Daily Archives: May 25, 2008

Planning and Assembling a Print Portfolio

Over the last few weeks, I have spent nearly every free moment sweating the details of my print portfolio. Besides deciding on a format and size, I had to develop a general format for the pages and repeatedly revise the selection of pieces to include.

While designing a print portfolio is a requirement for me to graduate, it’s a great thing to have on-hand as a designer whether you’re in school or not. Pointing to your work on a computer screen during an interview doesn’t have the same effect as a person being able to flip through printed pages of your work at their own pace!

Size and Format

I chose the 11 x 17 inch landscape size for my portfolio because I wanted the printouts to be large enough to show off the details. Much of my work is related to branding and publication design (many have multiple items showcased across a page) so the long, horizontal space in the landscape format worked perfectly. Other common portfolio options are 8.5 x 11 inches and 11 x 14 inches.

There are a number of options when assembling a portfolio. You can mount your work on archival quality matboard, use a carrying case-style portfolio with handles, and even design a book (bind it by hand or use an on-demand print service like Lulu.com). Or, you can choose from a variety of cover options. I picked a screwpost cover that can easily be expanded.  


I wanted a sturdy, professional-grade portfolio that wasn’t black (too boring for me!) and luckily, The Office had a white acrylic version in stock. It’s the Vista Screwpost Cover in Snow and if you spend over $75.00 right now, you get free shipping!For sheet protectors, I chose the Pina Zangaro polypropylene version that are the heaviest weight you can buy and also lined in black archival paper. These run $35.00 for a pack of 10 (they can hold 20 pieces back-to-back) and are worth the price for the sturdiness, especially if you’re printing on plain copy paper like I am. These sheets are easy to remove and work slides into the top opening effortlessly.

Page Design

Personally, I tend to shy away from flashy, multi-diminsional graphics in favor of clean, classic layouts that let my work breathe. Because of this, I placed pieces on white backgrounds with simple descriptions in the lower right corner. I did add one burst of color with the corresponding project numbers in a bold, 80s gradient; it adds a unifying sense to the 16 pages of work and the colors match my personal brand identity (not the Nubby Twiglet grays and blacks!)  

Page Examples:


Fountains of Wayne CD packaging (Virgin records)  
Kiss Me Deadly movie poster (Supertrash Fest / Fantagraphic Books)

2008 double-sided calendar (Nubbytwiglet.com)

T-shirt and tote graphic (GalaDarling.com)  

Choosing Work

When choosing work to showcase in your portfolio, consider the following guidelines:

1. Make sure it’s your best work:
If you’re not confident about a piece, it’s probably not a good idea to include it. The last thing you need to do during an interview is to defend a piece or talk about what you would have done differently.

2. Quality over Qualtity:
It’s better to show 10 fantastic pieces instead of 20 mediocre ones. Enough said.

3. Variety:
Even if you have a favorite area of design, including 15 similar pieces showcasing the same skills will probably bore the interviewer beyond belief. Though I love developing brand identities, I stopped after adding in four very different examples. Mix it up and showcase a good cross-section of your talents in the process.

4. Start with your Best / End With your Best:
Start the portfolio with your strongest piece. This will grab the interviewer’s interest and hopefully engage them enough to continue through the rest of your work. The final piece should seal their impression that you’re a talented, class-act.

Additional Resources:

1. An amazing hand-bound portfolio that resembles a glossy design book takes some serious dedication!

2. Presenting Your Portfolio is an inspiring story about a recent graduate who walks into a lobby to meet the head of a famous design department for an interview…when his portfolio collapses and all of his original work gets strewn across the ground. The story has a good ending: he still got the job!

3. Hugely successful designer Michael Beirut takes us down memory lane and shows us the actual contents of his portfolio, circa 1978!

4. A.I. Friedman in New York has a fantastic selection of presentation and storage options, including Pina Zangaro portfolios and is a favorite destination of mine!