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What Goes in Graphic Design Portfolios

Choosing Samples of Your Work


You already know that portfolios should contain examples of your work, but which samples and in what format?

Put Your Best Foot Forward in a Graphic Design Portfolio

In general, you want to show that work which best shows off your skills and expertise. If you aren't comfortable with a piece (even if the client loved it) you're probably better off leaving it out of your graphic design portfolio.
  1. Actual samples
    Whenever possible, use actual samples. That is, if you did a four-color brochure for a client, put one of the original brochures in your graphic design portfolio rather than an inkjet copy. Anytime you do a job for a client, request extra copies in the print run. Some clients might be willing to part with a few gratis but normally you'd pay for extras yourself. It may be wise to stipulate in your contract how many portfolio or sample pieces you'll receive. Use these in your graphic design portfolio and as non-returnable samples sent to potential clients.
    "When I work, I stipulate that I am permitted to use their project for portfolio use, then I ask for a few copies of the finished product to add to my collection." — SueBee


    • Tear sheets
      If your work involves items that appear in some other larger publication (such as ads in newspapers or yellow pages or illustrations used in a magazine) get your hands on multiple copies of the original publication. Tear out the page where your work appears.


    • Copies
      If you can't get originals then use proofs printed from your digital files to your desktop printer. Or, make the best photocopies you can of the original printed pieces.


    • Photographs
      If your work involves designs that are too large or odd-shaped to fit in traditional graphic design portfolios (large boxes, billboards), get the best photographs you can of the finished pieces. You might also want to accompany these photographs with smaller printouts of the digital files you worked from.


    • Screen shots
      If your work involves Web design or other non-print designs you can still put together printed portfolios. Make screen shots of the work or print Web pages from your Web browser. Since screen resolution may not always print crisp and clear you may want to include high-resolution printouts of special logos or other graphics you created for screen display.
      TIP: Even if the logo or graphics you design are for Web display, start out with a high-resolution version and save it at various stages. You never know when a client will decide they want to use the design in print. And of course, that high-resolution version will look nicer in your printed graphic design portfolio.

If you have a large body of work to choose from, your toughest decision is deciding which pieces to include and which to omit. However, when just starting out you may have little — or nothing — to put in your portfolio. Beginner's design portfolios may require a bit more creativity but it can be done. Designers who want to change their focus or who want to fill in gaps in their portfolos can also use the beginner's portfolio tips.

Next Page > What goes in beginner's graphic design portfolios

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