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5 Infallible Methods to Back Up All Your Crucial Design Files

Kevin Whipps March 31, 2021 · 9 min read
Have you ever lost a file on your computer before? I have. Back in the early ’00s, I had this crappy Gateway machine that burned up a hard drive, causing me to lose every photo I had. It was devastating, and even though ultimately not too much from that incident has been missed, I promised myself never to lose another file again, and to do that, I needed to learn how to backup my stuff. Now this system here is real. It’s what I actually do on all of my machines, in particular the one I’m typing on right now, a mid-2013 MacBook Air. So far it’s not only served me well, but it’s kept all of my files safe, even when I fried my logic board a few months back (which was covered by AppleCare, thankfully), and when an OS update on another machine bricked the device. On top of that, it gives me access to my files anywhere I have an internet connection, and it’s almost entirely automatic. I never have to remember to do a thing. It may be a bit overkill for some, but in the few years I’ve been using it, I haven’t lost a file that I couldn’t recover (despite all attempts to the contrary), so that’s something.

A Few Pointers

One thing to make note of before I roll into things. All good backup systems are based on the 3-2-1 strategy:
A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least 3 total copies of your data, 2 of which are local but on different mediums (read: devices), and at least 1 copy offsite.
Now the way I’m suggesting involves even more redundancy than that, but I’m a big fan of overkill. Finally, a lot of my points deal with Macs specifically, since that’s what I use primarily. That said, the same concepts apply to Windows and other operating systems. Just keep that in mind.

Step 1: Dropbox

To say that I’m a fan of Dropbox would be a colossal understatement on par with, “Jared Leto would make a horrible Joker.” I’ve been using it regularly since at least 2010, integrating it into every job and position I’ve held since. I’ve been the editor-in-chief of a few different magazines, and almost all of them had some funky server system to manage their content when I started. I moved them all to Dropbox, allowing secure remote access to all of their files, and dramatically improving workflow. Seriously, I love it. dropbox-backup-files For the uninitiated, Dropbox isn’t strictly a backup system, but it does have many similar features. Once you install Dropbox, a folder is integrated into your Finder. Anything you put in that folder is mirrored to Dropbox’s servers in the cloud. If you make a change on your local machine, it changes on Dropbox, and so on. And — here’s the kicker — if you have multiple machines running Dropbox, they’ll all sync flawlessly. Seriously, it’s about as bulletproof as it gets, and that’s why I happily pay for the service. So the first part of my backup strategy then is to put everything into Dropbox. Personal plans hold up to 1TB of data (plus more with referral bonuses and the like), so I can put a lot of stuff in there with no worries. If you need more, a Business Plan gives you unlimited storage and a whole host of other goodies. By keeping everything on Dropbox, not only can I share files easily with friends and co-workers, I can also access them from anywhere. And that’s great peace of mind. All that said, Dropbox isn’t strictly a backup solution because it doesn’t backup your system files. However, if you’re like me, the system files are the least of your concerns — you want your documents. Dropbox has that covered in spades.

Step 2: Hourly Backups

Hourly? Really? Yes, hourly. And no, I didn’t establish this system as much as initiate it, but it works well for me. MacOS comes with Time Machine, which is an hourly backup system that backs up all of the files on your machine. Once an hour it looks for files that have changed, backs them up, wash, rinse, repeat. If I ever need to find a file or a previously saved version of the same document, I can do so by entering “Time Machine” in System Preferences. It will also backup USB connected drives, so if you have one that you want backed up, this is a way to do it. I do all of this backing up using an AirPort Time Capsule, which is basically a Wi-Fi access point with a hard drive built in. Every Mac in my house (there are four, counting my two, my kids’ and my wife’s) backs up to this machine hourly, ensuring that all of our data is kept up to date. mac-airporttimecapsule-backup-files Now Windows people, I haven’t forgotten about you. Although my wife uses Windows 10, I’m not a huge user, so I had to do some digging. If you want to backup your documents regularly similar to Time Machine, check out this piece on Lifehacker. It has all the details on the various bits and bobs involved, and what you need to do to get rolling.

