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What Goes in Beginner's Graphic Design Portfolios

Creating Samples of Work That Doesn't Exist


You need samples to get the job but you need the job in order to have samples. That old Catch-22 doesn't have to stop you from putting together a good graphic design portfolio. It just requires a bit more creativity.

These tips aren't only for those just starting out. For example, if you've done mostly business cards and letterhead but want to let clients know that you can do more, use these ideas to show off your skill in designing other types of publications.

Use Made-Up Samples in Graphic Design Portfolios

Generally potential clients aren't as concerned with who your clients are as they are with what you can do for them. In a pinch, a made-up piece can be just as effective as something you created for a real client.
"When I first started my portfolio was real wimpy looking but it grew over time." — JDELCOR


  • Use Freebies for Friends and Family
    Show off work you did for others, even if they didn't hire you. Do you design the newsletter for your school or print fliers for your garden club? Use the best of those pieces. Design business cards for family and friends. I've done business cards (laser printed) for my dad's hobby, another relative's office job (they didn't supply any), and others who probably wouldn't have bothered to get cards if I hadn't offered to do a few for free.

    At one point my graphic design portfolio contained samples I created for my father's business. He gets his clients by word-of-mouth entirely and doesn't use business cards, letterhead, ads, etc. However, I still sat down and went through the process of coming up with some logo ideas. He was willing to look at the designs and pick out a few that he might consider if he were going to use a logo. Those samples went into my portfolio.


  • Put in Your Own Identity Pieces
    The identity pieces you create for your own business can be a part of your graphic design portfolio. You can even include items that a client might not normally see such as your own custom quote forms (for printers) or job tracking forms.


  • Put in Personal Design Projects
    Do you make your own holiday or birthday cards? Include the best of them in your portfolio. Do you have a personal Web page? Include screen shots or high-resolution print outs of any custom graphics you created for your Web site.


  • Use Tutorial Pieces
    You should know how to use your software before you start hiring out your services. One way to learn the software is to use it to create the same types of items you'll be doing for clients — brochures, newsletters, ads, etc. Use the finished pieces from your own tutorials for your graphic design portfolio.


  • Use Rejects (Carefully)
    Normally you'd use only the finished designs you created for a client. However, if you have only a few clients you might consider including the best of the preliminary designs you created in order to better show your range.

    As you produce new pieces for clients (paying or not) replace the less impressive items in your portfolio with the new samples. Graphic design portfolios aren't static creations. They should grow and change as your expertise grows.

    "Only put the work that you are the most proud of in. DO NOT put average work in your portfolio simply because it's a printed piece. Many young designers make this mistake. It would also help for you to put together a Xeroxed booklet of your sketches. With a young designer, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether their work is more a reflection of the professor, art director or client. Showing your sketches will give a hint of your thought process." ChrisGee; On the Graphic Design Forum

    After you've decided what will go in your graphic design portfolio (and created those pieces if you're just starting out) you'll need to decide how best to present those samples. As our Graphic Design Portfolios lessons continue we'll explore portfolio cases and how to assemble your samples as well as how to present your work to potential employers and clients.

    Next Page > What kind of graphic design portfolio case you need

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