Getting organized: Digital collage elements, photos, and ephemera

Once you start getting into creating collages, you’ll soon find yourself collecting more and more clippings. Vintage photos, interesting old papers, doodles and blobs and all kinds of neat stuff– things you want to keep track of and use.

Those of use who make digital collages can collect basically as many clippings as we could ever want, assuming we have enough hard drive space.

Personally, I started off with a tiny collection of vintage photographs and have worked my way up to hundreds of image elements, fonts, and more “stuff” that I use in my collages. I also tend to use a lot of the freebies Canva provides for its members.

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Unfortunately, the more STUFF you collect, the more you need a system to organize it. Looking through a folder of random STUFF is way less fun on a computer than looking through a box of paper clippings IRL.

You NEED a system to organize all that stuff right from the outset. Not only will you be able to find things easier, but it’ll keep you from downloading the same images over and over again because you didn’t remember that you already had them somewhere (guilty).

Here’s how to do exactly that, using a folder system that can work for both desktop users and Canva Pro subscribers. Canva Pro subscribers also get 1 TB of cloud storage; VERY handy as image collections can take up a lot of harddrive space.

Getting organized: Pre-Planning

Before starting anything, write out a plan for how you’re going to store your STUFF.

Things to consider

1. Where will your collection live, and how will you back it up?

It’s always a good idea to have your ephemera collection in at least three different places. This is to prevent terrible accidents from totally wiping out your collection!

Generally, you’ll want something on a local harddrive, something in the cloud, and something on an external harddrive. Your collection should be updated in ONE place and then backed up to the two other places regularly.

For instance, I use my laptop as my main storage space, but then I back up those files to a Western Digital 8TB external harddrive. I also upload everything to Canva, since that’s what I use to actually make my collages.

Another option might be uploading your collection to Google Drive, One Drive, or another cloud storage system, and then having a second copy on a thumbdrive.

If you’re an iPad user (or even an iPhone user!), an option would be to use Apple’s iCloud+ for one backup and then emailing the files to yourself as the second one, with the iPad harddrive as your local copy.

2. How do you create your collages?

I always start with a background, then add a focus image on top, and any flair goes last. Therefore, my image elements are sorted roughly by “focus image” and “flair” subject headings.

So when I want a background image, for instance, I know to just check the “backgrounds” folder. Or if I want a focus image of a person, I look in the “vintage people” folder. Need a watercolor circle? They’re in the “circles and frames” folder.

If you create collages in a different way, you may want to organize your folders differently. Are you inspired by colors? Maybe you’ll want to sort images by major color themes. Do you prefer collecting images on a specific topic (e.g. cats, family, history)? Folders with specific keyword topics would be your best best.

Consider your own collage-creation process, and then think of how best to organize your image elements for supporting that process. And don’t worry if you get it “wrong,” since you can always change how your organize your stuff whenever you want.

3. How will your maintain your organizational system?

This is more of a practical consideration. A natural instinct is to create very specific folders for very specific images, but that can backfire BIG TIME.

If it takes you longer to sort newly downloaded images into your collection than it does to create a new collage, then something’s gone wrong. Start with more general subject folders and then see where you naturally want to expand.

For instance, if you find yourself looking for a specific kind of focus image over and over again, then a subfolder is a good idea, e.g. cats. But don’t start with ten different types of focus image subfolders that you can’t maintain because it’s too annoying to sort images into them, e.g. black cats, tan cats, orange cats, white cats, etc.

4. How will you name your files?

You can search for images using keywords on Canva, even in your own folders. That means you should name your images something descriptive before uploading them so you can find them again when searching.

Don’t make the filename too long, though, or you might have issues. Pick two or three keywords and the source of the image, e.g. “Vintage-Woman-1892-LibraryofCongress.png.” And then just make it a part of your workflow to rename files before sorting them into storage.

That way you’ll be able to search for images by keyword instead of individually going into each folder and looking through them.

(Admittedly I’m not the best at remembering to do this in my own collection, but it’s very helpful when you have a huge folder of images to look through!)

Once you have a solid plan for your organizational system, it’s time to go for it!

Creating a folder system

My image element collection is sorted by image type, by which I mean I’ve sorted them into parts of the collage. For instance, all my background images are in one folder, and my focus images are in another.

I keep everything in my Canva Pro account and use folders that are organized by topic:

(Remember, only Canva Pro accounts have unlimited folders. Free accounts are stuck with only two, and you also can’t upload fonts to use.)

Some of my folder labels include:

  • florals
  • people (vintage and modern, in separate folders)
  • texture backgrounds (things I add on top of other things to create texture)
  • painted backgrounds
  • frames and circles
  • vintage paper (this includes backgrounds and smaller paper elements)
  • doodles
  • animals
  • insects
  • holidays

I go for more general subjects than super specific, because I don’t want to get sucked into nit-picky organizing when I’m just trying to get ready to make a new piece of art.

To create your own folder system, write down the top five or ten image types that you regularly use in your collages.

These keywords will be the basis for your own folder organization system.

Don’t worry about getting it perfect at the start, since you can always tweak it to fit your needs, but remember to keep it more general at first and then get more specific once you’re comfortable with your folder system.

Then all you need to do is remember to regularly sort your new acquisitions into the correct folders, and then back up the whole thing to your cloud drive or whatever you’re using. Voila!

Making folders in Canva (Desktop)

This is the easiest part of the whole thing!

On the Canva homepage, select “All your folders” on the left sidebar. Then click “Create new folder” on the top right.

You can then click into the folder and either start uploading your images, or create a subfolder within the main folder. And that’s it!

Making folders in Canva (Mobile)

This is for the iOS app version of Canva, but it should be the same in the Android version, too.

Go to the Projects tab, then click the three dots in the top right corner.

A banner will pop up on the bottom with the text “New folder.” Touch that and…make a new folder! Tada!

Bonus: Saving elements from Canva

Did you know that you can also save Canva elements into your folders as well? No more searching for the perfect sunflower image over and over again– just save it directly into your “flowers and plants” folder for easy access!

Here’s how to do it:
1. Hover over the image you want to save until you see three dots in the upper right corner.

2. Click on the dots, which will open a menu.

3. Select “Add to folder” and then find the folder you want to save it to…and that’s it!

I find this super helpful since I tend to search for specific things over and over again (coffee stains…) and it’s faster to just have them saved to one of my folders rather than scroll through a page or two of unsuitable images.

And that’s how to organize your digital collage elements in Canva! Super easy, right?

I’d love to see what you come up with for your own system. How do you organize your digital collage clippings?

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  1. I’m so happy I found your blog! I’ve been trolling around looking for practical information on digital collage. I have a treasure trove of vintage ephemera that I want to digitize as well as collage ideas. Looking forward to reading more of your expert advice!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Glynnis! ♥ I’m working on some videos and posts about digitizing ephemera, actually, so stay tuned for that!

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