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Adding Images in Scrivener 3

Scrivener was conceived as drafting software—and that’s still where it truly excels—but along the way it’s become a one-stop shop for writing and publishing a book. That includes the ability to add images to your project.

Whether for scene breaks, chapter headings, illustrative figures within a section, book covers, or just a reference to a character or setting’s appearance, here’s a rundown of how to work with images in Scrivener 3.

Also—spoiler alert—my ultimate goal is to convert you to a user of image placeholder tags, but read on for all of your options.

Getting Images into a Project File

In most cases, it’ll be easier to work with an image if you import it to your project first. There are exceptions, which I’ll mention where appropriate.

You also might want to store an image file in your project even if you never plan to insert it into your manuscript. For example, character or location images. And an ebook cover image must be stored in the project in order to include it when you compile.

The supported file types are JPG/JPEG, PNG, and PDF.

NOTE: Importing an image makes a copy of it, so there is no link between the original and the one in your project. Later I’ll discuss how to use linked images.

Here are your options for importing an image:

  • Select the folder where you want to store it (must not be the Draft/Manuscript folder) and go to File>Import>Files… Once imported, the image will show up at the bottom of the selected folder in your Binder. You might have to click the arrow next to the folder to expand it to see its contents.
  • Open a Finder (Mac) or File Explorer (PC) window so that it’s on top of the Scrivener window, select the desired file(s) and drag it onto a folder in the Scrivener Binder. You can also drag from the Desktop into a Scrivener project by moving the Scrivener window to the side, or minimizing it, so you can see the file on your Desktop.
  • In the Binder, right-click (or control+click on a Mac) the folder where you want to store the image and choose Add>Existing Files.

When viewing an image in the Editor, you can rescale it by double-clicking the image, and using the slider or clicking the Scale to Fit check box (Mac only) or button (looks like an arrow-tipped X).

Naming Image Files

If your image file name includes any special characters (basically, anything that’s not a letter, number, space, underscore_ or hyphen-), you may get an error when uploading your book to online retailers like Amazon. To avoid this, rename the file to avoid special characters either before or after importing.

Understanding Word Wrapping

Word wrapping refers to how the text flows around a picture in your document. In some word processors, you can adjust the word wrapping so text fills the space to the right and/or left of your document, as shown below.

Scrivener only supports inline images, which means they’re treated like a text character as far as word-wrapping goes. So text can only be above and below an image, or on the same line (see below). As such, you can also use Left, Right, and Center justification on your images.

If you want anything beyond basic formatting with word wrapping or sidebars, or a very specific layout, you might need to export your finished draft from Scrivener and use another product like Word, Pages, or InDesign for the finished book. Or hire a book designer.

Inserting an Image into the Text Document (Basic Methods)

To quickly add an image to text anywhere in your project, select the target document to view it in the Editor, and do one of the following:

  • Drag and drop the image from its Binder location to the desired position within the text (it’ll go where your cursor is).
  • Drag and drop the image from your file system or Desktop to the desired position within the text (it’ll go where your cursor is).
  • Click in the text where you want to place the image and go to Insert Image From File, select the image you want, and click Open.
  • Copy an image from another document/program, click in the text where you want to place the image, and Paste.

None of these options will import the image file into the Binder. In the first option, the image was already in the project, and in the rest the image will only reside inside its target text document.

Resizing an Image

To adjust the size of the image relative to the surrounding text, right-click and choose Scale Image (Windows) or double-click the image (Mac). Use the sliders or text boxes to adjust the size.

This will affect the size at which the image appears on the page when you compile.

NOTE: You can rename the inserted image here if it contains any special characters.

TIP: Save the image to the desired size or only slightly larger before importing to keep from bloating your project. The one in the screenshot above should've been resized before importing.

Getting More Control with Image Placeholders

Sometimes you want more control over how images are processed. Situations where it makes sense to use an image placeholder include:

  • Ensuring you’re always using the most up-to-date version of an image without having to import the new one each time you make a change.
  • You’re working with very large, high-quality image files—or a large number of files—which can bloat and slow down your Scrivener project.
  • You want to be able to resize or update the location of multiple images at once. (This can be done with Find/Replace, or in Compile via the Replacements tab.) 

There are two types of placeholders: linked images and image tags.

