Tips for Creating an Impressive Graphic Design Portfolio

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn how to create a graphic design portfolio to present to prospective employers and admissions officials that showcase your skills as a graphic designer.

[Featured image] A graphic designer is working on their portfolio on a laptop computer.

If there’s a time for showing off, it’s in your graphic design portfolio. It’s your first and only chance to make a good impression on potential employers or admission officers. Therefore, your graphic design portfolio must stand out from the competition when applying to jobs, projects, or colleges. 

A graphic design portfolio should highlight the best work you did at school or work and concise text that explains each. In this article, learn about digital graphic portfolios and tips on what you should include. 

What are graphic design portfolios?

Graphic design portfolios are a collection of a graphic designer’s best work to show prospective clients or college admission representatives. Your portfolio should include a concisely written introduction to provide brief context and background for each sample. 

You may also opt to highlight three to five samples to use as case studies. In this case, you would provide more details about how you approached the project from start to finish. Ideally, you can add testimonials from clients or teachers that give insight into their experience working with you on that specific project.

 Uses for graphic design portfolios

Graphic design portfolios show employers, potential clients, or admissions officials your best work and abilities. Portfolios are also a great way to show your personality and what you’re capable of. Ensure to include your contact information so the viewer can communicate with you.

Colleges and universities will likely require you to submit a portfolio as part of the application for a  Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Master of Fine Arts in graphic design. 

For job seekers, the portfolio is an integral part of the resume. Potential clients will generally ask to see examples of your work if you're already working as a graphic designer or as a freelance designer. 

What types of work should go in a portfolio?

Include case studies that detail your process to give the viewer a glimpse into your vision. Include information about how you approach projects, including how you dealt with challenges and made decisions throughout the process.

Graphic design is more than just imagery. Typography is equally as important to include in your portfolio. You’ll want to show cohesive use of imaging and type pairing that’s eye-pleasing. 



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How many pieces of work should go in a graphic design portfolio?

While opinions vary between four to six projects to as many as 10 to 20, you’ll want to keep it at a number that won’t overwhelm or distract your viewers. 

Including too many projects could keep people from viewing them all and may create a burden when updating it. Here are some guidelines to consider:

School admissions: If you're building a portfolio to submit for college applications, follow the school’s guidelines. The school may give you a page limit, among other requirements. Popular ways to organize college application portfolios include chronological order to show growth. You may also choose to put samples in categories to highlight multiple strengths or by a theme to demonstrate how diverse interests work well together.

Job interviews: Content may be more important than page count for a job interview. Your portfolio should reflect your career goals and the type of company you’ll like to work for. Portfolios help tell prospective employers your unique story. You should adjust it with each new job you apply for.  

Best format for graphic design portfolios

Graphic design portfolios are primarily s on a website. For digital formats, ensure it’s easy to navigate through your work. With websites, you can add the link to your resume or CV and post it on social media platforms and business cards.

You can build a website using platforms like WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix, which have numerous templates.  You’ll also want to ensure that your link works, the images are in high-quality resolution, and you have a visual summary of your portfolio before showing prospective clients or schools.

Top tips for arranging graphic design portfolios

Knowing your audience can help you decide what to include when arranging your portfolio. 

Edit and update your portfolio.

Edit your portfolio to be cohesive and organized with only the necessary images and text. 

Once you’ve finished the portfolio, you’ll eventually have to update it with new projects to demonstrate your new abilities and styles. 

Choose work that represents your goals.

When deciding what to include in your portfolio, be sure to use the type of content that you want to work with. For example, suppose your interest is in company branding. You might include examples of logo designs and print ads in that case. If you specialize in animation design, you might showcase a storyboard and motion graphics for a video game, brand animation, or cartoon you've worked on.

Show your work process. 

A graphic design portfolio should include a case study showing how you approached a project from start to finish. Templates are available online if you need layout ideas.  

Another way to show the work process is by creating a process book. You can use a program like Keynote to illustrate a project from brainstorming to completion. Your process book can include a mood board and inspiration from other designers. Examples of color schemes, textures, patterns, typography, and other design elements can complete a process book.

Include written descriptions.

Written descriptions are essential elements of a graphic design portfolio. Your narrative should be a reasonable length and error-free. 

The written descriptions are equally as important as the visuals, so you’ll want your text to be as brief and concise as possible.

Show your personality.

Select work that shows your personality. Include your picture, a brief biography, contact information, and social media links. If your portfolio is on your website, include a hero image on your home page. 

Find examples of graphic design portfolios.

You can find graphic design portfolios online by searching Google for graphic design portfolios and designers. You can also visit websites such as Canva and Pinterest to view portfolio ideas. 

Next steps 

A portfolio is your calling card to potential opportunities. You may wonder what to include if you’re a recent graduate with no client experience. You can add work from school, create mock-ups and fictional projects, and participate in design challenges. 

If you’re unsure how to design a portfolio or build a website, consider a Specialization in Graphic Design, a six-month program offered by CalArts on Coursera. Consider developing skills and building a portfolio that will stand out from the competition. 



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