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Create a contact sheet

by Rosie Tanner. 11 Jun 2009

Photoshop excels at being an automation workhorse. Indeed, this is a large part of why it’s so popular. You can create actions that can handle almost any task, and apply the action to any number of images. You can save tool presets, and you can even create a traditional contact sheet that can be printed or sent to anyone via email. That’s the focus of this tutorial – to introduce you to the concept of the automatic contact sheet.

Create a contact sheet

Photoshop excels at being an automation workhorse. Indeed, this is a large part of why it’s so popular.
You can create actions that can handle almost any task, and apply the action to any number of images. You can save tool presets, and you can even create a traditional contact sheet that can be printed or sent to anyone via email. That’s the focus of this tutorial – to introduce you to the concept of the automatic contact sheet.
Don’t get confused between the Picture Package and Contact Sheet II options. They both perform very different tasks. Whereas the Picture Package creates multiple copies of the same image on a single page (we can all think back to those junior school photos that were sent home to mum and dad), the Contact Sheet II option can pull together a whole folder of images and place them as thumbnails on a single sheet, complete with image file names for captions.
The Contact Sheet II option is the poor man’s solution for image archiving, but it can also be used to create a quick proof sheet for a customer during their photoshoot, or to send a large group of images via email to a friend. Since you can adjust the image resolution, you can create one version for print and the other for email routing or the web. Several images can be sent as a single file. And it takes no more than a little pre-planning and a few button clicks.
If this is your first foray into Contact Sheets, then it may take a little time to work out the orientation, image sizes and file naming, but it will pay off in the end. Always remember that if you don’t like the way the contact sheet turns out, you can discard it, alter the contact sheet parameters and try again. And all this can be accomplished very quickly. Try experimenting with only a few images of smaller sizes first, so contact sheet creation is fast. You’ll become a pro in no time. This tutorial is written for Photoshop 5.5 and higher.

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01: Prepare a folder with your images
The first step is to group all your photographs in a folder and give them a valid and meaningful filename. Here we have 24 images that were taken at various locations throughout New England.

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02: Open up the Contact Sheet II dialog
Go to File>Automate> Contact Sheet II in Photoshop. Alternatively, you can access the Contact Sheet II dialog directly from Adobe Bridge. First select all the images to be processed in Bridge, then go to Tools> Photoshop>Contact Sheet II.

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03: Selecting the folder of images
If you selected the files in Bridge, you don’t have to worry about the ‘Source Image’ area of the Contact Sheet II dialog, as you already selected the images to be used. If you didn’t, you will need to select the Source folder under Browse (Windows) or Choose (Mac). Navigate to the folder containing the images and click OK.

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04: Contact Sheet options part 1
The Document section is where you specify the dimensions, resolution and Color Mode of the final contact sheet. In the majority of cases you’ll want to leave the default as an 8 x 10-inch (20.32 x 25.4cm) document. This prints out nicely on a standard paper size.

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05: Contact Sheet options part 2
If your intention is to print the sheet, set the resolution to 300 pixels/inch and Color Mode to CMYK. If your end result is a digital file to archive or send via email, set the resolution to 72 pixels/inch and Color Mode to RGB. You can set the Color Mode to Greyscale if all your images are black and white.

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06: Thumbnail settings
Uncheck the Flatten All Layers checkbox. This way you can edit the filenames later. Now for the thumbnails: enter 4 across and 6 down, which fits all 24 images on your page nicely. Keep the placement as ‘Across first’, and make sure Use Auto Spacing is checked. Bear in mind though, that you can set your own spacing between thumbnails here.

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07: Let the magic happen
Keep Rotate For Best Fit deselected to have the images’ orientation unchanged. Also keep all defaults in the file caption options. Now hit OK, sit back and have a cup of coffee while the contact sheet is created. If there are too many images for one sheet, multiple sheets are created.

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08: Editing filenames
Some of the caption names have been shortened. As you didn’t flatten all layers, you can edit each caption with the Type tool on its own layer, reduce the font size or shorten the name. You’ll also have to manually strip out the .jpg extensions, as there’s no automatic option to remove them.

Tip: Image size & orientation
If you use images that differ in size and orientation, you may want to try selecting Rotate For Best Fit to have your contact sheet come out consistent. Also be sure to change the number of columns and rows accordingly. For example, if most of your images have a vertical orientation, be sure to have more columns and fewer rows. This ensures most of the images are oriented correctly on the page, assuming you want the page vertically oriented.

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    • Cherise Vallet

      The other great thing you can do with this function is have the contact sheet made up of all images in subfolders within an overall folder. All you need to do is tick the “include all subfolders” box when you are choosing your main folder of images – then the contact sheet is created using all the images within that overall folder, no matter how many layers down of subfolders you have within it.

    • Billy N.

      This is very thoughtful of you, perhaps you have suffer with trying to formulate this technique too (in the past of couse!). Thank you so much for sharing it with us folks that had no idea.
      This is exactly what I was looking to accomplish; but until you, until now. Thanks so much.

      Billy

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