Adding a Linked Image

Inserting a linked image adds a preview of the image into the text, which makes it look like it’s actually there. Some people like this because they can easily see which picture they’re using within a section of text, and the process is simple.

Linked images can also be resized in the same way as an unlinked image.

The downsides are:

  • If you move the image file to a different folder or drive, or rename it, the link is lost and you’ll have to delete the placeholder and redo the insert process below.
  • You can’t tell linked and unlinked images apart at a glance (as shown below). Right-clicking will give you a different context menu though.
  • Just like with linked images, you can’t resize or link to a different file for more than one image at a time.

Still, if you want to go this route, do the following:

  1. Click in the text where you want to place the linked image.
  2. Go to Insert>Image Linked to File
  3. Select the image from your files.
  4. Click Open.

The placeholder image is placed into the text.

Understanding the Benefits of Image Placeholder Tags

Image placeholder tags give you the most flexibility when it comes to adding images. Here are the key benefits:

  • They are the only way to include images as scene breaks and in chapter headings.
  • You can use Find/Replace, or Replacements in Compile, to change the image size, name, or location (for external files) for multiple images at once.
  • You can set the image size and include different sizes for different types of output (e.g., ebook vs PDF) right within the placeholder.

The main reasons people avoid image tags are that they look complicated, and there’s no preview of the image in your document, just a cryptic line of text, as shown below.

But keep reading. This post might just make you a convert. 😉

Using Placeholder Tags for Images Stored Within a Scrivener Project

Later in this post, I’ll cover how to use placeholder tags for image files stored outside of the project, but the basic processes will be the same as below.

REMINDER: Image files cannot be imported directly to the Manuscript/Draft folder. Choose another location, such as Research, or any spot or folder outside the Draft.

Inserting an Image into a Text Document via Placeholder Tag

Here’s how to add an image to a document using a placeholder tag.

  1. Select the desired document, and click within the Editor in the exact location where you’d like to insert the image.
  2. Type <$img:ImageName> (where ImageName is the name of the image exactly as it appears in the Binder, including the extension like .jpg or .png, if present).
  3. (Optional) Add a blank line above and below the image for spacing.

The image will appear in the text with the same indents and format as the text.

TIP: To center an image, click on the same line as the image (or select the image by dragging across it) and click the Center alignment button in the format bar (or go to Format>Paragraph>Center). This should be preserved when you compile.

Adjusting the Image Size by Height or Width

To specify the size of the image, you can enter either its height or width in points. Scrivener will adjust the other measurement accordingly to preserve the aspect ratio. You can also enter both dimensions, if desired, but it might distort the image.

Height and width values work for all types of output, including ebooks. Here’s the pattern:




Below is an example of each within Scrivener.

Adjusting the Image Size with a Percentage

For ebooks only, you can specify the relative image size to the screen as a percentage value. If you plan to compile to multiple formats, you can combine height/width and percentage values. Here’s the pattern:




Below are examples in Scrivener.

When compiling, the percent value is used when you choose an ebook format, and the height/width value is used for most other formats.

Using an Image as a Scene Separator

If you’d like an image to appear between each scene, you can add an image tag as a Custom separator in the Compile window. The instructions below are for adding an image to an ebook.

1. Import the image as outlined in the “Getting Images into a Project File” section above.

2. Open the Compile window (File—>Compile), and choose ePub Ebook (.epub) from the Compile For dropdown menu. Windows users choose ePub 3 Ebook (.epub).

3. In the Formats column on the left, choose Ebook.

4. In the Contents pane on the right, make note of the section type you’re using for your scene documents. In this example, it’s called Scene.

5. Click the Assign Section Layouts button at the bottom center to assign a layout to the Scene section type (or check which one is already assigned). In this example, the layout is called Section Text.

6. Click OK.

7. In the lefthand column, double-click the Ebook format and choose Duplicate & Edit to create a custom format. (Alternatively, double-click an existing custom format to edit it.)

8. As shown below, give it a name in the Format Name text box. I also recommend changing Save To to My Formats so you can use it for any project on this computer.

9. Select the Separators tab on the left.

10. In the Section Layouts box, choose Section Text.

11. From the Separator Between Sections dropdown menu, choose Custom.

12. In the Separator Between Sections text box, add the image tag. Unless your image is already small, I suggest adding a height or width adjustment as outlined in the preceding section.

