How to make a graphic design portfolio: The “must-know” tips and tricks
You’re a graphic designer.
No, you’re the graphic designer.
You’re ready and raring to enter the competitive world of graphic design with nothing but a wish, a prayer, and a whole bucketful of talent — and that’s all you need, right?
Take your wishes, take your prayers, take your buckets of talent, and use them to create the most beautiful, the most stunning, the most unique graphic design portfolio that anybody has ever seen.
Then you’ll be ready.
“But how?” we hear you ask. Don’t worry, we’ve got that bit covered.
Read on as we show you exactly how to create a branding and graphic design portfolio that will supercharge your career and allow you to perfectly showcase your work to attract and entice your potential clients.
How to make a graphic design portfolio
First things first, to make an effective and professional graphic design portfolio, you’ll need to get the basics right.
Here are the simple ins and outs of creating your portfolio.
Plan, plan, plan
If you fail to prepare, then prepare to…actually no, you’re smart — you know that you have to prepare in order to succeed. So we’re not going to preach to you about making sure you’ve got your ducks in a row — your ducks are already the crème de la crème of organization.
Instead, we’re going to simply recommend creating a template for your portfolio. Because if your skeleton is on point, then all you need to do is add in your wonderful work and you’re all set and ready to go.
And speaking of templates, try out VistaCreate’s graphic design portfolio template. It’s quick, easy, beautifully created, and perfect for showcasing your obvious genius. And if nothing else, it can be a great starting point for generating some ideas for art portfolio themes.
Gather and showcase your best bits
Let’s say you’re a slick graphic web designer, and you’ve got a whole bunch of creative portfolio-worthy pieces in your back pocket just ready and waiting to be used.
It’s simple advice, but you’d be surprised at how many designers essentially hide their best portfolio pieces behind a click or two instead of making them the first thing the reader sees.
You need to identify your prize pieces, then literally (figuratively) put them in the shop window for everyone to gaze upon in wonder.
Simple, yet effective.
There’s a saying in marketing that “people buy from people.” And the same is true here — people aren’t just hiring your skills, they’re hiring a person to work alongside them.
So it seems pretty weird to not introduce yourself, right?
Your portfolio title page should always include a short, sharp, personable introduction that introduces who you are, what your experience is, and a few personal facts about yourself if you’re feeling extra friendly.
Now we’re not saying you should tell them every single thing about yourself, or divulge all of your deepest darkest secrets in the hope that you’ll create a connection with them. But just give them a hint of who you are so they can warm up to you as well as your work.
Include a case study
Case studies are invaluable tools for any freelancer or business.
Let’s say a client is scouring the web looking for help. Their website is dated, their clients are disgruntled, and they’re looking for a fresh new look to help boost their numbers — they need help.
Suddenly they come across your portfolio, and what’s this? A real-life example case study that details how you helped your client update their website, ungruntle their clients, and boost their numbers? And there’s even a little testimonial from your past client outlining how great you are?
Including a rich and colorful case study can seriously impress potential clients, boost their confidence in you, and even push them over the edge in their decision to hire you.
Almost seems silly not to.
4 quick “wish you’d known” tips for graphic designers
When you’re just starting out in a competitive field, you’re kinda just learning as you go.
But once you’ve racked up some experience, you will likely look back on your early days and think “well ah gee whizz, I sure do wish I’d known then what I know now.” (For some reason, future you talks like a cartoon character.)
But gee golly gosh (now you’ve got us doing it), wouldn’t it be nice if you could learn those lessons before you started?
Here are 4 quick tips to help you get up and running.
1. Start small
The best tip we can give you is to start off by making every single one of your designs tiny — in fact, so small that you could fit each one on a minuscule little post-it note.
This is actually a tip on building your client base so that you can in turn create a more varied, professional portfolio. And the best way to get started is by reaching out to small, local businesses in your area, or non-profit organizations in need of a hand.
By offering your services to smaller businesses, you can get some much-needed experience doing client work, and the businesses can get work done by a professional designer for an affordable price (or for free if you’re feeling extra generous).
Once you’ve completed a few professional jobs, you’ll have a much better understanding of the challenges clients can potentially pose, as well as potentially learning new skills or developing your understanding of skills you already have.
2. Imprint your personality
When push comes to shove, your work will only get you so far.
Unless you’re the best thing since Leonardo da Vinci’s sliced bread (although we bet you are, you freakin’ superstar), then you will be in a chockablock market full of people just like you — with similar experience levels and gleaming portfolios.
