File naming in graphic design: 8 tips, common mistakes with samples


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Whether you’re a new designer or a seasoned professional, you likely know by now that file naming in graphic design is something that will become part of your daily life.

Personally, I don’t use too many brain cells thinking about how I name my files because it has become so automatic. How do I name my design files, you ask? You might as well ask me how I breathe.

But even though this microtask is so common, having an organized file system can help your future self improve your workflow, save time and avoid mistakes.

And trust me, your future self will thank you.

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How do you name a file in graphic design?

A good file name will include keywords about your project, your project type, date, version number and perhaps your client name.

If you’re looking for simple file naming conventions, a common example naming structure for me might look something like this:

Sample File Name

Client-[Project Keyword]-[Project Type]-[Date]-[Version Number]

Which would translate to something like this:

McDonalds-HamburgerPromo-Flyer-2022-08-22-V1

How do graphic designers organize files?

Your file structure is just as important, if not more important, than your actual file names.

Keep a root folder of all of your graphic design projects and keep a subfolder for each graphic design client.

Create yet another new folder (organized under each client’s name) for each project.

I like to name the project folders like this:

YYYY_MM_[Project Type]

Which ends up looking something like this:

2022_08_McDonaldsHamburgerFlyer

You’ll notice I use underscores for folders and dashes for files. While this can be considered mostly a matter of preference, there is a method to the madness.

This brings us to our first tip for best practices for file naming in graphic design:

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file naming example with dashes

1. Do use dashes instead of underscores

I am a frequent offender of this rule of thumb. Personally, I think underscores look cleaner and are visually easier to read. For this reason, I usually use underscores when separating out words and numbers in my folder names.

But if you’re naming a design file that will eventually be uploaded online, it’s best if you use dashes or hyphens instead.

This is because hyphens are better for SEO. Search engines can read words separated by a dash, but not an underscore.

As an added bonus, if and when you need to rename the file, you can double-click a word between hyphens to highlight it and make an edit. If you use underscores, a double-click will simply highlight the whole filename.

special character file name example

2. Don’t use special characters

Your file names should only ever contain numbers, letters, dashes or underscores. Avoid all other special characters (%, $, {, etc.)

Some operating systems won’t even let you incorporate certain special characters in the file name. They can sometimes cause errors since a character can have a different meaning to an operating system.

Plus, they look messy and can be hard to read. Don’t adopt this bad habit.

example of file name with two finals

3. Don’t use the word ‘final’

This is likely the most common mistake among graphic designers.

Have I been guilty of it? Absolutely. Do as I say, not as I do.

So why should you avoid putting “final” in your file names? Even if you think a project is done, the client may come back years later and request an edit or a re-print. The word “final” is not as clear as a date or a version number, so your file folder will eventually look something like this:

JohnSmith-Sale-Banner-final

JohnSmith-Sale-Banner-final2

JohnSmith-Sale-Banner-final-final2

JohnSmith-Sale-Banner-really-final-final

It’s happened to the best of us.

Similarly, also avoid words like new, edit, revised, etc.

example of file name with version number

4. Do use a version number  

Sending a design file to a client that needs zero edits is almost as rare as winning a small lottery. Edits are par for the course in graphic design.

For this reason, it’s common to have multiple iterations of the same project.

Since it’s ill-advised to use words like “final” “new” or “edit” stick to version numbers instead.

Each time you make an edit, change the version number. I like to put older versions in a subfolder in case the client requests to revert back to a previous edit.

example of folder contents

5. Do keep your project folder clean and organized

I already mentioned that I like to keep a separate folder for each project.

Within that folder, I like to only see a few items:

  • The working design file
  • The exported design file (PDF, png, jpg, etc.)
  • A subfolder with source files
  • A subfolder with previous versions

And that’s it! If you’re keeping previous iterations of the design, move them to a different folder to keep your file structure clear.

This will help you find your working files easily and keep your digital world nice and tidy.

file naming example upper case vs lower

6. Do consider your case

Again, this rule of thumb mostly matters depending on whether or not the file will be uploaded online.

I do often like to use capitals in my file names and folder names, usually capitalizing each word or using pascal case (WhichLooksLikeThis).

However, the Google developer documentation style guide recommends lowercase letters, separated by a hyphen.

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how to package file in illustrator

7. Do package your files at the end of a project

As you wrap up a project, it’s a good idea to package your files. This will help you keep track of all images, fonts and other digital assets, which will help you or your client make changes in the future.

This is incredibly easy to do if you’re working in Indesign or Illustrator. Simply go to “File > Package…>” and follow the steps.

Postiive happy woman at laptop
(photo by Vladimir Gjorgiev/shutterstock.com)

8. Be consistent

Whatever file naming convention works for you, use it consistently.

This will help you use less energy on a task that you will ultimately be doing multiple times per day.

Additionally, over time, consistency will help you locate your old files.

Do you agree with these tips? Do you have any to add? Let me know in the comments below.

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