organize yourself
(a tutorial)

Some people are pretty good at keeping their files organized. It's pretty simple; have decent file names, layers of folders, and just be sure to drop your files into their folders as you're done with them.

Except I know I won't, and you probably don't either.

Funny how those little stray guys pile up. First it's just a few, then suddenly you're naming your latest file and 'skjghdfgh', 'asjfndsgdfh', and even 'zzjskxzzfzzzzz' are all taken. You gotta do something about this mess.

Well, I have great news for you. We're going to ditch folders and weird little names forever with one easy process: a tag-based naming system.

"But Mr. Heavendeluxe," I hear some of y'all say, "isn't this kind of a silly thing to make a whole tutorial about?" Well, I've explained it enough times that it seems easier to just have a dedicated guide, so, whatever helps. You are reading it after all.

why tag-based naming?

In 2017, the .png file format finally got EXIF data. That stands for Exchangeable Image File Format, and includes stuff like date and time of creation and more. Having full EXIF data meant that .png files could finally be tagged and made searchable like other file types, making it easier to find what you're looking forsktjndgd haha just kidding nobody cares about that. Although EXIF data really did get added, Windows notoriously does not care to acknowledge it, and only some file navigating programs bother to let you have your tags. So instead of relying on developers to start caring, we're going to take a tag-like approach to naming the files and make a searchable collection ourselves.

You can apply this to any type of file, but since I am a visual artist, I have more .pngs than anything. I use this method to organize thousands of images with almost no upkeep.

The pros of this method are enormous: .... But for truth's sake I will admit there are a few cons:

So yeah. Let's get started.

the basic structure

From now on, just about every single one of your file names are going to follow this structure:

[prefix] [project] [subject] [contents] [suffix] .filetype

This is endlessly customizable and you will no doubt find what works for you. My audience is primarily artists, writers, oc-havers, etc., so this guide will function around that, but feel free to find what works for you and your needs.

Let's break down the pieces in order of importance.

project and subject

These are the backbone of your file names. Project is what you'll be grouping your stuff under pretty frequently, and is usually the name of a story, setting, comic, etc. (abbreviated if it's too long). For example, all of the images for the ARPG I help run are named with 'curio', like so:

If you have a project name that frequently changes or is not permanent, I recommend coming up with a short word or abbreviation to use, so that you don't have to rename a bunch of files every time you find a new title you like. (You may also have many files with no project at all! Have you tried grouping your doodles and sketches under 'sketchbook'?)

The other critical piece is Subject, which is who or what is in the image. This might be a category (such as the 'ankuri' subspecies all over the files in the curio example above), or the people/characters featured in the image. Personally I like to put the name of every single character that appears in an image, but if you have more than four or five that can get pretty long, so you might come up with broader terms like "away team" or "dnd party" or something.


The next piece is Contents, which is a super brief (usually one or two words) description of what's actually going on in your file. So if I'm looking for a comic I made in the past about some of my characters drinking coffee together, I can search 'coffee' and there it is! Extremely relevant terms are key, try to avoid using more than 2 or 3 words.


Now we start using more standardized words. Personally I don't use too many Prefixes, but they're basically an easy way to squeeze in some extra info to help you search more specifically. For example, I put 'icon' at the start of all icon-sized images, so that if I want to change my icon on discord then I have a bunch of options neatly lined up for me with just one searched word. I also have a selection of prefixes I use specifically for commissions, to denote that they are comms and what kind.

I recommend using prefixes for information that isn't subject to change. Here's some more ideas for you:

pixel for pixel art
temp can be deleted later
comm a commission for someone
trade an art trade for someone
mh monster hunter related (replace with your preferred franchise lol)
collab collaborative piece


Okay.... I'll admit. It can get a little wet n' wild on the Suffix end of things. I consider it a dumping ground for extra info that may change a lot, versus the more permanent prefixes. Just make sure whatever you're putting in there is relevant and helpful in some way and you'll be fine.

Here's some that I use daily:

rs resized from the original
twt prepped for twitter posting (no transparency)
date month/year. only useful in certain cases
sheet designs on a fancy backing for posting
chibi little chibis for when i want to decorate a page
edit the new version of an existing piece

This is also where those shameful version numbers go ('icon1.png, icon2.png, icon2-1.png', etc.). It's okay. I understand.

I never said I was innocent, lol.

other situations

This system is one-size-fits-most. Not every file will need all the names. Sometimes 'icon pike2.png' is all the info you need. Just keep in mind that less is more and consistency is key. The more you use the same terms and ideas, the easier it is to find what you're looking for on the first try.

There will also be situations where you do something different. I buy a lot of commissions; they all follow an identical system of 'character by artist on website', which looks like 'sable by maqqitea twt.png'. But the important thing is that I consistently do that, so the collection is still highly organized and I don't get confused about what I should be calling them.

That's about it for the big paragraphs, so here's some little extra tips:

That's all I've got for you on the subject I think. Best of luck in your organization adventures--it's a small habit to pick up, but for me as I juggle projects and draw daily, it's a lifesaver to be able to grab what I need in just a few seconds. I really can't recommend it enough!

tagging: extreme edition

Ah, you're still here. Well let me show you my little secret.

I stil use this tagging system religiously for all of my files. However, I have two image collections that are unreasonably large AND require detailed tagging: curios and reference images. Collectively, it's over 3,000 images and growing.

File naming was good, but I knew it could be easier and better, so I rolled up my sleeves and spent about twelve hours meticulously importing and tagging all of that stuff into Hydrus Network, a booru-style file organizer that has streamlined my work in interesting ways.

To be clear, Hydrus is not for everyone, and not even for all files. I use it to organize things for work, but it is expressly not for works-in-progress, only finished images (and other filetypes). It works for me as a database of existing assets I can reference and reuse with just a few searches, and tagging is faster and more dynamic when you don't have to change each file's name. It would also be very useful for organizing a large collection of OC-related images (closer to its intended purpose of waifu-art-collecting, lol).

To me, these are the pros:

But in exchange for those are steeper cons:

So basically, once you commit to using Hydrus you commit. It works very well for what I use it for but I don't think I'd ever drop my entire Pictures directory into it. But if it sounds like something useful to you, you can learn more about Hydrus on its [Github page]. I recommend starting slow and testing it out with a modest collection of pictures, but hey, you might really love it!