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Excel Preview Picture

How to change a property setting in Excel, so you can see an Excel Preview picture when opening files in Windows Explorer.

NOTE: This feature has changed significantly from how it worked in earlier versions. For earlier versions of Excel, see Picture Preview - Excel 2003 to 2010.

Preview Pane command


When you're opening files in Windows Explorer, you can see a list of files in the selected folder. There are options for viewing the list, including Details, List and Preview.

This article explains how to change one of the property settings in Excel, so you can see a small screen shot of the file contents, when you select a file in the Windows Explorer list.

NOTE: In earlier versions of Excel, a Preview Picture was also available in the Excel Open window, but doesn't work in the current version.

preview picture

Open Property Settings

The first step in changing the Preview Picture setting is to open the Properties dialog box.

To open the Property dialog box, follow these steps:

  1. On the Ribbon, click the File tab
  2. Click the Info category
  3. At the right, click the drop down arrow for Properties
  4. Click Advanced Properties

    Advanced Properties

Change Preview Picture Setting

The next step is to change the Preview setting. This change will affect ALL Excel files - you can't change the setting for specific files only, as you could in earlier versions.

Follow these steps to allow Preview Pictures for all Excel files:

  1. In the Properties dialog box, click the Summary tab
  2. At the bottom of the tab, add a check box to "Save Thumbnails for All Excel Documents"
  3. Click OK

    Summary Tab in Properties

Preview Picture in Excel

If you open files within Excel for Office 365, you can see file thumbnails, but the Picture Preview doesn't work.

To see the problem, follow thses steps to show the Preview Pane within Excel:

  1. Click File, Open, Browse
  2. Click the Preview Pane button at the top right of the window

Preview Pane command

With the Preview Pane showing, if you select a file in the list, the Preview Pane will occasionally show "Preview not available". However, most of the time, the Preview Pane will show this error message:

  • "This file can't be previewed because of an error in the Microsoft Excel previewer"

Preview Pane command

There is a Microsoft support article that says you can't see previews for Excel, Word or PowerPoint, within their own programs. To see an Excel file's preview picture, could view it in the Word or PowerPoint Open window. That's not too helpful!

You can also see preview pictures in Windows Explorer, as described in the next section.

Icons in Thumbnails

However, you can see the preview picture in a custom thumbnail, if Excel's Open window is showing icons in Medium, Large or Extra Large size.

Preview Pane command

To choose icons, click the arrow for More Options, at the top right of the window.

Preview Pane command

Windows Explorer Preview Picture

After the "Save Thumbnails for All Excel Documents" setting is turned on for all Excel files, you can see the preview pictures in Windows Explorer.

First, follow these steps to enable Preview Pictures:

  1. Open Windows Explorer
  2. In the Ribbon at the top, click the View tab
  3. At the left end of the Ribbon, in the Panes group, click on Preview Pane, to turn that pane on.
  4. Preview Pane command

  5. Then, click on an Excel file in the file list, to see a screen shot of its contents in the Preview pane.
  6. Preview Pane command

Thumbnails on Desktop

After the "Save Thumbnails for All Excel Documents" is turned on, you may also see a Picture preview icon if you send a shortcut to the Windows Desktop.

Here is the original shortcut for a Test File workbook.

desktop shortcut with normal icon

And here is the shortcut icon later, showing a Picture Preview for the file.

desktop shortcut with picture preview icon

Picture Preview Warning

WARNING: If you turn on the "Save Thumbnails for All Excel Documents" setting, and then use the Picture Preview pane in Windows Explorer, you might notice some problems.

When you click on an Excel file, to see the preview, an instance of Excel opens in the background. You can see that Excel instance, if you open the Task Manager, and check the list of Background Processes.

Excel running Background Processes

While that instance of Excel is running in the background, you might see a "File in Use" message when you open Excel.

For example, "PERSONAL.XLSB is locked for editing"

Excel running Background Processes

To avoid that type of message

  • Close the Preview Pane in Windows Explorer
  • Then, close and re-open Windows Explorer

The background instance of Excel should close automatically when you close the Explorer window

Video: Picture Preview in Excel 2010

To see the steps for turning on the Preview Picture setting in Excel 2010, you can watch this short Excel video tutorial.

Written instructions for Excel 2010, Excel 2007 and Excel 2003 are on the Picture Preview - Excel 2003 to 2010 page.

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Last updated: November 13, 2023 12:24 PM