File Organization for Professional Creatives


"No, not that!  ANYTHING but that," you moan.

Yes, I'm afraid.  

THAT thing has come around that has to be spoken about.No more files on your desktop just wafting around until you can't fit anymore on.

file organization for artists, pattern designers, and creatives

We're going to talk about file organization for creatives.To preface this post, I won't say I have all the right answers or that this will work for everyone...but if you are an artist and/or have a small creative business AND use a computer for both personal and business files, these tips could work for you and point you in the right direction.

I'll also so assume that you know how to save, move, copy, create shortcuts, and rename files and folders.

Woohoo!  Let's get this partay* started and get down to the nitty gritty, as Nacho likes to say.

What types of files do you have on your computer?

This is step seems obvious but people, surprisingly, don't know what the heck is ON their computer.  Knowing the types of files you make/save will dictate the types/names of the MAIN folders on your computer. You probably have something like these types of files on your computer:

  • Music
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Tax stuff/personal records
  • Desktop pictures/icons
  • Website backups
  • Images for your site saved in low res
  • Personal portfolio
  • Client work portfolio

It might be daunting to try to organize it all, especially if you have most of it on you desktop (eesh). So I'm going to show you how I have my space setup.  You can set it up like me or modify it to your specific needs!

How I organize my files

This might be different for you, but I boot off of a SSD (solid-state drive) that is partitioned into a storage area (this is so if the installation of my OS crashes, my files won't be touched.  In doing so, the partitioned part of my drive is clear of the default folders that an operating system installs for you (i.e.: My Documents, My Pictures, etc.).

My drive is very clean, only containing the folders I wish to see. These four areas are the starting line for my organization:

  • Personal
  • Professional
  • Projects
  • Scans


As you can see in the illustration above, these are the "boxes" for my entire digital life.  Each has a purpose and it only serves that purpose if I keep it up.  Also save to folders that file belongs in and making sure I update my current work once it becomes past work. You can download this digital file hierarchy for creatives for your own reference when building your own system. I have more folders within folders there, too, that aren't listed.  For example under "Music", I have: audiobooks, TV shows, movies, music.  iTunes syncs with this folder, so I have everything there.

Specifics for Professional Creatives: Business and your creative files

You can see in the illustration that I have labeled four folders: A, B, C, and D. Let's talk about what goes in there=)

A: Business Name (labeled with my biz name)

I have different folders within here specific to my needs for my business (name has yet to be disclosed as I'm still working on my branding). There are nested folders within; see illustration below for my nesting method:

Here's all that broken down (hint: words in italics are the folder name):

  • Branding
    • Logos - this will go on everything you do, so makes sure it says "you". I have a large written out logo for websites and products that can fit a bigger logo...and a shortened icon for placement on smaller products.  NAMING: YourBizName_MainLogo.png and YourBizName_MiniLogo.png
      • Web - versions of this saved for the web (low res)
  • Licenses
    • Business License - copies of business license paperwork I sent to my city
    • Permits - permit copies for working out of my home
  • Invoices - invoice templates go here (invoices and addendums, etc.)
  • Clients
    • Client Name
      • Project Name
        • Invoice - place invoices you sent to client for THIS project in here.
        • Shortcut folder to Projects > Artwork > Type of Piece > Name of collection/illustration/creation -- shortcuts are important! You don't want a million duplicates everywhere on your computer.  Keep ALL your art in one place.  Don't have some art here and some art there.

For the Clients section, TheGraphicMac has a really great client file naming convention tutorial. This will help keep you organized and professional.

B: Website Name (labeled with my website name) - if you have multiple websites, make separate folders.

  • Backups
    • Month/Year - place all backups folders you label like "March 2015" Do it monthly.
      • If you use Wordpress, export entire website.  Also, backup all your plugins and settings
  • Host - place any relevant information you need about your web host here.  I use for my MySQL information and SSL things.
  • Images
    • Shop
      • Images for shop categories
    • Blog
      • Month/Year
        • Images I use specifically for my blog posts
    • Sidebars
      • Images for advertising or any other site you want to link to permanently on your sidebar.
    • Theme
      • Background - image(s) I use for site backgrounds
      • Header - images I use for parts of the header.  NOT my logo.  I get that from my branding section.  If you want, you can make a shortcut link to your branding header here.
      • Navigation - images I use for navigation links instead of text.  Not using this right now, but a good idea if you have images for "portfolio" and "about" instead of text links.

That's it for that!  You can see that it's fairly compact...only 3 or 4 main folders with a few subfolders in each. Now on to the next:

C: Artwork

This is the fun one!  We get to organize all that creativity you've made now!  This section will differ for everyone, but for me, an illustrator and surface pattern designer, this is what I've got.  I won't add all the types of folders I have, either because I have history with tons of genres, so I'll only list the ones I use regularly.

  • Artwork
    • _Setup
      • All my templates for collection pages and individual designs go here.
    • 2-Illustrations
      • 2000-Project Name - I start all my illustrations in the two thousands. Whenever I make a new illustration, I'll go up one number, i.e.: 2001, 2002, etc.
        • Coordinating Patterns - patterns that incorporate elements of illustration
        • Illustration - your initial illy goes here. NAMING: INITIALS_2001_NameOfIllustration.psd or .ai
        • Mockups - If I put my illustration on a book or t-shirt etc., put the high res here.
        • Submissions - If I submitted this to any online shops for sale - they often have specific file dimensions and sizes.
        • Vector Scans - all my scans that have been vectored for this illustration are in here.
        • Web - Low res images of collection pages (using the template file!) or illustration
    • 6-Surface Patterns
      • 6000-Collection Name - I start all my surface pattern collection in the six thousands. Whenever I make a new collection, I'll go up one number, i.e.: 6001, 6002, etc.
        • Collection Pages - high res AI or PS file on one document for display purposes.
        • Mockups - If I put patterns on bedspreads, walls, clothes, etc., put it here in high res.
        • Patterns - Individual patterns for the group. NAMING: INITIALS_6001_CollectionName_PatternName.psd or .ai
        • Submissions - see above info in illustration section
        • Vector Scans - see above info in illustration section
        • Web - low res saves for web of anything in this group.

D: Assets

This is where you'll store all your resources and stuff you use while you design. Some of this stuff is self-explanatory.  If you have a question about what could go in these sections, ask me in the comments!

  • Brushes
  • Color Inspiration
  • Extras - little swooshes or fun tidbits you can use.  DO NOT use these in your own artwork unless you made these yourself. You can only use ones other people made in your art if it's a teeny part of the design.
  • Fonts - purchased fonts that I want to keep track of
  • Mockups
    • Backgrounds - wooden floors mostly.
    • Fashion
    • Home - walls, furniture.
    • Kitchen - oven mitts, placemats, etc.
    • Stationery - all things paper and branding materials
  • User Interfaces - computer/phone screens
  • Textures - watercolor, grunge, scribbles

So that's it!  Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, but remember...this will be tailored to your own business, so I won't know specifics about YOU...I can just answer question about my set up if you're mimicking it.

YAY! Now that you're all organized you can take on any project your heart desires without worrying where you can find it after you close that file ;)