By Jennifer Farley

Five Tips for Preparing a Design or Illustration Portfolio

By Jennifer Farley

As part of the design course I teach on here in Ireland, I see a lot students who come in for interviews with a portfolio. The portfolios are varied in terms of presentation and content and it’s fair to say that some leave a little to be desired. By the time they are leaving the course, they have prepared an online portfolio with which to impress potential employers and clients. Here are some tips for preparing a portfolio of design or illustration work whether on or off-line.

1. Show Only Your Best Work

This may sound obvious, but only include your very best work. It’s better to have three or four really good pieces of work than ten pieces of rubbish. A bad piece in your portfolio is like a bad link in a chain, it will bring down the overall quality and integrity of everything else you have in there.

Novartis Reflections Campaign by Tom Hussey

2. Know Your Strengths and Focus on Them

If the term “Jack of all trades, and master of none” comes to mind when people see your portfolio, then there is a problem. It may seem tempting to be able to offer ALL types of design services, or ALL types of illustration styles but that tends to make everything you do look lacklustre. Be really, really good at one or two things and stay focused on them.


Character Illustration by Yee Chong Wee

3. Include the Type of Work That You Actually Want To Do

If you hate making banner ads for example, do not include them in your portfolio because you can be absolutely sure that’s what you’ll get hired to do. If you don’t have any professional experience in the area that you want to work in, create some dummy work and make up your own projects and mockups. Write your own design briefs, or find some on the web and create some high quality work for yourself.


iPhone App Icon Design by Sant Valentin

4. Group Similar Disciplines

Group your work together logically. Organize the portfolio into categories (for example, Web Design, Logo Design, Packaging, Children’s Illustration, Medical Illustration).


Graphic Design by Hey Days

5. Keep It Simple and Just Do It

For online portfolios make sure your site is easy to navigate through and completely foolproof. Provide good quality images without pixelation or distortion. Don’t agonize over your portfolio to the point where you paralyze yourself, and don’t spend to much time drooling over other people’s portfolio. Certainly you can take ideas and inspiration from others but ultimately you have to just sit down and do your own. You can tweak your portfolio along the way and as it grows you will add and remove pieces, so just do it!


Nike by Jordan Metcalf

By following these tips you will build very strong foundations for turning your portfolio into something really special. Take time to review and select your work and make sure you know why you are picking each piece, and make sure you can talk about it too. Good luck!

What tips would you add for anyone preparing a portfolio?

  • Great tips Jennifer. Love the images you interspersed!

  • Mediumjones

    Nice, short and to the point! Great advice too!

  • Jehnavi

    Show your skills, it is always a good idea to bring skills and styles that you work in your portfolio. *Link Removed* This shows your future employer that you are fluent in many styles, the one he or she becomes a value for their money when they hire you.10 12 examples Al though it may seem a rather small number, it really is not. You must choose which part you are strongest, and you show qualities as creative professionals. Too many pieces that have supported the person saw. Remember that you must choose jobs that really shows what you can do, no work means a lot to you. Not because the job is your particular favorite means it must be in your portfolio, while very critical of your work.

  • Anonymous

    Hi to everybody

    More tips to keep in mind when choosing pieces for a illustration portfolio is to maintain focus on published works done for past clients. As an addition it may, depending on the job, be wise to include sketches, notes and rough drafts so the prospective client can see how you put your illustrations together. This is particularly useful if the job involves working on a team. If the portfolio is for a first job, just out of school, the same rules apply, only use your best illustrations from school projects.

    An illustrator’s portfolio should have a ‘read’ to it; a viewer should be able to pick it up and follow a flow from the first illustration to the last. To achieve this it is best to have no more than around twenty cohesive pages of material. Try to place what you consider your best pieces at the beginning and end to make the portfolio a memorable one. On these pages some ten to twenty pieces should be displayed. Each illustration should be labeled with the name of the client it was created for, creation date, the names of collaborators and the current copyright holder. Some tips on organization: notes, sketches and rough drafts should have their own pocket, as should business cards and printouts.


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