How do you show off your life’s best work in just 10 two-page spreads? This isn’t a riddle or anything, just a legitimate question…

Print portfolios are tricky. On one hand, I’m a huge fan of print media as a whole. On the other hand, it can be just plain difficult to design. A print portfolio acts almost like a greatest hits album of your design career. Whether you have a large or small volume of work, it can be hard to fill up a reasonable amount of space with only your best work. Print portfolios should be both robust and succinct at the same time. So what goes into a good print portfolio, anyway?

Diversity and Length

There are frankly too many “rules of thumb” for how many projects to include in your portfolio. I generally try to keep my print portfolio limited to ten projects, but that can vary based on personal tastes and patience. I personally feel like as long as you’re thinking about how long your portfolio is, then that’s good enough. The fact that you’re putting thought into it generally says that you aren’t going to show up for an interview with either two or 30 projects to show off. Ride in the middle of the road.

Layout

One of the most interesting things about print (and web) portfolios is that they are pieces of work in and of themselves. Not only do you have to worry about properly showing off your work without anything getting in the way of it, but you also have to use an appealing layout to do so. The most important thing, however, is that nothing should compete with your work. Your projects are the focal point here, and the layout of any portfolio should properly allow them to shine

Quality

One thing to easily overlook when considering everything else is the quality of your work. Let’s face it: everyone has duds. It’s impossible to come up with a home run every time you step up to the plate. So, you have to weed out the bad from the good, or hopefully, the great from the fantastic. Let the cream rise to the top, and don’t be afraid to kill your darlings for the sake of length. Sure, each piece may be like a child (hopefully not loud and obnoxious), but be honest with yourself. You know that you have some projects that simply don’t make the cut, so either improve them or let them continue to not make the cut.

Project Variety

One last thing that’s important to consider is showing off a solid variety of project types. What I mean by this is that most people don’t want to see 12 logo designs masquerading as a portfolio. Mix it up! If you know that you have the skill and expertise to work in a large number of mediums and environments, then this is your chance to brag about it. If someone’s looking to give you money, they’re going to want to know about everything you can do, and it’s in your best interest to show them.


Print portfolios often don’t get enough attention, my own included. I’m just now getting around to updating it for the first time in about two years. That should be illegal. The important thing, though, is making sure that you take the time and thought to design it well. This means keeping everything above in mind, as well as any other problems that arise. As pretentious as it sounds, there are simply some things that ink on paper does better than pixels will ever do, so make sure you’re doing it well.

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