Understanding the Contents of the iTunes Album Artwork Folder

iTunes has long had an Album Artwork folder (in your home folder, in /Music/iTunes), which held a few sub-folders for cached artwork, downloaded artwork, etc. But recently, that folder has added a number of sub-folders. They all contain album artwork, but each subfolder has artwork from a different source, or used for a different purpose.

I’ve looked through the contents of these folders on my two Macs in order to determine what the artwork in each folder is used for. Several of the folders are empty, so I’m not sure what they should hold. Here is a list of what I’ve figured out so far. If you see artwork in any of the folders which are empty for me, have a look and see what they contain. (iTunes artwork cache files have an .itc extension. The only app I have that can display these files is Graphic Convertor.)

  • Cache: This folder contains cached copies of artwork taken from your media files. This cache allows iTunes to display artwork more quickly than if it had to extract it from your files each time it is displayed.
  • Cloud: This folder holds a cache of artwork for tracks in your iCloud Music Library, but for which you don’t have local copies. iTunes downloads artwork from the cloud so it can display this artwork for these tracks. If you don’t have iCloud Music Library turned on, this folder is empty.
  • Cloud Purchases: This is artwork for items you have purchased that are still in the cloud, and that you have not downloaded.
  • Custom: Artwork that you’ve added to a playlist, by dragging it to the album artwork in the info bar above the playlist when in Playlist view.
  • Downloaded: This folder contains a number of different items. Some of the artwork is for podcasts or iTunes U courses that I have downloaded, some are four-album graphics as used for playlists. I also see thumbnails for some albums that I have purchased from the iTunes Store, and perhaps for albums where iTunes has downloaded artwork. There is also artwork for audiobooks that I have purchased from Audible.
  • Editorial: This folder holds artist photos that display for some artists when you view their music in Artists view. It’s not clear which artists have these photos; many artists who I’d expect to have custom photos on the iTunes Store don’t display such photos when I view their music. For some reason, this folder empties very quickly, even if you’re viewing an artist with such a photo.
  • Editorial artwork

  • Generated: This seems to be artwork that is applied to the info header for playlists in Playlists view. The graphics in this folder are either four-album montages or single album covers, the latter corresponding to playlists I have which contain only one album.
  • Generated

  • Local: This folder is currently empty; I have no idea what should be here. Only my MacBook, which has iCloud Music Library turned on, displays this folder; my iMac does not.
  • Remote: This folder contains artwork from libraries you load with iTunes Home Sharing.
  • Store: This folder is currently empty; I have no idea what should be here.

Interestingly, only some of these folders are backup up by Time Machine; it looks as though Time Machine knows to not back them up, because they are essentially temporary folders, or folders whose content can be easily recreated. The folders I see in my Time Machine backups are Cloud, Cloud Purchases, Custom, Downloaded, and Remote. It’s actually a good thing that Time Machine does not back up the Cache folder, which is the largest; that would eat up a lot of backup space. On my iMac, that folder is 4.46 GB, and on my MacBook, with a much smaller library, it’s just over 2 GB.

If you have any files in the folders which are empty for me, and can figure out what the artwork is for and where it comes from, post a comment so I can update this article.

46 thoughts on “Understanding the Contents of the iTunes Album Artwork Folder

  1. I wonder why my Cache folder is so large (2,17GB). On this machine i don’t use iTunes at all – it only holds 17 songs spread over 5 albums. I once connected to my main iTunes via Home Sharing, but that’s about it. The Remote folder is about 400MB large. All the other folders are practically empty.

    • Okay, i looked at the timestamps of all the various subfolders, and they are all from the same day (from when i used Home Sharing), so i guess the Cache folder also holds artwork from my main library.

      • But still why is it so huge? I probably have less than 400 purchases from iTunes, including those free songs (remember those?). I generally use other sources for my artwork and I rarely ever change the ones that iTunes uses for purchases. Still my cache folder is about 1.8 GB.

