick from a range of output formats including MP4, WMV, AVI, MOV and many more. You can even add annotations during the recording.

Once you’re done, you can save the recording as a video file or GIF, upload it directly to YouTube or Vimeo, or send it to Google Drive or Dropbox. You can also edit the clip. Selecting this option will download an additional component – Apowersoft Video Editor – which lets you make simple adjustments before exporting your video in your preferred format. A truly exceptional tool.

Note that the 'Download desktop version' button links to a program called Apowersoft Screen Recorder Pro. This is a trial version of a premium application, and is more limited than Online Screen Recorder.

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Debut Video Capture

Debut Video Capture might not look as slick as some, but it performs admirably (Image credit: NCH Software)

4. Debut Video Capture

Amazingly flexible, and capable of much more than just screen recording

Scheduled recordings
Can record from external cameras
Looks a little dated

Debut Video Capture is a new addition to our roundup of free screen recorders, and although its slightly dated design does it few favors, it's an extremely powerful program that can do much more than just capture what's happening on your PC monitor.

In addition to basic screen recording (with no time limits or watermarks), Debut Video Capture can also record footage from external devices, including webcams and security cameras. It can even record on a regular schedule, which means it can become the main hub of a home security system. Not too shabby for a program that's totally free for personal use.

There are no post-production editing tools, but you can apply filters and add your own captions and watermarks before you begin recording. There's no option for exporting videos directly to YouTube or Facebook, but they can be saved in all the main formats, including MP4, MOV and AVI (to name just three).

Debut Video Capture is currently in public beta, so we look forward to seeing the final release version with a lick of extra polish soon.

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ShareX

As its name suggests, ShareX is a great screen recorder if you want to share your videos with others (Image credit: ShareX Team)

5. ShareX

A fine choice if you want to share your screen recordings online

Capture as video file or GIF
Dozens of export options
Also great for static screen grabs
Unintuitive interface
Not suitable for games

ShareX is an open source app for capturing still screen grabs and recording videos. There are no watermarks or time limits to worry about, but the interface isn't the most intuitive in the world so you’ll be best off using keyboard shortcuts. For quick reference, you can start a recording by tapping Shift + Print Screen, and stop it again using Ctrl + Shift + Print Screen.

You can also use this free screen recorder to save your capture as a GIF rather than a video file, which can be extremely useful for sharing on forums and social media.

Not only is ShareX a brilliant free screen recorder, it can also capture an entire scrolling webpage, capture and identify text via OCR, and even capture your screen according to a schedule.

Another of its best features is the ability to send your captured grabs and videos straight to a file-sharing or social media site. There’s a vast array of options, which you can check out on the project’s site.

Unfortunately, ShareX doesn’t support taking screen grabs or recordings from games running in full-screen mode. Other than that, it’s a superb screen recorder that will serve you extremely well.

Watch our rundown of our favourite free video editors: