A Guide to Creating a Graphic Design Portfolio

Creating a graphic design portfolio website from scratch doesn't have to be difficult. These tips will assist graphic designers build a portfolio at any stage in their career.

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With the advent and increased accessibility of graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, the ability to pursue graphic designer in either a full-time professional or freelance capacity has been easier than ever. But because design is a universal language, you will need to be able to stand out to clients in a crowded marketplace. One of the easiest ways to do this is to start compiling your work and create a graphic design portfolio website.

It may seem like an intimidating task to display your design work in a portfolio for the world to see, but a design portfolio is the best way to help you stand out and display your unique brand of design to the world. A graphic design portfolio website will be your virtual calling card that will help to establish and communicate what makes you unique in the field of graphic design and why you're the best person for the job. Creating a graphic design portfolio won't happen overnight, but we're here to help you through every step of the way.

Whether you're just starting your career, aiming for the position of art director, applying to design school, or looking to stand out from other designers and gain clients, these resources will assist you at every step of your journey as you compile, complete, and continue to update your design portfolio website.

How Do I Make a Graphic Design Portfolio?

Gone are the days of carrying around a large binder full of perfectly printed design work categorized by style. While that approach may have been the standard 20 years ago, graphic design portfolios have fortunately evolved along with advances the technology. Graphic design work is now standardly hosted on a portfolio website and can now be made easily accessible to potential clients all over the world via the quick click of a button.

We know you're a graphic designer, not a web designer, and that's why Format has pre-made, easy to use website templates specifically made for the needs of graphic designers and their portfolios. All Format templates come with built-in promotional tools, can be customized without coding, are optimized for mobile, have high-quality image rendering, and many more features that make the process easy and straightforward.

The first step you'll take in making a graphic design portfolio is to choose a template that best reflects your personal brand and graphic design work. Your template will dictate the general look and layout of your website and it's important to keep your target audience in mind when deciding on a template and what you're trying to accomplish by creating a portfolio website. If you're a student you may want to choose one that accommodates all the required documents, while if you're an established professional, you may go with a more simple and sleek layout that allows your work to speak for itself. Remember, you can always customize elements to each template later on, so if you don't like one element of your portfolio website, you can always work to change it.

Once you've selected your template, it's time to start personalizing your design portfolio to make it reflect your own unique style. During this process, you will want to do things like customize your menu, add a biography, contact information, pick a color scheme, and start uploading your work to your liking. Remember, you're the graphic designer, so you know what's most appealing to the eye. If you approach your portfolio from a design point of view it will make the process feel more creative and ultimately more fun.

What Should I Include in a Student Graphic Design Portfolio?

What you include in your portfolio website will depend on what stage you're at in your career as a graphic designer. Whether you're just starting off or an established professional looking to gain new clients, here are some tips for what to include in your graphic design portfolio at each stage in your career.

What to Include in a Graphic Design Portfolio for University or College Students?

Whether you're applying to a graphic design program at university or already enrolled, putting together a graphic design portfolio will be a critical starting point in launching your design career. If you're using the portfolio to apply to a university program, make sure that you review all requirements prior to compiling a portfolio. Some programs will specifically ask for certain types of work or case studies, while others will allow you to put together a portfolio that showcases all types of design. Commonly requested items are animation, logo designs, packaging, and product design. If you're currently enrolled in a graphic design program, pick a few pieces of campaigns you're most proud of to launch your portfolio. If you're already enrolled in a college or university program, pick a few of your most well-received projects or designs you're most proud of to showcase in your portfolio. As you go through school, be sure to update your portfolio with your most recent work to ensure your graphic design portfolio reflects your most recent and current style as an emerging designer.

Curate Your Best Work. Although you may not have a large pool of work to choose from, take the time to sort through all your projects to pick out your best work to showcase. This can include work done for fun, for family, or for school. If you find you don't have enough work to compile a complete portfolio, take the time to pursue freelance graphic work for fun or for a client. Designing items for friends and family or designing mocks-ups of a favorite product or brand can help build your portfolio. If you're stuck on what to design, take a look at these 7 Graphic Design Projects to Cure Your Creative Block. As you go through school and start to accumulate a larger body of work, you can take the time to select your most recent or best pieces for your portfolio website.

Personalize Your Portfolio. Make sure to include your name on the home page as well as a section that allows people to get to know you as both a designer and a person. Talk about where your main interests are in terms of design, what type of career you hope to pursue, and include contact information like e-mail address and phone number. If you are looking to pursue a career as a product designer or logo designer, make sure they work in your portfolio reflects your area of interest.

Graphic Design Portfolio Example

Graphic Design student Sierra Bisbould has used the Order Theme to create a sleek and simple student-style graphic design portfolio. The expanded left side menu allows for clear navigation through the entirety of her portfolio and allows her to display different collections of work. Sierra has also made sure to include a biography with her contact information to let potential clients know a little more about her and her interests as an up and coming designer. Sierra has also integrated links to her social media pages which will allow people to take a deeper dive into who she is as a designer.

What Should my Graphic Design Portfolio Look Like As An Entry or Mid-Level Designer?

You've finished school and now the purpose of your portfolio has shifted - you're aiming to land clients and paid jobs as a professional graphic design professional. This new stage in your journey in graphic design will be reflected in your portfolio and the items you showcase in that portfolio may look a little different from the ones you curated while in school. You're now in the field competing with the best graphic designers out there and your portfolio will need to reflect your desire to compete with the best graphic designers from around the world.

