How to Build Your Graphic Design Portfolio – Print, PDF, or Website? (2024)

Not sure which portfolio format to use when displaying your work? The big options are print, PDF, or a website — here’s where each gets you.

A graphic design portfolio is a compilation of a designer’s work, both personal and professional, in an easy-to-view format. But portfolios are so much more than neatly organized images of projects — they encapsulate a designer’s personality, styles, and skills. With the help of unifying colors, tasteful typography, tidy layout, clever copy, and high-quality images, you can not only convince future clients or employers to hire you, but also forge your own personal brand that sets your work apart from millions of others. A portfolio is an absolute must-have for any graphic designer; think of it as a visual resume and an illustrated memoir, showcasing your talent and telling your story of growth and change as a designer.

How to Build Your Graphic Design Portfolio – Print, PDF, or Website? (1)

So, you know how important a portfolio is. But how do you actually make one? Choosing a portfolio format is easy, but choosing the right portfolio format for your needs takes more work. Do you design your own print portfolio, or do you create an online version? Do you simply attach a PDF to your job applications? Or do you do all three? There are advantages and disadvantages to using print, PDF, or website portfolios.

Read on to learn the ins and outs of each format and how to get started with them all.

Print Portfolios

First on the list of portfolio formats is print. Print portfolios are typically professionally bound books. They contain important pieces that represent your work in a tactile, hands-on format.

There is a lot of work that goes into creating print portfolios; the time, effort, design, money, and patience involved in building out your own print portfolio speaks volumes as to who you are as a designer.

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Pros and Cons of Print Portfolios

Print portfolios offer many benefits. If done well, a print portfolio can set you apart from other designers. Creating a print portfolio demonstrates thought, effort, and knowledge of the world of paper, print, and layout design. As such, bringing a print portfolio to an interview has the strongest effect on future employers.

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As with any portfolio format, designing for print has its downsides. Creating your own portfolio book is very time-consuming. You’re not just uploading your work into a website builder; rather, you’re artfully arranging your work to appeal to potential clients and employers. Because none of the portfolio work is digital, it can take longer to fully update your print portfolio. In addition, designing multiple print portfolios can be quite expensive over time. While print portfolios are very high in quality, the book itself can be fragile. Mishandling this work of art can reflect badly on you as a designer.

How to Get Started on Your Print Portfolio

Creating your own print portfolio is much more arduous than building a PDF or website. The combination of paper weight, color, typography, design work, layout, and composition that goes into a print portfolio is a labor of love.

Before setting out on your print portfolio-making journey, take some inspiration from creatives you admire. Get an idea of how they approach layout, color, and composition, then interpret it in your own ways. Research is key for any successful design project; it is especially important in the design of your print portfolio. Sketching or creating mock layouts is a great way to jot down your ideas for your portfolio book.

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Once you’ve got an idea how to approach your print portfolio, gather all of your best pieces, and be especially critical of your work. Arrange them in Adobe InDesign and get to working. Creating your own portfolio book is not something that you’ll finish in only a few days; give yourself time to build out your work to make sure the portfolio is the best representation of your work.

PDF Portfolios

A cross between print and web portfolios, PDF portfolios have started gaining momentum over the past few years. While they’re typically a lesser-known portfolio format than the more-popular website or print portfolios, PDF versions are not inferior by any means.

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Pros and Cons of PDF Portfolios

PDF portfolios have both advantages and disadvantages. Unlike print portfolios, PDF portfolios are easier to update or tailor to specific audiences. They’re also easy to distribute via email or file-sharing. This format also comes in handy when you’re unsure of the reliability of the network connection; you can easily store PDFs on your laptop or tablet for easy access if you’re meeting with potential clients or employers.

In addition to the advantages of file-share-ability, PDF portfolios also showcase layout ability, color combinations, and typography design — much like a print portfolio. If you’re using design software that you already have on your computer, then making your own PDF portfolio is very budget-friendly. There’s no need to worry about paying for print, book binding, or hosting.

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The disadvantages of having a PDF portfolio are few and far between. Due to the nature of PDF files, there is a lack of interaction design. Viewers can’t flick through the pages or click on images to reveal more info. But this lack of interaction doesn’t equate to a lack in personality — you’ll just need to predict how users will want to interact with the document and take care of those design needs at the outset. PDF portfolios also run the risk of file size issues, image compression, and pixelation. Before sending your work via email, be sure your design work is displaying in a high resolution.

How to Get Started on Your PDF Portfolio

You typically design PDF portfolios using layout software, such as Adobe InDesign. But before you start creating your PDF portfolio, always get some inspiration from other creatives. Look around Behance or other design inspiration sites for a glimpse at how other creatives approach designing a PDF portfolio.

Due to its layout abilities and its capacity to handle multiple files at a time, Adobe InDesign still remains the best software for creating portfolios. The application features master pages, grids and guides, text layout options, image effects, and much more.

Website Portfolios

Due to the nature of the world of graphic design, almost all creative work gets posted on online platforms. Website portfolios are gaining popularity as more and more designers are diving into digital design. Creatives of all disciplines, from typography to illustration, are hosting their own websites to display their work.

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Pros and Cons of Website Portfolios

The advantages of a website design portfolio easily outweigh the disadvantages. One of the best parts of having your own website is that you can tailor its appearance, navigation, layout, and more to your specific needs. Not a fan of the typical grid-based layout? You can easily find a theme or conjure up a layout that speaks to you. Another benefit of a website portfolio is that they’re easy to update. All you need to do is add another project, import the images, and build out a description.

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Website portfolios are also readily accessible and easy to distribute, making it effortless to send your professional work out to potential employers and get your name recognized. Many web hosting services allow you to add sections, tabs, and more to include relevant information, contact forms, and links. As with any website you frequent, visitors can view your portfolio website on any screen size — from phones to large computer monitors. This means your creative work is available to anyone with a simple click.

