How to fix blank thumbnails in the WordPress Media Library

Ways to solve blank thumbnails in WordPress Media Library

Over the last few months, we’ve received a number of requests for assistance on a WordPress Media Library-related issue. Specifically, WordPress users were reporting that their Media Library image files weren’t showing up as proper thumbnails – it seemed as if the thumbnails were missing. Instead, they were getting only greyed-out and blank document icons in the Media Library, like so:

Grey Thumbnails
Image Source: Screenshot – Omnicreative.com

Fortunately, there are solutions that will fix this issue, if it happens to you. Start with the procedure outlined in the next section, then we’ll walk you through the other possible solutions if that doesn’t work. So far, however, every user who requested help reports one of the following solutions worked to resolve the issue regarding blank thumbnails showing up in the WordPress Media Library.

Usual preliminary troubleshooting steps

Before trying any other solution, you should first run through a quick version-check and plugin testing process. Start by ensuring that all your files are up to date, and that your WordPress website is currently running the most recent version of WordPress and all activated WordPress plugins.

It’s crucial to use the most recent iterations of WordPress core files. For instance, WordPress version 3.9.1 apparently had a known issue due to the way images were handled. Updating your WordPress to the most recent core version should resolve those issues.

Manual backup
Image Source: StockSnap – Pixabay.com / License: CC0 Public Domain

So follow good updating protocols – make a full backup of your WordPress website files, including your database, then update your core files first and your plugins next. Follow up by checking to see if the thumbnails display correctly after updating. Assuming that updating your files doesn’t help, or that your files were already current, move on to the plugin test.

Start by deactivating all of your plugins, then checking your thumbnails. If the issue resolved, then your problem is one of the plugins you just deactivated. Try reactivating them one at a time, checking the Media Library in between, until you pinpoint which plugin is creating the problem.

From that point, it’s a simple matter of deactivating and deleting that particular WordPress plugin, and finding a workable alternative plugin if need be. However, if this process doesn’t reveal a likely culprit, then it’s time to move on to more specific solutions as provided below.

Change permissions for uploads folder

Next, please check the permissions for your uploads folder. Start by navigating in your WordPress dashboard to Settings => Media. Make sure that the option Organize my uploads into month- and year-based folders is checked. Next go into your Cpanel or other file manager interface for your domain, whatever your hosting company provides for you to work with your website’s files.

WordPress Media Settings

In your /wp-content folder, you should find your /uploads folder. Check the permissions assigned to this folder. If it’s anything other than 755 (or 777, though this might present a security risk), change the permissions. Go back to your Settings => Media page in your WordPress dashboard, and then uncheck the Organize my uploads into month- and year-based folders option. Now check again to see if the thumbnails are loading. If so, great! If not, move on to the next and final solution.

Install the Force Regenerate Thumbnails plugin

Assuming none of the above suggestions resolve the greyed-out or blank thumbnail problem for you, then this final suggestion most likely will: First please download, install, and activate the free Force Regenerate Thumbnails plugin from the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Force Regenerate Thumbnails
Image Source: Screenshot – WordPress.org

You’ll find the plugin’s controls in the Tools menu of your WordPress dashboard, and you’ll note that there are two options here. You can either force regenerate all thumbnails – that is, the plugin will regenerate thumbnails for every single image in your Media Library. Or you can force-regenerate thumbnails for the specific images with greyed-out or blank icons in lieu of actual thumbnails.

Let’s look at the global approach first. To force regenerate thumbnails for all of your images, simply navigate to the plugin’s page in your Tools menu. Next click the Regenerate All Thumbnails button. And that’s it. Depending on how many images you’ve uploaded to your WordPress blog or website, regenerating all of your thumbnails could take a while.

Force Regenerate Thumbnails Options

If you would rather simply try to sort out the specific images for which you’re seeing the greyed-out icon, please navigate to your Media Library page. Hover your mouse over the image in question, and you’ll see the Force Regenerate Thumbnails text link pop up underneath the image file name.

Now click that link to regenerate the thumbnail for that particular image only. After the plugin has completed its task and the thumbnails are regenerated, you’ll see a summary page showing how long the process took, and whether the process was successful for the images selected.

Conclusion: Fixing blank thumbnails in the WordPress Media Library

There you have it – a troubleshooting sequence that will help you resolve the greyed-out thumbnail problem. And if you have a different solution to recommend, let us know in the comments below!

