By Alyssa Gregory

Swipe This! Use A Swipe File For Inspiration

By 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

  • BillyGnSC

    I keep a small Notepad++ file at the ready for short code snippets, and I do everything from home, so I don’t have a notebook or use my cellphone for twitter or anything besides voice calls.

  • stickysteph

    The term “swipe file” is new to me, but i have had an “inspiration book” around for years. I collect, clip or print stuff that sparks my interest or creativity and slide it in or tape it to clear sheet protectors in a big ol’ binder.

    It is a bit unusual for me, as I tend to be mostly digital in my life, but for some reason, just turning those smooth clear pages with all of my imagery – both familiar and new – helps get me thinking more creatively.

  • Bookmarks, Skitch, Evernote, iPhone/iPhoto are my tools of choice.

    I sync bookmarks via xMarks
    Skitch for snagging an image or page that strikes me
    Evernote is not used as much as i should, but at times its indispensable

    And of course, iPhone and iPhoto. I’ll catalog both on the go ‘snaps/swipes’, as well as my Skitch captures in appropriate Smart Albums or Folders within iPhoto

    I’ll definitely take a look at some of the other suggestions you’ve made.


  • garethjmsaunders

    Only last night I was sticking some new bits and pieces in my inspiration book — mostly snippets from newspapers and magazines.

    Other stuff I’ve got in Flickr, as bookmarks in Firefox, and within a folder within My Pictures on my PC.

    A great idea — wish I’d come across it sooner.

  • Carla

    My whole computer is a swipe file with screenshots and other images, and for good websites that might inspire me later and list of resources (free backgrounds, code snippets, etc.) I use delicious.com. Also use Netvibes as my home page so there are tons of post-it-like notes with links and text and code and ideas for posts and research notes in general in my “Notes” tab. The good thing is that they can be accessed and updated anywhere.

  • LegalTypist

    Professionally, I use both paper and digital methods for swiping and organizing information.

    I open a new folder under MyDocuments for each project I start. I then collate and copy any of the digital or electronic bits I come across into that folder.

    If there is something associated with the project which cannot be made digital, or which I prefer to keep as paper, I open a paper file.

    Personally, I’ve used notebooks and swiping pictures, getting fabric/wallpaper swatches and what not to help me decorate, renovate and restore my 1924 LI Colonial. Friends, relatives and guests usually comment positively, so I must be doing something right!

    The real beauty of digitally organizing as above – all my projects (no matter at what stage) are all routinely backed up with my other computer files – both off site and to my Maxtor One Touch external hard drive. This means I will never have to recreate a project again!

    Priceless! ;)

    Andrea Cannavina (aka LegalTypist)

  • On the Mac I use Paparazzi! to snag sites that I’ve found and like, whether it be colors or interesting layouts. Currently, they all sit in a big ol’ folder called the Morgue; The contents inside are cool and sitting on ice until I need an idea later.

    The file has gotten large and I need to come up with a useful system for organizing it. I have a copy of Realmacs LittleSnapper, but haven’t used it yet. Hafta put that on the todo list.

  • Also, I used to use a lot of bookmarks, thinking I would remember the reason I wanted to go back to that site. In reality, they just pile up. Often sites change or simply go dark. So for me, I usually save the page as an image or PDF.

  • tiggsy

    A good idea. I often crib bits of code I’ve written before, but up to now I’ve just tried to remember where I used it and gone back to that (doesn’t always work, lol). This is a great idea.

    I have tried Google notebook, but it didn’t work for me. I also have evernote, but again I find it less than useful.

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