Defects with associated electron and nuclear spins in solid-state materials have a long history relevant to quantum information science that goes back to the first spin echo experiments with silicon dopants in the 1950s. Since the turn of the century, the field has rapidly spread to a vast array of defects and host crystals applicable to quantum communication, sensing and computing. From simple spin resonance to long-distance remote entanglement, the complexity of working with spin defects is fast increasing, and requires an in-depth understanding of the defects’ spin, optical, charge and material properties in this modern context. This is especially critical for discovering new relevant systems for specific quantum applications. In this Review, we expand upon all the key components of solid-state spin defects, with an emphasis on the properties of defects and of the host material, on engineering opportunities and on other pathways for improvement. This Review aims to be as defect and material agnostic as possible, with some emphasis on optical emitters, providing broad guidelines for the field of solid-state spin defects for quantum information.