10 Tips For a Killer Portfolio

10 Tips For a Killer Portfolio

Your portfolio, along with your resume, is your designer calling card and your most important project as a designer or other creative professional. Whether it’s your physical portfolio or digital (you should have both), keeping these up to date, fresh, and with awesome work is going to be your ticket to getting you ahead in your field. The better the work in your portfolio, the better the job you can land – exactly what you’re trying to accomplish! Your portfolio is your way to show a potential employer or client that you can do the job, and you can do it well. Use these ten tips to get your portfolio in the best shape, and remember to add in your own personal style to really stand out. 

  1. Keep It Simple

The perfect way to go about your portfolio is the simple way. No need to over-embellish with a fancy book or design elements, this book is about showcasing your work, so you can just let your awesome portfolio pieces do the talking for you. A few snapshots or digital pieces with a title and short, concise explanation of the project, and you’re good to go.

Be sure to make your navigation as easy as possible. Add page numbers, a table of contents, project titles, and section divider pages as needed. And to help you out in your interviews/meetings, learn where your pieces are so you don’t have to flip through trying to find a project. 

  1. What Projects To Include

Be thoughtful in your selection process. Don’t add every project you have ever done. You want to make the best impression, so be sure to show just your best work. Pick out those ones that got awesome reviews and good results. Aim to fill 10-20 pages, but don’t add in filler pieces that aren’t your best just to fill the pages. Fewer projects that are great will outweigh a book full of projects that are not.

If you don’t have a lot of professional work that you have done, or even if you do, a great way to fill your portfolio is with self-initiated projects. This is a nice way to show your personal voice, show what your passionate about, and show your potential employer what kind of work you really love to do. Also, if you are just breaking into the field, student work is absolutely acceptable as well.

  1. Digital and Photographed Work

Digital pieces are great, but snapping high-quality, professional looking photos of your printed work is also a nice, and often better way to present your work. Seeing your work presented as a prototype or as the final piece is a nice way to show how your designs worked in their final output.

If you can’t get photos of your work or you want to show your web or mobile design, you can use mock-up resources. Showcase your work in a professional and interesting way by applying them to templates. Show how your logos look on products if you don’t have actual pieces to photograph or a magazine layout on these mockups instead of just a flat image. Some online resources, free or paid, that you can check out are:




or you can google search “graphic designer mock-up templates” for more options.

  1. Put Your Best Work First

Make an impact right from the start. Don’t wait to show your best stuff for the end. Make your viewer want to see more. It’s possible that you won’t get the chance to show all of your pieces so this is a great way to make sure the projects you are most proud of are seen. It’s good to end with an equally impressive piece as well, always leave them wanting more.

  1. Tailor Your Portfolio to the Job You Want

So you’re going for an illustrator job interview? Then it’s likely that pages and pages of your typesetting and web design skills aren’t going to land you the job. You can create different portfolios for different jobs, or make it much easier with a portfolio book with removable inserts or pages.

  1. Show Off

Tailoring your portfolio to specific jobs is important, but also remember to showcase your various skills that complement each other. It’s doubtful that you are only skilled in one area of the field. Add different types of projects to your portfolio so you aren’t showing 20 pages of the same thing, but keep in mind that they should all flow together so it seems like the same person’s portfolio.

  1. Keep The Flow

When you have your chosen few, make sure they work well together. Keep your personal brand in mind and ask yourself or even an outsider if it looks like the same person did all of this work? Keep the pieces flowing nicely from one to another, whether it be the same type of project, or even just similar colors, angles, etc. A nice flowing portfolio will make it easier to view and understand, and look very professional.

  1. Add Interest to Your Portfolio

Add pictures of you working. Process photos are very cool, and will give your employers an insight into the way you work. It also gives your viewer an instant understanding into how it was made. Sketches, design alternatives, etc. are all great as well.

Add in some street cred. Includes quotes from your clients about the projects you created for them.

Close-Ups. Close-up photos of your work shows off the extra details of your work, especially if you chose a cool textured paper or other interesting material.

  1. Review, Remove, Add, Repeat

Keep in mind that trends, techniques, and technology are always changing, so do regular maintenance on your book by removing old irrelevant work and replacing with fresh work. Bring your book to portfolio reviews, get outsider’s opinions, etc. A fresh, second eye with a non-biased opinion is a great way to catch flaws in your book. Check for grammar and spelling mistakes, and make sure everything looks professional and well thought-out.

  1. Online Portfolios

Last, but most definitely not least, don’t forget about an online portfolio. This is a 24/7 sales tool for your work. Again, best work only, and follow the guidelines that you used for your printed portfolio; complementary work, nice-flowing, and professional. As with your printed work, do regular maintenance to your site or try to set a schedule where you update frequently and remove old, irrelevant work. Updating frequently will keep your site higher in google searches as well. Starting a blog and posting frequently with content such as work in progress, behind the scenes, stories of your design processe, inspiration from other sites, and educational posts are all good ways to keep your content fresh on your personal website.

Not a web designer? Sites such as Squarespace, Behance, Carbonmade, and WordPress are all easy ways to get your work online, for free or a low monthly fee. Another cool way to show your work online is on Instagram, which can be kind of an unofficial portfolio, but also a nice trendy way to get your work out there.

Be proud of your brand, use it show to what your capable of, and show it off!

About the author

Ashley Bojc is a Senior Graphic Designer in Cleveland, Ohio. When she’s not designing or writing content she spends her time learning and playing guitar, hanging out with her dog, and saying “hi” to every dog she meets.

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