Embedding vs. Linking Images

Under the Insert menu in Scrivener, you will find three commands for importing images into your documents. These are as follows:

  • Image From File…: Allows you to select an image from your hard drive which Scrivener will then embed into your document, just like with any traditional word processor.
  • Image Linked to File…: Visually this is no different from the above method, but instead of embedding the image, Scrivener will generate the graphic from where the original image file is stored on your hard drive outside of the Scrivener project.
  • Image Linked to Document ▸: This submenu presents a list of all images found within the current project. As with the above command, the image will be inserted into the editor as a link to the original image, only in this case to a file within your project binder rather than to an external location on your hard drive.

The latter two methods involve linking to the image rather than embedding it. While there is no difference to the way your image is displayed in your document when you use any of these commands, there are some caveats to consider when deciding which insertion method to use.

When you embed an image into your document, either via drag and drop or via the Image from File… command, Scrivener will need to render that image every time you open that text document. The rendering times can start to take a toll on Scrivener’s performance and interrupt your editing flow if many of your documents contain images, or if the image(s) contained in your document are very large. Scrivener wasn’t built to handle large image files, and is more suited to creating long text drafts than it is to layout and design. Don’t let this deter you from importing images, though — just be mindful of how many images your project is going to require, and try to stick to smaller image files where possible.

If you do think your project is going to require many images, consider using one of the other approaches. These work much like a program shortcut on your PC’s Desktop or in your Mac’s Dock. While the program itself is not actually stored on your Desktop or in your Dock, its shortcut allows you to launch the program from that location, because the shortcut icon is linked to the program file in its actual location. With the Image Linked to File command, you can keep your images stored on your hard drive, which will keep your project lightweight and help to prevent sluggishness in Scrivener’s performance (which can sometimes develop with very large projects).

However, keep in mind that if the image file on your hard drive were to be renamed, moved, or deleted, the link to the file in Scrivener would break, and the image would disappear from your document. It is recommended that you create a dedicated folder on your hard drive for images you’ve linked to Scrivener, so you know not to modify any of the images inside of it. If you sync your project across devices, note that linked images may be temporarily broken when you are working on a device where the images are not stored locally. Do not fret: when you return to the machine that has the images in the linked location, they will link back up again.

If you’d rather keep your images in your project, perhaps because you often share your project between devices and need to be able to refer to them at all times, then the Image Linked to Document command is another option for you. With this method, you can import the images into your binder (either via drag and drop or the File > Import > Files… command) and then link the image into the document from the imported image file. While this doesn't prevent an increase in the size of your project, it will prevent slow loading of documents in the editor.

For Mac users, you may interested in adjusting your settings so that any images dragged from within Scrivener into the editor will be automatically linked instead of embedded; this can be adjusted in Preferences under the Behaviors: Dragging & Dropping tab.

For more information, see §15.7.4 Linked Images (§15.6.3 on Windows) in the Scrivener Manual, found under the Help menu.