Tips on Managing Your Online Graphic Design Portfolio


Tips on Managing Your Online Portfolios


Something every graphic designer needs is their own portfolio to showcase their talent, and work they have done in the past. This is a vital item in the success of you as a designer. This is because clients do not worry about who you have worked with, they want to know how well you can do want they want you to do. Having a portfolio can help you gain business and to help keep yourself more organized with your work. 


One thing designers may have problems with (new or old) is what to place in their portfolio. Since this is what you will be using to showcase what you are capable of, you want it to be stocked with examples of some of your best work. If you are new to graphic designing, or just someone who does it part time, this can make it tricky. Since you do not have as much to showcase, you will want to put everything you have in your portfolio. Where as someone with more work experience can pick and choose what they would like to be displayed. It may just be full of things you have done for friends, but this will do. However, there are several other ways that you can build up your portfolio samples, including:

++First Time Give Away / Going Pro Bono++ - Offer your services for free first-time orders. Seek out small business owners and offer your services for free. Explain that if they like your services the next consultation will come with a fee. If the client likes your work, you might have found yourself steady work or better yet, he might refer people to you. Remember to always finish a project by asking the client if they know of any potential clients that you could contact.

Here are more articles about working for free (pro bono) as a graphic designer.

Here are some articles about graphic designers working on spec (speculative work).

++Nonprofit Organizations++  - Volunteer your services for free to local community organizations where you live. This is a great way to build up your portfolio. Look in your phone book for religious, educational, social, and political organizations. Most nonprofit organizations would be thrilled to get something for free considering their budget is probably pretty tight. Try to negotiate into the deal that as payment you would like to have your business name and phone number on the finished piece (and if you have a website url, this should be printed on the finished product too). This is very fair. This might be a great way to drum up business and get a great sample for your portfolio at the same time.
For example, if you offer your design services to a church. There are probably a dozen small business owners in the congregation. Maybe one or two will take notice and ask about you.

++Friends and Family Members++ - Who better to help you than people that you love and trust? On a sheet of paper, write down all of your friends and adult family members. Do any of them own a business? Do any of them control the hiring process with the company that they work for? Volunteer your skills out to your friend or family member. Make sure not to get yourself into a situation where this friend expects you always to work for free. Explain up front that this is for free only with the first project. Again, try to negotiate that your business name, phone number, and website url are printed somewhere on the finished product. If your friends and family members don’t have any business for you, ask them if they know of anyone who could use your services.

++Hire Yourself First++ - Surely your own business could use your services so hire yourself. If you are a designer, you can create promotional materials for your business such as business cards, promotional brochures, letterhead, etc. If you are a writer, maybe you can write up promotional literature for your business. Of course, I don’t know what your profession is, but try to find a way to put yourself to work.

++Dummy Samples / Mockups++ - As a last resort, you can create fictitious examples of your work. This could work for all professionals, but I am more familiar with this in the design industry. Create dummy brochures, newsletters, logos, and other pieces to demonstrate your range of skills. If you can show a potential client with mockups that you have the talent that they are looking for, then go for it. (For Designers) Even though this seems such a waste of your time, you can use these documents as templates for real projects that you will have in the future.

Here are articles about graphic designers creating mock-ups.

++Personal Things++ -  For special occasions you can design your own cards. If you have a yard sale, you can design the poster. Even if a neighbor is having a yard sale or a party, etc. … why not ask them if you can design the cards or posters that go along with the occasion.


Your portfolio needs to contain examples created by you. This may be anything from: business cards, advertisements, banners, brochures, page layouts, fliers, and the list can go on and on. If you are someone who does a lot of web design, be sure to get high resolution print outs of the web layouts you may have created. Be sure to update your profile as often as you finish up new projects. It is always a good idea to keep your latest and greatest content available for future clients to view. Hopefully you will have a large number of samples to choose from, but don’t worry about it if you don’t. Your goal is to choose 10 - 20 of your best samples. Think quality, not quantity. Lay out all of your work and decide which samples are the best.

You should try to focus your portfolio for a niche market. Are you interested in working for an advertising agency, book publisher, newspaper, etc.? Different markets will expect different things from you. You might not be ready to choose a niche market yet, if this is the case you will need to rearrange your portfolio each time you interview for a job.
Once you have chosen which samples to include in your portfolio, you should look them over with great care. Make sure that there aren’t any errors or typos within your sample work. If there is even one little error, leave that sample out. You are trying to position yourself as a competent, skilled, detail-oriented professional.


With technology today, the possibilities are endless as to where you can feature your portfolio. One option is to place your images on portfolio sites and the other option is to create your own website. I usually recommend doing both for greater exposure. A great way to feature your work is to create a website that reflects your talent. This will be a place that you can direct clients to view your work if you are not able to meet them in person. This makes it very easy for you to work with people across the world. If you think about it, you will make sense of it all. The more places that your portfolio is listed on the Internet, the easier it will be to be found. Naturally, you probably aren’t made of money. I will give to you the ins and out in the next few articles on how to find out which sites are worth adding your listing to. There are tricks and I have a lot of them to share. In future articles, we will discuss further how to get your portfolio online.


A well-presented portfolio can be all it takes for you to be hired. After creating, and compiling your work, you will be on your way to establishing your portfolio. I recommend reading the portfolio series to get a better grasp of what goes into putting a portfolio together.

[tags]graphic design, graphic designer, portfolio, online portfolio, self promotion[/tags]

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  1. Posted June 22, 2007 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the advice. I have a portfolio question. Is there anything wrong with including designs that I’ve created for a current or past employer? Are there any legal guidelines when including these samples? Thanks.

  2. Posted June 23, 2007 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Hi there. This is a good question. For work that you have created while working for an employer, then they own the work. I would recommend asking permission before adding this work to your portfolio. Good luck.

  3. Melwin Rodrigues
    Posted September 14, 2007 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    good and beautyful

  4. Sara
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the wonderful tips, they are the best I’ve come across as of yet! Quick question–what are the parameters of using photos (such as iStock, Microsoft Clip Art, etc) in materials for resale? I read the terms and conditions of both, but ended up more confused than when I started. Thanks for a great site!

  5. Posted March 27, 2008 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    This is just what I have been looking for! Your site is a great help. I am in a similar situation to Lizzie above; I have been working in-house as a designer for over two years, and I now want to put a new portfolio together. Would you consider it industry-standard practice for companies to allow their employees to show examples of work on their personal site, with proper permission and disclaimers, of course?

    I am in the midst of putting together a proposal to my boss about this very issue, and would very much appreciate your input.

    Thanks :)

  6. Peter
    Posted July 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I am rather young to start freelancing, but have done a ton of professional work for businesses and schools and have been in design competitions, i was wondering if my age will put off clients even if i have a nice portfolio to back me up. Thanks for your time and great article

  7. Posted November 8, 2008 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Never give your work away for free- ever.

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