13. Click Save to save the compile format you’ve created.

14. Click Compile. The image is inserted between scene documents as shown below.

Displaying an Image at the Start of Each Chapter

You can set up Compile to insert an image either before or after the title of each chapter. Below are the steps for inserting it below the chapter auto-number.

1. Follow steps 1-6 from the “Using an Image as a Scene Separator” section above, making note of the section layout applied to your chapter folders or documents. In this example, it’s called Chapter.

2. Select the Section Layouts tab on the left.

3. In the list on the right, choose the row for the section layout applied to the Chapter section type. In my example, it’s called Chapter Heading. TIP: Section layouts in use will be bold.

4. If it’s not already, select the Title Options tab in the center.

5. The Title Prefix text box is where the auto-numbering placeholder goes, as shown in the example below. I recommend typing your image placeholder tag in the Title Suffix text box so it comes after your chapter title, but either box is fine, depending on the placement you want. (If you want more space after the image, insert one or more Return characters after the placeholder tag).

NOTES: If you see <$rst_scene> in the Title Suffix text box, you can either delete it, or place the image tag above or below it.

6. Select the Formatting tab in the center, and click on the line where the image tag is displayed.

7. Click the Center alignment button in the format bar. You can also adjust font size (to affect line size), line spacing, and paragraph spacing from here to get the desired layout. I’d compile first to see how it looks.

8. Click Save to save the compile format you’ve created.

9. Click Compile. The image appears beneath each chapter heading. In this case, I’d probably size it down to get better quality, or use a higher quality image.

Using an Image as an End-of-Text Marker

Want to mark the end of your manuscript with a special image? The process is similar to those outlined above. NOTE: This only works with Print, PDF, and text-type output, not e-books.

1. Follow steps 1-6 from the “Using an Image as a Scene Separator” section above, making sure to choose Print, PDF, DOCX, RTF, or another text type from the Compile For dropdown menu.

2. Select the Text Layout tab at the left.

3. In the Document Suffix text box, type <$img:ImageName>. Consider adding a width or height dimension.

4. Click Save to save the compile format.

5. Click Compile.

Adding Images to Headers and Footers

I’ve been asked about inserting images into headers and footers, but headers and footers in Scrivener do not support the image placeholder tag. Sorry!

Working with External Image Files

If you want to use placeholder tags for images that are not imported into Scrivener, the only difference is that you must include the full file path (location) in the file name, as shown below.

Copying a Mac File Path

1. Locate the file in Finder (or on your Desktop).

2. Right-click (or Control+click) the file to get the context menu.

3. Press the Option key on your keyboard to expand the context menu choices and click Copy “filename” as Pathname.

4. Paste the file path into your image tag, which will look something like the one below.

<$img:/Users/cerulean/Desktop/Workshop Files/GwenPortrait.jpg>

Copying a Windows File Path

1. Locate the file in File Explorer (or on your Desktop).

2. Right-click the file to get the context menu.

3. Click Copy As Path. (If you don’t see it, try holding down the Shift key while you right-click to get an expanded context menu.)

4. Paste the file path into your image tag, which will look similar to the one below.

<$img:C:\Users\gmher\Desktop\Workshop Files\GwenPortrait.jpg>

NOTE: On a PC, when you copy using the steps above, there will be quote marks around the file name. Do not include the quotes in the image tag.

Troubleshooting Your Image Placeholders

Here are a few common things to check if your image doesn’t compile.

  • Did you forget the $ symbol? (I do this ALL the time.)
  • Did you forget a < or > symbol?
  • Did you accidentally use a colon or comma instead of a semicolon when adding a height, width, or percentage?
  • Are there any spaces between parts of the tag (other than spaces in the image name)?
  • Is the image name entered exactly the way it appears in the Binder, including .jpg or .png?
  • If your image is outside Scrivener, is the full path name correct?

If you encounter any other issues, I’ll do my best to help.

Have you tried adding images to your project? After reading this post, if you still have questions about how to get it done, just leave a comment below!

Want more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

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  1. Reply

    Thanks to your original post, I use image tags all the time for scene separators, and illustrations in my books. Thanks for taking the time to write another great post!

  2. Mark Anderson


    As always, your post of wonderful information was terrific! Thanks. Happy writing! Looking forward to your next post.

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