Step 3: More Hourly Backups

Wait, I do more than one hourly backup? Of course I do. I’m insane about backups. But there’s also a logical reason for all of this, so let me get into it. I travel every now and then for work, and when I do, I want to keep my laptop backed up per usual. But typically I’m in some hotel with horrific Wi-Fi, and since I’m most likely out on a trip for photography work, I need to backup some big files. That’s why I have a second Time Machine backup ready to go on a USB drive (Im a big fan of the Western Digital My Passport drives — Best Buy has 1TB models for $60 all the time). So what about when I’m at home? I plug it in at least once a day and let it do its job. Once it’s done, I take it to the bedroom (the farthest spot in our house from my office) and leave it there until the next day. If a fire ever enveloped the house, this drive would be handy, and it could be the only data I’d have from my device. Plus, it’s my main backup on the road. $60 is cheap insurance in my book.

Step 4: Weekly Clones

Because I’m a tool, I name all of my hard drives after characters from Futurama. For example, my network drive with my iTunes library is Leela; my work network drive is Morbo; my Time Capsule is Malfunctioning Eddy; and my USB drive is Walt. Once a week I plug in yet another USB drive, this one named Hypnotoad, and it performs a full clone of my hard drive every Sunday morning at 2am. So what’s a clone? It’s an exact, bootable copy of my hard drive. I use Carbon Copy Cloner to perform the task, and it helpfully makes sure that my files are always ready to go. I keep Hypnotoad in my bedroom as well, because again, redundancy. But it means that if my machine blew up, wiping everything in the process, I could go to any other Mac and boot to Hypnotoad, giving me a completely functional version of all of my documents. Which brings me to the obvious question: why once a week? Well look, at this point in the story I’m at three onsite backups, and I’ve got my offsite one coming up. Were the offsite one to implode, Dropbox were to get nuked, and all of my other drives go up in smoke like in Mission Impossible, I’d still have a clone of my data. And if all of those drives blew up at 1:59am on a Sunday night — the longest possible time between clones — then, at worst, I’d lose one week of data. I can accept that.

Step 5: Offsite Backup

There are two ways to think of this one. The first, is to have an additional hard drive that you keep at another physical location. For a while, I had two USB drives that I cloned daily, and whenever I’d go to the office, I’d swap them out. Then there was always a backup of my data at my work, and one at home. Not a bad option. But I work from home now, so that’s not the best choice. Instead, I go online. There are lots of different options including CrashPlan, but I use Backblaze. It’s cheap at $5 per device per month, and they’ll also backup attached USB drives with no data limits. One of my other machines holds our 4TB iTunes library and my 1TB work backup drive (Leela and Morbo, respectively), and both are connected via USB to a Mac. There’s over 5TB of data between those three devices, and Backblaze backs all of them up for $5 per month. Glorious. This is the best offsite solution I’ve found, and I use it on all of our home’s machines for just $20 a month. It’s offsite, their people are geniuses (read their hard drive stats sometime), it’s cross-platform, it works constantly in the background, and it’s affordable. The only downside with Backblaze in particular is that they don’t backup system files, but it’s a dedicated backup system, unlike Dropbox, which is more for syncing.

One Last Thing

So I turned in this story, and wouldn’t you know it, the next day I had a problem. While installing an update to Creative Cloud, my computer crashed and I had to hard restart. When I booted back up, almost all of my Dropbox folder was gone, minus six folders. As it turns out, my hard drive became corrupted because of that restart (or something, because that was the end result), and now I was hosed. But only briefly. That’s because I knew I had my backups in place, and all I needed to do was restore the files. I pulled all of my missing files down from Dropbox, and even though it took a few hours, I had everything back and good to go. See? It’s handy to have your machine backed up, because you never know what’s going to happen and when. Like, you know, the day after you turn in an article about backups.
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About the Author
Kevin Whipps

Hi! My name is Kevin Whipps, and I'm a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working taking pictures of old cars and trucks, I'm either writing articles for Creative Market or hawking stickers at Whipps Sticker Co.

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