Swipe This! Use A Swipe File For Inspiration

Alyssa Gregory

swipe fileTraditionally, swipe files have been used in advertising and copywriting as a repository for copy, images and layouts. But swipe files can be applied to just about any type of creative work, development projects and writing assignments. They are very easy to create and can save you a great deal of time if you do similar work on an ongoing basis.

What Is a Swipe File?

A swipe file is simply a set of templates or examples that you keep on-hand and refer to when you begin a new project. If you’re a designer, your swipe file may be comprised of great logo designs you’ve come across, creative navigation, unique layouts, fonts and other elements of typography, and stock photos.

A swipe file for a programmer can include code snippets and scripts, while a writer may collect catchy headlines and article outlines.

Why Are They Useful?

Each swipe file is unique. Projects you may find inspiring may not be inspiring to others, so once you create yours, it will be invaluable to you. You can build your swipe file to support your work process, so it’s a one-stop inspiration source.

A swipe file can also be a great way to keep track of your own creative ideas – ideas that you’ve developed and had success with and fragments of ideas you plan to work on at a later time.

How to Create a Swipe File

If you have hard copy examples (i.e. from newspapers or magazines, as Jennifer Farley recently wrote about), you may want to create a physical file with folders for different categories of materials. Or, you can scan them and keep them electronically.

For most of us, the bulk of our swipe files will be electronic. You can collect screenshots, PDFs, URLs, and text files of stimulating examples. You can organize and archive your digital swipe files through a file folder structure, using descriptive file names.

You can also use a notebook application and create a file for inspiration. There are a number of notebook tools that provide an easy way to add data and then search later for specific information. Some tools you may want to check out include:

  • Circus Ponies’ NoteBook – A Mac OS X tool for compiling notes, files, web research, e-mail messages and voice-annotated notes.
  • Evernote – A tool for collecting and synchronizing data, including notes, websites, photos, e-mail messages, scanned images and audio, across your desktop, your web account and your mobile devices (a limited free version is available).
  • OneNote – Microsoft software that collects notes, images, documents, files from other Microsoft Office programs, and other media in a searchable notebook tool.
  • Springnote – A free online wiki-based notebook to compile and share ideas, multimedia, projects, and documents.
  • Stixy – A free online free-form design tool to organize notes, pictures, web clippings, and tasks.
  • UberNote – A free online tool for collecting notes, tasks and web clippings that allows access from your mobile device.
  • Zoho Notebook – An online tool that compiles text, images, audio, video, and allows you to share it with others while providing version tracking.


The purpose of a swipe file is to provide a jumping point for your projects, help you think outside the box, and streamline your work process. One danger of using a swipe file is becoming too dependent on it so it prevents your own creativity from developing. So you’ll want to use it in moderation and not as a replacement of your own ideas.

It also goes without saying that you should make sure you only use your swipe file to get inspired and not copy or duplicate any of the work you collect.

Do you have a swipe file? What do you collect? Do you use any of the notebook applications listed above?

Image credit: Cris DeRaud