While web portfolios are chock full of pros, there are also a few cons. As with any website, you will need a reliable network connection. In addition to that, the costs of hosting a domain name and keeping your portfolio website running can be expensive. While there are some cheaper options out there, the services are often limited.

How to Get Started on Your Website Portfolio

If displaying your creative work on a website makes the most sense for you, then there are many ways to get started. There are a variety of web hosting services, from WordPress to Wix to Squarespace to Adobe Portfolio. Many of these services offer trials where you can experiment with the website builder before fully committing.

Which Graphic Design Portfolio Format Is Best for You?

Picking the best format to display your creative work can be daunting. Do you invest in a print portfolio, design a PDF portfolio, or build out a website portfolio? The simple answer is it depends on the nature of your work.

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While it’s always ideal to have an online web portfolio at your fingertips, the other two portfolio formats typically depend on your specific industry. If you work entirely with interaction, web, product, or UX design, then having a website portfolio and a PDF portfolio is ideal. If you primarily work with print or layout design, it makes sense to have a high-quality print portfolio. The field you work in doesn’t just apply to the projects you take on but also to how you present yourself and your work.

As with anything in the graphic design world, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. The best practice is to find two formats and stick to them. Having a website portfolio is best for exposure and interaction, and having a PDF or print portfolio showcase your layout, composition, and typography skills.

Cover image via Georgejmcl*ttle.

Looking for more tips on getting noticed as a designer? Check out these articles:

  • How to Start a Successful Freelance Graphic Design Career
  • 10 Tips for Creating a Design Portfolio That Lands Your Next Great Gig
  • 6 Tips on Creating a Beautiful Instagram Portfolio for Creatives

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How to Build Your Graphic Design Portfolio – Print, PDF, or Website? (2024)


Is it better to have a website portfolio or a PDF? ›

It's important to note that while a portfolio or resume website offers numerous advantages, having a PDF version of your resume is still important in certain situations. Some employers or application platforms may require a traditional CV in PDF format.

Can my graphic design portfolio be a PDF? ›

For applications, though, a PDF portfolio is usually the standard format. This will be an edited, tailored and well-curated selection of your work that helps a potential employer understand more about you and your suitability for a role.

Should my graphic design portfolio be a website? ›

Many graphic designers and web designers post their work on popular platforms such as Upwork, Behance, Adobe Portfolio or Dribbble. But if you're serious about building a freelance design business for yourself, then you should have your own website.

How do you create a PDF design portfolio? ›

Create PDF Portfolios

Open Acrobat and select the hamburger menu (Windows), or the File menu (macOS), then select Create > PDF Portfolio. Select Add Files menu in the upper left of the Create PDF Portfolio window. You can add a file, folder of files, pages from a scanner, web page, or items in the clipboard.

Is it better to have an online portfolio or a paper portfolio? ›

An online portfolio is great to showcase your work. However, a physical portfolio is a chance to tell your story. You do not get to choose how quickly someone will scroll through your work on a screen. You do get to choose how to layout your images in a spread and show your creative skills in a different light.

What not to put in a graphic design portfolio? ›

Don't include hobbies or personal projects in the professional work section of your portfolio. The most important thing is that you portray yourself as skilled in the areas for which companies are looking to hire.

What format should my graphic design portfolio be? ›

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.

What does a strong graphic design portfolio look like? ›

Your graphic design portfolio should include a curation of your best work, the disciplines, brands, sectors, or industries you specialize in, your design process, and a method for contacting you. ‍Best work — Your portfolio website is an online introduction or first impression to site visitors.

How do I create a graphic design portfolio? ›

How to make a graphic design portfolio
  1. Choose a website platform.
  2. Pick a template or layout.
  3. Find a domain name.
  4. Showcase your best graphic design works.
  5. Upload images to a gallery.
  6. Describe your work.
  7. Customize your design.
  8. Use the best navigation practices.

Can I use my website as a portfolio? ›

Much like your PDF portfolio, a portfolio website can be used when applying for jobs or internships. The idea is that in just one, centralised space, you can quickly communicate who you are, what you do and how people can contact you.

How many pages should a PDF portfolio be? ›

Your PDF should have 10 to 20 pages. Quality over quantity. It is less about how many projects you include, more about the content.

Can you print a PDF portfolio? ›

Open the PDF Portfolio. To print only certain PDFs, select those PDFs and open them. Select File (macOS) or the hamburger menu (Windows)> Print. Choose applicable printing options, and select Print.

What software is used for PDF portfolio? ›

Adobe Acrobat Pro, recognized as the leading professional PDF editor in the industry, offers a feature for creating PDF Portfolios. With this functionality, you can effortlessly gather multiple files of different formats into a single PDF Portfolio using just a few simple steps.

What is the difference between a PDF and a portfolio? ›

A Portfolio* is a PDF file with PDFs inside it, the integrity of each document will remain. It's a lot like using an archive program (WinZip or WinRar) to group everything into one file and keep it together by creating one single file that functions more as a container.

What is the difference between a PDF package and a portfolio? ›

A portfolio is superior to a package because it can contain sub-folders and documents of differing file types such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and a wide range of image files.

Is a website portfolio better? ›

Whether you're an individual, a small team of two or a company of ten people, it's crucial that you have a unique online approach. A website portfolio will help you stand out from the crowd, show your uniqueness, build trust, and make sure that others can actually find you.

Are PDFs good for websites? ›

PDFs weren't designed to be part of a web experience. They were intended as a way to share documents across operating systems while preserving formatting. But when they're used online they are: Hard to skim read (especially compared to a well-formatted HTML page)


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