Collect Thumbnails in a Contact Sheet in Photoshop

By Peter Bauer

Photoshop CC allows you to collect thumbnails in a contact sheet. In the old Dark(room) Ages, photographers regularly made a record of which images were on which film strips by exposing those strips on a piece of photographic paper, thus creating a contact sheet (the film strips were in contact with the sheet of paper).

The contact sheet serves the same purpose as thumbnails or previews in Bridge or the Open dialog box or thumbnail images on a Web page — they show which image is which. Hard copy contact sheets are useful to present to a client.

You can have Photoshop automate the process for you by choosing File→Automate→Contact Sheet II. (See the figure.) The procedure is as follows:

If you need a printed record of your images, consider Contact Sheet II.
If you need a printed record of your images, consider Contact Sheet II.
  1. Select a source folder from the Use drop-down list in the Source Images area.

  2. (Optional) If you want to include the images in any subfolders that might be within that folder, select the Include Subfolders check box.

    The Group Images by Folder option starts a new contact sheet for each subfolder.

  3. Using the Units, Width, and Height options in the Document area, describe your document, using the printable area of your page — not the paper size.

  4. Select a resolution.

    I recommend 300 pixels per inch (ppi) if printing and 72 ppi if you’ll be slicing the image for your website.

  5. Use the Mode drop-down list box to choose a color profile (an RGB profile unless printing to a color laser printer) and also decide whether you want to flatten all layers (which makes a smaller but less versatile file).

You can choose to have the images added to the page row by row (the second image is to the right of the first) or column by column (the second image is directly below the first). You can also choose the number of rows and columns, which determines the size of each individual image.

You then need to decide whether to use auto-spacing, to calculate the spacing between images, and whether to rotate images. If your source folder has a mixture of landscape and portrait images, rotating makes sure that each is exactly the same size — although some will be sideways. If image orientation is more important than having identical sizes, don’t use the Rotate for Best Fit option.

Note in the figure that the filenames change size to match the size of the image and, as you can see at the far right of the second row, if the filename is too long, it gets truncated rather than shrinking to an unreadable size. (By the way, Contact Sheet II now lets you choose any font installed on your computer for the filenames and other info you elect to include.)

To maintain image orientation, don’t use the Rotate for Best Fit option.
To maintain image orientation, don’t use the Rotate for Best Fit option.

If your folder is filled with portrait-oriented images, you can certainly have more columns than rows so that each image better fills the area allotted for it. For example, when printing 20 portrait images, using five columns and four rows produces larger printed images than using four columns and five rows.