Creating Quick Look Thumbnails to Preview Files in Your App

Generate thumbnails of images, text files, PDFs, audio files, videos, and more.


Apps often need to display a small, high-quality miniature representation, or thumbnail, of a file or its content. The QuickLookThumbnailing framework provides a fast way to generate thumbnails for file types with the QLThumbnailGenerator object. It can create thumbnails for many common file types, including:

  • Images, including raw image file types (the list of supported image formats varies for each platform; use the CGImageSourceCopyTypeIdentifiers method to retrieve a list of supported image types)

  • Live Photos

  • Text files

  • PDF files

  • Audio and video files (use AVURLAsset’s audiovisualTypes method to retrieve a list of supported audio and video formats)

  • Augmented reality objects using the USDZ file format (iOS and iPadOS only)

If an installed app implements a Thumbnail Extension that supports a custom file type, other apps can use QLThumbnailGenerator to create thumbnails of the custom file type. Read Providing Thumbnails of Your Custom File Types to learn more about adding a Thumbnail Extension to your app.

Generate a Thumbnail

Import the QuickLookThumbnailing framework and use QLThumbnailGenerator to create thumbnails. It provides asynchronous methods for three common use cases:

  • To create the best possible thumbnail, use the generateBestRepresentationForRequest:completionHandler: method.

  • Use the generateRepresentationsForRequest:updateHandler: method to create a file icon or low-quality thumbnail quickly, and replace it with a higher quality thumbnail once it’s available. QuickLookThumbnailing calls the updateHandler in order of lower quality to higher quality thumbnail types. If a better quality thumbnail becomes available before a lower quality one, the framework may skip the call to the updateHandler for the lower quality thumbnail. You can rely on QuickLookThumbnailing to call the updateHandler at least once by the time it finishes the creation of thumbnails with either the best requested thumbnail, or an error object.

  • Creating high-quality thumbnails often involves compressing a CGImage as a PNG or JPEG file in-process. This task requires more resources than are available in resource-constrained environments such as File Provider Extensions. Use the saveBestRepresentationForRequest:toFileAtURL:withContentType:completionHandler: method to create and save the thumbnail image outside of your process as it doesn’t impose the same constraints on memory usage.

The following code listing generates all possible thumbnail representations for an image:

func generateThumbnailRepresentations() {
    // Set up the parameters of the request.
    guard let url = Bundle.main.url(forResource: "example", withExtension: "png") else {
        // Handle the error case.
        assert(false, "The URL can't be nil")
    let size: CGSize = CGSize(width: 60, height: 90)
    let scale = UIScreen.main.scale
    // Create the thumbnail request.
    let request = QLThumbnailGenerator.Request(fileAt: url,
                                               size: size,
                                               scale: scale,
                                               representationTypes: .all)
    // Retrieve the singleton instance of the thumbnail generator and generate the thumbnails.
    let generator = QLThumbnailGenerator.shared
    generator.generateRepresentations(for: request) { (thumbnail, type, error) in
        DispatchQueue.main.async {
            if thumbnail == nil || error != nil {
                // Handle the error case gracefully.
            } else {
                // Display the thumbnail that you created.

You can cancel ongoing requests to generate thumbnails by using the cancelRequest: method.

Request Thumbnails for Files in iCloud

You can create thumbnails for remote files stored in iCloud using QLThumbnailGenerator. If you’re using a custom file type in your app, implement a Thumbnail extension as described in Providing Thumbnails of Your Custom File Types. iCloud automatically calls your app’s extension and uploads a thumbnail image along with the file. QuickLookThumbnailing downloads the thumbnail the next time you request a thumbnail for the file stored in iCloud, ensuring that apps on devices that don't have your app installed can display thumbnails of your custom files.

If a file is smaller than 1 MB and of a common file type such as an image, a PDF, or a video, iCloud doesn’t upload a thumbnail to save storage. Instead, QuickLookThumbnailing uses the actual file to create a thumbnail for you.

See Also

Thumbnail Generation


An object that generates thumbnail images based on provided requirements.


The representation of a thumbnail.