Portfolio - The physical copy

published  15th March 2024   I STARTING OUT, 


No matter which role in the art department you aspire to, the physical portfolio will be the main way to present and discuss your work with potential employers during interviews. 


The physical copy of your portfolio comes with its own set of questions, decisions and challenges:


What size is best?

Do I use a ring folder or a book binding?

Do I add work samples to the physical copy that weren’t included in the digital version?


The choices you make will mostly reflect your personal taste, but there are also a couple of practical considerations you should take into account. 


The following blog post discusses:

  1. The size and format of your portfolio
  2. Digitising your work samples
  3. Type of binding
  4. Plastic pockets and alternatives
  5. Paper quality and print
  6. Additions to the physical copy

1. What size should you chose for my physical portfolio?

When choosing a size for your physical portfolio you need to strike a balance between readability of your work samples and practicality.


Whereas you might want to go up to A0 to show original hand drawings or other work you created using a bigger format, you also have to take into account that you will need to carry your portfolio around with you – probably on public transport, through studio turnstiles and all the way to the office of your interviewer.


You will also need to handle it during the interview, meaning taking it out of whatever cover you use to carry it, find enough place on a desk in a potentially crammed Art Department office and present your work in a way that doesn’t constitute an upper body workout. 


My recommendation is to use an A3 sized portfolio. It strikes the best balance between still being big enough to show enough details on downsized drawings and prints and being easy to carry and present to other people. 

2. Digitise your work samples

Using any format that is smaller than your original work, will mean that you will have to find a way to reproduce the work you want to show at a smaller size. It’s worth investing some time and effort into scanning, photographing and optimising your work in the course of this process.


Take time to research and experiment with different methods to digitise and reproduce your work.


Sometimes taking a picture and adjusting levels in photoshop is better than the highest resolution scan you can get. Sometimes it’s a question of choosing a different plotter or the right pritning settings to get the best result.


Having said that, it’s inherent to process that you will lose details and readability when you reduce the size. There is no way around it.


You might decide to adjust your initial selection of work samples after you reproduced them to a different size due to this overall reduction in quality or readability. Take the time to go through and re-evaluate your selection of work samples once you have everything scanned and printed. 


A word on folding drawings to include them in a smaller size portfolio:


That is definitely an option. But is does mean that you will spend time unfolding and folding drawings during the precious time of your interview.


This might interrupt the otherwise natural flow of flipping through a collection of work that has been brought to one uniform size and you might not be able to show as many of your work samples as a result. 


3. What type of binding to use?

A book binding will always look more sophisticated than a ring binder. It is, however, also very permanent.


The quality and breadth of your work will increase and therefore the selection you will want to show in your portfolio will change, especially if you are just starting out.


A ring binder gives you the flexibility to add, exchange, remove and adjust the work in your portfolio based on your progress and the role for which you are applying.


If later on in you career you develop an absolute best of (though nothing seems to be absolute in our industry), you can invest in having your portfolio bound as a book.


Until then I would recommend a high quality ring binder. There are different designs with different cover materials.


Find something that fits your style, is stable (you don’t want he content to start slipping through the rings once you increase the amount of work samples) and, if you can afford it, of higher quality because presentation matters, especially in the Art Department.


It’s also a good idea to include your name and contact details somewhere in your binder. Some of the ring binders have a dedicated small pouch for that purpose, but it can also be easily included on the cover page or one of the drawings. This will increase your chances to get your portfolio back in case it should get lost or if you are asked to leave it with potential future employers. 

4. Plastic pockets or not?

If you decided to use a ring binder to present your work, the next question will be whether or not you want to use plastic pouches to hold your work samples.


The advantage is that they will look tidy and uniform and protect your work samples from all the touching and pointing that they will need to endure.


The disadvantage is that they get rid of the tactile qualities of the paper you might choose and add a reflection to everything. The reflection can be counteracted to a certain extend by choosing matt pockets and there are many variations to chose from. 


If you decide to not use plastic pockets, you would should think of a way to reinforce the punch holes. Frayed and torn punch holes as well as dog eared corners will make your portfolio look careless and unprofessional. You might also need to replace work more often to keep your portfolio looking clean and neat. 

5. Choosing print and paper quality

The paper you chose will influence print quality.


That said, most of the time it will be enough to chose a middle thickness, matt paper to get a good print.


I do not recommend glossy finishes as the reflections they cause make it more difficult to read drawings and other work samples. 


If you choose textured paper for your prints, please make sure it doesn’t interfere with the print quality and readability of your work.


Also, check to see how your chosen paper interacts with the plastic pockets you’re using and if it is worth spending more money on higher quality paper at all if it’s going to be covered with a layer of plastic. 


If you have originals (i.e. sketches) that fit your chosen size, please by all means include them as they are. If some of the work you chose is smaller than your portfolio size it might be a good solution to mount them on black paper of medium thickness.


If black is to hard for the overall design you’ve chosen for you portfolio, you can use another tone of paper.


It’s a good idea to have some contrast to the colour of the original work and to keep the chosen back ground colour consistent throughout the portfolio.

6. Additional sample - the advantage of physical copy

The physical copy has several advantages compared to the digital copy that you should make use of.


The first is that you can include original work as it was created, with all the details and personality. Some of which will unavoidably get lost in various processes used to turn it into its digital form. 


One further advantage is that you might be able to include more recent work that you don’t feel comfortable sending out digitally yet for copyright and intellectual property reasons.


Whereas you usually won’t own the work you create while working in the Art Department, it is generally accepted that you need to show samples of your work in order to demonstrate your skills and abilities during an interview.


As a rule of thumb, you should avoid sending out work digitally for projects that haven’t been released or published yet.


But if you really feel you made a huge improvement in your last job and you are eager to show it to a potential future employer, including it in just the physical portfolio might be the solution.


The reasoning behind this approach is that it’s much easier to control the shown information if it only exists and is shown as a physical copy. You bring it to your interview, you are present while it is viewed and your take it with you once the interview is over.


All this is very different for a digital copy that can be reproduced, forwarded and published with one click. 


In any case, read your contract and you NDA very carefully and always err on the side of caution if it comes to sensitive information. 



These are the main decision you will need to make when preparing your physical portfolio. Keep in mind that none of the decisions needs to be permanent. You can adjust and experiment with different materials, formats and methods as your portfolio develops.


If you would like to know more about how to put together your (first) portfolio, you can find a separate blogpost about it here.

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