How to Create Mood Boards in Illustrator


Hey there DIY designers!


Ok, first things first.

What even is a mood board and why is it important?

Google says, "an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc. intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept." Exactly, thanks Google. In the case of being a graphic designer and working on branding or web design projects, the mood board is one of the first things I design to set the tone (or mood, if you will) of the whole brand or website.

I think that mood boards are one of the most important parts in any design process. You always want to be on the same page as your client, and presenting them with a mood board before any real design work starts ensures that you are in fact on the same page and that the design is heading in the right direction.

For example, if you skip the mood board and head straight into designing the brand, how do you know if they are going to like it? You don’t. Let’s just say they hated it. You’ve just invested a lot more time designing a brand than you would have creating a mood board, and now you have to start all over again. Creating a mood board before any real design begins ensures that the time you invest in design further down the track is not wasted.

Now, I’m not saying that if you presented them with a mood board first they’re going to love your designs 100% of the time, but, I have never had anyone reject any design work I have done after we have perfected and agreed on their mood board.

So, how do you start?

I’ll outline my process from start to finish:

  1. A part of my client intake process, everyone (brand or web design clients) is required to fill out at least one questionnaire. In the questionnaire I get into detail about target audience and also aspects of design they like and can envision for their business.

  2. Then I instruct them to create their own personal Pinterest board for their project. I tell them to Pin anything that feels aesthetically right for their brand, no matter what the image is. Then once they have collected say at least 10-20 images they share the Pinterest board with me.

  3. From there I compare all of these images with their answers in my client questionnaires and see what Pins I think align well with the brand. A lot of this comes down to color palette and different textures.

  4. I then create my own secret board on Pinterest and Repin the images that I liked from the client board to here. I also start collecting more images that I think I could potentially use for the mood board.

    I collect extra images myself because usually the client only wants to spend 10-20 minutes Pinning for their brand (fair enough!), and hasn’t looked too hard for images. So, since it’s my job to get it perfect, I spend the extra time collecting more images and add these all to my secret Pinterest board.

    I Pin a lot to this secret board, even if I’m not 100 % sure if I like the image. If something catches my eye, I Pin it. Or maybe I’ll Pin something where I only like a small portion of the Pin and not the rest. Just Pin everything that you think could have a chance.

  5. Because, once I’m all Pinned out, I head back to my secret board and do a clear out. I go through and delete any Pins that I regret Pinning to the board, and what I’m left with will go into my mood board!

    TIP: Just remember, when you’re using Pins for your mood boards, 99% of the Pins you use will be the property of someone else. So with that in mind, you should be using these for only personal use. If you're using them for design purposes, make sure you're not passing them onto your clients as final design files.

    TIP: If you want to use free stock images that have no copyright so you can do whatever you want with the mood board, check out my list of free stock image websites HERE.

  6. From here I create a folder on my computer (or wherever you keep your client files) called “Client Name Mood Board”. Then I go through my secret board and save all the images that I may use, to my computer. You’ll need to click on the Pin thumbnail in Pinterest, then right click on the image, and save as!


Once I have saved all of the files I think will work, I open up my mood board templates in Illustrator:

I create my mood boards in Illustrator just because I prefer the ease of it over Photoshop. Some people may argue and say that it is better to use photoshop because the photo quality will be better retained.
But here’s my advice on photo quality for mood boards: it’s not super important. For everything that isn’t a mood board, it is. If your Pinterest image is super small, and the only way to make it fit is to enlarge and pixelate the hell out of it, don’t use it, find another image. Pixelated images look, and are, unprofessional. But, with mood boards, OK is OK. The purpose of it is to convey mood and feel, we’re not printing this or using any of the images in the actual branding. Pinterest images will ALL be low quality. If you’re in need of a high resolution mood board, stay clear of Pinterest all together and use professional stock images. So with all that said, Illustrator does the trick for me!

Ok so, you’ve done the hard part.

You have collated all of these great images, picked through them and added them to your computer. Now all you have to do is take the images and arrange them appropriately in the templates that I’ve provided!

Here’s how:

  • File > Place your images into the document
    Or, select them all in finder drag them on to the artboard

  • Place your image over the section you think you want it to sit, right click on it and “Arrange > Send to Back”

  • Once it is sent to the back, hold down shift and select the section you want the image to be in. Now the section and the image should both be selected.

  • Right click on them and select Make Clipping Mask.



  • Now your image should be within the section, like this:


Easy right? You can do this over and over again with each image until all the spaces are filled up. You’ll get really fast at this too after you do it a couple of times.

You might need to resize images so they fit within the section you want them in. Make sure to hold down shift when you resize images so that they keep their proportion and don’t get distorted (stretching images is a no go!)

I usually like to add some sort of text or font style in the small circle section. You do this exactly the same. Create your text, in my case I used a large black square and some white text over it, then I grouped those two together and then followed the usual steps of making a clipping mask.

Here’s the original before I put it into the circle section:


Now you might be wondering, how do I change an image once I have already added it?

Double click on the image you want to remove. Then you will see a selection of the image (inside the clipping mask) like this:


Click once more, and you will have selected the original image like this:


From here you can resize or remove the image. To remove it, just press the delete key. Once you have deleted the image, double click back out on the artboard to go back to normal viewing mode.

Now you will see that the box is still there but there is nothing inside of it. Ready for you to add another image!


TIP: Instead of only using images, try using blocks of color. You can see in my bottom left and right blocks that I have used a green and a black!

TIP: If you want to put a border around all of the images, select all of the sections in the board and increase the stroke to your desired weight. You can also change the color of it to whatever works for you!


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