So sure, if a client is picking between you and three other near-identical marketing graphic designers, you’ll have a 25% chance of being picked.
But not great…
Realistically, you don’t want to rely on the roll of a die to consistently land work.
So how do you push that number up to a 50% chance? Or even a 75% chance?
Or, dare we say it, a 100% chance?
The answer to this question is simple, if not hard to execute: You make yourself stand out by highlighting what makes you unique.
So far, you’ve poured your considerably large amount of design talent into your portfolio — so now let’s pour the rest of you in as well.
As we said before, don’t forget that when someone hires you they’re not just hiring your expertise, they’re also hiring you as a person. And by imprinting parts of your personality into your portfolio, you’re giving them a good idea of what they’re going to be getting from working with you.
And that can often tip the scales in your favor.
3. Make use of social media
Social media is an absolute godsend for freelancers and small business owners — and this is especially true if you’re in a creative field.
Sites like TikTok and Instagram can do wonders for your marketability and can help you spread your work to each and every corner of the world.
In fact, these sites can almost act as your own little side portfolio.
People love to endlessly scroll through social media pages, and if you can showcase exciting, eye-catching designs, then you can easily bring in more potential clients through social media.
4. Always think about your audience
This is a pretty broad tip. Because really, every single step you take in your graphic design career should be done with the aim of pleasing your audience.
From the pieces you create to the portfolio examples you provide, everything should be done to attract and please your target audience. Because the more they like you and your work, the more work you’ll get — it’s really that simple.
5 exceedingly excellent examples
For the visual learners out there, we’ve put together a compilation of some of the best online graphic design portfolio examples for you to peruse and learn from. And trust us, there’s some doozies in here.
Remember when we talked about imprinting your personality on your portfolio? Well this is exactly what we mean.
If there’s one thing you can say about Rainando Rendi’s “Damn” commercial graphic design portfolio, it’s that he’s not shy about putting his own personal spin on things.
And when he kicks things off by saying that he’s passionate about getting sh*t done – it’s safe to say that you know exactly what kind of person you’re going to be dealing with.
We hate to be the one to state the obvious joke, but this portfolio really does make you go “daaaaamn.”
2. Alex Fisher
Have you ever heard the idiom “the proof is in the pudding”?
It basically means that you can only properly judge something once you’ve experienced it. And we’ll be damned if Alex Fisher doesn’t give us an experience with this portfolio.
Right from the outset, you enter a world of exquisite design. She’s even made the mouse cursor a piece of art that had us moving it around in an almost trance-like state — and that’s before you even get to her actual showcased work.
This website is truly a masterpiece of design that showcases a talented visual designer’s portfolio work — and it’s certainly a great example of what you can achieve with a bit of imagination (and ridiculous talent).
We’re going continental with our next example as we dive into France — the home of graphic designer Sylvain de la Porte.
In a classically French manner, Sylvain’s portfolio is full of class, sleek designs, and beautiful simplicité.
Everything about this website is perfectly designed, from the scrolling effects that smooth your journey to the breathtaking portfolio examples that ooze confidence, skill, and experience.
We’re going to stay with our continental vibe as we take a look at German-born (now New York-living) Tobias van Schneider.
Tobias’ portfolio takes you on a whole new journey. He perfectly showcases his work, matches everything with good copy, and he even has a blog where he lays out his processes and throws in some thought leadership.
This perfectly illustrates how a portfolio can be so much more than just a collection of your work.
If an all-singing, all-dancing portfolio isn’t up your street, then remember that there is power in simplicity.
Nisha K. Sethi showcases this power perfectly. Because after all, it can be incredibly easy to be drawn into filling every single inch of your portfolio with your work — but it takes a lot of confidence to effectively utilize white space.
And as a designer, you know that white space can say so much more than a mishmash of design work can — which is why this digital design portfolio truly stands out.
Invest in your own talent
Your portfolio showcases everything that you are as a graphic designer.
Whether it’s a commercial graphic design portfolio or a logo design portfolio, you want it to fizz, pop, and lure people in so that they can bear witness to your blossoming talent.
So what are you waiting for?
Get out there and start designing.
And for those of you who haven’t just scurried away to get started on your dream portfolio, how would you like to use your talent to help others (and make a bit of extra cash on the side)?
Check out VistaCreate’s “Create, contribute, and earn” program, where you can use your design skills to create and contribute new templates for VistaCreate, and get paid to do it.
Just follow the link here to get started.