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Pictures in email don't always display. The reasons pictures in email don't display are many, and confusing. We'll look at some of the factors.

I often get pictures sent to me by some people. Sometimes when I open the mail, I see the pictures automatically, other times instead of the picture all I see is something like pic123.jpg, and I have to click on each attachment separately to see them. This thing kind of comes and goes on its own. Can you please solve the mystery?

Yes, I think I can. And it is a bit of a mystery, involving a complex mix of email formats, email programs, and email security settings.

It may look like it comes and goes, but there's actually method behind the apparent madness. Complex method, but method nonetheless.

As I said there are at least three things that can come into play to determine how an email program displays images in an email. And, of course, within each of those three things are more possibilities.

Email Format

Email can be formatted to include the images in-line or as attachments. That means part of what determines how the email is displayed is exactly what format the sender used to compose their email.

HTML and Rich Text formatted email both allow images to be embedded within the actual message. Naturally, there are different ways to do this; for example the image can be included within the email as an attachment to be displayed within the message, or the image can be linked to from a web site. Both formats also allow images to simply be included as regular attachments without any relationship to the message body.

"...part of what determines how the email is displayed is exactly what format the sender used to compose their email.

Plain text email, on the other hand, only allows for images as attachments.

Email Programs

Some email programs try to be helpful. When they receive an email that has images as attachments not meant to display in the body of the message, they automatically display the attachments after the body of the message. This avoids you having to open each attachment by hand ... you simply scroll down the message, and there they are.

This apparently confuses come people, because they see the attachments as part of the message body when they are not. Thus, when they switch to a different email program that behaves differently, they believe the new program to be broken. A great example is that Microsoft Outlook Express will display attached images below the message, and Microsoft Office Outlook will not. Neither is right or wrong, they're simply different.

Yet another possibility is that some email programs will display the in-line images as "normal" attachments in addition to displaying them in the message body. Remember that I said that one of the ways in-line images could be included is as attachments with the email that are referenced from within the body of the email. Some programs simply see those as more attachments to be listed like any other.

Email Security Settings

The security settings in effect in your email program have a major role in determining how in-body images are displayed.

Most email programs will automatically allow images that are intended to display in the body of an HTML or Rich Text message, if those images were included (as attachments) with the email. If the images are referenced from an external website, then most programs will not display them until you specifically indicate that they should be; and even then, you'll need to be connected to the internet in order to fetch the images.

Some programs allow you to indicate that certain senders are "safe", and that images in email coming from those addresses can be displayed immediately. Other programs will assume the same thing if a sender is in your contacts or address book.

Occasionally security software outside of your email program, such as firewalls or anti-malware programs, can also interfere and prevent images from being displayed properly.

Three Rules of Thumb

You can't control how your sender formats the email you're getting, but there are some steps you can take to maximize the chances that you'll see images. Exactly how you do these, and perhaps even whether you need to, will depend on exactly what email program and possibly what security software you have running on your machine.

  • Understand how your email program handles images as attachments, and whether or not you should even expect to see them below the body. If it's important to you, see if there's a setting to enable it. If not, and it's very important to you, consider using a different mail program.

  • Add the addresses of people you know and/or expect email from to your address book, or to your "safe senders" list.

  • Make sure that your firewall or other security software doesn't get in the way of your email program's security. For example, if your email program is properly blocking and allowing images from the right sets of senders, there's no reason to have your firewall try to do the same thing.

Article C2861 - December 5, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

December 9, 2006 1:55 PM

You solved a puzzle for me here. In browsing through, I also found how to delete an entry in my Favorites (right-click it), how to delete my entire history as well as ALL the places it needs to be deleted, and the names of several other Help sites. Thank you. I'll be back.

Geoff Walker
December 15, 2006 7:39 PM

Here is a variation of the same problem.

I use Outlook 2003, set to a default of HTML email. When I right-click and try to paste an image into an email that I'm writing, about 20% of the time I get a box with the red X. When that happens, if I then open a new (blank) email, paste the image into that email, copy it and paste it back into the original email, it works. Most of the time the image source is a screen-capture program such as Print Screen Deluxe (the image is documentation of a problem or an explanation of something). As far as I can tell, there is no connection between the image source and the occurance of this problem. Outlook 2003 sometimes just doesn't want to accept pasted images -- it's flakey.

Kevin W
December 21, 2006 7:12 PM

I've found even in OL2002, sometimes a user will see the image inline and sometimes as an attachment. I've racked my brain on why this doesn't always work and there doesn't seem to be any explanation.

March 12, 2007 5:54 PM

I'm wondering if there is a way for Microsoft Outlook to display the attached images in the body of the email (perhaps an add-on?). I know Microsoft Outlook Express does this without an add-on. Thanks in advance for your help.

Leo Notenboom
March 13, 2007 5:40 PM

Hash: SHA1

No. Not that I'm aware of. It's one of the many differences between
Outlook and Outlook Express.

Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


keshav ram
June 21, 2007 5:56 AM

Your comment about Microsoft office outlook is misleading. Outlook does allow you to attach an Image inline.

1. Go to the menu option in Insert->Picture
2. Select "from file" (or any other option)
3. You can now see the image inline.

July 2, 2007 2:44 AM

I want to use outlook express for send my email, but when i used html body with picture and text , (images saved in web address)after recived peaple my email they can not see images in my html body, for example in gmail. images shown as attachment.
Is there any way for resove this peoblem.(i didn't have this peoblem with Microsoft outlook).

September 21, 2007 5:16 PM

Is there a way for outlook express to NOT display attached pictures in the body of a message?

Chris Pierik
October 10, 2007 11:26 AM

Running Outlook 2003 SP3 or SP2, I find that while I can insert and view an inline image as Keshav Ram describes, using Paste instead returns a red X. Subsequent viewing of the message by other users displays the inline image properly. So for me it's probably something user profile-specific which is preventing the display of the image inline.

Chris Pierik
October 10, 2007 11:37 AM

More info - I am able to paste and view an inline .jpg from a source .jpg as displayed in IE6 (WinXP) but get the red X if try to view the same in html message body using source .jpg as viewed in PaintBrush (pbrush.exe) instead of in IE.

Candy F Cole
October 13, 2007 3:04 PM

I have a new Toshiba laptop. Sitting next to my old desktop, the same email, with inline photos, has the photos appearing in the email on the desktop and are no where to be found in my email on my laptop. Help. I have no clue why. There isn't any link to locate them, no indication that they should be there other than the text that my friend typed to describe the photo.

Leo A. Notenboom
October 15, 2007 3:10 PM

Hash: SHA1

No way to know without knowing what email program you're running.


Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


November 11, 2007 1:18 PM

For Candy Cole - try to config your email to show it as text instead of html. this should show an attachment at the bottom so you can open the image.

December 10, 2007 10:15 PM

hi can u teach me how to send an email where the picture is inline. will this work on all address or will it still depend on the user's settings?

John Nevills Jr
September 9, 2008 8:20 AM

I have windows vista and windows mail how do I transfer a picture from e-mail to a picture file on my desktop I get pictures sent to me by phone and would like to save them with my other pictures

January 13, 2009 9:38 AM

I need to send HTML emails with links and images. Is it possible to send so that the recipient is able to view the correct email layout even though images and links may be blocked for security purposes. I am not looking to spam, just want my propsects to be able to see the email complete

Paul Braithwaite
March 5, 2009 9:35 AM

I have the opposite problem. I want to insert pictures and .gifs in-line when composing my Hotmail messages, and not as a list of attachments at the end of the message. Any help appreciated.

January 15, 2010 10:08 AM

An incoming email has 5 photos attached. The 2 smaller ones open at the end of the email the other 3 I have to open individually. The difference seems to be related to the size. What can I change so that all photos open within the email?

May 11, 2010 5:34 AM

I received an email with pitures in the body of the email. I can see the pictures but can not seem to save them. How can I save them to my pictures?

Wil Warren
July 10, 2010 8:23 AM

Ran into this problem again recently after having solved it a few years ago. Outlook 2003 has an obscure bug that causes this problem but there is a work around.

You must set up your Outlook email so that the setting in Tools>Options>E-Mail Options>On replies and forwards ... shows "Prefix each line ... message" (that's the last or bottom selection). Then the little windows to the right should now show indented paragraphs. When you do that, Outlook 2003 will display inline images in RECEIVED messages within the body of the email.

It has something to do with the "outbind:" vector pointer to images to include in messages to be SENT in the local program corrupting the inline image pointer for RECEIVED messages. The outbind pointer usually looks something like this "outbind://36/cid:343061215@10072010-2103" which is the vector that Outlook uses to include an image. Note though, this is not faithfully reproduced at the receiving end by all email programs. If you're having trouble seeing signature images the same bug will cause only a box to be seen in RECEIVED messages. In that case, a typical signature vector looks like this ... file:///C:/Program%20Files/Microsoft%20Office/sig001.jpg.

In all cases the data are sent OK but are mangled by Outlook on receive. If you want to know why this happens you need to talk to the Microsoft experts. From my understanding it's to do with a transmit setting overwriting a receive buffer pointer variable and nobody seems to have bothered to fix it on 2003.

Since I don't have 2007 I don't know if a similar setup works with that version, or the new online 2010 version.

July 12, 2010 10:24 AM

I send tif pictures in email using Microsoft Office Picture Manager. The arrow keys below in Picture manager show other pictures. Are those pictures being viewed by those I send email to & if so, how do I avoid other pictures being viewed?

Rebecca Czarnek
June 1, 2011 6:07 AM

Why don't my pictures show up in my email when I send them? I keep getting "Loading Message." I used to get them all the time. What do I need to do?

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