With the older versions of Adobe Illustrator before the Creative Suite 2 (CS2), users were able to see thumbnail previews of AI files in the Windows Explorer automatically – without opening them. But the later versions of Adobe Illustrator don’t support this facility so far. If you want to quickly preview your AI files while using the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, you will need to use a third party program or a similar trick for it.

Following is the workaround for doing so:

Note: This method includes modifying the Windows registry, so you should make sure to create a back-up before proceeding.

  1. Download aiicon.zip and extract it using WinRAR or WinZIP on your Computer.
  2. Now, look for aiicon.dll in the extracted files. Copy and paste it in the following directory:
    X:Program FilesCommon FilesAdobeShell

    If you don’t find the specific path, create a new one (Shell folder is found missing in some cases. In such condition, just go to X:Program FilesCommon FilesAdobe and create a folder “Shell”). Change X to your drive in which you installed Adobe Illustrator.

  3. Look for aiicon.reg in the extracted files and edit it in notepad and change the following value:
    @="C:\Program Files\Common Files\Adobe\Shell\aiicon.dll"to the path you just specified above in step 1 while copying aiicon.dll.
    Preview AI files without opening Adobe Illustrator
  4. Save aiicon.reg and merge it in the Windows registry by double clicking it and choosing yes in the prompt.

After completing these steps, open a folder that contains Adobe Illustrator files and set the View mode to Thumbnails. You will surely be able to see the thumbnail preview of the AI files.

This trick is working fine in Windows XP and Windows 7 for me. If you don’t want to achieve this the geeky way i.e. by modifying the registry, you may also use Softfields Thumbnails Viewer trial or pro version for the same.

Also read: How to preview PSD files without opening Photoshop?