Getting Rid of Blue Question Mark Boxes in Mail

by Matt

Cheryl wrote in to say that she is having problems with Mac OS X’s Mail application. She wrote, “When I open some emails I am getting a small blue box with a question mark inside and I cannot see the picture I have been sent.” These images can sometimes be annoying (like when they come from advertisers), but most people enjoy emails containing both text and graphics.


If you receive an email in Mail that has blue boxes with question marks in them, this is for one of three reasons:

  1. You have no Internet connection, which prevents Mail from downloading the images.
  2. The message is in your Junk Mail folder. Mail refuses to grab images for these messages as a safety measure. In this case, you must take the message out of your Junk Mail folder (or click “Load Images” at the top of the message while viewing it).
  3. The option to display remote images in messages is turned off in the Mail preferences.

If your problem stems from scenarios #1 or #2, you know how to fix this. You either need to connect to the Internet (at which time Mail will automatically download the messages), or you must take the message out of your Junk Mail folder. To fix the problem with scenario #3, follow these steps:

  1. Select Preferences from the Mail menu.
  2. Click on the Viewing tab in the Preferences window.
  3. Make sure that you check the checkbox next to Display remote images in HTML messages. If this box is not checked, Mail will not load your images, and you’ll see blue boxes with question marks instead.

mail-preferencesThat’s it! These solutions should solve the question mark boxes on your end. If you continue to have problems, there is one more possibility: it might be the image server’s fault. Whenever you see these images in an HTML message, you are really viewing a web page, which means each image has a web address associated with it. If the address is incorrect, or if the image has been pulled from the server, you will see a blue question mark box because Mail cannot load the image. There is nothing you can do about this short of contacting the person or company who sent you the message to see if they can correct it.

Did this tip help you with Mail? Have you found another work around? What other problems have you had viewing images in Mail? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ell March 27, 2010 at 2:10 am

> “These images can sometimes be annoying (like when they come from advertisers)”

Besides “annoying”, viewing images can your validate your address to spammers when their servers are contacted to supply the images. Your confirmed address can make it more likely you will get more spam. A lot of people know not to reply for this reason, but do not realize that just viewing with images can have the same result.

2 ian dale April 9, 2010 at 5:19 am

Hmmm, I still have little blue boxes in most (but not all e-mails) it is none of the three possibilities you suggest, but thanks for the comment

3 Gabriel Silverstein April 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I’m having that same problem still ian, just like you. I have checked all these issues and they are all okay, and it’s on multiple emails so it’s not just the sender’s server.

4 ian dale April 15, 2010 at 6:47 am

Thanks Gabriel, I am glad i am not the only one going nuts!! It is on all attachments, even those I am sending (as I make the attachment it appears as a blue ? box) … very annoying!!

5 Gabriel Silverstein April 15, 2010 at 7:25 am

I’m not getting it on all, but certainly still seeing it more than I want to.

6 John April 19, 2010 at 7:04 am

I am experiencing the same problem which does not seem to be related to the three solutions already given. Thanks for any help you can provide. OS X.6

7 James Q May 5, 2010 at 11:25 am

I’m having the same problem on my iPad. Images fine on my iPhone. I remember having this prelim a couple of years ago with my iPhone and a reset fixed it. Hope that helps. I’m going to try it now on my iPad and I’ll let you know.

8 James Q May 5, 2010 at 11:35 am

Happy to report that holding down power and home button (resetting iPad) fixed the blue box question mark problem! I love when solutions actually resolve my problem! Loving my iPad btw.

9 John May 5, 2010 at 12:35 pm

My issue was caused by a program called “Little Snitch”. I disabled the program and the problem went away.

10 Thomas Hunter December 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

?marks happen occasionally on email, even on Earthlink web mail. Am using MacbookPro oS v10.5.8. So far earthlink has not come up with a solution.I appreciate any help you can provide.

11 Ian Elliott February 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I am having the same problem but just cannot find a solution. It is happening on my iPhone, iPad and iMac.

I receive many small images from our cctv system during activation. the email arrives on any apple device and the jpg image doesn’t show.

On the iphone – I get a square (the size of the image) with a smaller blue square with a white question mark in the middle of it. This is also the same on the iPad.

On the iMac I get a message that says Missing Plug-in. However, if I click on quicklook the image appears.

Any help would be greatly appreciates as this is doing my head in. It is bound to be something very simple.
Many thanks.

12 Herman October 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Figured it out on my end. Was having a problem with images not loading on my Macbook Pro, similar reasons because I was using Little Snitch. Even though I had set to “Allow” connections for mail, somehow there was a specific port # set, (not by me). Changed the setting to go to “ANY PORT” and totally fixed my problem.

13 Jos December 19, 2011 at 9:39 am

Having the same issue on 10.6.8 with Mail IMAP account on company Exchange 2003 server. The workaround is to ‘Save as…’ the e-mail as Richt Text File and then open the saved file with TextEdit. Voila, now the BMP will appear. Hope this helps some.

14 tyf March 21, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Warning: my website is rated (strong) PG (some drought related bathing r-ish). But the reason I’m here is the empty box w/the question mark in it: ONLY ONE page of all my many web pages does it, Personal Care Expertise (water purification, etc). And it’s like musical chairs: a jpeg will be missing on my Iphone screen–empty box, ?–and one minute later, it’s online (showing the image/content/text) and a different one is empty box ? Each time, just that one single webpage has about 5-6 images missing per opening it on the IPhone (it’s an old new 3G because they won’t sell me a newer one: they just try to steal any new I try to buy, so I’ve given up). These are not flash files: jpegs/gifs only and it’s just strange because it only happens on that one webpage; it works perfectly fine on my laptop (no missing images) and no one else has complained to me about it… I’d like a solution?! I’ve thought about re-doing the whole page plus files but what a lot of work that is if there’s a simpler solution.

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