Design, Photography, & Fashion

How to Make a Moodboard: Step-by-Step Guide

Written by MasterClass

Jun 7, 2019 • 5 min read

A moodboard can be key to the success of many a creative project, whether it’s planning a party or decorating a film set.

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What Is a Moodboard?

A moodboard, sometimes called an inspiration board, is a tool to help you hone your visual ideas at the start of a creative project. It is a collage of images, material samples, color palettes and sometimes descriptive words and typography that will guide you in your work.

Who Uses Moodboards?

Moodboards are used by a variety of creative professionals, including graphic designers, interior decorators, set designers, fashion designers, photographers, and event planners. Basically, anyone who is developing an object or environment that needs to have a particular “look” often starts with a moodboard to spec out design elements and color schemes.

2 Reasons to Make Your Own Moodboard

A moodboard has two main purposes:

  1. It helps you refine your ideas. Perhaps you are starting from a blank slate and you want to find inspiration. Perhaps you already have a strong idea but want to affirm to yourself that it comes together as you imagine and guide yourself through the many creative decisions ahead. In either case, a moodboard will give you the clarity you need before you start buying materials or building elements.
  2. It helps you communicate your ideas to others. Usually, a creative professional like a graphic or interior designer will build a moodboard to present their ideas to a client. From there, the client will probably give feedback about the suitability of the overall idea or the strength of certain items on the moodboard over others. They might even choose between multiple moodboards the designer has used to present different options. A layperson planning their own event or design project won’t have clients, but they will probably also need to communicate their ideas to someone else at some point — a contractor, collaborator or, if it’s a wedding, their fiance/e.

Physical vs Digital Moodboards: What’s the Difference?

One of the biggest choices to make when you start a moodboard is whether you want it to be physical or digital.

Physical moodboards are the traditional option. Typically, they are laid out on a piece of foam board — a craft material used for purposes as wide-ranging as building dioramas and mounting photographs. Cut out your images neatly and stick them to the board with spray adhesive for best results. You might layer the images on top of each other so they completely cover the board; if you prefer more of a neat grid layout with gaps between items, consider painting the board in a color that matches your chosen palette. Alternatively, a cork pinboard with pins can be a stylized way to display your inspiration.

Digital moodboards are a contemporary solution. They allow you to easily incorporate images you’ve seen on the internet or objects you’ve photographed digitally. A number of online platforms offer you a way to bring these images together. Some common ones are:

  • Pinterest. This social media platform lets you easily bring together images into themed “boards”. It is particularly good for discovering new images, so you will want to use it in at least the research stage. Another advantage is that many people are familiar with the platform, so you can easily collaborate with others.
  • Canva. Canva provides online graphic-design tools that offer a free alternative to expensive industry software. Its moodboard maker has an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface and several template options. The clean layout makes it a professional-looking option for presenting your work to others.
  • Milanote. This is another good browser-based app. It packs some handy additional features, like the ability to add videos and gifs, font files and text notes to explain your thinking.

How to Choose Your Moodboard Format

To decide whether to make your moodboard physical or digital, consider:

  • Are the clients or people you’re communicating with local or remote? If they’re far away, a digital moodboard that you can email to them or share a link to will be more practical.
  • How important are textures to you? If you think your ideas are best conveyed by real fabrics and materials that a person can feel with their fingers, a physical board might be the choice for you.
  • Where are you collecting most of your moodboard items from? If you tend to spend a lot of time online, all the while saving images that inspire you, go digital. If you love reading magazines and already have a stack of them to work with, go physical. Play to your strengths.

Step-by-Step Guide: Make Your Own Moodboard

There are three steps to making a moodboard:

  1. Brainstorm your theme. You probably have some ideas in mind from the get-go. Now brainstorm some keywords associated with these ideas — for an interior design project, you might zero in on the style (modernist, Scandinavian, tropical), materials (concrete, ash wood, rattan) or color (mustard yellow, blush pink, forest green). This will help you with online image searches — try Google but also Getty, Unsplash, Pinterest and Instagram. If you’re not drawn to a particular idea yet, just sit down with an industry magazine or book, let your eyes roam and take note of what resonates. You’ll soon find inspiration.
  2. Collect your elements. Take your early sources of inspiration, then challenge yourself to think outside of the box to find more. Movie mise en scene, fashion editorial shoots, vintage illustrations, art works, fabric and color swatches, architecture, objects and clothing can all be good moodboard fodder. Don’t disregard typography either — an old-style serif font will have very different connotations to a clean and contemporary sans-serif style, and this makes it a great tool for you to showcase some keywords or relevant quotes.
  3. Review, curate and present your board. Odds are, you now have more material than is useful. Curate by choosing images and samples that come together harmoniously, building in some breadth to reflect your originality (or increase your chances of appealing to the client, if you’re working with one). A cohesive color palette is important, so discard anything that clashes. If you’re making a digital board, consider eye-droppering five key colors from the images into swatches. If you’re making a physical board, obtain real paint and fabric swatches for the same effect.