Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Illustration Portfolio Organization: 2. Formats

Illustrators, designers, artists, and photographers must all employ a portfolio to organize and display their work. However, the way in which to do so, and the purpose for doing so, can vary considerably. Understandably, there are a number of commercially available standardized formats to choose from to create a portfolio. Although all portfolios share the commonality of offering a sequential display of work, there are distinct format differences that function most effectively for each of the various artistic disciplines. These portfolio formats range from centuries old archival folio styles to today’s most contemporary, virtual application driven displays and web hosted presentations.

© 2013 Don Arday.
These days, illustrators often employ several different types of formats in their arsenal of portfolios. And even if the content of several formats of portfolios remains the same, it will benefit an illustrator to take advantage of the flexibility that is afforded by a range of portfolio formats to meet the viewing demands of today’s clients and employers. Whether or not it is permanent employment that is being sought after, or it is freelance commissions, it will most likely be necessary to have more than one hard copy portfolio, and more than one digital or virtual portfolio.

Portfolio Formats

To cover a gamut of requirements, situations, and opportunities, there are three types of portfolios used by illustrators.

1) A physical paper-based, hard copy portfolio.
2) A digital application-based portfolio for a portable hardware device.
3) A virtual web-hosted e-portfolio.

Each portfolio type has it’s own function and is suited to a specific manner of display and presentation setting.

Paper Portfolios

Although there are many different manifestations of paper or hard copy portfolios, they mainly fall into two formats, those that are a book or binder, and those that are a presentation box, case, or container. The two formats function quite differently with each having it’s advantages and disadvantages. Paper portfolios are clearly superior when used in person-to-person interview settings.

Binder Format
Just as the name implies, a binder or bound portfolio functions much the same way as a picture book or magazine does. Except for the first and last page of the portfolio, the binder is made up of pages that form double page spreads--one “left hand reader” and one “right hand reader”. So both sides of the binder have to be taken into consideration when designing and arranging the visual and informational materials. Due to this bound book format there are two presentation possibilities. One is to have two opposing images, and the other is to have an image on one side with information on the opposite side.

  • Many quality professional prefab bound portfolios are available in a number of attractive and durable materials.
  • Binders are lightweight and compact.
  • Prints can be inserted into acetate sleeves with no additional mounting or backing needed.
  • A bound portfolio maintains a fixed order of work well.
  • Vendors are available who can create one-of-a-kind custom ordered bound portfolios using unique materials.

  • Altering the order of work and adding or replacing work is difficult to accomplish without a domino effect occurring.
  • The acetate sleeves are fragile and tend to scuff and crease easily.
  • The glossy reflectance of the acetate pages can be an annoyance in certain interview or presentation settings.
  • There are extreme quality variances in the manufacture of prefab bound portfolios. Those with vinyl sleeves should not be used.
  • It is very difficult to choose and arrange illustrations on opposite pages that will coordinate and compliment one another.
  • It is difficult to present to several people at once or in a large group setting.
  • Binders and bound books are limited by the capacity of the number of pages or the width of their spine.

Presentation Case Format
Presentation cases or folios hold single sheets or panels that display an image or set of related images. They can be one sided or can have imagery on the front side and information on back, or vice versa. A folio can be presented by separating one panel from another, or it can function much the same way as a binder by flipping panels as they are reviewed. Case formats consist of two part boxes with a lid and a bottom, or “clamshell” case with the lid attached to the bottom.

  • The work can be seen one illustration at a time or one image per panel.
  • Altering the order of work and adding, removing, or replacing work can be accomplished on the fly with no difficulty occurring.
  • Portfolio cases can hold other promotional materials as well as the illustration panels.
  • The individual panels of images can be displayed gallery style in a large office or conference room setting.
  • The work can be passed out to several people in a group review setting.
  • Individual pieces can be left behind for job or freelance opportunities without compromising the integrity of the portfolio.
  • The substantial impression of the portfolio can impress potential employers or freelance commissioners.
  • Due to the simplicity of their construction, portfolio cases are easier to customize than bound portfolios.

