Those of you who have been following along at home may have noticed that I almost never write tips about third-party programs. But the one I’m discussing today seemed so useful and neat to me when I found it that I just couldn’t resist. Clarify (made by Blue Mango Learning Systems) is an application built to help you share instructions and how-tos so easily that it’s almost disturbing. You just take a series of screen shots, and it’ll pop them into a document in order. After you’ve snapped all of the pictures you need, you can go into Clarify and rearrange, annotate, and write about the images you’ve taken to your heart’s content before you share the file with others. It really is fun and easy to use (and necessary for those of us who need to convey information without taking hours to do so).
So here’s how it works. After you’ve installed and launched the program, you’ll have access to a new menulet in your menu bar. Use that or Clarify’s built-in keyboard shortcut to start taking screen shots.
The interface for composing your screen shots (and do I know about screenshots) couldn’t be simpler to understand. It’s pretty similar to Mac OS X’s built-in Command-Shift-4 shortcut in that you click and drag to select your shot, but when you’re done, you’ll hit Enter to confirm that you’re finished.
After you’ve taken each image, Clarify will open to show you your in-progress creation. It appends each shot into your document with automatic, editable text fields, so you can give a descriptive title and instructions to each step.
One of my favorite features of the application, though, is in how much control you have over annotating each image. You can add arrows and text boxes or blur out parts of the image:
Or you can add numbered call-outs, which is especially great because Clarify will helpfully renumber them if you delete one in the middle of your sequence.
After you’ve marked up an image, you can even right- or Control-click on it to copy or export that single picture. I’ve used this a few times already just to quickly blur something out of a screen shot before e-mailing it. Hey, it’s faster than trying to hide all those shirtless Jony Ive photos I’ve collected over the years.
When you’re finished fancying up your document with annotations and text, you have a few choices on how you’d like to share it. First, you can export it as a PDF right from Clarify’s toolbar.
And here’s how Clarify formatted the elements of my PDF.
You can also choose the Share > Attach PDF to Email Message menu option. Easy enough, right? But here’s the part that, in my humble little opinion, takes this application from “cool” to “completely awesome”—if you sign up for a free account on Clarify’s website, it’s simple to upload your creations right to your own account page. Doing so will automatically copy the link to your document to your clipboard.
You can visit your online account page to see all of the files you’ve uploaded and purge them at will, too.
With one of their Pro accounts, you can even brand your Clarify documents online with your company logo, so your customers (or just your family) will think you’re the bee’s knees. I’ve always wanted to be the bee’s knees.
If you’re curious about the customer-service aspect of their company, I’ll note that I had a technical issue that I e-mailed about, and I got a reply within fifteen minutes from one of the developers. I’m always pretty darned impressed when that stuff happens.
The program is $29.99 on the Mac App Store, or you can visit Clarify’s website to download a free 14-day trial. I’ve really just touched on the high points of everything this application is capable of, so go get the trial and check it out for yourself. Then be sure to let me know what you think!