Windows

Add image thumbnails to folders in Windows Explorer

Mark Kaelin explains how to turn on the thumbnail feature in Windows Explorer and how to change the layout of Windows Explorer to accommodate the thumbnail images when they are active.

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.

One caveat for the resource-sensitive: 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.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic gallery and TechRepublic download.

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 cached on your hard drive. So if you want thumbnails, you will want to uncheck it. Click OK after you've made your selection.

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, as shown in 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 Windows Explorer folders, navigate 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 click OK.

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, as shown in 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 (see 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, as shown in 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.

21 comments
casdts2
casdts2

I followed the steps above and yet there is no thumbnail UGH .. just the windows default daisy.. how can I fix this... It takes a huge amount of time to preview every pic when I have 100s to check before posting? Please help?

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

I tend to keep thumbnails off, for the most part unless I have a folder full of pictures that have similar names.

ubshreenath
ubshreenath

you're right about people wanting to do the opposite of what your are teaching in this blog post..

Value_value
Value_value

The post very useful and was explained clearly...it was really very good....

andz
andz

To add a little information regarding the thumbnail cache option: - It is enabled (i.e., "Do Not Cache Thumbnails" is unchecked) by default, certainly in XP, not sure about Vista. - The cache file thumbs.db is not created for all folders just because the option is enabled. It is only created in a given folder when that folders view is changed to show thumbnails. However, it isn't deleted whent the view is reverted to non-thumbnail. - If you like and use the thumbnail view, do make sure that "Do Not Cache Thumbnails" is UNchecked for the folder(s) is question. If you don't allow the caching, your PC will have to scour through every single file in that folder and generate temporary thumbs for them - every time you open the folder. Now that's a real resource hog!

pranay39
pranay39

Can you Add image thumbnails to folders in Windows 98SE Explorer?

kmkittle
kmkittle

Useful Tip, just turned mine off

dwood005
dwood005

Win XP will allow animated GIF desktop background images. How do I get Win Vista to allow them?

Cisco-SA
Cisco-SA

I turn Thumbnail OFFF. I then have a batch file that scans for all thumbs.db The more Microsoft trys to become a Mac the more irritating it becomes to the IT professionals who have to support MSwinXP/Vista for work. Is winXP is for work, Vista is for home. That is Microsoft's pitfall. They built a cute, wow-techno-flash Mac like OS called Vista but forgot that work eschew the flashy for function. When the VCR became too complicated to set the time, people stopped setting the time. When Microsoft OS became to complicated to support, IT stopped using Microsoft. If you need a batch file to delete all thumbs.db: @dir /a:-d /b /s thumbs.db > %tmp%\thumbs.db.lst 2>nul @for /F "delims=*" %%d in (%tmp%\thumbs.db.lst) do if exist "%%d" (echo del %%d & del /q /f "%%d")

letter_2_roy
letter_2_roy

Hi ! Dear Sir, It is very interesting and splendid and it will become more interesting when I will implement this in my system very soon. With thanks & regards, Swapan.

krana_ap
krana_ap

Thank you very much for providing that knowledgable infomation.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Personally, I am a detailed listing kind of guy when it comes to Windows Explorer. Is the thumbnail view more popular? What are the benefits and what are the drawbacks?

Value_value
Value_value

The post was very helpfull and was helpfull.. Thank you very much.. :-)

GreyTech
GreyTech

Even though I only select one folder to turn on thumbnail caching it seems to turn it on for all folders. If I turn it off on a folder that I don't want caching it turns it off for all without clicking on "Apply to All Folders" I would rather apply it only to one folder at a time. Is it possible?

mik3
mik3

Just rt-click on the folder and choose properties and then check "Enable thumbnail view". Then open the folder and choose view thumbnails.

readerlis
readerlis

I too am a detailed listing kind of lady (and the only IT person). Our employees love the thumbnail view so I set all their desktops to thumbnail. Times when someone can't locate a file, I temporarily change the view to details, locate what they need, and then revert to the thumbnail view. With most of the data on the server, I have also set systems so they access the last file first in a folder. I again temporarily change the view to details, sort by Date Modified, and revert back to thumbnails for them. I tend to find what seems simple for IT is often complicated for staff. We have a staff of 22 employees and the above scenarios are so quick for me I don't mind doing them esp. because they are very appreciative when I can find something for them so quickly.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

I have thumbnails turned off by default but allow thumbs.db to be created. I turn them on as and when I really need them, which is mostly before I've changed the camera's default jpeg title "P10080514" (say) to "Super anti-Palin demo" (yay!)

andz
andz

It isn't possible to do that directly; "disable thumbnail caching" is a global setting. As far as I'm aware, it always has been for XP. One way you could stop the thumbnail cache being generated for a specific folder: Ensure that the folder view is set to anything other than 'filmstrip' or 'thumbnails' Delete the thumbnails.db file within, if it exists. The next time this folder is opened, the caching won't happen - it doesn't need to for folder views that don't show thumbnails. That in effect turns off caching on a per-folder basis, but isn't great, I know!

puppet
puppet

Mark - If you ever come back and read these posts, HELP! Ever since I did the required upgrade to XP SP3, my thumbnails have been turned off. I'd looked high and low before finding this from you, and it helped for SOME files - .pdf, .mpg, .mov and .wmv siles. That got me halfway there, but not all the way. Windows Explorer still does not display .jpg, .gif or .tif files. I also don't see .bmp files, but can't recall if they ever displayed, anyway. I have thousands of these and not having the thumbnails is a HUGE handicap in finding image files. Is there something else I can do?

verd
verd

Barry Obama's ears are to big to show thumbnails

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