Wikipedia:Software screenshots

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Wikipedia includes many articles on pieces of software, and it is often useful to illustrate these with screenshots of the software running. Discussion about specific cases should be brought forward at Media copyright questions (or the Help desk). Below is a suggested set of guidelines for creating a screenshot image, based in part on discussion at Talk:Mozilla Firefox/Archive 1#Screenshot_2 and Talk:Mozilla Firefox/Archive 12#Screenshot, and other resources.

Content and presentation[edit]

Wikipedia's Manual of Style for images reads that images displayed in the lead of an article should be "natural and appropriate visual representations of the topic; they not only should be illustrating the topic specifically, but should also be the type of image that is used for similar purposes in high-quality reference works, and therefore what our readers will expect to see." To reflect this guideline, the main screenshot should portray the software in its most common form by using its default settings.

While an "initial" state is desired (i.e. one with a blank document, or showing a "welcome" menu), it may also be desirable to load generic data or filler text into the depicted software (especially if it is graphics software or part of an office suite) in screenshots to show the software in "normal" use. It is preferable that the demonstration content itself is self-made, freely licensed or in the public domain to prevent the accidental inclusion of non-free content if it can be avoided. It has been a common practice for web browser screenshots to use images of Wikipedia's front page. There have been concerns over the practice by some, however, as it is a self-reference, and because Wikimedia Foundation logos were previously non-free (although this is no longer the case). Most major web browsers now have their own dedicated "start" pages built-in, which typically display recently visited or bookmarked sites, that can serve as an alternative.

It may be desirable to illustrate the rest of the article with relevant screenshots to showcase important features or functionality in the software, especially if it is Free and open source software (FOSS), but sparingly in the case of non-free software with the presence of a proper fair use claim. (see the Licensing Concepts section for further information)

Choice of platform[edit]

In the case of multi-platform programs that are FOSS, and have a visibly similar interface between platforms (such as LibreOffice or GIMP for example), it is preferred that screenshots be taken under a FOSS operating system (such as a Linux distribution). In the case of programs that carry visibly different appearances across platforms (such as Firefox), the decision on which operating system to use for the main screenshot can depend on consensus. The operating system should also use its default theme to ensure a neutral and common appearance.

Screenshots depicting FOSS on Windows or OS X (or any other proprietary operating system) pose the potential for issues with screenshots because they are non-free; while there has been no clear consensus regarding incidental inclusion of OS X interface elements (such as the window frame) in screenshots of FOSS, consensus has indicated that some Windows themes, such as "Windows Classic" and Windows 8's "Metro" theme, are too basic for copyright protection due to their geometric nature (and can be included without problem on screenshots of FOSS running on that platform). However, there is no consensus on whether the Aero Glass theme used by Windows Vista and 7 is sufficiently original for protection—deletion discussions have gone both ways. To comply with relevant policies, it's best to play it safe instead of relying on de minimis claims. But of course, if the software being depicted is non-free to begin with, this choice of operating system doesn't matter, since fair use will be claimed regardless. In the case of older versions of software, do not unnecessarily portray them running on newer versions of operating systems they are not intended for use on or supported on, especially if this is simply to make a point that it can run on said version.

On free operating systems such as Linux, the situation of ensuring neutral and common presentation becomes more complex: many distributions and desktop environments use custom default themes that vary, and there is a desire to prevent visible bias towards certain distributions (despite its popularity, Ubuntu isn't the only Linux distribution in the world). In these cases, if the software is associated with a certain distribution or desktop environment (such as Ubuntu and the Ubuntu Software Centre, or Nautilus and GNOME), it should be shown on that distribution or desktop using its default theme. If not, it should be shown using a distribution-neutral theme—such as Clearlooks and Adwaita for GTK+/GNOME 2.x and 3.x respectively, and default themes on KDE Plasma Workspaces.

Choice of file format[edit]

The preferred image format for free screenshots comprised of non-photographic data is PNG. Compared with JPEG, it yields better compression on such images and does not introduce compression artifacts. Even if a screenshot contains one or more photos, the readouts and interface elements surrounding the photos are still non-photographic. However, in case of video game screenshots, screenshots with a very large photographic portion, and downsized non-free screenshots, JPEG may work better, especially if the compression is adjusted carefully. (Downsized PNG images may be larger than their original.) GIF images are only acceptable for animated material because their compression algorithm (albeit lossless) is inferior to PNG and the whole image can have no more than 256 colors.

Thumbnails are another reason for preferring the PNG format over GIF and JPEG: Thumbnails of GIF images may have particularly low quality because of their limited color palette. JPEG compression is innately lossy and generating thumbnails from this format means another round of lost quality.

It is recommended that you disable subpixel rendering, such as CoolType or Microsoft ClearType. Images taken with these techniques enabled have greater detail when viewed on screens with one particular pixel geometry, but produce aliasing artifacts when viewed on displays which do not use the intended geometry. In addition, Wikipedia's image compression formats are better able to handle screenshots without subpixel rendering, yielding smaller file sizes.

