Contact sheets are an old-fashioned idea going back to film days, but they can still be very useful. They’re great for filing alongside original film if you’ve scanned that film. And some photography courses ask students to submit project sheets in the form of contact sheets.
This method using Photoshop is among the simplest and quickest ways to create a contact sheet. That’s thanks to a built-in extension specifically for this purpose.
While there are things about it that I wish were more versatile (such as more control over the thumbnail captions), if you have Photoshop already, this is a really useful feature that will get you a contact sheet quickly and easily.
A potential downside is that it doesn’t give you a lot of control over the output with things like background colors, sheet titles, or different information in the text captions. For more control like that, the Lightroom or ImageMagick methods might be better options.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Open the Contact Sheet II Automation
File > Automate > Contact Sheet II
Step 2: Select Your Images
There are actually a few ways you can do this, which is a nice feature of this method. You can choose amongst these in the Source Images section.
Probably the simplest is to have all the images you want to work with in the same folder. And that’s the method I’m going to use here. But you also have these options:
- Files. Select the files individually using the built-in browser in the source image section.
- Bridge. Pre-select images in Bridge (which means you can make use of Bridge’s powerful filtering tools).
- Open Documents. You can use the images that you already have open in tabs in Photoshop. (NB. You’ll only see this option if you already have tabs open, which is why it’s not showing up in the screenshot above.)
- Folder. Or you can use a designated folder of images (and, optionally, its subfolders).
Once you’ve done this, you’re actually good to go if you want to just use the default settings. In that case, you can just hit OK and it will build the contact sheet.
Step 3: Document Settings
The next panel, the Document panel, sets the dimensions and type of the basic sheet. If this was an analog contact sheet, it would basically be choosing the type of paper you want to print this on.
This screenshot uses the default settings. It’s set up for a basic 8×10 print, which is/was a very common size to use for print contact sheets. You can adjust this to your preferences, but if you just want the basic, reliable version, you can stick with these.
One common adjustment might be to change the sheet size to Letter (8.5 x 11 inches) or A4 (210 x 297 centimeters) size, especially if you plan to print it.
There’s not a specific orientation switch between portrait (vertical) and landscape (horizontal), but you can get the same result by specifying wider than taller dimensions. I find landscape orientation to be better for displaying on screen while I prefer portrait orientation for printed contact sheets.
The color profile is sRGB by default, which is widely compatible. If you’re printing the contact sheet, you might have a specific profile you’d prefer to use.
There are no options here for changing background colors or adding borders around the images.
Step 4: Thumbnail Settings
This section covers the layout.
The place setting is basically the order or sorting. You can tile them across first (default), which is the natural way it would be if you were dealing with strips of film. Or you can sort the tiling vertically.
You can then choose the numbers of rows and columns. And this is a key thing about how this contact sheet builder works. Whatever values you enter here will determine how many thumbnails fit on each page. So if you’re using the 5×6 default, for example, the maximum is obvious 30 images to a page. If you have fewer than that, you’ll just get some spare whitespace.
But what if you have more images than that? It’ll start a new sheet automatically. So it won’t just try to jam more images on the page by making them smaller or let them simply drop off.
And this setting is also going to determine the size of the thumbnails. The sizes are scaled to fit; you don’t have any further direct control over that (the manual spacing option is basically indirect control, to some extent). The more rows and columns you have, the smaller the thumbnails will be, and vice versa.
Step 5: Caption Settings
The last step is to choose the settings for the captions under each thumbnail. The controls here are far more limited than I’d prefer.
Basically, you can use the filename (with extension) or nothing. There’s no option for including other metadata or even changing text colors etc. If you need more control over this aspect, it’s an area where the Lightroom and ImageMagick methods for creating contact sheets give you far more control.
These are the default options:
To turn off the captions and just have the images, uncheck the box at far left.
You can also change the font and size. But that’s about it when it comes to options for this section.
Step 6: Build the Contact Sheet
Once you’re happy with the settings, you can click on the OK button to build the contact sheet. It’ll take a moment to process the images and create the new contact sheet files.
If you’re working with more images than will fit on one sheet, it’ll automatically overflow to create a new sheet.
Once they’re created, it’ll take you back to the regular Photoshop panel. Each contact sheet will be in a new tab. They’re now just like any other image file, and you can modify them however you like, such as adding sheet titles, etc.
Things Worth Knowing
It’s a pretty straightforward and mostly intuitive process, but there are still some things worth knowing about it.
Over under the OK and Cancel buttons are some Load, Save, and Reset options. These are for saving setting presets, which can be useful if you find yourself frequently making contact sheets but working between different sizes of paper or different layouts.
Starting in Adobe Bridge
If you’re using Bridge to sort and select your source images, you can start the process there rather than going back and forth. It doesn’t give you any more options, but it just makes the process a little more streamlined.
You can find the option in Bridge under:
Tools > Photoshop > Contact Sheet II