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vipsthumbnail — Introduction to vipsthumbnail, with examples

libvips ships with a handy command-line image thumbnailer, vipsthumbnail. This page introduces it, with some examples.

The thumbnailing functionality is implemented by vips_thumbnail() and vips_thumbnail_buffer() (which thumbnails an image held as a string), see the docs for details. You can use these functions from any language with a libvips binding. For example, from PHP you could write:

$filename = "image.jpg";
$image = Vips\Image::thumbnail($filename, 200, ["height" => 200]);

libvips options

vipsthumbnail supports the usual range of vips command-line options. A few of them are useful:

--vips-cache-trace shows each operation as libvips starts it. It can be handy to see exactly what operations vipsthumbnail is running for you.

--vips-leak turns on the libvips memory leak checker. As well as reporting leaks (hopefully there are none) it also tracks and reports peak memory use.

--vips-progress runs a progress indicator during computation. It can be useful to see where libvips is looping and how often.

--vips-info shows a higher level view of the operations that vipsthumbnail is running. 


vipsthumbnail can process many images in one command. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail *.jpg

will make a thumbnail for every jpeg in the current directory.  See the Output directory section below to see how to change where thumbnails are written.

vipsthumbnail will process images one after the other. You can get a good speedup by running several vipsthumbnails in parallel, depending on how much load you want to put on your system. For example:

$ parallel vipsthumbnail ::: *.jpg

Thumbnail size

You can set the bounding box of the generated thumbnail with the --size option. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail shark.jpg --size 200x100

Use a single number to set a square bounding box. You can omit either number but keep the x to mean resize just based on that axis, for example:

$ vipsthumbnail shark.jpg --size 200x

Will resize to 200 pixels across, no matter what the height of the input image is.

You can append < or > to mean only resize if the image is smaller or larger than the target.


vipsthumbnail normally shrinks images to fit within the box set by --size. You can use the --smartcrop option to crop to fill the box instead. Excess pixels are trimmed away using the strategy you set. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail owl.jpg --smartcrop attention -s 128

Where owl.jpg is an off-centre composition:

Figure 6. 

Gives this result:

Figure 7. 

First it shrinks the image to get the vertical axis to 128 pixels, then crops down to 128 pixels across using the attention strategy. This one searches the image for features which might catch a human eye, see vips_smartcrop() for details.

Linear light

Shrinking images involves combining many pixels into one. Arithmetic averaging really ought to be in terms of the number of photons, but (for historical reasons) the values stored in image files are usually related to the voltage that should be applied to the electron gun in a CRT display.

vipsthumbnail has an option to perform image shrinking in linear space, that is, a colourspace where values are proportional to photon numbers. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg --linear

The downside is that in linear mode, none of the very fast shrink-on-load tricks that vipsthumbnail normally uses are possible, since the shrinking is done at encode time, not decode time, and is done in terms of CRT voltage, not photons. This can make linear light thumbnailing of large images extremely slow.

For example, for a 10,000 x 10,000 pixel JPEG I see:

$ time vipsthumbnail wtc.jpg 
real    0m0.317s
user    0m0.292s
sys 0m0.016s
$ time vipsthumbnail wtc.jpg --linear
real    0m4.660s
user    0m4.640s
sys 0m0.016s

Output directory

You set the thumbnail write parameters with the -o option. This is a pattern which the input filename is pasted into to produce the output filename. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg jim.tif -o tn_%s.jpg

For each of the files to be thumbnailed, vipsthumbnail will drop the extension (.jpg and .tif in this case) and then substitute the name into the -o option, replacing the s So this example will write thumbnails to tn_fred.jpg and tn_jim.jpg.

If the pattern given to -o is an absolute path, any path components are dropped from the input filenames. This lets you write all of your thumbnails to a specific directory, if you want. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg ../jim.tif -o /mythumbs/tn_%s.jpg

Now both thumbnails will be written to /mythumbs, even though the source images are in different directories.

Conversely, if -o is set to a relative path, any path component from the input file is prepended. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg ../jim.tif -o mythumbs/tn_%s.jpg

Now both input files will have thumbnails written to a subdirectory of their current directory.

Output format and options

You can use -o to specify the thumbnail image format too. For example: 

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg ../jim.tif -o tn_%s.png

Will write thumbnails in PNG format.

You can give options to the image write operation as a list of comma-separated arguments in square brackets. For example:

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg ../jim.tif -o > tn_%s.jpg[Q=90,optimize_coding]

will write jpeg images with quality 90, and will turn on the libjpeg coding optimizer.

Check the image write operations to see all the possible options. For example:

$ vips jpegsave
save image to jpeg file
   jpegsave in filename
   in           - Image to save, input VipsImage
   filename     - Filename to save to, input gchararray
optional arguments:
   Q            - Q factor, input gint
            default: 75
            min: 1, max: 100
   profile      - ICC profile to embed, input gchararray
   optimize-coding - Compute optimal Huffman coding tables, input gboolean
            default: false
   interlace    - Generate an interlaced (progressive) jpeg, input gboolean
            default: false
   no-subsample - Disable chroma subsample, input gboolean
            default: false
   trellis-quant - Apply trellis quantisation to each 8x8 block, input gboolean
            default: false
   overshoot-deringing - Apply overshooting to samples with extreme values, input gboolean
            default: false
   optimize-scans - Split the spectrum of DCT coefficients into separate scans, input gboolean
            default: false
   quant-table  - Use predefined quantization table with given index, input gint
            default: 0
            min: 0, max: 8
   strip        - Strip all metadata from image, input gboolean
            default: false
   background   - Background value, input VipsArrayDouble

The strip option is especially useful. Many image have very large IPCT, ICC or XMP metadata items embedded in them, and removing these can give a large saving.

For example:

$ vipsthumbnail 42-32157534.jpg
$ ls -l tn_42-32157534.jpg
-rw-r–r– 1 john john 6682 Nov 12 21:27 tn_42-32157534.jpg

strip almost halves the size of the thumbnail:

$ vipsthumbnail 42-32157534.jpg -o x.jpg[optimize_coding,strip]
$ ls -l x.jpg
-rw-r–r– 1 john john 3600 Nov 12 21:27 x.jpg

Colour management

vipsthumbnail will optionally put images through LittleCMS for you. You can use this to move all thumbnails to the same colour space. All web browsers assume that images without an ICC profile are in sRGB colourspace, so if you move your thumbnails to sRGB, you can strip all the embedded profiles. This can save several kb per thumbnail.

For example:

$ vipsthumbnail shark.jpg
$ ls -l tn_shark.jpg 
-rw-r–r– 1 john john 7295 Nov  9 14:33 tn_shark.jpg

Now encode with sRGB and delete any embedded profile:

$ vipsthumbnail shark.jpg --eprofile /usr/share/color/icc/sRGB.icc --delete
$ ls -l tn_shark.jpg 
-rw-r–r– 1 john john 4229 Nov  9 14:33 tn_shark.jpg

It’ll look identical to a user, but be almost half the size.

You can also specify a fallback input profile to use if the image has no embedded one, but this is less useful.


Many JPEG files have a hint set in the header giving the image orientation. If you strip out the metadata, this hint will be lost, and the image will appear to be rotated.

If you use the --rotate option, vipsthumbnail examines the image header and if there’s an orientation tag, applies and removes it.

Final suggestion

Putting all this together, I suggest this as a sensible set of options:

$ vipsthumbnail fred.jpg \
    --size 128 \
    -o tn_%s.jpg[optimize_coding,strip] \
    --eprofile /usr/share/color/icc/sRGB.icc \
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