Licensing concepts[edit]

Free software screenshots to Wikimedia Commons[edit]

If your screenshot depicts free and open source software (free as in freedom, typically licensed under the GPL, LGPL, BSD, MIT, Apache, and other such licenses), then generally speaking, you can upload the screenshot to Wikimedia Commons, which has its own rules for screenshots that are also good to follow in Wikipedia.

Only screenshots of free and open source software can be uploaded to Commons; screenshots of non-free software will often be deleted quickly. If you are unsure of how a piece of software is licensed and it has a Wikipedia article, the source model and license (if any) are usually mentioned somewhere in the article—most prominently in the infobox.

Screenshots of proprietary software[edit]

It is generally agreed that screenshots of non-free and/or proprietary software can be used on Wikipedia under fair use claims if certain conditions are met. By definition, proprietary software is not only commercial (for-cost) software, but also freeware, shareware, donationware, registerware, abandonware, etc., even if to various degrees such software is free to obtain (free to download, install and use). Software that is freeware is erroneously and sometimes intentionally called "free software" by some vendors, and can prove confusing. There are also potential issues with trademarks, and some software vendors seek to limit the extent to which images can be used.


Because a screenshot of proprietary software is non-free, consider carefully whether it's really necessary to upload it. In many cases, the publisher of the program has their own screenshots uploaded on their website; as have other sites, not all of which employ comprehensive policies and requirements regarding free and non-free content similar to Wikipedia and its sister projects. If the non-free screenshot's purpose is to display a program's feature, then instead it may be better to describe it in article text.

Reasons for uploading a non-free screenshot can be to point out a notable use case or a set of features unique to the program. Other reasons are for historic purposes, for when an old version of the program is no longer in widespread use, or if the original publisher of the program has gone out of business, or if the developer has died. (The latter two rationales should not be the sole reasons for uploading a screenshot.)


In addition to choice of file format, non-free screenshots must meet the demands of limited size and resolution, and minimal exposure of non-primary elements.

Because Microsoft Windows is the most widespread proprietary consumer desktop operating system, suggestions are also based on Windows. It does not mean that they don't apply with other proprietary operating systems.
  • Screenshots should be taken at a reduced screen resolution, such as 640x480, 800x600 or 1024x768. This will allow interface details to be more visible in thumbnails. Note that if your Windows desktop has many items with preferred placement, then reducing the screen resolution displaces them, so it would be better to create a screenshot in a different Windows profile. If you don't know or don't bother to reduce the screen resolution, restore the program's window from maximized to windowed state and resize the window.
  • If you're making a screenshot of a proprietary program to illustrate features which do not use parts of a proprietary operating system, make sure only that program is visible and don't include elements of the OS that aren't used by the program's features you're illustrating; this could include the desktop, the Windows Taskbar, or the Mac menu bar.

Copyright tags[edit]

Generally, the image copyright tag for fair use software screenshots is {{non-free software screenshot}}. The template requires adding information to required parameters, so it's important to read the template's documentation.

Rationale required

Always include the {{Non-free use rationale}} template for each piece of non-free software in the screenshot and detailed information required by the template. For example, if you have Internet Explorer and Safari side by side. To avoid overuse of the template in a single image file, avoid visibility of proprietary add-ons, components, and elements that are not part of the screenshot's primary subject (such as Internet Explorer with a Skype button).

Microsoft products

For screenshots, where the primary subject is a non-free program published by Microsoft, use the {{Non-free Microsoft screenshot}} template, which lists additional permissions granted for re-users (which still, however, are non-free). If these requirements are not met (typically third-party content, such as a website), use {{non-free software screenshot}}.

Non-free website

If the screenshot shows a non-free website, always include the {{Non-free web screenshot}} tag and add the necessary values to required parameters. Most websites are non-free.

Non-free game

If the screenshot shows a non-free game – either for a computer, a game console, a cell phone, or any other device able to run games – include the {{Non-free game screenshot}} template and add values to required parameters. Only a small number of computer games are free as in freedom; most games are proprietary.

Screenshots of leaked software[edit]

There is mixed consensus surrounding the creation of screenshots from leaked builds of non-free pre-release software by Wikipedia editors. Some editors have contested the ability to properly claim fair use on such original screenshots due to interpretations of NFCC 4 ("must have been published or publicly displayed outside Wikipedia") since leaked software could technically be considered an unpublished work. There is also the issue of verifiability; there may not be proper indication that the screenshot is authentic (or if the user even had authorization to do so in the first place).

As a rule of thumb, screenshots of pre-release software should only be included if the build depicted has been released to the general public by the software developer (either the build, or the screenshot itself), the image itself has been published by a reliable source (which can be considered "publicly displayed"), or the person who created the image and the person uploading the image to Wikipedia both attest that the software was legally obtained and there is no contractual obligation not to publicly distribute screenshots.