How to Create a Graphic Design Print Portfolio (with Examples)

How to Create a Graphic Design Print Portfolio (with Examples)

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Just as Zoom doesn’t give you a way to shake hands, a digital portfolio doesn’t deliver a satisfying tactile experience for prospective clients. This article will teach you how to create a graphic design print portfolio.

Research has shown that, even for a visual medium like graphic design, physically interacting with a presentation is far more powerful than interacting with it virtually.

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Touching paper and turning pages produces a deeper emotional response, is perceived as a more “real” experience by the human brain, and increases the amount of information the reader retains.

For you, that means a print portfolio will get a client much more excited about your work and make them more likely to remember it. And that’s how you get more work.


What is a Print Portfolio?

A print-based graphic design portfolio is a creative brand statement expressed on paper (or any other material). It’s a physical representation of who you are, the work you do, your experience, your skills, and your point of view.

And it is a key element of your overall marketing strategy. Generally, it contains images of your work, information about you and your experience, skills, clients, bio, artist statement, etc., and your contact information, social media, and website.

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Create a Print Portfolio
Create a Print Portfolio. Image Credit: Liam Nguyen


Should You Create a Print Portfolio?

In the technological age, most designers understand that an online presence is necessary to create credibility and help customers find you. But don’t overlook the need for a physical design portfolio. This essential branding and marketing asset lets your clients hold your work, flip through the pages, and interact with it in an entirely different and more tangible way than a website.

A printed portfolio helps you market your services by:

  • Showing off your print design skills
  • Creating a tactile experience that makes more emotional impact and will be remembered longer
  • Presenting it in a format that makes it for the reader to focus and to absorb
  • Telling customers you’re willing and able to invest in your business by creating a print marketing piece
  • Leaving a customer with an eye-catching piece that sits on their desk and keeps you top of mind


11 Tips for Creating a Knock-Out Print Portfolio for Your Graphic Design Work

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When you create a print portfolio, you’re telling your artistic story, so each element you use to tell it should be intentional and resonate with the reader. Carefully consider each aspect of your composition, from the font you choose to the paper, to the quality of printing. These tips can help you create a printed portfolio that customers won’t forget.

1. Ideate

Start by thinking about what you want to include, what you want to say, how you want your portfolio to look and feel, and what kind of work you want to attract.

When selecting work for your portfolio:

  • Think about how to organize or categorize it so it tells a story.
  • Include work that illustrates the type of work you’d like to get.
  • Demonstrate your versatility.
  • Show additional skills. If you’re also a writer, photographer, or printmaker, then include it.
  • Provide written context for the work.
Graphic Design Print Portfolio
Graphic Design Print Portfolio. Image credit: Benjamin Sauteur

2. Let Your Work Speak for Itself

Design is a visual medium. Go heavy on photographs that let the audience focus on your work while providing just enough information to create a framework and complete the story. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s because images tend to stick with us long after we’ve seen them. And you’re certainly more likely to close the deal with a customer who remembers your work long after they put down your portfolio. 


3. Keep it Simple

Keep the focus on your work by giving it space and minimizing distractions on the page. That doesn’t necessarily mean a big white space around each image. But it does mean you want the images to be the first element the eye is drawn to. Text, graphic elements, and background colors should not overwhelm your work.

Resume. Image Credit: Eve Lyn Lau


4. Create a Consistent Look

Your portfolio is a key piece of your personal branding. When you meet with someone, they have probably seen your website. The experience should be consistent, but still distinct.

Make sure your portfolio echoes your website without being a paper version of it. Use similar fonts, color values, lines, contrast etc., but highlight different work and vary layouts. If your print portfolio includes multiple pieces – such as business cards, postcards, a resume, etc., make sure they create a cohesive look.

Create a Consistent Look with your Portfolio
Create a Consistent Look with your Portfolio. Image credit: Nathan Hinz

5. Select Size and Format

Portfolios can be any shape or size. You may choose a single large sheet that folds up to a compact size or large layout the size of a coffee table book. Many designers use a book format.

But you can get creative with a newspaper layout, a package of postcards, or a folder containing a separate resume, business card, and work samples. Some considerations when choosing a format include how much work you’re including, whether you’ll be mailing it, and your budget.

