In the good old days of Excel, you could change a workbook setting, and see a preview picture of the file contents, before you opened it. That feature was available in Excel's Open window, but has disappeared in newer versions of Excel. Here's how to see Preview Pictures, and a warning about using them.
Preview Picture Example
If you're not sure what a preview picture looks like, here's a screen shot from one of my sample Excel files. The file list is at the left, and the Preview Picture for the selected file is shown at the right.
The preview shows the page that was active when the file was saved last. I must have been checking out that pivot table, to see how the sales were going!
Excel Property Settings
To change the Preview Picture setting in Excel, you need to open the properties dialog box. Here are the steps to do that, in Excel for Office 365.
To open the Property dialog box, follow these steps:
- On the Ribbon, click the File tab
- Click the Info category
- At the right, click the drop down arrow for Properties
- Click Advanced Properties
NOTE: For instructions for earlier versions of Excel, see Picture Preview - Excel 2003 to 2010.
Preview Picture Setting
Next, follow these steps to see preview pictures:
- In the Properties window, click the Summary tab.
- At the bottom of that tab, there is a check box – "Save Thumbnails for All Excel Documents".
- Check that box, to turn on this feature
All Excel Files Affected
As you can guess from the check box description, the setting in that check box (on or off) affects all Excel files, not just the active workbook.
In earlier versions of Excel, you could set the Preview Picture setting for specific workbooks. The Properties window had a "Save preview picture" check box, and that setting affected the active workbook only.
Opening Files Within Excel
There are problems with the Preview Picture feature though, if you're trying to open Excel files using the File | Open command.
To see the problem, follow these steps to activate the Preview Pane within Excel:
- On the Excel Ribbon, click the File tab
- Then, at the left, click Open, and click the Browse button
- Click the Preview Pane button at the top right of the window
- Then, click on an Excel file in the files list at the left, to see if its preview appears at the right.
HINT: It does not!
Instead of showing a Preview Picture, the Preview Pane usually shows this error message:
- "This file can't be previewed because of an error in the Microsoft Excel previewer"
Apparently, the Excel, Word and PowerPoint programs can't show you a Preview Picture of their own files! See this Microsoft support article for a bit more information.
Where to See Preview Pictures
Even though Excel won't show you preview pictures, you can see them in Windows Explorer.
- Open Windows Explorer
- In the Ribbon at the top, click the View tab
- At the left end of the Ribbon, in the Panes group, click on Preview Pane, to turn that pane on.
- Then, click on an Excel file in the file list, to see a screen shot of its contents in the Preview pane.
If the "Save Thumbnails for All Excel Documents" is turned on, some of your desktop shortcuts might show a custom thumbnail.
They don't usually change back to normal icons though, if you turn that setting off.
You'll probably have to delete the shortcuts, and create new ones.
Picture Preview 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.
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"
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. But if it doesn't, you could use Task Manager to close it.
More on Preview Picture
Go to my Contextures website for more information on Preview Picture in Excel for Office 365.
For earlier versions of Excel, see Picture Preview - Excel 2003 to 2010.
Preview Picture Problems in Excel