How to Get Image Thumbnail Icons in the Mac OS X Finder

Mar 13, 2007 - 25 Comments

Here’s a good question from one of our readers. A recent switcher to the Mac, Carol Kavanaugh writes: “I got a Mac a few months ago and love it so far, but when I browse a folder full of pictures in Windows a thumbnail image of each picture shows up as its icon, on my Mac I get just a generic icon, is there any way to have Mac OS automatically make thumbnails of my images?” There sure is Carol, in Mac OS X it’s called ‘icon preview’ and here is how you would enable this helpful feature:

Enabling Image Thumbnails in the Mac Finder

Note that new versions fo OS X will find this feature enabled by default, thus it can either be toggled on or off by using this method:

  • From the Finder, hit command-J (or navigate from the View menu to Show View Options)
  • Inside the View Options panel, check the ‘show icon preview’ box
  • Close View Options and now you’ll have thumbnails for each image

By default in prior versions of Mac OS X, the Finder shows just a simple icon. This is what you will see with ‘icon preview’ enabled, a thumbnail of the image:

Image thumbnail previews in Mac OS X Finder

Note: If the folder has a ton of images in it, opening that folder initially may take a second or two longer than usual as a thumbnail is generated for each image. Most people find the useful nature of thumbnails enough to have the slight lag not bother them. It’s also important to point out that because thumbnails must be rendered on the fly it can have unintended performance consequences on some older Mac models, particularly those with limited resources and less available memory. If your Mac experiences a speed slowdown like that, a good solution is to turn OFF the thumbnails by unchecking the box mentioned above, which would take the icon previews away and turn them back to their default icon appearance instead.

For some technical background, these image thumbnails are actually stored in the “.DS_Store” files that are seen when hidden files have been made visible on the Mac. You can think of that ds_store file as a thumbnail cache of sorts, but it also contains meta data that is unrelated to the feature.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in How to, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

25 Comments

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  1. dave says:

    NICE! That’s super!

  2. archimedes says:

    If anyone isn’t using this already, they need to because it is awesome

  3. jeff says:

    You may also be interested in CocoThumbX which will bring you pdf and video thumbnails http://www.stalkingwolf.net/software/cocothumbx/

  4. Naked Dave says:

    i was wondering how you do that for the longest time!

  5. TheRealDeal says:

    Thank you sir. You just made my night!

  6. nicholas says:

    Now is there a way to do with with mpg or wmv icons?

  7. Ann says:

    Somebody please can tell me how come that I don’t have in View Options “show icon preview” box??? do I do something wrong?
    I have 10.4.11 and have no any way to enable image thumbnails. :(
    Help!

  8. Roger Bahari says:

    Hi Ann, press apple 1 to make sure you’re viewing the files as icons, if you’re viewing as a list or column, it won’t give you the option

  9. Doug Barber says:

    What about being able to see thumbnails on top of folder icons in Finder that preview the images inside that folder like in XP?

  10. cak says:

    Nope, still doesn’t work, and I am using 10.5, and all my jpgs are still not thumbnails. And your description is rubbish.

  11. nick says:

    I have the opposite but similar problem. I can see the image thumbnail in the finder mode. When I edit a photo in preview (cropping and or colour correction) then “save” or “save as” sometimes but often the image disappears and doesn’t return.

    Why does this happen and how do I fix it?

    BTW I’m fully aware of the the “view – options” menu and that’s not the problem. I even double checked just now. I’m using an ibook G4 Version 10.4.11 in case that matters.

  12. [...] Ein Ding, was mich so unendlich nervt bei Mac OSX ist, daß standardmäßig im Gegensatz zu Windoof von Bildern in der Symbolansicht keine Thumbnails generiert werden. Warum das so ist, möchte ich gern mal wissen. Das kranke ist, daß man eigentlich kein Thumbnail-Programm wie CocoThumbX braucht, um welche zu erstellen*, sondern die Vorschaubilder aktiviert werden können, indem man alle Bilder markiert, Apfel-J drückt und das entsprechende Häkchen anhakt. Danke, OSX-Daily. [...]

  13. [...] How to get image thumbnail icons in the OS X Finder [...]

  14. jen says:

    I can’t get this to work with TIFF files. since JPEG is not a lossless file type I never use them. All of my images are saved as TIFF or RAW and I just get a little picture of clouds when show icon preview is clicked. Does anyone know how to make this work for files other than JPEG?

  15. ryan says:

    thank you. this has been bugging me for months.

  16. Ulysses says:

    where are the files for these thumbnails located?

  17. Jeanluc3 says:

    Upgraded to 10.6.6 and can no longer see the icon preview (jpegs). Show icon preview is checked. Worked fine until this upgrade.

  18. qu says:

    so helpful. Thanks!

  19. RF says:

    Ok, you just made me set up my new Mac in a much more user-friendly manner. Easier for the eyes, faster to find the files. Thanks!

  20. [...] do work, but without transparency they will draw a border around the icon, looking more like the auto-generated image file thumbnails that appear in the Finder than what an icon should like [...]

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