Once upon a time Windows natively displayed PSD thumbnails after you installed Photoshop. These days, however, you only get the generic Photoshop icon. How can you get the thumbnails for Photoshop back (and other image and design formats in the process)?
Dear How-To Geek,
The recent reader question about adjusting thumbnails in Windows 8 got me thinking about a thumbnail problem that has annoyed me for far too long. Once upon a time I remember I had thumbnails for PSD (Photoshop) files. I distinctly recall having and using them for reference, and then somewhere along the line (and several computers it seems) they went away. My bad habit of poorly naming my work files is catching up with me… I need those thumbnails back! I have Photoshop CS6 installed. What can I do to get them back in Windows 8?
Shoppin’ with No Thumbs
Don’t think your memory unreliable, you’re correct in your recollection of thumbnails once upon a time. Versions and versions ago, which corresponds with your memory of it having been a few computers in the past, Adobe did in fact ship a codec with their Windows installer to enable proper thumbnail display within Windows. Allegedly the codec they were using caused some sort of conflict with newer versions of Windows and, rather than update it, they simply dropped it.
To solve your missing thumbnail dilemma, we need to focus on that piece of the puzzle: the missing codec. Put simply, a codec is a computer program capable of encoding or decoding some sort of digital data. In our case we want a codec that can extract data from a Photoshop file and pass it off to Windows the way Windows natively does it with other files like JPGs and such. Fortunately, Windows is highly extensible via codec packs and it’s no sweat to add the functionality you desire back in; since Windows Vista, Windows has had a specific framework just for images known as the Windows Imaging Component (WIC) designed just for these situations.
First, before we get into the actual fixing stage, let’s highlight what we’re not going to do. There are a variety of solutions that are outdated or work inconsistently. There used to be a simple registry hack and .DLL that enabled thumbnails for older versions of Photoshop. It works inconsistently on Windows 7 with newer versions of Photoshop and not at all on the newest versions on Windows 8 (but for readers with older systems and older editions of Photoshop it’s a free, albeit imperfect solution). There’s also a variety of commercial codecs limited to just Photoshop that add in thumbnail functionality. We’re going to skip those solutions as they cost $15-30 for a very limited solution.
Instead, we’re going to recommend the tool we use, FastPictureViewer ($15; currently on a Holiday/New Year sale for $10), as it not only enables thumbnail support for Photoshop files, but dozens of other file formats not natively supported by Windows, including other Adobe Creative Suite file formats like Illustrator files, specialty camera formats like the RAW formats used by Canon, Nikon, Olympus and other camera manufacturers, Google Sketchup, and other graphic design formats.
In addition, it increases the amount of data displayed in the Explorer preview pane, which makes it even easier to mange your files without opening them. FastPictureViewer is the codec pack of choice at quite a few big design companies like Blizzard Entertainment and Disney because of the wide number of formats it supports and the extra info you get in previews. While we like free solutions and we don’t mind mucking about in the registry to fix things here or there, $15 for a product that works on Windows 8 all the way back to Windows XP and covers that many file formats is $15 well spent. (If you’re worried it won’t be $15 well spent, you can try the two week trial.)
Unlike fiddling around with your registry, installing FastPictureViewer is dead simple. Download the installer here, install the app, and restart your computer (or, if you’re the hate-to-reboot type, restart explore.exe).
After you restart you’ll see that your thumbnails have gone from generic icons:
to properly displayed icons with detailed meta data, too:
You’re all set with proper Photoshop thumbnails as well as thumbnails for just about any other camera RAW or design format you need. Thanks to the widespread corporate adoption of FastPictureViewer, there’s little chance that any new and widely used format that crops up will be left out.
Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at email@example.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.