The Power of a Design Swipe File for Lettering and Everything


Ever ran out of ideas for your next design? I bet you have. The same goes for me. And that happens more often than you may think.

Having a swipe file helps me a lot. But what exactly is a swipe file? If you look at Wikipedia, you'll see that it is described as a set of templates for advertising. That doesn't seem to help much, doesn't it?

Templates as guides The idea for these is to aid the creation process. Having them readily available when your work can make you more productive and efficient. This can be applied to various disciplines, and it's no wonder that swipe files have been adapted in design.

What is a design swipe file? I would describe it as a repository or collection of ideas and inspirations, that you can look at whenever you plan on starting a new project. It is most useful if you suddenly ran out of ideas and needed an immediate boost.

My Swipe Files

I maintain three of them, and you'll see why I don't combine them into one. But of course, if you prefer to have only one, that's perfectly fine too!

Trusty Notebook I like to keep a notebook with me everywhere I go. I also use Post-Its a lot, especially when I am in the office. When I have a sudden idea that I can't immediately organize in my notebook, I'd rely on these sticky notes and compile them later on. Whenever I have an Idea, whether it's a sketch or notes for my blog or just random musings, I will write them down. I also like to keep some stickers or some cards that I get from everywhere. When you see it up close, you'll see it's mostly random sticky notes and paper inserts.

iPhone Photo Album This is mainly for those times when I see an attractive sign on the road, or a hand-drawn mural or even a hand-lettered menu. I would take a photo and keep it in an album called Inspiration.

When I browse Instagram, I would also take screenshots of the works that strike me and put it in the same album, whether it is similar to the style I am working on or not. There's also a new feature of Instagram that allows you to save posts that you can revisit later. Feel free to use it instead. However, I prefer screenshots so I can browse them even when traveling, or I am in a place with no Internet connection.

iPhone Album - Inspiration Swipe File
iPhone Album - Inspiration Swipe File

Google Keep This is for those times I am on my computer, and I browse something interesting on the web. It could be a design website, a Youtube tutorial, a logo, or tools that I need to try/buy. I use a Chrome extension called Save to Keep, and it immediately saves the link to the page, and I can add any tag or notes I want.

Google Keep - Swipe File
Google Keep - Swipe File

I also use Google Keep to keep my checklists for blog topics, products to make, or anything I need to remember, especially when I am on the road and have nothing to write on. I also use this to store my blog drafts and my daily writing. I generally don't tag them since it is easy to search anything.

This is my go-to note-taking method if I don't have a pen and paper.

Maintaining swipe files It's very easy to make one, and you can start anytime. You can make it organized, or random. It doesn't really matter. It all boils down to personal preference and working styles.

Inspiration can strike anytime and anywhere. And at the same time, you may need inspiration anytime and anywhere. So it is important to keep your swipe file accessible. There are a lot of online tools you can choose from. Some popular options that are free and available online could be Evernote or Pinterest.

As long as you are comfortable with whatever you are using, you can do it your own way. You can also design it however your want.

If you haven't yet, make one now, and you'll see how magical it is. Feel free to share other ideas and tools that you recommend.