How to Create a Graphic Design PDF Portfolio

Use a single PDF style to showcase your expertise

As a graphic designer, you may be showcasing your work with separate PDFs on your website or blog. That strategy is a good option for when prospective clients or employers come to you. But, what about when you want to reach out to them? Do you have something to send so they don't have to take the extra step of visiting your site?

If you'd like to create a high-quality brochure-style piece showcasing your best work, consider creating a single PDF. Most (if not all) graphic software programs can export a design as a high-quality, high-resolution PDF that can be emailed to anyone you want to demonstrate your work to.

Designer working at a glass-topped desk while sitting on a ball
Blend Images/Hill Street Studios/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Selecting Work for Your Portfolio

As with any portfolio, the most important decision is which pieces to include. Consider these tips:

  • Focus on the types of projects you want to do. If you have a specific focus, such as book design, select the pieces that best represent it. If you're early in your career and don’t have a focus (or don’t want one), choose a variety of pieces that you enjoyed working on.
  • Choose your best work. The goal isn't to show everything you've ever done. Stick with a “less is more” philosophy, choosing a small selection of pieces that highlight a particular style, technique, or industry.
  • Be current. Design trends and technology change quickly, so use your most recent work as much as possible, as well as pieces that show you know the latest techniques.
  • Include personal projects. Don't think you have to include only paid projects. Personal projects show that you have a passion for design. Further, if you're just starting out, you may only have design school projects to showcase. Allow the work itself, rather than the client or publication name, to impress viewers.
  • Show the process. Consider showing the creative stages you went through when creating each design. Doing so can illustrate your depth of understanding and mastery of design techniques and concepts.

Your portfolio should include between 10 and 20 examples. Ten pieces are enough to show your abilities, and more than 20 can begin to feel scattered and overwhelming.

Organizing the Portfolio

For each piece you've chosen, consider adding the following information:

  • Client name
  • Industry
  • Project description
  • Your role in the project (such as designer or art director)
  • Where the work appeared
  • Any awards, publications, or recognition related to the project

Along with the project details, you could include some helpful information for viewers:

  • Cover letter
  • Bio
  • Mission statement
  • Other background information
  • Client or industry list
  • Services list
  • Contact information

Consider hiring or teaming up with a professional writer to prepare your content, as it will be the "voice" of your portfolio. If you need your pieces photographed, also consider a professional.

Designing the Portfolio

Treat the design process as you would during a client project. Come up with several concepts and tweak them until you're happy with the result. Create a consistent layout and style throughout. Using the grid system may be helpful here. Remember that the PDF design is just as much a showcase of your talent as the work within it.

Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress are great options for creating a multi-page layout, and Illustrator works well for graphics and text-heavy freeform layouts. Think of the flow of content: start with a quick overview, and then go into project examples. Finish with additional text or contact information.

Creating the PDF

Once your design is complete, export it to PDF. Be sure to save the original file so you can add and edit projects later. One thing to think about here is file size, as you will be emailing this document often. Play around with the compression options in your software until you reach a happy medium between quality and file size. You can also use Adobe Acrobat Professional to piece together several pages of design and to reduce the size of the final PDF.

Using the PDF

You can email the PDF directly to prospective clients, or print or display it on a tablet at interviews.

Be sure to update your PDF portfolio often with your newest, greatest work.