Adobe Bridge Thumbnails – Accuracy vs. Efficiency

BrSwissArmyKnife3 We’ve seen that Adobe Bridge is a very powerful tool for managing many types of files, but with Creative Suite documents, and Camera Raw files, the Bridge is outstanding. This power comes at a cost in terms of system loading, though, and Adobe’s developers realized that not all systems are state of the art, blazing fast systems with unlimited memory. For that reason, they have added some ability to control Bridge’s on-the-fly performance and throttle back some of the processing power demanded, for those occasions when your system (or your patience) just isn’t up to it. One of the ways this is done is by controlling the display of thumbnails in the Content window.

Unfortunately, these settings frequently confuse new Bridge users. I’ll look at this problem and offer some solutions and pointers for taking control of Bridge’s display of thumbnails, and making it work for you.

A common question I get goes something like this:

“I opened Camera Raw, and made some adjustments to my files. But, when I view them in Bridge, I don’t see the adjustments – the thumbnails look the same as they did originally.”

Another variation of the same theme:

“When I view my images in Bridge, they all display normally. But, when I click on a thumbnail, it suddenly turns darker.”

Both of these are readily addressed with Bridge’s settings – but you have to know where to look, and why! It is first important to understand a vital piece of information about thumbnails: many image formats, Camera Raw in particular, contain an “embedded” low-res thumbnail inside the image itself – this thumbnail is available for the OS or any application to display quickly. However, the thumbnails are indeed low-res – and are NOT color managed. This is where the trouble comes in.

Adobe Bridge is able to render a color managed thumbnail, including camera raw settings (typically saved as XMP data) in its display. The difference between the embedded thumbnail and the rendered thumbnail is illustrated below:


The rendered thumbnail is color managed, has all the develop settings from Camera Raw applied, and in general is a more accurate, higher quality preview of the image. However, this takes a bit of processing power, and can slow Bridge to a crawl. The ability to use the embedded thumbnail (from the raw file, without any adjustments)can allow Bridge to move much more quickly and responsively, at a cost to the image thumbnail quality.

To see how we control this behavior, let’s start with Bridge Preferences (Edit > Preferences… or Ctrl-K/Cmd-K).

Thumbnails – Performance and Handling

In the preferences dialog box, we see the “Thumbnails” section, and clicking on this section reveals Bridge’s first thumbnail performance tweak: “Do Not Process Files Larger Than:___”


Any files larger than the specified size in Megabytes are not processed at all, and will show as an icon instead of displaying the thumbnail. I’ve found for slower computers, including many laptops, that setting this to 100Mb or 200Mb can prevent Bridge from getting bogged down on those monster files, especially if you have a folder with several large files in it.

Specify Thumbnail Quality

Now, this doesn’t address the original questions I posed above. Where in the world are the settings to control that?

Well, in Bridge CS3 and earlier, there were settings in the preferences dialog box. In Bridge CS4, however, the engineers moved the settings to Bridge’s “Application Bar” which, as we’ve seen in earlier articles, is located below the toolbar at the top of the screen.

In Bridge’s Application Bar, just to the left of the star-shaped drop down for ratings, are two inconspicuous boxes, one with a large checkerboard pattern and one with a small checkerboard pattern. We’ll find our answer here! Not the most obvious location for thumbnail quality, but presumably the developers felt that this would make it easier to change settings on the fly (it does).


If you hover over the icon with the large checkerboard pattern, you see the tooltip: “Browse quickly by preferring embedded images.”


This option completely avoids any rendering or processing, and uses the embedded thumbnail whenever possible. As the tooltip implies, this is the fastest option and is a great timesaver when you’re in a hurry, or working on a power-challenged system.

If you hover over the icon with the smaller checkerboard pattern, you see the tooltip, “Options for thumbnail quality and preview generation.”


Voila! We’ve struck pay dirt. Notice the dropdown triangle, indicating a pull-down menu. The menu has the remainder of Bridge’s options for this topic:


  • The first option, “Prefer Embedded,” is the same as the other icon we just reviewed.
  • The second option, “High Quality  on Demand,” is one that confuses people. Bridge will use the embedded thumbnail in its preview, until you click on the image. Clicking on an image causes Bridge to generate a higher quality preview as we reviewed earlier.
  • The third option, “Always High Quality,” is the most processor intensive, but results in nothing but color managed, fully rendered thumbnails and previews.
  • The final option, “Generate 100% Previews,” tells Bridge to begin generating full sized previews for all images in the folder. These images are shown when you preview your files in loupe or slideshow mode (see my earlier tutorial on previewing images in Bridge).

Now, you know the secret behind Bridge’s thumbnail display behavior. More importantly, you also know how to manage Bridge’s performance, so you can adjust the working conditions depending on the system you’re using!

Good luck, and happy browsing!

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Very, very helpful, thanks much! I am a new Bridge user and have a lot of learning to do!

    1. Eliot, thanks for your comments! Please note that I have several more tutorials on Bridge (as well as many other topics) posted on Good luck in your quest for learning about Bridge 🙂


  2. Very helpful, very well illustrated. I have another functionality issue
    If I try to e-mail the altered image directly from Bridge by either copying it to may desktop or directly embedding it into an e,mail as an attachment what appears in the e-mail or what is copied to my desktop is the unaltered image.

    Any thoughts?-accept to open in PS and then save as a PSD or Use image Processor in Bridge which I guess would work.

    1. Gordon,

      Do you mean altered or unaltered by Camera Raw? If so, then yes, you’ll need to either use Image Processor or the Export panel to render a modified version of the file to include in emails. Just copying a file doesn’t necessarily render the camera raw adjustments into the file.


  3. THANKS! I went through all the preferences dialogs (CS4) and couldn’t find the solution. It amazes me that Adobe wouldnt ALSO include these options in any of those dialogs! You made the solution crystal clear. Thanks again.

  4. Thank you for this article. I couldn’t find where I had made a change in bridge for the preview image.

  5. It’s interesting that you can set all the options to the optimal settings and the program still will show slightly soft previews on a Mac Cinema display.

    Is this on purpose?

  6. THANK YOU for posting this!!!!!! I have been searching for several days on what happened to my adjusted previews!!! I can’t even express how happy I cam across your information!! I will certainly be bookmarking and sharing your site!!

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