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How to Use Local Artwork with Your Plex Media Server


Plex can automatically label your media and apply artwork to it, but sometimes there’s no substitute for your hand-picked movie and TV show artwork. Thankfully, you can easily use your own media assets with your Plex collection.

By default, Plex uses a tool known as a scraper to “scrape” the metadata for your media files from online databases like TheTVDB and The Movie Database. The scraper basically says “Okay, based on the name of this folder and/or file we’re pretty confident that this movie file is “The Labyrinth” from 1986, so we’ll download the metadata for that!” And boom, your movie will have cover art, poster art, and other associated metadata without intervention from you.

That usually works well enough for most people, and they’re more than happy to let the scapers do their magic. But maybe you’re a longtime media collector but a recent Plex adopter and you want to keep using all the media artwork you’ve painstakingly paired with your collection. Or maybe you have less-than-mainstream taste in movies, and the metadata scraping fails more often than not—tweaking a few artwork entries manually in Plex is easy enough, but doing your whole collection that way would get old fast, and doing the whole library yourself is usually a better bet. Or, if you’re really a purist, you mi ght just prefer that all the metadata be stored with your media—which means it stays with it if you make a backup or give it to a friend.

Whatever your reasons, you can easily force Plex to prioritize what are known as “local media assets”, media metadata files stored with the local files, over the scraped metadata. Further, it’s not an all or nothing thing: you can use local media assets in parallel with Plex’s great scraping features so any holes in your hand-picked collection won’t be blank, they’ll be filled in by Plex.

How to Format Your Artwork Files

The act of enabling local media assets is easy…but we’re not going to start with that. Instead, before you do that, take some time to set up your artwork files properly. If you don’t, enabling their use will do nothing (at best) and possibly mix in old and poorly formatted media assets to your collection (at worst). Using images with proper sizes and naming conventions is the key to smooth and good looking local artwork.

Rather than just throw a bunch of filename formats at you without a frame of reference, let’s take a look at an actual Plex library as an example. We’ll start with movies, then move on to TV shows (which are, from an organizational standpoint, slightly more complex than movies).

Movie Assets: Posters and Backgrounds

In the above screenshot, we see two visible types of artwork: the movie poster (1) and the background artwork (2, also commonly called “fanart”). These files need to be either in .JPG, .JPEG, and .PNG format. They can also be in .TBN format, which is an old media thumbnail format from the early days of the XBMC/Kodi project that are simply JPG files with a new extension. Both Kodi and Plex still support them, but we recommend renaming them with a .JPG extension rather than relying on backwards compatibility.

Custom movie posters must be stored in the same folder as the movie itself. The movie poster ratio is 2:3, so any file you use (the higher resolution, the better) should have that ratio. It’s better to have a 1000 pixel by 1500 pixel poster that gets scaled down, rather than a 200 pixel by 300 pixel poster that looks bad on higher resolution displays.

The file will be detected as a movie poster if it is named “cover.ext”, “default.ext”, “folder.ext”, “movie.ext”, or “poster.ext” (where .ext is the extension you prefer—JPG, JPEG, or PNG).

Background artwork should be in a 16:9 ratio, just like your widescreen TV. It should be named “art.ext”, “backdrop.ext”, “background.ext” or “fanart.ext”.

If you have no pressing reason to use one naming convention over the other, we highly recommend using either “folder.ext” or  “poster.ext” for your movie posters and “fanart.ext” for your background artwork. Why? Both of those naming conventions are also supported by Kodi media center, so if you ever switch away from using Plex (or give media to a friend who uses Kodi) then everything will work without a problem.

You can store (and use) multiple movie posters and backgrounds by appending the additional files with numbers using the -X format. Let’s take a look at how all of this would be organized for our example movie, Back to the Future:

MoviesBack to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future.mkv

fanart.png

fantart-2.png

fantart-3.png

poster.png

poster-2-.png

poster-3.png

By default Plex will always display the first available image, unless you jump into the individual entry for that movie and specify that you want the secondary image.

TV Show Assets: Everything But the Kitchen Sink

The process for organizing TV show artwork is almost identical, save for the fact that there are a lot more media assets to deal with. You’ll use the same file formats with the same size constraints (2:3 for poster art, 16:9 for fanart), but there are extra artwork options for TV shows. Not only do you have the main entry for the show, but you also have artwork for each season and individual episode, and can even include TV show theme songs.

Look at the screenshot aboe. Just like with the movies, (1) is the “poster.ext” and (2) is the “fanart.ext”. We have a new addition for the individual TV show seasons (3) “seasonXX.ext” where XX is the season number, placed in the individual season folders. If you want to use multiple season covers for (3), you have to append the multiple copies with letters (instead of the numbers we’ve used in previous examples) so you end up with “season01.ext”, “season01b.ext”, “season01c.ext”, and so on.

Within the individual seasons, you also have additional artwork you can modify, seen below. You can change the season background (4) by placing additional “fanart.ext” files in the /season/ folders and you can supply custom thumbnails for each episode (5) by including “episode name.ext” wherein “episode name” is the exact name of the episode file.

Finally, you can even toss a “theme.mp3” into the root directory of the show and most Plex clients will play the theme music when you’re looking at the show entry. Let’s look at how that should be formatted now:

/TV Shows/Adventure Time/

/Season 01/

Adventure Time – S01E01 – Slumber Party Panic.mkv

Adventure Time – S01E01 – Slumber Party Panic.png

fanart.png

season01.png

season01b.png

fanart.png

fantart-2.png

poster.png

poster-2-.png

theme.mp3

In our little folder snapshot outlined above, you can see that we have multiple fanart images for the main Adventure Time directory, as well as a theme song MP3. Within Season one of the show, we also have a custom thumbnail for the first episode, and one custom fanart and two custom covers for the season.

How to Enable Local Media Assets in Plex

Now that we’ve cleaned up our actual media assets, it’s time for the super easy part: telling Plex to use them. To do so, simply log into the web control panel of your Plex Media Server and click on the Settings icon in the upper right corner.

Within the Settings menu select “Server” in the top navigation bar and then “Agents” from the left hand navigation bar, seen below:

In the categories “Movies” and “Shows” select each sub-category, such as “Personal Media” and “The Movie Database” and both check “Local Media Assets” and click-and-hold the entry to drag it to the top of the list.

This will instruct Plex to prioritize your local media assets over scraped data from internet media databases. As long as you leave the other options checked, it will still fill in the blanks if you are missing local assets for a particular film or TV show.

The local metadata will be applied the next time your Plex media database updates. If you’re impatient and want to see the results right now, you can return to the main page of the web server’s interface and manually update your library by clicking on the menu button beside the “Libraries” entry and selecting “Update Libraries”.

That’s all there is to it! Your local media assets are now prioritizes and no library update will accidentally mess with your carefully curated selections.


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