Windows

How do I... Add image thumbnails to Microsoft Windows Explorer?


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When you are dealing with a folder in Microsoft Windows containing numerous images, it is often very helpful to see thumbnail representations of those images in the Windows Explorer display. This built-in functionality is available in both Windows XP and Windows Vista, but how you turn the feature off and on is slightly different for each version. This TechRepublic How do I... explains how to turn on the thumbnail feature and how to change the layout of Windows Explorer to accommodate the thumbnail images when they are active.

One caveat for the resource-sensitive users out there -- turning on the thumbnail feature will increase the amount of resources being used by the operating system. Those little thumbnails take up space on the hard drive and in memory when they are being displayed. Depending on your system, the available resources, and the number of images involved, you can quickly bog down your PC if you are not careful. This is why many users will be interested in this tip for the opposite reason -- they want to know how to turn off thumbnail creation in Windows. Either way, this How do I... will help.

Windows XP

Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder of images for which you would like to see thumbnails. On the Windows Explorer menu, click Tools | Folder Options to get to the Control Panel. Click the View tab, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

XP Folder Options - View

Under the Files And Folders section, you will see the Do Not Cache Thumbnails check box. If this box is checked, there will be no thumbnails. So if you want thumbnails, you will want to un-check it. Click OK after checking that box.

To start seeing thumbnails, you have to change views in Windows Explorer. On the menu bar, click View | Thumbnails, and Windows will replace the normal file icons with thumbnails of the images. Windows will also create a new file in that folder called Thumbs.db, where the thumbnail information is stored. (Figure B)

Figure B

Thumbnails - XP

The Thumbs.db file will be created in every folder you designate to display thumbnails. To apply your changes to all folders while in Windows Explorer, navigate the menu to Tools | Folder Options and click the View tab. From there, make your changes and then click the Apply To All Folders button before you clickOK.

Windows Vista

Turning on the thumbnail feature is slightly different in Windows Vista. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the images folder where you would like to see thumbnails displayed. On the menu, click the Organize tab and then Folder And Search Options. On the ensuing control applet, click the View tab. (Figure C)

Figure C

Vista Folder Options - View

Under Files And Folders, uncheck the Always Show Icons, Never Thumbnails check box. That will turn on thumbnails for that particular folder. If you want to apply the change to all folders, you should click the Apply To Folders button. Click OK to finish the process.

Just as you did in Windows XP, for Vista you have to take one more step to actually reveal thumbnails in Windows Explorer. On the Explorer menu, click the down arrow next to Views and select a view other than List or Details. (Figure D)

Figure D

Thumbnails - Vista
Windows Vista has an additional way to view thumbnails in Windows Explorer. Click Organize | Layout and choose to add the Preview Pane. That selection will add an area to the right of the display where a larger thumbnail of each image will be displayed as you highlight it. (Figure E)

Figure E

Preview Pane - Vista

Once again remember the caveat -- thumbnails take up resources. Be careful how you use them. And if there comes a time when you want to turn them off, just do the opposite of the procedures described here. In Windows XP, you would also want to delete the Thumb.db file in each folder.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

22 comments
Hyperion1961
Hyperion1961

You mentioned in XP that the thumbnails are stored in a file called "thumbs.db" in the local folder but you failed to tell us where Vista stores them. It turns out that Vista and Windows 7 store the thumbnails in a file called "thumbcache_idx.db" in the "%SystemDrive%\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer" folder.

aparente001
aparente001

If the Preview pane does not appear on the list, get rid of Windows Classic View and try again.

peter
peter

This is helpful, but I find the "3D" Vista folders irritating and much less clear than the flat XP folders. Is there any way to disable the "3D" effect and revert to a sensible, flat view (my old XP machine would show three small thumbnails in the file folder, each clear and visible, rather than the half-hidden angled Vista view - is there a way to return to it?)

