How to record your PC or Mac's screen for free

Capture games and other software, and export or stream the footage


If you want to upload a Let’s Play video to YouTube or make a software tutorial, you need to record your screen – and it's much easier than you might expect.

Whether you have a PC or Mac, OBS Studio is the best tool for the job. It’s a powerful open source screen recorder, and is ideal for simple screen captures or more advanced recording from sources including webcams and video cameras. You can even use it to stream live video to Twitch or YouTube.

Here's how to do it.

1. Get OBS Studio

To capture your PC or Mac screen, start by downloading OBS Studio and running the installer. There’s no adware or other unwanted software bundled with the screen recorder, but you might be prompted to download some runtime components. If so, download the file from the page that opens in your browser and run it. Once the components are installed, re-launch the OBS Studio installer.

Leave the Browser Source plugin box checked (this will make sure web pages are displayed correctly in recordings), but skip the other plugin unless you want to record from a RealSense camera. 

2. Run the configuration wizard

When OBS Studio launches for the first time, run the automatic configuration wizard, which will determine the best settings for recording your screen. Check the option ‘Optimize just for recording’ if you don’t intend to stream video; otherwise, leave the first option selected and click ‘Next’.

OBS Studio can record up to 60 frames per second, and the default settings will use this option when possible, but you can choose to prioritize image quality instead. This might result in less smooth video, so we recommedn sticking with the first option. The installer will test the recording encoder using various settings and provide its recommendations. To accept these, click ‘Apply settings’. 

3. Set your sources

Now you’re ready to set up OBS Studio for recording. You’ll need these if you’re planning to broadcast a stream from different sources (such as your desktop, your webcam, and some still images), you can create a new Scene for each one, making it easy to switch between them. If you just want to record what’s happening on your display, you can ignore this.

The ‘Sources’ panel at the bottom lets you choose where video will be recorded from. The options you’ll be interested in are Display Capture and Game Capture

Display Capture records whatever is happening on your Mac or PC screen from the moment you click ‘Start recording’ (if you have multiple monitors, you’ll be prompted to choose one), whereas Game Capture starts recording when you launch a full-screen application.

Selecting Display Capture will produce a hall of mirrors effect as the software captures itself capturing itself (and so on), but don’t be alarmed. 

4. Choose your audio settings

By default, OBS Studio will record from both your PC or Mac’s sound card, and any attached microphones. You can adjust the relative volume of these, or disable either one using the Mixer panel.

Clicking the Settings icon beside either Desktop Audio or Microphone Audio will let you apply filters to the sound before it’s encoded. The noise suppression option is particularly handy if you’re recoding your own narration.

5. Edit export options

Now you need to decide what happens when you stop your recording manually, or you close the game you’ve been playing. Click File, followed by Settings. If you want to stream content from your screen, click Stream and select a service from the drop-down list. Current options include Twitch, Facebook, YouTube and many more.

If you want to save the recording from your screen as a video file, click Output and take a look at the settings. Most of the defaults here will be fine, but you might want to change the recording format from FLV (MP4 is more widely supported) and change the path for the exported files.

6. Record or stream from your screen

Depending on the source settings you’ve chosen, you can begin recording by either clicking ‘Start record’ on the right-hand side of OBS Studio, or launching a full-screen game.

If you choose the first option, you’ll have to use a video editor like ShotCut to trim away the start of the video, which will show you minimizing OBS Studio and firing up the program you want to demonstrate. To avoid this, return to Settings, select Hotkeys, and set keyboard shortcuts that will start and stop recording.