I often need to take screenshots of windows that are larger than the currently shown desktop. I'm on Ubuntu 11.04, gnome-about says Version: 2.32.1; compiz --version says Compiz -- and I have four virtual desktops/workspaces, which are arranged as such:

The above images were obtained by moving into each separate workspace, and taking a screenshot via PrintScreen key - that is to say, gnome-screenshot. (I am aware that there are better ways of obtaining firefox shots, like the "Page Saver" addon - the above is taken simply as an example of a generic oversized window).

EDIT: I'm apparently using the wrong nomenclature here (found via xorg - Get current Virtual Desktop - number/name/tag/id? - Unix and Linux) - it turns out, in the above example, I still have only one workspace; what is changed, instead, is the viewport - this is what wmctrl -d shows on each of the "virtual desktops":

$ wmctrl -d
0  * DG: 2048x1200  VP: 0,0  WA: 0,1 1024x598  Workspace 1
$ wmctrl -d
0  * DG: 2048x1200  VP: 0,600  WA: 0,1 1024x598  Workspace 1
$ wmctrl -d
0  * DG: 2048x1200  VP: 1024,0  WA: 0,1 1024x598  Workspace 1
$ wmctrl -d
0  * DG: 2048x1200  VP: 1024,600  WA: 0,1 1024x598  Workspace 1

so to switch between "virtual desktops" from the command line, I should in fact change the "viewport", as in: wmctrl -o 1024,0

Obviously, moving to each virtual desktop, taking a screenshot and stitching them together - and finally cutting the application window - is a bit tedious, so I was wandering if there was a tool (preferably command line) that would allow me to pick a window that is larger than the current desktop, and takes a screenshot of its entire contents, in one go. There could be two scenarios here as well:

  • A larger-than-desktop window is moved so it takes up space on several virtual desktops (like the images above show)
  • A larger-than-desktop window is moved outside of the total size of all virtual desktops (from the perspective of top-left desktop in composition above, imagine moving the application window towards the top-left, and outside of desktop area - as opposed to it being moved bottom right as shown above)

The first case is possible, if not in any other way, then manually (as I did it above) -- and for the second case, I guess it should be possible for an application to either "move" the window briefly to the total all-desktops area - or create a "virtual" graphics context not shown on screen, and render the window there (although, I don't know enough details to know for sure).

I have tried the following tools so far:

  • gnome-screenshot
  • xwd
  • scrot
  • import (ImageMagick)

and they will all capture just a "corner" of the entire application window, which is shown on the current desktop (in a situation as shown above). When trying to capture "root" or "full-screen", all of these capture just the currently rendered desktop (not the total area of all virtual desktops).

I also tried shutter (0.87.2 Rev.1071), and while I've found information that from version 0.86.4 onwards, "you can capture all virtual desktops now. Shutter will go through all of them, take a picture of every one and compose them into a one large screenshot" - I did give a try clicking on "Capture all Workspaces" - but it only takes a shot of the current workspace/desktop; window captures are likewise cut at the limits of current desktop (or fail with "Error while taking the screenshot: Maybe mouse pointer could not be grabbed or the selected area is invalid." if the window fully sits in a virtual desktop other than the current one).

Then I read that there is a screenshot plugin for compiz - and since here compiz manages the virtual desktops, I thought it could handle the total area - but there are no settings there (in CompizConfig settings manager), but: "Enable plugin", an output directory, and a button to enable and set hotkeys for "Initiate rectangle screenshot" -- and since apparently only thing you can do is drag with the mouse to specify a rectangular area, I doubt that plugin would help capturing the total area in one go.

Thus, I'd like to ask for some suggestions about tools, that can:

  • Capture the total area (all workspaces/virtual desktops) in one go; or
  • Capture the total area of the selected window, even if it is pushed outside of the currently rendered desktop (also in one go)

I would prefer something that deals with this stuff in memory - I myself could come up with something worse: such as a bash script that sends keystrokes to change desktops (or just via wmctrl), and takes individual screenshots there -- but that would be a pain to use, especially since I'd be visually exposed to the "desktop switching" while the screenshot is being captures... If not any complete programs, suggestions for C/Perl/Python APIs that can access bitmap data on all/any virtual desktops would be great too.