Dayle1011
Dayle1011

Thank you for clarifying where the Thumbs.db comes from. It was driving me NUTS! :)

mcleang
mcleang

Is it possible to do this for a USB stick? It won't stay when I select view as thumbnai.

chi
chi

How do I preview HTML/MHT thumbnails? There were tricks to enable that in XP. but does not work on vista explorer anymore. Although I know there is a preview pane layout, I would like to enable the old HTML thumbnail extractor.

joyce
joyce

This is all very interesting. But it is not fresh news. What I want to know, what I've been searching for, FOREVER, is how to force Windows to remember that I want to ALWAYS see thumbnails when I do File, Open and would like to pick a picture. Currently, I have to open the folder, choose View, Thumbnails. Then I pick the picture I want, and click on Open. Well and good. But the next time (and the next and the next and the next....), I have to do it all over again, to get the thumbnail view. INFURIATING!!!!

jbcarter
jbcarter

How do I do this for Windows 2000. I have lost the picture view of thumbnails and need to re-activate!!! jbcarter@tfb.com

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Download the free TweakUI PowerToy from MS and you can change the thumbnail size in XP and 2K. I don't know if it will work with Vista.

JimTRRepublic
JimTRRepublic

Thanks, Mark, I have been looking for this technique for some time now. In fact, I used up one of my freebie Microsoft Tech Support tokens trying to discover how to do this. The teckie there was very responsive, tried everything she could think of, but finally concluded that, although Microsoft was aware this would be a nice feature, they hadn't been able to offer it, yet. Hmmm .. and I was trying to get it working in my XP Pro environment.

Kiltie
Kiltie

Quote "If this box is checked, there will be no thumbnails. So if you want thumbnails, you will want to check it." Unquote good blog, but is this a typo?

Christina
Christina

Also be aware that if you change photos around; maybe rename some, delete, add, etc., you may want to delete the thumbs.db, go out and come back (forcing the thumbs.db to be recreated). I had the very confusing occurance of the thumbnail being different from the actual file. So, I thought I was inserting a picture of a flower (there it is, in the thumbnail), but it was actually a picture of a house. That took me a while to figure out! I work with inserting pictures quite a bit. I'd also like to know how to get the thumbnails to be the default in all windows. While I'm at it...how does one get the "filmstrip" style? Some folders have it, some don't.

kd4pdy
kd4pdy

Don't now if this is what you are looking for, If you put a .jpg image in the folder name it " folder.jpg " windows expolrer will display that image for the folder in thumbnails view. The image will be a single view, not a quad view of four images.

tom
tom

Not sure if I'm understanding your problem, but is "Remember each folder's view settings" checked the View tab in Folder Options? On my PCs, when this is checked, I have to set a folder to Thumbnail view, but then (for a while, anyways) it remembers that folders settings. But, you have to do it for each folder. Maybe a utility like Irfanview or FastStone Image Viewer would work better for working with images.

smileynfaces
smileynfaces

I've been looking for about a week now and I still can't get mine to work. I had two versions of photoshop on my win 2000 system and then deleted the older one and when I did my thumbnail previews went with it. I reinstalled it but still can't get them back : (

imran1
imran1

the check box is to "cache" the thumbnails as u see them. i.e. whenever u see a picture the processing power used to generate its thumbnail is concerved for future, by storing THAT generated thumbnail on drive so when u again come to that folder the thumbnails do not have be RE-GENERATED saving the same computational work, the SAVED/CACHED thumbnails are just retrived from cache. this feature is nice for low-end cpus but this feature require more STORAGE also a security concern that u delete the picture and someone access the system cache to pic atleast the thumbnail, magnification can get more detail from thumbnail.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Yes, that was a typo - I edited the sentence. You want to un-check that line. Thanks.

tom
tom

I believe that if you want all folders to show the thumbnail view you can set one folder that way, then go to the View tab in Folder Options and click the "Apply to All Folders". Problem is this will make every folder show thumbnails. I prefer to view Details in most folders and then set the other folders individually. As far as the "filmstrip" I've always wondered about that one myself.