Using Camtasia to record a laptop screen with pen tablet input

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About this article

This article demonstrates how to record an instructional video that includes capturing your laptop screen activity, narration, and freehand drawing using a pen or stylus and a software tool called SmoothDraw on a Wacom Bamboo Create pen tablet, similar to the videos available through Khan Academy. It is intended for instructors using PC laptops.

Instructional use case

Steve teaches economics and spends a lot of time in class at the whiteboard, drawing diagrams. The instructional value of this activity is not the finished diagram, but the process of drawing it. Steve wants to make that process available to students in the form of online, narrated videos. Steve considers several options for producing the videos. He could grab a camera and have a colleague record him at the whiteboard in his classroom. Steve is a bit of a perfectionist and knows that each video might require multiple attempts. He thinks recording in a more controlled studio environment might work better. He also wants students to focus on the process, not on him, so he would rather not capture himself in front of the board. Steve decides to use his laptop to simulate a whiteboard using a free software tool called SmoothDraw. He checks out a Wacom Bamboo Create pen tablet from TLT and takes it home with him. In his quiet home office, Steve plugs the tablet into his laptop, plugs in his headset microphone, and opens up a blank SmoothDraw page. He then turns on the TechSmith Camtasia screen recorder software installed on his laptop that will record all of his screen activity and his voice. Camtasia counts down from three and then Steve begins to talk and draw on the pen tablet with the accompanying stylus. He records for about two minutes before he messes up. He stops Camtasia, deletes the first attempt, opens a new SmoothDraw page, and tries again. After four takes, Steve has a 10-minute movie that he really likes. Using Camtasia, he saves this movie in a Web-friendly format and uploads it to his YouTube channel. He embeds the video in his D2L course, along with a news announcement for students directing them to it. Steve asks them to watch the video and respond to a discussion board question prior to coming to the next class.

Step 1: Prepare

  1. Write a script. Even if you are a gifted speaker who has presented this information many times, you will save time by developing a script and the video will be easier to caption and revise.
  2. Download and install Camtasia Studio.
  3. Download and install SmoothDraw.
  4. Check out a Wacom Bamboo Create pen tablet from TLT. Install the drivers and software for the tablet on your laptop using the accompanying CD.
  5. Clean up your computer's desktop. Close any applications that you don't want to record. Change your desktop wallpaper to a solid color if needed.
  6. Plug in your microphone. Windows should indicate that it recognizes the device and it's ready to use. Use a good USB microphone for the best audio.

Step 2: Test the pen tablet

  1. Plug the accompanying USB cord into the pen tablet and plug the USB connector into your laptop. Windows should indicate when the device is installed and ready to use. If you have any trouble, consult the User's Manual or contact TLT.
  2. Drag your finger across the surface of the tablet, this should move the mouse cursor on your laptop screen. Tapping the tablet will have the same result as left-clicking your mouse. Note that your mouse still works, so you can use it if needed. Consult the Wacom Gesture Guide and User's Manual for more information about gesture-based commands.
  3. Open the SmoothDraw application. A blank page should appear. Use the pen that accompanied the pen tablet to write on the surface of the tablet. Your pen strokes should appear on the page in SmoothDraw. You can switch pen types and colors in SmoothDraw. The pen tablet is pressure sensitive, so pressing harder as you draw has much the same effect as it would with a real pen or marker. This is more evident with certain pen types.

Step 3: Test Camtasia Studio

  1. If you have never used Camtasia or need a refresher, review the tutorials.
  2. Start Camtasia Studio and select Record the screen. This will open the Record the Screen tool.
  3. Check that the recorder is using the appropriate microphone. Speak into the microphone and observe the level meter. The level indicator should stay in the middle of the range.
  4. Set the desired capture area size. In this case, you would probably just want to specify a capture area that is the same size as the blank page in SmoothDraw. Play around with the presets and custom sizes in Camtasia until you get dimensions that meet your needs. Note that TechSmith recommends 1280x720 for videos destined for YouTube.
  5. Press the Rec button and capture a practice video. Press F10 to stop recording. Play the video in the preview window to ensure that that sound quality is acceptable.
  6. Delete the practice recording. You are now ready for your first real take!

Step 4: Produce and publish your video

  1. Again, consult the tutorials to learn the basics of Camtasia Studio editing and production tools.
  2. When you have completed a recording, select Save and Edit from the Camtasia preview window.
  3. Name the camrec file and save it in the desired location on your laptop. You will then be taken to the Camtasia Studio application with your camrec file already loaded in the clip bin and timeline.
  4. Select editing dimensions for your video. This also defines the dimensions of your published video. Select a preset or enter custom dimensions. TechSmith recommends 1280x720 for videos destined for YouTube.
  5. Use the Camtasia Studio tools to edit your video as desired. Save the camproj project file regularly to preserve your work.
  6. When you are ready to save a Web-friendly version of your video, select Produce and share. For upload to YouTube, select either Share to YouTube or one of the MP4 Only choices. Share to YouTube will upload the MP4 version of the video directly to your YouTube channel. You will need to specify your Google username and password in order to do this. Selecting MP4 Only allows you to save the MP4 version of the video to your laptop for later upload to YouTube or elsewhere.

Pro tips

  • Resist the temptation to change the SmoothDraw paper color to black and use a fluorescent pen color like you see in Kahn Academy videos. Research shows that dark ink on a light background is the most readable.
  • Remember that the MP4 file and the raw camrec file are two separate things. The editing you do in Camtasia Studio does not alter your raw camrec video file. If you want to make changes to a published movie, re-edit the camrec file in Camtasia Studio or open up and edit the saved camproj project file, produce it again, and re-publish it.

Related information

\*How does Kahn Academy make its videos?