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Have you ever opened your computer and seen a long list of files with names like “2tgh00.jpg?” This typically happens with image and document files. Your Downloads folder may be the scariest place to look since it's likely to include attachments from emails and images pulled from the web. Even if the original files have been renamed, you still may not be able to tell what assets they contain. If you have a large number of files, renaming each one is a labor-intensive process. However, it’s well worth the effort and will save you time and aggravation in the long run.

If your files aren’t even divided into folders, there's no need to worry. You can start getting them organized by creating a well-ordered folder structure using logical file names. Once that’s done, open every file, see what it is, and then categorize it. Although this can be a tedious and time consuming process, it’s a crucial step.

Building an Effective File Name

Once you’ve moved your files into folders, it’s time to name them! Here are some tips and tricks to streamline the process:


Keep your file names short. A good rule of thumb is for each file name to be under 25 characters.


You’ll want your files to automatically organize themselves from newest to oldest or oldest to newest within the folders. Starting your file names with the date automatically does this for you! Dates should be formatted either YYMMDD or YYYYMMDD so they filter by year first, month second, and day last. So, for an image taken on May 15, 2021 the file name would start 210515 or 20210515 depending on your preference.


Any useful file name contains the most important information that describes the digital asset it’s naming. Use specific descriptive words that add value to the files that are relevant to your project or team. For example, if you’re naming an image of a cat sitting on a roof at night in Paris, different teams may pull out different keywords. A marketing team may want to use the keywords ‘Marketing,’ ‘Cat,’ and ‘Paris.’ A creative team may want to use the keywords ‘Cat,’ ‘Roof,’ and ‘Night.’ Whichever keywords you choose, be consistent when you apply them. Here are some elements to consider when choosing the keywords for your file names: (Keep in mind that whatever category of descriptive information you choose, keep it consistent!)

  • Overarching Category (typically folder name)
  • Location
  • Use
  • Person/Product Name
  • Type of Image
  • Event Name
  • Project Name or Number
  • Version Number
  • Creator Name or Initials

Capitals, Underscores, and Dashes

Using these is the best way to make file names easy to read when you’re quickly scanning for the image you want. Some software doesn’t recognize spaces in file names and therefore won’t open your file. For example, if you wanted to name a file that’s an image of a cat and is used for marketing purposes, you should name it: “20210515_Marketing_Cat.jpg” rather than “20210515marketingcat.jpg”.

Special Characters

Avoid special characters as these are often not accepted as part of file names or can create confusion with your computer software when opening the files. These characters include:

~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ' " |

Preserve File Type Extensions

These give you important information about how files can be shared, altered, and preserved. Examples of these are .jpg, .tiff, .txt, .pdf, etc.

Batch Rename

If you have a large number of files to rename, consider using a program where you can batch rename them. This allows you to add accurate sequence numbers when there are images that depict the same thing multiple times. Sequence numbers should always begin with 1 and have a leading number of zeros that are appropriate to the number of files you have. If you don’t have more than 900 files, start with 001. If you have over 900, start with 0001. There are also several free or paid applications that allow you to bulk edit image metadata.

Create a Best Practices Guide

Document your file naming conventions in a Best Practices Guide so that all members of your team are aware of and can consistently implement them. This will be especially helpful for new hires and team members who move from project to project. It will also save you from having to explain your file naming rules and serve as the single source of truth your team members can easily reference.


Adjusting your current file naming protocols—if you have any—and implementing new file naming conventions can seem like a daunting task. And depending on the number of files you have to rename or the number of new files you need to name each week, it could be. If you need assistance, contact Stacks! We’d be happy to help you create a Best Practices Guide and implement a new system so you don't have to worry about it. We’ll work with you to determine what keywords are important to your team, train them on the new file naming methods, and even manage the file naming process if you’d like to hand it off completely. File naming doesn’t have to cause you headaches— if done consistently and correctly, it should alleviate them.

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