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OBS for Screen Recording: How to Add and Use Sources

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This post is part of a series called How to Record Screencasts with Open Broadcaster Software.
OBS Studio Screen Recording: Best Settings for Video
How to Use Scenes to Transition Between Sources in Open Broadcaster

One of the coolest features in Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) is its system of Scenes and Sources, which you can use to set up multiple recording targets, like monitors, specific applications, and even webcams. You can switch between these scenes or layer and combine them as required to create a great production. First, though, you need to know a little more about sources and how they work, so that's what we'll be covering in this tutorial.

In a nutshell, a Source determines where the data for your recording comes from, and a Scene is a container for sources.

How to Set Up Sources in OBS

All Sources need a Scene to hold them. To add a new source, first select a scene to contain it, then click the "+" button at the bottom of the Sources panel in the bottom left of the interface. This will give you a list of source types to choose from:

Add a source

After you select a source you'll get the chance to name it:

Name your source

After you hit OK on a name for your source you'll see a popup window where you can enter settings before adding the new source to your scene. The available settings differ depending on the type of source.

There are several different types of sources in OBS but the two you'll use most for screen recording are Screen Capture and Window Capture. Let's take a closer look at these two, and their settings, now.

Screen/Display Capture

The Screen Capture (on Linux) or Display Capture (on Mac and Windows) source type records directly from a specified screen and will capture anything that happens in the designated area.

In the settings dialog box for this source you'll be able to select from multiple monitors if you have more than one active. You'll also get the option to select whether or not you want to capture your cursor. You typically won't need to use the Advanced Settings here, so leave this unchecked.

A screen capture

Note, you'll get a weird hall of mirrors effect while you set things up this source type you have OBS on the screen capturing OBS on the screen capturing OBS on the screen and so on.

The size of the screen capture will match the resolution of the screen being recorded. However if your base (canvas) resolution is smaller than that you may see your screen capture source extending out of its bounds.

Screen capture out of bounds

If so you can manually resize the source to fit by dragging the red handles on the corners of a selected source. In this example my 1920x1080 screen has been fit to my 1280x720 base resolution:

Resize the source to fit your needs

Incidentally, you also have the option to make any source smaller than the canvas area, which can be very useful for combining more than one source in a scene, something we'll expand on later.

Combining sources

Note that if you use an operating system that employs compositing and you experience tearing or other artifacts when using screen capture you may need to disable compositing.

Window Capture

Window capture is similar to screen capture, but it allows you to bind your recording to a specific application and record only that.

In the settings for a Window Capture source you can select your target application from the drop-down list labelled Window at the top. Note that if you find the colors of your window capture look wrong like this:

Weird window colours

...you may need to check the box marked Swap red and blue to correct it:

Swap red and blue colours

Window capture sources are great for easily switching between recording one program and another without users seeing you manually do so via a dock or task bar. For example, switching between a code editor and a web browser. We'll cover how to handle switching between recording applications in the next tutorial of this series.

The downside to window capture however is popups like application menus, context menus and file selection boxes will not be captured. This can be seen in the image below, with the target window shown on the left and the content OBS is capturing on the right:

Application menues and context boxes dont show up in window capture

If you need popup content such as this to be captured you'll need to use a screen capture source instead of a window capture.

This also means application title bars, which aren't technically part of the window, are not captured either. This can result in a blank space at the bottom of your capture, of equal height to the missing title bar, like this:

missing title bar in recording

To get around this either set the application to full screen so title bars are hidden:

Set application to full screen

Or record with a base canvas smaller than your overall screen and manually resize the window so it fills that space, i.e. with the top bar outside the recording area. This approach is also very useful as it gives you room for notes and other applications outside the area you are recording.

For example, you might set both your base size and output resolution to 1280px by 720px when recording on a 1920x1080 screen. You can then resize an application window so it perfectly fills a 1280x720 area. Do this by moving the application window to float over OBS then watching the bounds of your source in the OBS interface while you resize the application:

Working space on the desktop outside the window capture area

Once you have your window at the right size you can position it anywhere on your screen and OBS will still capture only its content, leaving you room for notes off to the side.

Notepad besdie recording area

Coming Up Next

Now that you understand sources and the two types you'll use most often in screen recording, we're ready to move onto working with scenes. We'll cover that in the next tutorial, see you there!

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