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The Ultimate Guide to Version Control for Designers

CEO Tinh Phung
For most designers, version control might not be on their radar. While developers rely heavily on version control tools, designers often overlook its benefits and fail to incorporate it into their workflow. In this article,...

For most designers, version control might not be on their radar. While developers rely heavily on version control tools, designers often overlook its benefits and fail to incorporate it into their workflow. In this article, we will explore why version control is important for designers and how you can start using it for your projects.

What is version control?

To understand version control, think of it as the file history in Photoshop. It's like having an "undo" button for your work, along with effortless backup, peace of mind, and organized storage of different versions. Version control systems store file versions in a special database called a repository. This separation of history from the file itself ensures that even if the file gets corrupted, you can easily restore any previous versions.

One of the biggest advantages of version control is the ability to collaborate seamlessly. You can store file versions on a shared resource, enabling multiple designers to work on the same file without overwriting each other's changes. To submit or retrieve versions of a file, a client application is used to connect to the version control system.

What is version control? What is version control?

How can designers benefit from using version control?

Using version control offers several benefits that are especially attractive for designers:

  • Structured and tidy files: Version control eliminates the need for multiple copies of the same file, keeping your hard drive clutter-free.
  • Hassle-free backup: All your files are securely stored in the repository, including their versions.
  • Centralized and shared storage: Ideal for team projects, version control ensures everyone knows where to access the latest version of an asset.
  • Save multiple versions: Perfect for brainstorming, version control allows you to easily save multiple iterations of a file.
  • Simplified collaboration with developers: If you're working with developers using Subversion (SVN) or Mercurial, you can utilize the same version control system for a unified project organization.

What version control tool is right for you?

Now that you understand the benefits of version control, let's explore the tools available for designers.

Adobe Version Cue

Adobe Version Cue is Adobe's version control system specifically designed for designers. Integrated into Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, Version Cue is a powerful tool for managing file versions.

Setting up a Version Cue server is the first step. You can either run it on your design computer or on a dedicated machine. After configuring the server, you can connect to it using Adobe Drive. Projects are created in Adobe Bridge, allowing you to logically organize your files into folders. Simply drag and drop files into the project, and version control will automatically save the initial version in the repository.

Version Cue settings Version Cue settings

Version Cue server configuration Version Cue server configuration

Once your files are in the project, you can make modifications and save them as subsequent versions. Adobe Bridge provides a convenient interface to view and manage all versions of a file.

PixelNovel Timeline

PixelNovel Timeline is a version control tool integrated into Photoshop. While it's not a standalone version control system, it offers a unique user interface that simplifies versioning for designers.

Timeline comes with a hosted online repository on PixelNovel, eliminating the need for setting up your own repository. After signing up for an account, you can download and install the Timeline plug-in. The Timeline Project Assistant helps you map folders on your computer to the repository. Once set up, you can open files in Photoshop, make changes, and easily submit them to the repository.

PixelNovel Timeline - Simple user interface PixelNovel Timeline - Simple user interface

PixelNovel Timeline - Saving a version PixelNovel Timeline - Saving a version

PixelNovel also offers a standalone variant of Timeline that can be used with your own repository.

Generic Version Control Systems

If the designer-oriented version control tools don't meet your needs, or if you're working on cross-functional projects involving both designers and developers, generic version control systems are worth considering.

Subversion (SVN)

Subversion is a popular version control system used in many open source projects. It's easy to set up and offers a range of hosted online solutions. Subversion is known for its simplicity and reliability, though it has weaker support for branching and merging compared to other systems.

Mercurial (Hg)

Mercurial is a distributed version control system designed for speed. While it offers many benefits to teams of developers, its advantages are limited for designers due to the challenges of merging binary files. Nevertheless, Mercurial is still a fast and powerful system, and hosted online repositories such as freeHg.org and bitbucket.org make it easily accessible.


Git, created by Linus Torvalds, has gained popularity among programmers. It's a distributed system with strong branching support, making it faster than Subversion. However, Git has a steeper learning curve and may not be the best choice for beginners. Github is a popular hosted online service for Git repositories.

Your thoughts?

Should all designers use version control systems? Have you had any experiences using version control? Share your opinions and thoughts in the comments.

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