Showcase Diversity and Your Best Work. You're out of school and looking to land a job as either a full-time or freelance graphic designer and that means your design portfolio website is going to look a little different than a student based portfolio site. While you can include work from school projects, you will want to pick your absolute best designs to establish yourself as a trusted professional graphic designer. Pick pieces that showcase your unique brand of design as a way to set you apart from others in a competitive field. And while everyone has their strengths as a graphic designer, your designer portfolio should include a diverse range of pieces to show that you can do all different types of graphic design. A studio or an art director is more likely to hire a designer who can do many different types of graphic design.

Preparing Portfolios for Interviews. You've landed an interview for your dream graphic design job and now it's time to make sure your portfolio reflects their desired requirements. Take a look at the job description and then review your design portfolio to see if their brand matches your personal style. Highlight pieces that will be your primary area of focus, but don't be afraid to still show your range of skills by including pieces from all areas of graphic design. Whether you're applying to be a creative director or looking at a more entry-level role, your portfolio will need to showcase that you're the best fit for the position.

Portfolios for Attracting Clients as a Freelance Designer. Different clients want different types of design, so as a freelancer, it's critically important to showcase your diverse range of design abilities. Your designer portfolio should not only include a variety of different types of design but different styles within the different design categories. 

What Are Some Examples of Graphic Design Portfolio Websites for Inspiration?

Format templates allow for graphic designers to create stand out and fully customizable portfolio websites that let them showcase the full scope of their talent as a designer. From students to full-time professionals, these designers used Format website portfolio templates and have some of the best graphic design portfolio examples to browse through for inspiration. These portfolio website templates are fully customizable, mobile-friendly, come with social media integration, and much more.

Nico Gibson

Chicago based designer Nico Gibson used the elegant and refined design of the Stockholm template to display his graphic design work. Utilizing white space to its fullest, Nico took a simplistic and minimalist approach compared to more traditional graphic design portfolios. With projects displayed in collections of high-quality images, the horizontal scroll format makes the portfolio website easy to navigate. Nico has also made sure to describe the context and story behind each collection and his design work to ensure potential clients or employers understand the full scope of his thinking as a professional graphic designer.

Format Template: Stockholm

Dizaynah

With three years of experience as a graphic designer, Dizaynah has created a graphic design portfolio that all entry-level designers will want to emulate. Youthful, fun, and image forward, Dizaynah has created a design portfolio that both make good use of white space while still maintaining an appealing visual design. Dizaynah, who also goes by Jeanne Le Bras, specializes in magazine and catalog design and has opted to display her eye for great design by using a tiled layout. Visitors can click an image right from the home page and horizontally scroll through each featured magazine design. The straightforward and simple menu also allows potential clients to view Dizaynah's full range of graphic design capabilities including logo design and motion design.

Format Template: Amazon

Steve Attardo

A high profile and respected New York based graphic designer with experience in art direction, Steve Attardo has a graphic design portfolio that could even make the most senior designer envious. The Slate template Steve has chosen exposes the potential of how truly customizable Format templates can be. A parallax scroll and smooth page transitions allow for images to get the full attention they deserve in your graphic design portfolio. The grid layout allows people to view your best designs right on the home page of your portfolio website. Steve has also chosen a template that has a sticky menu - a great feature for a design portfolio that wants to emphasize exploration.

Format Template: Slate

What Are Some Best Practices For Graphic Design Portfolio Websites?

Web design - like graphic design - goes through trends in what's considered best practice. Some graphic design portfolio websites will be more basic and focus on simplicity, while others will have brilliant colors that instantly grab your attention. Whatever your design portfolio style, here are a few items to consider before you start to build your portfolio website.

Branding. Have a consistent look at your website that reflects your design work. If your work has a more modern style, design your portfolio to reflect your brand. If you want to convey a fun or quirky style, try integrating colors that represent who you are and the work you create. Your branding should be obvious right from the time visitors enter the home page of your website and communicate what kind of designer you are.

Navigation. Make sure navigation is clearly labeled and easy to find for all visitors. Too many words in a menu heading can be confusing so keep your design portfolio navigation straightforward. For example, if you have a page directing visitors to samples of interface design, simply label the menu heading "interface design." While you can have many labels on your navigation as you see fit, graphic design portfolios should have a menu bar that's sleek and straightforward. If visitors are having a difficult time finding something it may cause them to exit your portfolio website and quickly make their way to the next designer in line. Here are some items to consider:

  • Does the number of menu headings make the website look cluttered or navigation confusing?

  • Dropdown menu - do you need one or does it interfere with the navigation of the page?

  • Does the look of the menu match the rest of the website?

  • Is the menu easy to find?

Galleries. Consider the type of work you've chosen to display in your graphic design portfolio before selecting the format for how you plan to present your portfolio of work. You may prefer horizontal scroll to vertical, or full-bleed images as opposed to parallax scroll. Will people be consuming your portfolio on mobile devices or on a desktop? Take a look at different templates and portfolios to see what type of gallery would be best suited to display to make your designer portfolio look its best.

Contact Information. Whether you put a full bio or just basic contact information is really up to you. A full biography can personalize your portfolio let potential clients know where your interests lie and what your work style and preferences are. Including one in a graphic design portfolio is not mandatory, but it is recommended. At the very least, it is important to include your name, e-mail address, address, and phone number.

Do Graphic Designers Get Paid Well?

Like any design field, your salary often depends on your level of experience and where or how you commission your graphic design work. The average salary for a graphic designer is $50,465 with the range dependent upon years of experience or how many clients you are able to take on. Intermediate designers who hold an extensive portfolio of work often make a salary of over $85,000. Negotiating a salary and rates is an important part of the graphic design field and your portfolio can be used for leverage in your negotiations.