I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about how to create a fashion design mood board. Like what they are, how to make them and where to find inspiration for your mood boards.
But also, I’m going to be realistic about how mood boards are *actually* used in a lot of the fashion industry.
Because it doesn’t always start with a pretty collage of photos and inspo!
More on the sometimes *ugly truth* about fashion design mood boards in a sec…k
But first, let’s go through all the steps to create a mood board from gathering inspiration to choosing colors and selecting visuals.
I’ll also cover what programs and software are best for creating digital fashion mood boards, and I’ll share examples of well-crafted brand mood boards to inspire you.
Whether you’re creating mood boards for your fashion design job, your own clothing brand, or your freelance clients (yes, you can do mood boards as a freelance fashion designer!), I’ve got you covered.
A fashion design mood board, also known as an inspiration or inspo board, is a visual tool that communicates your design ideas. It’s like a collage of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition.
Mood boards can be physical or digital and include anything. Literally anything! You can include the obvious like photographs, fabric swatches, illustrations and magazine tears.
But you can also put 3d items like pieces of chain, fringe, or other trims that may help draw inspiration for your fashion collection. It’s really up to you how to create a fashion design mood board that communicates your ideas!
Mood boards help designers get a clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve visually. Mood boards serve as the starting point for creative decisions during the fashion design process.
Fashion mood boards can be a living and breathing thing. Some fashion designers use them as a guide throughout the design process to adhere to the original vision.
But sometimes, designs change and veer from the mood board. In this case, the mood board can be adjusted to fit the new direction.
Using mood boards in fashion design helps convey not just specific concepts but also broader themes like feelings or moods associated with certain styles or trends.
This makes it easier for everyone involved – clients, buyers, collaborators, manufacturers – to understand the vision.
Making a mood board is a creative process, and there are no set rules for exactly how to create a fashion design mood board.
Most fashion designers start by gathering inspiring images, colors, and textures. Then, they arrange them on a board or in a digital format to create a cohesive visual story.
There are many tools available to help you create a mood board, from physical boards to digital platforms like Pinterest and Canva. Choose the approach that best suits your needs and have fun with it!
Remember, a mood board’s job is to tell a story about the design or collection. Use it to communicate your vision, inspire creativity, and show the *feeling* you’re trying to evoke.
If you’ve ever wondered how to create a fashion mood board from scratch, the answer is by finding inspiration!
Finding inspiration for your fashion design mood board should be a fun and creative process. Remember, inspiration can come from anywhere, not just the fashion world.
You might be inspired by a color scheme in nature, a pattern in architecture, or the vibe of a certain interior design style. Museums, art galleries, and even everyday objects can also spark creativity.
To gather diverse inspiration, try:
Gathering inspiration should feel like a treasure hunt where anything goes. Collect magazine clippings, photographs, fabric swatches, or even natural elements like leaves or stones. These will all contribute to creating a unique mood board that tells the story of your designs.
Choosing colors for your fashion design mood board is crucial in setting the tone and feel of your final designs. Don’t just pick hues you like, consider how they work together to create a cohesive look.
Inspiration can come from anything – nature, interiors, architecture, or even existing garments. For example, a sunset at the beach might inspire warm oranges and cool blues as part of your color palette. Your favorite vintage dress could drive the colorways for the next collection. A rug at your bestie’s house might be just the vibe you’re going for.
Anything – literally anything – can be used to create a color palette for fashion design mood boards.
Here are a few mood board color story examples. These are created by students in my Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST) program.
A picture of flowers and a vintage illustration can tell your mood board color story, like Lisa Anzell designed.
Garments from other brands (yes, it’s ok to include these on a mood board!) and textures from nature can inspire colors like on this mood board layout from KPS Apparel.
Landscapes and lifestyle pics (plus more inspo from competitors) are great ways to come up with color stories, like Vinicius Benetti Gennari did on this moodboard.
Feeling stuck? The Adobe Color CC has a color wheel you can spin around to quickly come up with new ideas (it’s free), and the Pantone Color Finder (paid) is a fun tool to explore different color combinations and trends.
Canva also has a really cool tool that generates a palette from an uploaded photo.
No matter how you pick colors for a fashion collection, you need to think about how everything’s going to balance. Here are some general guidelines.
None of these steps to select colors for your mood board are required (there are no rules!). But it’s a good starting point. You can have a palette with bold colors only. Or neutrals only. Or whatever you want.
Use this as a guide, and have fun (while also being realistic about what will sell). Happy color hunting!
Choosing the right visuals is the foundation of your mood board. The images you select should reflect the overall theme and aesthetic of the final design of the collection, as well as the colors you’ve chosen. Here are 5 steps for how to create a fashion design mood board with a cohesive, inspiring and on-brand story:
Don’t limit yourself to fashion-related images. Anything that inspires you can be included in your fashion mood board. Include anything that stirs the same emotion or atmosphere as your designs. It could be a picturesque view, a piece of artwork, or even an old pic.
If you’re creating a digital mood board, there are countless resources online where you can find high-quality images to use. Pinterest is an excellent source for finding beautiful imagery related to almost any topic imaginable. Unsplash offers free-to-use professional photography covering various themes and subjects. And if textiles play a significant role in your designs, include fabric swatches from fabric stores or your personal collection.
Once you’ve selected your visuals, arrange them so they tell a story about what’s inspiring your project. Your mood board should convey a clear message. Experiment with various layouts until you find one that feels good. You may even wind up dropping a few pieces of inspo, or realizing you need to find a new one to fill in a gap.
