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Create an image of your USB drive and you can copy that image to another USB drive — or the same one — later. This is useful for duplicating USB drives or backing up a drive’s contents before overwriting it. For example, you could copy a live Linux USB drive or a Windows To Go USB drive and you’d get a full copy of the contents of the drive, including any personal data you saved to the live operating system.

This should also work with SD cards — even bootable ones. Raspberry Pi owners and anyone else who uses bootable SD cards 7 Operating Systems You Can Run With Raspberry Pi 7 Operating Systems You Can Run With Raspberry Pi Who can argue with a $40 computer? Especially one that also forms a good base for electronics projects! I certainly can't. But the hardware alone is only one side of the story: you still need... Read More  can get a lot of use out of this tool.

Why You Can’t Just Copy the Files

If you just have personal files and documents on the drive, you don’t need this tool. You can copy the files from your USB drive to a folder on your computer and copy them back whenever you want to restore them to your USB drive.

If your drive is bootable or has multiple partitions, just copying the files won’t cut it. The tool we’ll cover here will perform an exact copy of the contents of the drive, including its master boot record (MBR), slack space, and any unused space. This allows you to perform exact copies of a USB drive, even if it has multiple partitions and a master boot record. The resulting image can be copied to another USB flash drive, so you can easily duplicate a drive or create an exact image of a bootable drive for use later.

bootable-usb-flash-drive

What You’ll Need

We recommend ImageUSB for this. It’s a free, lightweight utility that runs on Windows.

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You should also ensure that you’re restoring the image of your USB drive to a drive with a similar size. The byte-for-byte copying process will make an exact copy, which means some of the space may be inaccessible if you move an image from a smaller drive to a larger drive. For example, let’s say you have a 4 GB USB flash drive and you create an image of it. You then write that image to a 12 GB flash drive — only 4 GB of that 12 GB flash drive will be accessible. The reverse is also problematic — create an image of a 12 GB drive and you won’t be able to copy it to a 4 GB drive later, even if there was less than 4 GB of data on the 12 GB drive.

You can always recover the space by reformatting and partitioning the drive External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How to Fix It in Windows External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How to Fix It in Windows Read More later, of course.

Create an Image of a USB Drive

Insert your USB drive (or SD card) into your computer, open ImageUSB, and select the drive you want to create an image of. Select the Create from UFD option to create an image from a USB flash drive. Select a location for the resulting file — the file will have the .bin file extension as it’s a binary file representing the contents of the drive. Click Create Image and ImageUSB will create an image from the USB drive.

If you leave the Post Image Verification check box enabled — that’s the default — ImageUSB will scan your image or flash drive after the process completes to ensure the image copied correctly.

You can back up this image file or do whatever else you like with it. You’ll need ImageUSB to write the image to a USB flash drive in the future.

create-image-of-usb-flash-drive

Write an Image to One or More Flash Drives

ImageUSB can copy a USB flash drive image from a .bin file to one or more USB drives at once, which allows you to quickly duplicate a drive — you’re only limited by the number of USB ports in your computer.

Insert the drive into the computer, open ImageUSB, and select the drives you want to write to. Select the Write to UDF option to write an image to a USD flash drive. Browse to a .bin file created with ImageUSB and click Write to UFD to write the contents of the image to the USB flash drives you selected. Note that ImageUSB can only use .bin files created with ImageUSB.

Warning: This process will erase the contents of the USB drives entirely, overwriting them with the data from the image file.

copy-usb-flash-drive

This tool is fairly simple — the key is knowing you need to use it instead of just copying the files from the drive! If you want to back up or copy an entire flash drive, especially a bootable one, you’ll need a specialized tool like ImageUSB.

Image Credit: Flash Drive by Valter Wei via Flickr

  1. J Willis
    July 29, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Instructions use too much technical jargon. Can not make heads or tails as to how to accomplish copying. So ... agree with previous post. This program is a waste of time.

  2. AndyB
    June 21, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Had no problems copying 4 GB USB image on Win 10! Just watch the 'size' talk used by both h/w and s/w manufactures and also the actual size declared as 'new' USBs often contain pre-installed s/w!

  3. anonym
    March 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    @Debian-Devil, few comments:

    I disagree with the "crap" assessment...

    an 8GB drive is not necessarily 8GB, even out of the box. So make your original partition smaller than the full size of the drive - gparted can do that on an existing partition without data loss

    the usb (perceived) size is a function of the operating system viewing it, and the cluster size you formatted it to, so blame yourself or windows if anything.

    finally, I second that nothing is simpler and better than to use the dd command in linux to clone. Especially if you are cloning a live usb with persistence on a separate ext3 partition, e.g., which windows cant see in the first place. just be patient, no progress bar there (although you could add one by piping one in). I just look at cpu/mem usage for the process to see it run

  4. Ed
    November 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Works!

  5. CC Foster
    July 29, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    I downloaded the program imageUSB and had no issues copying my Windows10 flash drive. The software may be buggy or crappy or maybe they fixed some of the issues. Either way, I wanted to say that it does work, at least for some people.

  6. Lars Panzerbjrn
    July 23, 2015 at 9:23 am

    This article was a complete waste of my time, and ImageUSB is a waste of space...

  7. Debian-Devil
    February 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Yes image USB is complete crap. I was copying an 8GB USB Flash Drive to another 8GB USB Flash Drive and it failed. It was complaining that the image size was larger than the drive.

    Ok.

    Fired up my Debian Linux box and used DD as RedHat suggested. Worked like a champ.
    I haven't tried Clonezilla but that might be another option as well.

  8. Manus
    February 19, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Thank you very much, very usefull.

  9. RedHat
    May 19, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Personally I just use an Ubuntu live cd with dd. It's fast, easy, and also supports saving to a .img file.

    1. "sudo fdisk -l" to see your devices
    2. "sudo -i" to switch to root
    3. "dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb" to clone device sda to sdb.

  10. Nay
    May 8, 2014 at 3:25 am

    Wow - what a completely disappointing app. Not at all what I thought from the article.

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