How to create a graphic design portfolio

graphic design portoflio

We often get young designers asking us what we look for in a potential employee and what we would advise them to do to help them get into the design industry. Apart from attitude (obviously!) there is another major factor - their graphic design portfolio. This is essential for both experienced and new designers. The portfolio is a showcase of what an individual can do. It is evidence of what they have to offer. What about qualifications? Well they can be useful - but unless there are examples of the skills of the individual, qualifications are about as useful as the paper they are printed on. The portfolio allows people to see what a designer is all about - and seeing, in most cases, is believing.

So - to all you people wanting to break into the design world, or even to move on up the ladder - this is for you. A few tips on what we would look for from a graphic design portfolio perspective. Firstly we believe that you need to have at least 2 versions of your graphic design portfolio - an online version and an off-line one. We've split the following tips into 3 sections - each with 5 tips each. First up, is general tips which apply to both print and web. Next, is tip on an online graphic design portfolio and last, is tips on how to create a print portoflio. Enjoy...

General graphic design portfolio tips

01. Display

How you display your work is almost as important as the work itself. It needs to have space and impact so don't clutter it or cram it in. Let it breathe!

02. Be selective.

Less is more. Quality not quantity. The better quality the work is, the more likely you will catch somebody's attention.

03. Does it flow?

The order you place the work in need to be thought about. It needs to flow from one piece to the other - especially if you are going to be presenting it. A natural flow of pieces, contrasting one another, or even complimenting one another helps to keep people interested.

04. Be diverse.

A diverse graphic design portfolio, in our view, is better than a one trick pony. Where possible show that you can work across different industries as well as using different styles to communicate messages.

05. Keep it up to date

There is no good having a portfolio which is ancient. It has a negative effect. Keep things current and upload peices of work just after you have finished them. That way you don't get a large back-log of work.

Online Portfolio Tips

01. Get on the web

We will always look at somebody's online portfolio before we even see their printed one. Don't have an online portfolio? Where have you been? We are in the 21st century! If you are not a coder, then get somebody who is to give you a hand or get a piece of software to help you. For inspiration head over to:

02. Let the work speak

All you need is something simple. Let the work do the talking. Let it breath and ensure it is large enough for a viewer to see the detail. If you can allow the user to select a piece of work to zoom into it so they can see the fine detail.

03. Clean code

If you are applying for a job related to HTML and CSS make sure the site validates and the code and is clean. Potential employers will always look at the coding of your own site as a reflection of your coding ability! So - do make sure you use the highest standard of coding and best practice techniques.

04. Offer information

We don't have time to read loads, but a short 200 word description of how the project was produced is always handy - what was the brief? who was the client? Be careful not to let the words distract from the image though. Also maybe add a brief "about me" page - and even a CV in PDF format. You will also need some way for people to get in touch with you.

05. Keep your file sizes down

We have no issue with flash websites but would advise that they are not too heavy. Nobody has time to sit around and wait for half an hour for something that should load in seconds. If you want to show off some heavy animation - make a DVD or put it in an area of your site, rather than making it your site.

Print Graphic Design Portfolio

01. The packaging

Get yourself down to an art shop and pick up a professional looking wallet folder or case. For practice reasons we suggest it should be robust and water proof - nothing like soggy work for making a good impression!

02. Mounting

Mount your work on selected paper. Black is normally a good choice as it sets off the colours in a piece and gives it impact. As well as black paper you could get creative and use coloured paper or tracing paper. However, make sure the paper the work is mounted on doesn't detract from the work itself. Also ensure work is fixed securely - you don't wanting it falling out when you open it.

03. The real deal

Although most portfolios look nicer when the work is printed onto single sheets and mounted, it is also important to include actual samples - especially of larger documents that you have had professionally printed. Sometimes its good to keep a small selection inside your portfolio to take out and show people.

04. Tailor your portfolio

With print portfolio's you normally know who you are going to see before presenting it to them. Therefore it is important to ensure that the work is tailored to that person or company. For example, if you are going to meet somebody interested in brand identity design, make sure your work is focused around this area.

05. Keep it short

Don't have too much in your print portfolio. On the web, potential clients or employers have the choice to view as many times of your work as they want, as they normally do it at their own pace. Printed portfolios are often presented and so if there is a lot of work, there is a lot of time spent which may not be necessary. Normally 10-15 pieces of work will more than adequately show the person being presented with the work your skill level.


Remember, design is all about audience. When creating your portfolio think about who is going to view it. Any further tips or advise for other designers? Do you have an opinion? Please feel free to leave a comment...


When I show my pieces do they need to be the originals? In many cases I've done freelance work and the finished product was sent directly to the client. Are print out acceptable?

I'm looking for a online company/website that i can use to show my online portfolio and website. I am currently using FTP software, but it isn't easy and takes too long to edit the site. So what is the best website/company to use where i can edit the website myself?
Thank You.

Great article. Really helps to know the importance of having a web based portfolio! Thanks!

@ Nickie - print outs are ok but most design agencies like to see some professionally printed materials which prove the designer actually worked on the project.

@ Andy - We use Wordpress here, which does take some customizing but the end result is pretty good.

Andy >> I'm very pleased with TSW WebCoder, which you find at
It is a html & css editor with tons of great features.

A little more depth on the subject would have been nice - especially on the printed portfolio. Whats the normal procedure when it comes to size, it it normally a book you get printed, or loose papers with the work them. But overall a nice article.

@ Christina. There is no standard size (we've seen them from A4 up to A2!) but we would normally suggest A3.
You could get a booklet printed but this would cost a fortune and may age quite quickly - you need something which you can update and customize quickly. In our studio here, we use a A3 ring-binder, with A3 plastic Wallets into which we slide printed examples of our work, mounted onto specially selected paper. We also have a lot of printed examples which we keep at the back of the ring-binder in case a client wants to see some actual examples.

do you find that it is better and eaier to view the portfolios in portrait or landscape?

@charlotte - It depends on the piece of work and how it is being presented, it's difficult to give a definitive answer to your question without knowing what you are presenting or how you are presenting it...

The tips mentioned above were very much informative...... I got to know many perspectives of Print design which I had not taken into consideration earlier.

Many thanks.

The information provided above is really useful. Can you also explain how a student's portfolio must be.If a student has to present a portfolio during the interview process of a college, how should the portfolio look?

@Pinky - we are unsure what academics will be looking for in a portfolio - maybe phone the college/school ahead of the interview and ask what they will be looking for?