Don’t forget the small details like textures, patterns, stitching or trims. You don’t have to include these if they’re not relevant, but if unique zipper pull details or lace accents are a key part of the collection, include them in the mood board.
Woot Woot! You’ve gathered your inspo, picked your colors, and selected the visuals for your fashion mood board. Now let’s put it all together.
Assembling a physical or digital fashion mood board is an art in itself. It’s about creating a balance between different elements to convey a particular feeling or concept.
Start by arranging the larger items first, then fill in with smaller ones around them until you achieve a harmonious layout that visually communicates your ideas. Don’t be afraid to experiment with placement and layering of images and materials.
Remember, there are no hard rules here; you have complete creative freedom.
But, BUT! I will say this…
Your fashion design mood board doesn’t need to be massive. Sometimes less is more. A few well-chosen pieces can often communicate an idea just as effectively as dozens of items.
This is a mistake I see a lot of fashion design students making. They put together gargantuan double poster board size mood boards with *tight* collages of hundreds of magazine tears.
Be mindful about how much you actually need, and make sure it’s all cohesive and tells a story.
If you’re working digitally, tools like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or even free online platforms like Canva can help make this process easier by allowing you to move things around freely until everything feels just right.
A well-assembled fashion design mood board will not only inspire but also guide every step of your design process from fabric selection through final garment construction.
Choosing software for moodboards depends on the fashion designer’s preference, resources, and project needs.
For physical mood boards, many designers opt for traditional methods like cork boards and pins. These allow for easy rearrangement of elements and give a tactile quality that some appreciate during the creative process.
Digital mood boards offer flexibility in terms of editing and sharing in the fashion industry. These are the most common software programs to create digital fashion design mood boards:
This vector graphics software is great for creating clean layouts with crisp lines. This was always my preference because I am very comfortable in Illustrator. Just be mindful that file sizes in AI can get quite large when you place a lot of images in your files. (Here’s a tutorial on how to do that efficiently.)
If you want to do image manipulation, Photoshop allows you to edit photos or visuals before adding them to your board. You can also assemble the entire mood board in PS. This was never my preference, but I know many fashion designers who like Photoshop for mood boards.
Known for its page layout capabilities, InDesign is perfect if you’re planning to incorporate it into a larger document like a lookbook or portfolio. From an efficiency standpoint, I would argue that InDesign is the “right” tool to use, but I also think it takes more time to set up and manage the project than may be warranted.
A user-friendly option with built-in templates, Canva makes assembling a professional-looking mood board quick and straightforward. (Even without extensive graphic design experience.)
The best program for mood boards will depend on your individual needs and comfort level with each tool. Experimenting with different options can help you discover how to create a fashion design mood board with what works best for you.
The aesthetics of your mood board will be influenced by your personal style and the brand you’re designing for. A mood board for a couture brand will feel very different than one for a mid-priced lifestyle brand.
Here’s a video of some of my mood board examples from my fashion career:
Here are mood board examples from freelance fashion designers in my Freelance Accelerator: from Surviving to Thriving (FAST) program.
You don’t need a ton of images, and it’s ok to include a mix of illustrations, photos, and garments Like Rashi Gupta did. While simple, this kidswear mood board tells a clear story and has a specific vibe.
This very simple modern mood board by Stacked Studio gives a clear picture of the customer, the clothing, and the color story.
Lucrecia De Los Santos Adon kept this mood board super simple with just 4 photos, some texture, and inspirational quotes. But with so little, it conveys a lot: lacy strappy lingerie for an empowered woman.
Kerry McCluskey of Sentier Studio shows a great example of using nature, landscape and fashion inspiration in this mood board. The print and design inspiration explanations also add more detail for the brand to understand the design direction.
With just a few photos and keywords (celebrate, playful, relaxed) the customer and vibe for this moodboard is clear. Violet Watson De Leon also made the key colors clear, making the design direction easy to envision.
The vibe and story of Jennifer Dios’ moodboard is obvious. Even without the “Art Deco Style” text at the top, the overall design direction, detailing and styling of the collection is clear.
Ashley Lakes used only a few abstract and nature images in this simple “Flowers in Water” moodboard, but the vibe and energy of the collection is so easy to feel.
With just 4 photos, the design direction and story are so easy to understand in Andressa Iop’s kidswear mood board: fun, playful, paint inspired clothes for little girls.
At a quick glance, it’s obvious this mood board by SamiaLynn is for fun, colorful weddings. The color swatches as wedding rings is a great attention to detail that instantly makes you “get it.”
These are some great mood board examples across all categories. They’re all a little different, have their own unique style, and don’t follow any rules.
But one thing all these moodboard examples do have in common is this: they communicate a vibe and tell a story. Just by glancing at them, you get a feel of the design direction.
Now, while I don’t know the backstory behind these fashion design mood board examples (except that students in my FAST program created them)…
I have freelanced for many brands whose fashion collections don’t always start with mood boards.
Instead, they start with, “here’s this garment – make it like this.”
Seriously, this is how the fashion industry works sometimes!
The design director, or someone on the sales team, will hand you a stack of competitor garments and that will be the “inspiration.”
I’ve literally created entire capsule collections that are just “inspired” by other brands.
No sketching. (Except for drawing fashion flats in Illustrator.)
No real design process.
So, what about a mood board then?
I talk about this more in my free book on fashion portfolios, but two things usually happen:
Have fun with your mood boards, experiment, figure out your style (which may differ drastically depending on the brand or client). Creating fashion design mood boards is a super creative process. And while there are some general industry standards for how to create a fashion design mood board, there are no rules.
So get out there and go mood board your heart out!