  • Portfolio cases weigh more and are more difficult to transport or ship.
  • Cases are limited in capacity by their depth.
  • There are fewer professional prefab portfolio cases available.
  • Individual panels must be reinforced since they can be separated from the protection of the portfolio case.
  • Individual panels require additional time and expense to produce.
  • Panels require an additional number of materials and level of craftsmanship to produce.

Digital Portfolios

Digital portfolios have not only are a necessary element of an illustrator’s marketing materials but have become a requested portfolio presentation format. Clients and potential employers have made the conversion from hard copy paper portfolios to digital ones, especially in situations where commissions and jobs are being awarded by national and internationally employers. PowerPoint, Keynote, and Portable Document Format (PDF) portfolios are the most common of the digital formats. Digital portfolios are finite files that are application–based and exist on some form of storage device.

  • Outside of hardware and software expenses, a portfolio can be produced without any further expense.
  • A portfolio can be endlessly duplicated at very little cost using CD’s and Flash storage devices.
  • Changing the appearance of the portfolio, altering the order of work, adding, removing, or replacing work can be accomplished with no difficulty.
  • Customized versions of a portfolio can be created for individual client situations.
  • Using email to deliver a portfolio to inquiring clients and employers can eliminate expensive shipping costs.

  • Hardware and software used for the sole purpose of presenting a portfolio makes the endeavor very costly.
  • Digital portfolios are vulnerable to computer storage or hardware failure.
  • Illustrators must know how to use whatever application software they use to create the portfolio.
  • There can be incompatibilities with the software, display, typographic choices, operating system, etc. between the workflow system that was used to generate the portfolio and a reviewers computer system.
  • Digital devices require an environment that is conducive to the limitations of their display, e.g., the iPad display functions very poorly in bright light.
  • Portable digital display devices present format and size limitations, whereas paper portfolios are 100% customizable.


The latest trend in illustration portfolios is the e-portfolio, which is a totally virtual extension of a digital portfolio, but with one crucial difference.  Although it seems e-portfolios are the same as digital portfolios, the difference lies in the fact that an e-portfolio does not really use an proprietary, encapsulated software program such as PowerPoint, nor does it exist as a standardized format digital file. E-portfolios exist, not in the form of a finite file, but in the form of a website or blog, or within a directory listing (like on Behance.com), etc.

  • E-portfolios are very low or no cost distribution vehicles for providing worldwide access to your work.
  • An e-portfolio is out there and easily accessible on the web.
  • E-portfolios are very easy to alter, edit, and update.
  • The location of an e-portfolios can have a specific URL identity with the name of the illustrator or their company as the domain title.
  • A large number of works can be shown.
  • Work can be organized into categories and accompanied by descriptive texts.
  • There are many web-based venues available to “host” an e-portfolio.
  • It is easy to link an e-portfolio address to a social media site as a reference source.
  • Receiving feedback on the work presented in an e-portfolio is simple. 

  • An e-portfolio is out there and accessible on the web where copyright and image security is hard to maintain.
  • E-portfolios must conform to the format and directory access of hosting sites blogs, and/or social networks.
  • Work may be reviewed out of order, skimmed, or partially accessed with little or no continuity.
  • The portfolio must compete with all the work that is shown on web-based hosting sites that serve as directories for illustrators.
  • Many web venues are open ended, so anyone can participate making it is difficult to distinguish a professional or BFA degreed illustrator from a hobbyist or novice.
  • Unless listed as a unique domain an e-portfolio can be extremely impersonal.
  • The image quality is subject to the settings of the reviewers digital display system whether it be a phone, tablet or desktop.
  • There is no way to definitively identify who has reviewed an e-portfolio.
  • Negative or unsolicited feedback on e-portfolio blog or a social networking site may be difficult to manage or dispel.


Illustrators are now required to stock an arsenal of portfolio types for a wide range of presentation venues. Potential employers and freelance commissioners of illustration are using all forms of access to review work for the purpose of offering a job or commission to an illustrator.

When it comes to marketing illustration successfully, there is no one format that will guarantee a winning result for an illustrator. There are no short cuts, quick fixes, or sure things. It takes a coordinated set of portfolio credentials and hard work to create the greatest potential for successful job opportunities to take place.  

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