        • The cache folder is not just for purchased items. Mine is over 4 GB. You can delete the cache folder, and iTunes will recreate it as you display items in your library.

          • It still is weird though. The cache folder on my main machine (that holds all my music and that i use constantly) is only 1.1GB. So why is the one on my MacBook (that has practically no content) twice as large?

            • Have you added and removed content on the MacBook often? The cache folder stores caches of artwork even if you’ve deleted items from your library. And you specifically mean the Cache folder, not the Album Artwork folder, right?

            • Kirk, no, i don’t use iTunes on said MacBook. The handful of songs that are there were added automatically when i downloaded them, but i never bothered to remove them or add anything else. As i said above, i used Home Sharing once or twice, but only to see how and if it’s working at all. And yes, i do mean the Cache folder (2,17GB). The whole Album Artwork folder holds even more (2,57GB).

  2. I wonder why my Cache folder is so large (2,17GB). On this machine i don’t use iTunes at all – it only holds 17 songs spread over 5 albums. I once connected to my main iTunes via Home Sharing, but that’s about it. The Remote folder is about 400MB large. All the other folders are practically empty.

    • Okay, i looked at the timestamps of all the various subfolders, and they are all from the same day (from when i used Home Sharing), so i guess the Cache folder also holds artwork from my main library.

      • But still why is it so huge? I probably have less than 400 purchases from iTunes, including those free songs (remember those?). I generally use other sources for my artwork and I rarely ever change the ones that iTunes uses for purchases. Still my cache folder is about 1.8 GB.

        • The cache folder is not just for purchased items. Mine is over 4 GB. You can delete the cache folder, and iTunes will recreate it as you display items in your library.

          • It still is weird though. The cache folder on my main machine (that holds all my music and that i use constantly) is only 1.1GB. So why is the one on my MacBook (that has practically no content) twice as large?

            • Have you added and removed content on the MacBook often? The cache folder stores caches of artwork even if you’ve deleted items from your library. And you specifically mean the Cache folder, not the Album Artwork folder, right?

            • Kirk, no, i don’t use iTunes on said MacBook. The handful of songs that are there were added automatically when i downloaded them, but i never bothered to remove them or add anything else. As i said above, i used Home Sharing once or twice, but only to see how and if it’s working at all. And yes, i do mean the Cache folder (2,17GB). The whole Album Artwork folder holds even more (2,57GB).

  3. Okay, so you can just delete the cache folder. It would be interesting to do the following. Quit iTunes, delete the Cache folder, relaunch iTunes and display your content in a way where your artwork is visible. Scroll through everything, so iTunes recreates its caches, and see how big the Cache folder is now. Do you use very large artwork? That could be an explanation.

    • Okay, i just ried this. The Cache folder settled at a much more reasonable 1,9MB. However, as soon as i launch Home Sharing, it starts to grow again: 1,8GB after a quick scroll through my albums (which is still almost twice as large as on my main machine). The Remote folder stays relatively unchanged at 450MB, btw. My artwork isn’t particularly large: 600x600px, across the board. Of course, the MacBook has a retina screen, so it perhaps generates higher res cache files…

      • The cache files shouldn’t be any bigger if they’re retina; I don’t think they get up sampled. How many tracks in your library? My MacBook – which has a smaller, test library of about 10K tracks, most from iTunes Match or Apple Music – has a Cache folder of about 2 GB. I deleted the Cache folder, and it just got rebuilt at about 600MB, but some of the artwork isn’t displaying because of items in the cloud, and a slow internet connection.

        • I didn’t mean to suggest they got upsampled, rather that on my main computer they are cached at a lower resolution – more appropriate for a conventional monitor. But this is, of course, only a wild guess. My main library holds 29k songs spread over 1917 albums; the MacBook holds 17 songs. I did look at the network activity on my main machine, btw: less than 100MB were sent while accessing Home Sharing, and none of my music lies in the cloud (as i use neither iTunes Match nor Apple Music – and i also never enabled them). But some covers were definitely created from the Remote folder, as some albums showed older cover art that i have since updated to different images on my main machine.