Unusual formats make for eye-catching portfolios. But, before you fully customize every aspect, consider using standard presentation materials. It can keep costs down and make layout easy since templates are available for products like presentation folders, envelopes, and 3-ring binders. You can find a lot of free templates online which you can edit in all formats and download them at ease.

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Size and Format.
Size and Format. Image credit: Petr Tanko

6. Pick Your Paper

Choose a stock that works for your budget, your brand aesthetic, the feel you want, and the way the paper will be used. For example, if your portfolio is going to unfold like a newspaper, select a stock that will provide that experience.

Considerations to keep in mind when choosing stock include:

  • Weight – Paper weights are measured in grams. GSM stands for Grams per Square Meter. The higher the GSM number, the heavier and thicker the paper. A lighter stock may create a magazine feel, whereas you’ll need a heavier stock if you’re adding a die-cut to your piece.
  • Coating – Coatings protect paper and keep the ink on the surface of the paper, making text and images appear more vivid and defined. There are several options[SB1], including gloss, which provides a shiny surface; satin, which is less shiny and shows fewer fingerprints; and matte, which protects paper without reflectivity. You can also opt for uncoated stock which will provide a more natural look and absorb ink, so images and artwork look softer.
  • Texture – The texture of your paper determines how your portfolio feels in your customer’s hands and affects how your artwork reproduces. Images look crisp on a smooth surface but take on some depth and variation on textured linen or felt stock.
Special Design Touches
Special Design Touches. Image credit: Conduit Studio

7. Add Special Touches

Take full advantage of the medium. Print offers some fun ways to add texture, shine, and dimension to your portfolio. You may want to add a little pizzazz with foil stamping or make an impression (pun intended) with embossing or debossing. You can also use die cuts to add an interesting window or edge or create a completely unique shape for your portfolio.


8. Make a Matching Mailer

The impression your portfolio makes starts the moment your customer receives it. If they’re getting it in the mail, that means your packaging will make the first impression. If you’re going to be sending your portfolio, you’ll want to print a portfolio envelope that creates a high-end introduction to your work.


9. Find a Good Printer

A portfolio is a big investment. Make sure you’re working with a printer who can deliver great quality and peace of mind.

  • Quality – Make sure you’re going to be getting a good quality finished product by looking at samples of similar jobs.
  • Responsiveness – You want a printer who is available and will make it right if there’s a problem. Check to see that they answer the phone, and you can easily get ahold of someone when you need to. And check out Google reviews – they usually tell a pretty accurate story.
  • Consultation – Call and ask if you can get a free consultation. Regardless of your level of print experience, you want to work with an expert you can bounce ideas off.
  • Selection – Go through the printer’s website to make sure they have a broad selection of products, papers, imprints, die cuts and overall ability to do any customer project.
  • Warranty – An average printer gives you two weeks to inspect your items, but if you order for a client, it’s not realistic to ask them to check each piece within two weeks. Make sure your printer has at least a one-year warranty. We like Company Folders, Inc. for their lifetime warranty.
Find a good printer
Find a good Printer. Image credit: Andree Nguyen

10. Take Photos of Your Portfolio

Once you’ve created an amazing portfolio, you’ll want good pictures of it for your website. It’s an example of your work and an opportunity to demonstrate your branding skills to visitors to your digital portfolio. You may also use it as a lead magnet, sending it out to prospects who provide contact information or join your email list.

With some basic photography know-how and a DSLR camera, you are just a few steps away from great photos of your portfolio. Start by creating a well-lit space with a background that isn’t distracting. Take your photos in a brightly lit room—the best light is natural light so you might pick a spot near a window.

Or consider buying or making a lightbox. Make sure to shoot your work from angles that show it clearly and capture interesting details. And take your time and try different combinations of light, backgrounds, and angles until you get images you love. Then use an editing tool to get composition, color, and contrast just the way you want them.


11. Aim for “Wow”

The goal of a great print portfolio is simply to make your customers say “Wow!” It is a piece of art and a sales pitch that both shows and tells a prospective client what you can do for their brand.

These tips will help you use your design skills to market yourself in a powerful and compelling way. So, have fun, show off a little, and dazzle your customers with a thoroughly well thought out and well-crafted presentation.


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