DAM – Digital Asset Management (my way) The cheap/free way

So your starting to get busy and your files are becoming out of control. Your finding different versions on your desktop, My Documents or home folder, the “Projects” folder where they belong and your flash drive that you take with you everywhere. It gets a chaotic, but through trial-and-error and a big stick, I have found a solution that works for me.

Now I don’t work with enormous amounts of files, but enough that I appreciate well-organized files. There are software and servers that can manage your files and versions for you, but I have no need to spend the money with the amount of work I do (yet anyways). Version Cue, which is the Adobe software included with the software suite, was too complex for my workflow. It takes effort, but in the long-run, it saves time to intuitively find a file without worrying or searching for a certain version.

I will start with describing how I work with individual files and gradually into the folder structure that makes narrowing down to a file with a few clicks instead of searching aimlessly.

File Versioning

First things first. If you have Time Machine (if your on a Mac with Leopard or newer), use it. It is the most simple way to manage file versions. If you are on Windows, try using software like Geine Timeline which does close to the same thing after setup. By using one of these cheap/free software you dont have to worry if your client decides they want the first version you did (the one that you deleted) and you will never have the mess of files some people work with.

File Naming

Under no circumstance, name a version of a file “yourfilename NEW.indd”. Again…never. There is no reason to create a new file with a change. Make a new page, move the art off the artboard, but keep it in the same file if it is part of the same job… if you must keep it.

Within the clients folder, I name all files like this:

“BC – HappyCustomer.psd”

This file starts with “BC” which is an abbreviation for “Business Cards”, then followed by the client name. This makes it easy to find exactly what you are looking for once you are in the clients files.

Acronyms for common projects:
BC = Business Cards
LH = Letterhead
ENV = Envelope
PC = Postcard
BRC = Brochure
FLR = Flyer
FOL = Presentation Folder

Folder Structure

Now that your naming the files like I do and your already starting to feel the stress being relieved, its time to put them into useful folders! I keep all of my clients folders in one big folder called “PROJECTS” located in the root directory of my hard drive.

C:\PROJECTS on windows
Mac Hardrive > PROJECTS

You can name yours however you would like, this is just what I started with when I first started. Within this folder are all of the clients folders containing their business names such as the example below:


I abbreviate names down to short, memorable capital letters which seems to work well. For example, if Quicksilver was a client of mine (someday…someday) it would be abbreviated QSLVR or if I did work for Comcast (because they know their target market on advertising) it would be abbreviated CMST. Just something short and sweet, in caps for attention, that will help you stay organized. But always include the full name of the client so you still retain the ability to use a search feature.

Within some of the more in-depth clients that you do multiple types of work for, it makes sense to narrow it down more to something like this:


Within these more narrowed down folders, you can organize larger sets of similar items. For example, someone you may do work for who has lots of different ads, would naturally fit into an “ADS” folder.

Images and Elements

Often times your going to find you are using parts of another file or linking to images that you don’t need to embed. In every clients folder, there is an “Elements” folder:

C:\PROJECTS\GMS Glenn Merdan\_GMS Elements

The “_” underscore (the key next to the zero) is important because it automatically puts the folder at the top of the list when you are looking at the client folder. This is the one place where you will find transparent logos, brand identity elements, PMS color swatches and anything that is placed in multiple files. By using the “Placing” feature in all of the Adobe programs, you can avoid having to go into each file that has a logo and manually changing it. Instead, you can manipulate the one version and see the changes, client wide.

Active Projects

When I am working on multiple projects at the same time I move them into a folder called “_ACTIVE” in my “PROJECTS” directory (which again, gets located at the top because of the underscore). This way I am less likely to lose track of project. I also have this folder automatically open everytime I start up my computer.


Now that you have a folder that has all of your treasured work, beautifully organized, your hard drive crashes and you lose it all. NOT! Once was enough to understand the importance of a simple backup. I use a RAID system that automatically duplicates my all of the data on my computer onto two hard drives. This relives the stress of hardware failure at any time, but not theft or fire! I also manually copy the ONE PROJECTS folder that I have to an external hard drive every month for added safety. Don’t discredit CD’s or DVD’s either, every year make it religious to burn a set. Hard drives are mechanical devices and it is not a matter of if they fail it is a matter of when.

The Big Stick

None of this works if you don’t use it. It takes a bit of getting used to and a bit more time to get the hang of, but it pays off. It is easier to just rename a file “NEW”, save it to the desktop, send a proof and move on, but down the road it might come back to haunt you when “NEW2” and “NEW03” start popping up.

Get into the habit of using only one folder for your files and diligently moving files, not copying them. Copying is messy and unnecessary with my good method of file management.


Good file management is just professional. It’s clean, organized and makes you more efficient. Time is valuable, and it’s how designers charge for their expertise, but time spent tracking down work that you did way-back-when is just wasted time. If you have good work ethics, an efficient system that works with your workflow should be transparent in how you work.

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