          Oh, one thing i failed to mention: my main library is on a Windows machine, and it’s iTunes 11, whereas iTunes is up-to-date on the MacBook. Plus, i found an additional folder (in C:\Users\rotane\AppData\Local\Temp) that holds, well, temporary files. In there are a whopping 10k+ jpg files (accumulating to over 2,3GB), which are – you guessed it – copies of my 600x600px album covers. And there is an insane amount of duplicates. (One jpg per song, perhaps?)

          • As far as I know, iTunes only caches one image per album; it stores a unique ID for each album in its database, so it can find the artwork for any song. I don’t know why you have so many files. And I’m not sure what that folder is; there’s no equivalent on the Mac.

            From my investigation, Home Sharing artwork should be in the Remote folder, not the Cache folder. But perhaps the fact that it’s an older version of iTunes makes things a bit different.

  4. Okay, so you can just delete the cache folder. It would be interesting to do the following. Quit iTunes, delete the Cache folder, relaunch iTunes and display your content in a way where your artwork is visible. Scroll through everything, so iTunes recreates its caches, and see how big the Cache folder is now. Do you use very large artwork? That could be an explanation.

    • Okay, i just ried this. The Cache folder settled at a much more reasonable 1,9MB. However, as soon as i launch Home Sharing, it starts to grow again: 1,8GB after a quick scroll through my albums (which is still almost twice as large as on my main machine). The Remote folder stays relatively unchanged at 450MB, btw. My artwork isn’t particularly large: 600x600px, across the board. Of course, the MacBook has a retina screen, so it perhaps generates higher res cache files…

      • The cache files shouldn’t be any bigger if they’re retina; I don’t think they get up sampled. How many tracks in your library? My MacBook – which has a smaller, test library of about 10K tracks, most from iTunes Match or Apple Music – has a Cache folder of about 2 GB. I deleted the Cache folder, and it just got rebuilt at about 600MB, but some of the artwork isn’t displaying because of items in the cloud, and a slow internet connection.

        • I didn’t mean to suggest they got upsampled, rather that on my main computer they are cached at a lower resolution – more appropriate for a conventional monitor. But this is, of course, only a wild guess. My main library holds 29k songs spread over 1917 albums; the MacBook holds 17 songs. I did look at the network activity on my main machine, btw: less than 100MB were sent while accessing Home Sharing, and none of my music lies in the cloud (as i use neither iTunes Match nor Apple Music – and i also never enabled them). But some covers were definitely created from the Remote folder, as some albums showed older cover art that i have since updated to different images on my main machine.

          Oh, one thing i failed to mention: my main library is on a Windows machine, and it’s iTunes 11, whereas iTunes is up-to-date on the MacBook. Plus, i found an additional folder (in C:\Users\rotane\AppData\Local\Temp) that holds, well, temporary files. In there are a whopping 10k+ jpg files (accumulating to over 2,3GB), which are – you guessed it – copies of my 600x600px album covers. And there is an insane amount of duplicates. (One jpg per song, perhaps?)

          • As far as I know, iTunes only caches one image per album; it stores a unique ID for each album in its database, so it can find the artwork for any song. I don’t know why you have so many files. And I’m not sure what that folder is; there’s no equivalent on the Mac.

            From my investigation, Home Sharing artwork should be in the Remote folder, not the Cache folder. But perhaps the fact that it’s an older version of iTunes makes things a bit different.

  5. Kind of a sidebar question here: I’m on a PC and needed to move my music from an old external drive to the PC. In the process, I got confused by the crazy difficulty of doing this cleanly. Since then I’ve been wrestling with recreating some missing album art. (I’ve got lots of eclectic titles that I’d either scanned the art in for or found on the Internet.)

    So I’m nearly there but noticed that I’d saved the old Album Artwork folder prior to the move. Now of course there’s a regenerated one. Any way I can peer into the old one to see if some still-missing images are there for me to pick off? Since they’re encrypted, I can’t figure out how to open and see those .itc2 files.