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19 Comments

    • Hi Jason, if you’ve already tried everything from the article and if you’ve also tried disabling your plugins, then you could contact your hosting company for further analysis. Maybe there is an issue with your server environment.

  1. The Force Regenerate Thumbnails plugin fixed it for me. I inherited a screwed up WordPress install wherein many photos had non-ASCII characters in them, and they were accompanied by a SQL dump that also had the non-ASCII characters, and so the filesystem was unhappy about the images and MySQL wouldn’t even import the SQL file.

    So after doing global file renames of the files and corresponding string replacements in the SQL dump, I was able to get everything working except (shocker) many of the thumbnails were screwed up. The plugin saved the day!

    • Hi Sean, I have the same problem as mentioned earlier and I tried to use the plugin you named – Force Regenerate Thumbnails but it didn’t work. I still can’t see my photos in WP library. Do you know what could be the issue? I’ve tried to deactivate all the plugins I use but nothing.

  2. For me the Force Regenerate Thumbnails plugin made it worse. Before most pictures were showing, now after using the plugin they don’t show at all.

  3. I have a lot of thumbnail images in the media file (hundreds as my site grows). I followed all of the steps in the sequence above, and at the end of it all the images were still “clear” / blank.

    All I did was to leave the website “unlocked” overnight as if I was still working on it (risky) and by morning all the images were ‘loaded’ and visible. I’m running a MacBook Pro, 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 – which is relatively quick – but it is still slow to process the application’s code for the “add media” file.

    I think there is an opportunity here for the WordPress editing crew to look at how they have the code written for this part of the application. I suggest that there should be a way to sort images by date loaded, and by “title” given to each image by the user in the ‘add media’ window.

    A “sort” option would make it a lot easier to find and delete old images so that an updated image could be substituted and thus save memory usage.

  4. After struggling for a day and a half and not much help from Google, I landed here and tried the Force Regenerate Thumbnails plugin. Media library has roared back into life! Many thanks.

  5. I have an even stranger issue. WordPress is running on IIS / Windows 2012 Enterprise Server with MySQL backend. I have no problems seeing the images in the media library when connected and within our corporate network but can’t see anything when connected and using outside network. This is strange…

    • Hi Larry, it seems this is something related to your corporate network. Maybe there is a firewall or else which is causing your issue. We recommend that you contact your hosting company or system administrator for further analysis.

  6. Hi, I recently updated a plugin and now I cannot see any pictures in the media library. They are all gray. I already contacted my hosting provider, but they don’t know what to do. Can you help me please to solve this issue?

    • Hi Lynda, since your issue started after the plugin update, it’s very likely related to the particular plugin. What you can do is disable the plugin and then check again. If that doesn’t help, then you could do some further troubleshooting and perform the steps from the article to possibly solve your issue with the gray images in the media library.

  7. Hello, I moved a site to another host and since then I can’t upload files nor see some of the files that where on my site. I do have a library folder plugin which is also acting a bit off. I ran your whole article and see no change. Two questions, why would the hosting matter and what can be done about it? What does (and do you recommend) disable and re-active plugins do exactly?

    • Hi Mike, hosting matters a lot, especially if not configured correctly. Also when moving your site to another host, there are lots of things that can go wrong. In your case it seems there possibly is an issue with file permissions on the server or the files just aren’t there. It probably would make sense to contact your hosting company for further analysis.

      Regarding the question about disabling plugins. This is a common way of troubleshooting WordPress sites. One of the most common reasons for issues on WordPress sites are plugins that are causing a conflict. That means by disabling plugins, you can quickly check if there is a plugin conflict on your site or not. Here you can learn more: Troubleshooting in WordPress.

  8. My WordPress problem is entirely different. The images appear on the website, but they don’t show up when I share the link on social media. The preview is just blank. Also, when I copy the image / media link and paste it in the browser, it goes to 404. May I know the solution for this too?

    • Hi Syed, if the images aren’t accessible when you copy & paste their URL in the browser, then it’s very likely that the images either don’t exist anymore on the server or they are blocked somehow. You could contact your hosting company with this issue for further analysis.

      The reason why you still may see the images when visiting your website could be that the images are cached or maybe there is a CDN involved as well. This requires further analysis.

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