2 Answers 2


Ok, found this for X windows:

FVWM Forums • View topic - Thumbnailing a Window on another Viewport

As to why you can't access a window (that is, take a picture of it when it is not on the same desk/page as the current viewport) is because windows that are not on the current page are unmapped. This is true when one changes pages/desks -- the windows are unmapped, and the windows on the current viewport are remapped.

So, I guess that means what I want is impossible? Although there are two workarounds:

  • use xrandr to increase the virtual size of (each of the four) viewports

This is what works for me - first query to see which output you want, then execute:

$ xrandr -q
Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1024 x 600, maximum 4096 x 4096
LVDS1 connected 1024x600+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 0mm x 0mm
   1024x600       60.0*+
   800x600        60.3     56.2  
   640x480        59.9  
VGA1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)

$ xrandr --output LVDS1 --panning 1600x768

... see also X/Config/Resolution - Ubuntu Wiki

  • Use xvfb for virtual render

Got this via x11 - Remote offscreen rendering - Server Fault, also see Xvfb - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia for examples. This is what worked for me - each command goes in own terminal (as some of them are meant to be services)

# start xvfb as display 1 - note the "screen 0" there refers to "its own" screen 0; should set it to 24-bit color

Xvfb :1 -screen 0 1600x1200x24 -pixdepths 3 -fp /usr/share/fonts/X11/Type1

# start metacity on display 1 (would start gdm, but [Bug #598848: gdm no longer works with xvfb](https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/598848)
# needed to we have title bars, and possibility to move windows around 

DISPLAY=:1 metacity

# start application (here web-browser arora) again on display 1

DISPLAY=:1 arora

# start vnc server, which will bridge display 1 to port 5900
# note - this command exists, however starts a server in background 

x11vnc -display :1 -bg -nopw -listen localhost -xkb

# start vnc viewer on port 5900 - so we can see display 1:
# note also - when vncviewer exits, it also will kill the x11vnc server

vncviewer -FullColor=1 localhost:5900

The problem here is that not all parts of the OS are initialized - so there are no window decoration, and only basic X fonts; although, apps may find their own fonts, as seen below:


xvfb looks almost ideal to me - since I could basically set up an "invisible" environment, as big as I want, and take screenshots directly from it (using xwd). The problem is that I cannot have a window on "my" DISPLAY=:0, then switch it to the 'virtual' DISPLAY=:1 for screenshotting, then bring it back to DISPLAY=:0. Then one must set up an application specifically for xvfb; and if so happens you need more size - then the whole chain above needs to be restarted.

On the other hand, I find working with 4 workspaces and large viewports (shwere the mouse moves you around within a viewport) a bit confusing - then again, can change the size there on the fly and nothing needs to be restarted; and plus I can use any of the usual screenshot tools (but I'd still have to switch viewports).

Needless to say, I'd still love to hear about a possible command line solution that could do this kind of screenshotting in one go :)


On my FreeBSD workstation I created a bash script to do the captures of multiple virtual workspaces then run the results through ImageMagic 'montage' to stitch them. Here is the bash script:

dnum=$(xdotool get_num_desktops)
while [[ "$desk" -lt "$dnum" ]];
          xdotool set_desktop $desk;
          sleep 2;
          maim --format png /dev/stdout > ~/capture/desktop$desk.png;

Here is the command I run in the ~/capture/ directory to stitch them together:

montage  desktop*.png  -tile 10x1 -geometry 1920x2160+1+1 workspaces.png

Obviously one would change the -tile and -geometry for one's own system. ;)

One needs to have installed bash, maim (or equivalent), xdotool, and ImageMagick montage for this solution. HTH

  • 3 years latter and it still works. Even in Plasma on openSUSE. Most excellent. Already made it into a script for one-shot capture.
    – Chindraba
    Jan 6, 2021 at 15:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.