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How It Works

What does this program do?

RefShelf is a useful and simple freeware intended for gathering, organizing and viewing reference images. Literally, RefShelf it is a reference manager, who collects images in one place, provides instant access, creates and simultaneously displays multiple references at once, each as the independent window of minimalistic design. These light unostentatious windows will always be visible while you are working with other applications, as they are in "always on top" mode by default. The multi-window concept of RefShelf is very natural and self-explanatory to any desktop OS user.


You can download RefShelf for free from the RefShelf download page. The program comes in two versions, in form of the Installer and as the Portable version. For more information about distribution options and how get RefShelf working on you PC, please see the Downloading and the Installation sections respectively.

Who needs reference manager?

The CG Artists of any specialization, such as 3d modeler, 3d visualization specialist, 2d graphic designer, 2d and 3d animator, illustrator, digital painter, digital sculptor. The computer game artists, whether level or environment designer. Cartoon creators. The industrial and interior designers, architects, and photographers. In other words the creative artists, digital content creators or engineers who deal with graphical images as guideline references for its everyday work. If you are one of them, this tool definitely should be added to your workflow pipeline.

What problems does it solve?

Need to gather some references for the current project from different sources? Just find & put all needed references into RefShelf once, and you’ll have a gallery of thumbnails with a build-in links for each image. Any time you double-click on the thumbnail and the linked original image will be opened in an independent image viewer window.

Need to have opened multiple image references at the same time? Just double-click on another thumbnail. Spawn as many separate independent windows with reference images as you want.

By default, the opened image viewer windows are in the 'always-on-top' mode, so you don’t have to divide screen space between the main application and image viewer. You are free to have both in the same space. Of course, the image viewer windows are movable, resizable and the 'always-on-top' mode also can be easily disabled at place.

Need to add some imagery from the internet? Just drag an image right from the webpage and drop it directly into the RefShelf. The software will do the rest: download an image, store it in folder, and create a thumbnail. The same with images from the clipboard. Ctrl+V at the RefShelf and you instantly add a new reference image ready to go.

If you're a Windows 10 user, you can easily add a desktop screenshot to RefShelf.

Typical use cases

Let’s assume you are working on a project where you paint some object in 2d editor or maybe modeling it in 3d package. To accomplish this task well, you certainly need to collect many shots of this object from different angles, in different environments, with different lighting conditions and so on. This kind of images will serve you as a reference providing graphical guidelines about the object you are working on.

The first problem you encounter is the crucial need to collect images from various places, like your drive, from the Internet and so on. Where do you keep all the necessary images to have quick access to each image? You may copy them into one folder. But then, how can you quickly access them? You go to this folder, look for a particular image, open one image to view, then close it to open another, because image viewers work with only one picture at a time. You can do that for a thousand times a day.

Another thing is that most of the time you find best reference images on the Internet. Each time you find an interesting image you have to manually save it to the desired folder. Right-click on an image, "Save image as", choose a folder, "Save". Even worse story with the clipboard images. Want to save an image from the clipboard? Not an easy task. You will need to open some 2d editor, paste image there, "Save as", choose a folder, "Save" it. Not a fun chain of actions!

You definitely need to look at the reference images in parallel with your current program. This means that you need to have either a second display for viewing the reference images or share screen space between the current software window and the image viewer window. Good idea here is to have the image viewer window always-on-top. This allows you to place a reference image somewhere in the corner of the screen or over some dead spot of the interface of the software you are currently working in, without any need to shrink its window. But, how can this be achieved? Very few of the image viewers have an always-on-top mode switch, and often it is buried deeply in the settings. Most viewers just don't have it.

Going on! Often then you need to observe more than one reference image at the same time. This means that you need to run multiple instances of the image viewer one by one for each image you want to observe. But the problem is that the usual behavior of most image viewers is that they only display one image at a time. When you open the first image and then try to open the second one, the previously opened image viewer with the first image will be forcefully closed and replaced with a new one with the second image in it. What can you do with that? In most cases, nothing, because many programs, and the image viewer is not the exception, programmatically restrict the opening of more than one instance of itself. There are some tricks on how to avoid this, but you will definitely won't use them every time you need simply to open multiple images at once. Some of you achieve the effect of having multiple images on the screen by composing them into one image in a graphics editor and then opening that composite image in a single image viewer. It seems like a solution. Sometimes it really is, but the classical "mood board" or "reference board" approach is not really handy for all and all of the time. The creation of composition itself and constant navigation over the multi-reference collage, panning and zooming just to see one of the images, may consume a lot of time in vain.

All this huge and ugly impact on productivity and flexibility of the everyday workflow is solved using RefShelf. The RefShelf provides solutions for all the mentioned problems and does that with ease.

This Guide mission

You are reading the user guide for how to use RefShelf, the reference images manager.

The purpose of this guide is to explain all the features and benefits of the RefShelf application interface. Proper use of this program will improve the productivity of your daily work and make it easier to perform.

Please use the left menu to choose the section you need.


If you are new with software, you can quickly run through all of the sections of this guide to understand all of the RefShelf potentials. Use the "Next" and "Previous" buttons located at the bottom of the page and menu to take a quick look overview of the software functionality.