Every cosplayer has done it — hunting through Google images, taking screenshots off of Netflix or YouTube, trying to dig up enough references to know what a costume looks like from every angle.
Research is an essential part of the cosplay process, and shouldn't be skipped. But if you find yourself searching for and then losing the same resources over and over, you're wasting time that you could be spending actually working on your cosplay. That's why one of my biggest tips for cosplayers is to hone your efficiency — don't reinvent the wheel. If you have an efficient way to store and access your cosplay resources, then you can spend more time on the important stuff. Like... you know. Sewing.
I've tried a lot of different tools to organize cosplay references and resources. I have a definite favorite, but everyone is different, so you might prefer a different way! Here are a few options to consider.
The old fashioned way — you can always just save images straight to your computer or phone!
The upsides: You never have to be dependent on wifi access, and you can organize them using folders, file naming conventions, etc. however you see fit. Completely customizable!
The downsides: If you need a reference image and you're away from your computer or phone, you're basically starting from square one. Plus, you have to actually commit to setting up a filing system, or you'll end up like me: A million random files with automatically generated file names, floating around aimlessly in my dumpster of a downloads folder. Sad trombone.
My friends know that I am a hopeless Google Drive addict. I track my social media goals using Google Sheets, I draft blogs in Google Docs, and I have a complex filing system for my Drive that allows me to access any of my branding materials, cosplay photos, and working project files from any device.
The upsides: You can organize the files however you like — folders, file names — and even share them with friends (great for cosplay groups!) You can also access them from any wifi enabled device. It's easy to download the whole lot in a zip file straight from Drive if you ever need copies on your hard drive.
The downsides: We're still dependent on wifi access, unfortunately. Plus, uploading is a 2-step process, because you have to save the file to your computer first, which is a little clunky.
Cosplanner is an app specifically designed for cosplayers. It allows you to create individual cosplay projects, list what needs to get made and purchased for each one, estimate costs, track progress, and yes — store reference images.
The upsides: Since the app is designed specifically for cosplayers, every feature is tailored to what you need. This app combines reference collection with all the other aspects of cosplay organization that you'd normally need to do through some other platform — budgeting, progress tracking, scheduling photoshoots and events, etc. You also don't need wifi access to use the app!
The downsides: Cosplanner is free, but the features are limited unless you shell out monthly for Premium. That means you only get to store 10 reference images per cosplay. For some costumes, that might be enough, but for others, it doesn't come close. (I'm looking at you, 131-photo Arya Stark reference collection.)
Despite my Google Drive obsession, Pinterest has quickly and firmly become my go-to cosplay reference storage method.
The upsides: The board system allows whatever level of complexity you want, whether that means one single board for cosplay, or a different board for every character (or even a board for character references, a board for tutorials and materials, and a board for photoshoot ideas — the sky's the limit!) Also, since Pinterest has a ton of content already on it, it's insanely quick and efficient to just search your character name and rapid-fire pin a bunch of the most common reference images. I still end up tracking down more specific references elsewhere online, but being able to knock out 5-10 basic images in under 2 minutes is something that no other platform offers. You can also make Pinterest boards Secret or Public, and you can invite friends to pin to your boards (great for group cosplay planning!) And with Pinterest, you can pin more than just photos — I'll frequently pin links to buy wigs or materials, or links to tutorials or patterns.
The downsides: Like with many of these methods, you need wifi to access your references. I also wish you could click-and-hold save or copy an image from the Pinterest mobile app... but hey, nobody's perfect.
Overall, your number one concern should be ensuring that your resources are easy to access when you need them. What that means will depend on what kind of cosplayer you are, and how you work.
How do you store cosplay reference images? Tell me in the comments!