    Alternatively, can I just drag the old file folder into the new file tree and have iTunes sort out the mess by overwriting and merging?

    • First, they’re not encrypted, but the only app I’ve found that can open them is Graphic Converter; and apparently only the Mac version. Second, if it’s the same iTunes library, then you could merge the folders, but that’s probably not a good idea. Anything in the Cache folder will get rebuilt, and only artwork from the iTunes Store is in the folder otherwise; if you’ve manually added artwork to your files, they’re embedded in the files.

  6. Kind of a sidebar question here: I’m on a PC and needed to move my music from an old external drive to the PC. In the process, I got confused by the crazy difficulty of doing this cleanly. Since then I’ve been wrestling with recreating some missing album art. (I’ve got lots of eclectic titles that I’d either scanned the art in for or found on the Internet.)

    So I’m nearly there but noticed that I’d saved the old Album Artwork folder prior to the move. Now of course there’s a regenerated one. Any way I can peer into the old one to see if some still-missing images are there for me to pick off? Since they’re encrypted, I can’t figure out how to open and see those .itc2 files.

    Alternatively, can I just drag the old file folder into the new file tree and have iTunes sort out the mess by overwriting and merging?

    • First, they’re not encrypted, but the only app I’ve found that can open them is Graphic Converter; and apparently only the Mac version. Second, if it’s the same iTunes library, then you could merge the folders, but that’s probably not a good idea. Anything in the Cache folder will get rebuilt, and only artwork from the iTunes Store is in the folder otherwise; if you’ve manually added artwork to your files, they’re embedded in the files.

  7. This is a very interesting discussion to me. One problem that I’ve been trying to solve for the past two years is that I have my iTunes artwork set as my screensaver. I am VERY particular about the correct artwork being attached to each song in my library as I am a music nut and historian. What started happening two years ago was somehow my screensaver started showing the default art that was with any song files that I bought from the iTunes store, even though I manually went into the Info panel and deleted that incorrect artwork and replaced it with the correct artwork. It’s been driving me insane trying to figure out how to put an end to it so that I can enjoy my screensaver with the correct artwork for each song. This is only a problem with purchased song files, all of the other music that I have imported myself is spot on. I should also note that I do NOT have iCloud Music Library turned on, and I don’t have Apple Music either.

    So, now I am wondering after finding this discussion, would deleting the Cache, and possibly the Cloud Purchases, Download, and Store files finally be the fix to my nagging problem? I have read above that deleting the Cache file is no big deal, as it will rebuild itself. Is this the file responsible for my problem? Could I also delete the other three files I mentioned with no consequences?

    Hoping beyond hope that I may have finally drilled down to the source of this annoying issue, and maybe you can help me eradicate it for once and for all.

    • You can always try deleting those folders; replace them if it doesn’t help. You don’t need to replace the cache folder, since that rebuilds itself, but some of the other folders don’t. However, deleting those other folders may remove the originals for the purchased music; perhaps you just need to replace them.

      • Hi Kirk,

        When you state “deleting those other folders may remove the originals for the purchased music”, are you meaning that it may strip the embedded artwork from the purchased iTunes songs? If that is the case, that may be (part of) my solution, because I want that artwork gone. I guess what this is about is finding out where the iTunes library artwork as a screensaver option is sourced from.

        Morpheus

        • The original artwork, because when you download music, the artwork is not embedded in the files. And if you remove the folders, then there shouldn’t be any artwork (though iTunes may re-download it, if you have the option set in Preferences > Store).

          What I think is that it might work correctly if you do embed the artwork in those files. But first, see what happens when you move those folders temporarily.

          • It may take a couple of days to reply, as if I Trash/move those files, it may take a couple of days of monitoring my screensaver to see what transpires.

