Windows Tips: Windows' Hidden Image Viewer

[[Windows XP only]]When you double-click a .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .tif, or other image file in Windows Explorer or in any folder window, the file opens in the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer by default. If you prefer an image viewer with more functionality, this accessory may be more annoying than helpful. After all, the utility doesn't even provide a menu bar to help you figure out what features (if any) it has! But don't be too quick to dismiss the Picture and Fax Viewer. Some of its best features are hidden beneath its seemingly simple interface. I'll show you how to get the most out of these undocumented gems.

Launch the Viewer from an icon: The fastest way to open the Picture and Fax Viewer is to place a shortcut to the program on your desktop, Quick Launch toolbar, or Start menu. First, open the folder in which you want the shortcut to appear. For example, if you want to create a Viewer icon on your Quick Launch bar, right-click the bar (but not an icon) and choose Open Folder. Right-click an empty part of the folder (or the desktop, if that's where you want the shortcut), and choose New,Shortcut. In the Create Shortcut wizard, type rundll32.exe %SystemRoot%\system32\shimgvw.dll,ImageView_Fullscreen (don't forget to include the space after "rundll32.exe"; see Figure 1

Figure 1: Launch Windows' Picture and Fax Viewer utility from a custom shortcut by entering the appropriate command line.
) and click Next. Enter a name for the shortcut, such as Picture Viewer, and click Finish.

If you don't like the plain-Jane default icon, right-click it and select Properties. In the Shortcut tab, click Change Icon. Choose Look for icons in this file, type the path to shimgvw.dll (%SystemRoot%\system32\shimgvw.dll should work on any system), and press <Enter>. If you dislike the selection, type % SystemRoot %\system32\shell32.dll and look for a suitable icon in that file (see Figure 2

Figure 2: Choose an easy-to-spot icon for your custom Picture and Fax Viewer shortcut.
). After selecting an icon, click OK twice.

Now whenever you want to launch the Picture and Fax Viewer, simply click or double-click the icon in the Quick Launch bar or on the desktop, or from the Start menu. When you do, the window will state 'No preview available'; but just drag any image file into the window. To work with multiple files, drag all of them into the window and then use the Next and Previous buttons on the far left of the toolbar at the bottom of the window to cycle through the images (alternatively, you can use your keyboard's left and right arrow keys to change them).

Bonus tip: If you use the Picture and Fax Viewer to open just one file (either by dragging it into the window or by right-clicking it and choosing Open With,Windows Picture and Fax Viewer), you can use the Next and Previous buttons to view other photos in the same folder. But if you want to work with multiple files in different folders, choose Start,Search,For Files and Folders, <Ctrl>-select in the Search Results window the ones you want to view, and drag them all into the Viewer.

Print multiple photos on a single page: If you want to print several small images--such as a page of wallet-size photos of your kids, a pair of 5-by-7-inch prints from your wedding, or thumbnails of images from a single event--you probably don't want to waste expensive photo paper printing one picture per page. But before you run out to buy a photo editing program or other utility to manage your image printing, why not give the Picture and Fax Viewer a try?

Start by using one of the techniques described above to open one or more photos. Note that if you open a single photo, the wizard will later give you the option to print every image in the same folder. If you'd rather see only a limited selection, drag the desired pictures into the Viewer as discussed in the previous tip.

After the image or images have loaded, click the printer icon at the bottom of the Viewer, or press <Ctrl>-P. In the Photo Printing Wizard, click Next. You'll see all the photos in the current folder or those you dragged to the Viewer. Use the check boxes in the corner of each thumbnail to select the files to print, and click Next. Choose your printer (or go with the default selection) and click Next again.

You'll find a host of hidden options in the Layout Selection screen. Simply scroll through the list of thumbnail samples to find the best arrangement for your photos. You can even mix and match layouts if you want. For example, if you would like five small photos of each of the seven pictures that you need to print, select Contact sheet from the 'Available layouts' list and type the number 5 in the 'Number of times to use each picture' box underneath. The right side of the wizard will show you a preview of the layout with the actual photos you selected (see Figure 3

Figure 3: Preview and print multiple copies of your images using a layout in the Photo Printing Wizard.
). The options for smaller prints rotate your pictures on their sides to make the best fit on the paper. Look very carefully at the preview of these small images, because the wizard will crop the edges of photos that don't quite fit the proportions of the specified page size. Once you've selected your layout, make sure your printer has the right paper, and click Next. When the printing is done, click Finish if you like the result, or Back to change the layout or other settings and try again.

Use the Viewer with other apps: The Picture and Fax Viewer is handy for some tasks, but not others. Fortunately, the utility simplifies the task of finding the photo you want to work on and then opening it in a more functional image editing program such as Adobe's Photoshop. If you've already installed Photoshop, your image files may be associated with that program and you can skip to the next paragraph. If Picture and Fax Viewer is set as your default image viewer but you want to use another image editor, right-click the image file and choose Open With,Choose Program. Select the image application you want to use as a photo editor (click the Browse button to find it, if necessary) and check Always use the selected program to open this kind of file. End by clicking OK.

From now on, if you just want to view or print images, open them in the Picture and Fax Viewer. When you want to edit a photo or perform some other operation that the Picture and Fax Viewer can't handle, however, click the icon at the bottom right of the Viewer (between the Copy To and Help icons; see Figure 4

Figure 4: Open a photo in your image editor with a single click when you're finished previewing your images.
), or simply press <Ctrl>-E. Don't right-click the image and choose Edit unless you want it to open in Windows Paint. Note that if you don't have a default image editor, the file will open in Paint.

Get instant slide shows: Last but not least, the Picture and Fax Viewer is useful for creating impromptu slide shows. Read Dave Johnson's March Step-By-Step column for more on creating slide shows.

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