How to use Nvidia ShadowPlay to record and share your gameplay

For the casual user that just wants to screenshot, record, and stream games, Nvidia’s ShadowPlay software is one of the best options.

Ever since the PS4 and Xbox One came out in 2013 with their sharing features, we’ve come to realize how much we love taking pictures and videos of our games and sharing them with friends or out on the internet in general. Nvidia’s ShadowPlay software (which incidentally also came out in 2013, making it a decade old) is the game screenshotting, recording, and streaming software bundled with Nvidia GTX and RTX graphics cards. Here’s everything you need to know about using ShadowPlay, which is officially just called the Nvidia in-game overlay now.



Installing Nvidia ShadowPlay

ShadowPlay isn’t something that inherently comes with an Nvidia GPU, but instead is part of Nvidia’s GeForce Experience add-on software. GeForce Experience in theory can do lots of things, in practice it’s mostly useful for ShadowPlay. If you don’t already have GeForce Experience on your PC, here’s how you get it. By the way, if you’re using a gaming laptop with switchable graphics (which basically every good laptop has these days), you’re probably going to need to disable the integrated graphics or at the very least Nvidia Optimus.

  1. Download drivers for your Nvidia GPU from Nvidia’s website.
  2. Launch the driver installation wizard
  3. On the very first screen of the wizard, make sure you’ve selected the top option that says Nvidia Graphics Driver and GeForce Experience.
  4. Proceed through the wizard to install the drivers.
  5. Restart if necessary.
  6. Open GeForce Experience.
  7. Click on the cog icon in the top right to get to the general settings menu.
  8. Find the box that says In-game overlay and enable it using the switch on the top right of the box. If it’s already enabled then you don’t need to touch anything.
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At this point, ShadowPlay should be completely set up, and now you’re finally ready to start using it.

Accessing ShadowPlay

In order to access ShadowPlay, you have several options. You can click the Open in-game overlay button next to the cog icon in GeForce Experience, open up the settings menu for ShadowPlay in the same box where you enable it, or by simply pressing Alt + Z at the same time, which is going to be the most convenient method. When you press those keys, you’ll see a screen with lots of options:

  • Screenshot: Allows you to take screenshots of the game.
  • Photo mode: Puts you in photo mode with additional settings for taking a picture of the game.
  • Game filter: Applies a filter to games to change how they look.
  • Instant replay: Saves a recording of your gameplay up to a certain amount of time back.
  • Record: which records your games.
  • Broadcast live: which streams your games.
  • Performance: which enables a performance overlay with statistics for your PC like GPU clock speed and temperature.
  • Gallery: which opens up all of your media like screenshots and recordings.
  • A mic mute toggle, a webcam feed toggle, and a cog that sends you to the ShadowPlay settings.

The general settings menu has even more sections to it, but most of them are pretty small and unimportant. For the ones that are important (like for recording and streaming) I’ll explain later. By the way, almost all of these options have shortcuts you can use instead of pulling up the overlay. To find and edit those shortcuts, just open the overlay, click on the cog icon, and click on Keyboard shortcuts.

Nvidia Ansel screenshots, photo mode, and game filter

While you probably want to use ShadowPlay for recording and streaming instead of taking screenshots, there are some useful features ShadowPlay has for gamers who want to take seriously good in-game pictures. This part of ShadowPlay is officially called Ansel, and while it’s a feature you’re unlikely to take advantage of, it’s certainly interesting if you’re into photography.

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What Ansel essentially does is apply filters to games, and while that’s nothing special on its own, it’s more powerful than if you were doing it on your own since it actually works inside games rather than on top of them. However, it requires explicit game support and not all games support Ansel; Nvidia has a list of supported games if you want to know if your favorite games have Ansel.

There are two parts to Ansel: photo mode and game filter. These two features at their core use filters to make the game look different, but are used in different ways. Photo mode is exactly what it sounds like, and it pulls up a sidebar with options like resolution, filters, showing the classic photography grid, etc. This is basically what you want to use when you’re taking photos of still imagery, and you can see it in action in the above image.

Game filter on the other hand is for real-time gameplay, and you can just turn it on and leave it on while you’re gaming. There are some really interesting filters that make for unique experiences, such as the HUD removal filter that removes all the UI elements in your game and leaves (mostly) just the underlying graphics. In the screenshot below, you can see how in Total War: Attila this filter removed the minimap, the unit selection window, and almost everything from the UI, though for some reason it didn’t remove the unit icons, which was probably just an oversight and not a bug per se.

You can access your screenshots either through the gallery or find the game specific folder on your PC, which is usually found in the regular Video folder in File Explorer.

Instant replay, recording, and streaming

This is the part that you’re probably most interested in, and thankfully it’s pretty simple. Before using these settings however, you should take a quick detour to the settings menu (accessed by clicking the cog icon) and check some settings that you may or may not want to change.

  • The Recordings submenu allows you to set the location where your media is saved, including screenshots.
  • The Broadcast Live submenu has streaming options such as image quality, bandwidth, framerate, and resolution for Facebook streaming, Twitch, and YouTube. While you can inject some overlays for viewers in Broadcast Live, you can only use a maximum of three, and it’s unlikely you’ll quite get the same mileage you’d get out of something for Open Broadcaster Software.
  • The Video capture submenu contains settings for instant replay length, resolution, framerate, and bitrate.
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Once you’ve tuned these settings to your liking (like more bandwidth or bitrate for better visual quality), that’s really about all you need to do. You can immediately start recording and streaming using the overlay or the shortcuts, whichever you like best. Just make sure if you’re recording that you have enough space on your PC to store all the footage you plan on taking and that your GPU isn’t overwhelmed by visual fidelity settings.

ShadowPlay is still one of Nvidia’s best features, and it’s sleek and modern

While Nvidia’s track record for software is pretty poor given the outdated state of Nvidia Control Panel and the oddity that GeForce Experience is its own thing that even requires you to sign in, ShadowPlay is at least definitely worth using. The overlay works really well, it’s organized well enough, and you don’t even need to use it if you don’t want to since there are shortcuts for everything. Nvidia already makes some pretty good graphics cards, and this is just another feature that enhances the experience.

ShadowPlay isn’t really a replacement for programs like Open Broadcaster Software, which are clearly better for higher production value recording and streaming, but it doesn’t need to be. ShadowPlay is for casual users who just want to show gameplay content to friends or to a wider audience, and it does that perfectly.

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