  8. This is a very interesting discussion to me. One problem that I’ve been trying to solve for the past two years is that I have my iTunes artwork set as my screensaver. I am VERY particular about the correct artwork being attached to each song in my library as I am a music nut and historian. What started happening two years ago was somehow my screensaver started showing the default art that was with any song files that I bought from the iTunes store, even though I manually went into the Info panel and deleted that incorrect artwork and replaced it with the correct artwork. It’s been driving me insane trying to figure out how to put an end to it so that I can enjoy my screensaver with the correct artwork for each song. This is only a problem with purchased song files, all of the other music that I have imported myself is spot on. I should also note that I do NOT have iCloud Music Library turned on, and I don’t have Apple Music either.

    So, now I am wondering after finding this discussion, would deleting the Cache, and possibly the Cloud Purchases, Download, and Store files finally be the fix to my nagging problem? I have read above that deleting the Cache file is no big deal, as it will rebuild itself. Is this the file responsible for my problem? Could I also delete the other three files I mentioned with no consequences?

    Hoping beyond hope that I may have finally drilled down to the source of this annoying issue, and maybe you can help me eradicate it for once and for all.

    • You can always try deleting those folders; replace them if it doesn’t help. You don’t need to replace the cache folder, since that rebuilds itself, but some of the other folders don’t. However, deleting those other folders may remove the originals for the purchased music; perhaps you just need to replace them.

      • Hi Kirk,

        When you state “deleting those other folders may remove the originals for the purchased music”, are you meaning that it may strip the embedded artwork from the purchased iTunes songs? If that is the case, that may be (part of) my solution, because I want that artwork gone. I guess what this is about is finding out where the iTunes library artwork as a screensaver option is sourced from.

        Morpheus

        • The original artwork, because when you download music, the artwork is not embedded in the files. And if you remove the folders, then there shouldn’t be any artwork (though iTunes may re-download it, if you have the option set in Preferences > Store).

          What I think is that it might work correctly if you do embed the artwork in those files. But first, see what happens when you move those folders temporarily.

          • It may take a couple of days to reply, as if I Trash/move those files, it may take a couple of days of monitoring my screensaver to see what transpires.

  9. Well, this is the conclusion of at least two years of research and frustration trying to figure out why the iTunes artwork screensaver option was displaying purchased artwork, even when I had deleted their artwork and upgraded or added the correct image to purchased songs. Rather by accidental association on yet another of the countless Google searches and fruitless reading of forum after forum looking for a solution, I found your slightly related forum topic here, and the information in it sparked a new idea and place to look for the offending song artworks. My problem is finally solved!

    I trashed the Cache folder completely. I also removed three other folders (Cloud Purchases, Download, and Generated) to my Desktop at first (just in case). Once I doubled back to iTunes to examine a purchased song file and opened the info window and found that they all had the artwork that I wanted them to have, I next transferred those three folders to a flash drive and then trashed the three folders that were on my Desktop, and I still had all of my artwork on all of my song files just as I have it intended to be. So, it tells me that not only can the Cache folder be trashed, so can the three other folders, seemingly with no consequences that I can see.

    So, in the end this topic post helped me to solve a very nagging related issue!

  10. Well, this is the conclusion of at least two years of research and frustration trying to figure out why the iTunes artwork screensaver option was displaying purchased artwork, even when I had deleted their artwork and upgraded or added the correct image to purchased songs. Rather by accidental association on yet another of the countless Google searches and fruitless reading of forum after forum looking for a solution, I found your slightly related forum topic here, and the information in it sparked a new idea and place to look for the offending song artworks. My problem is finally solved!

    I trashed the Cache folder completely. I also removed three other folders (Cloud Purchases, Download, and Generated) to my Desktop at first (just in case). Once I doubled back to iTunes to examine a purchased song file and opened the info window and found that they all had the artwork that I wanted them to have, I next transferred those three folders to a flash drive and then trashed the three folders that were on my Desktop, and I still had all of my artwork on all of my song files just as I have it intended to be. So, it tells me that not only can the Cache folder be trashed, so can the three other folders, seemingly with no consequences that I can see.

    So, in the end this topic post helped me to solve a very nagging related issue!

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