Hit the Books with Dan Milnor: Your Portfolio Book

In a fast-paced digital world, you can make a lasting impression with a portfolio book in print. So, we asked Dan Milnor for his thoughts on creating a pitch-perfect portfolio that will open doors.

1) What is a portfolio and how does it differ from a standard book?

A portfolio is a curated sample of your best work. It usually consists of a small number of pieces (10-25) that represent who you are as a creative. It may or may not tell a story. This is what separates a portfolio from a book, which tends to come with a narrative.

2) Why does a book work well as a portfolio?

Making a book demonstrates a number of skills, including editing, sequencing, and design. A portfolio book shows you have spent the time to make sense of your work. It is also concise, clean, structured, and travels well.

3) What type of person needs a portfolio?

Anyone looking to get work in their chosen field. This could be photographers, designers, architects, illustrators, or even a chef. Think of a portfolio as a visual resume.

4) What size portfolio is best?

My advice is to have multiple portfolios. I would have an ‘official’ portfolio book, which may be larger in scale, say 12×12. I would also have either a print magazine or Trade Book version. These are lighter, easier to ship, and could also be used as a “leave behind” when you meet a client you really want to work with.

5) What about a digital portfolio?

My answer to this is “Yes…but not so fast.” Having a digital portfolio is a great thing and should be part of your strategy, but you might need to edit a digital portfolio even more than your printed pieces. Why? Well, because when portfolio reviewers see a box of prints or a book, they can acknowledge that a certain amount of financial investment was involved, suggesting it has been thoroughly edited and will get to the visual point faster. A digital portfolio requires the same level of attention, if not more, to have the same impact.

6) How would a magazine work as a portfolio?

Books have become known as “modern business cards”, but I think this can apply to print magazines as well. Magazines are inexpensive, offer a sizeable landscape for design, and are less formal than a book. They’re also “collectable”.

7) Are there any specific materials that work best for a portfolio?

Yes, but I’m going to tie this back to which version of your portfolio you’re referring to: You might use ProLine paper for your larger version, with a hardcover and black end sheets. Your less formal, less expensive Trade Book version, might have a softcover with standard color printing.

8) Any other tips and tricks you can share?

Be bold. One of the most difficult things to do in this world is to make original work, but when you see it, you know and you feel it. Keep this in mind when it comes to making your portfolio book.

You’re only as good as your weakest image. Yes, this is a cliché but it’s true. Just because you’re in love with an image doesn’t mean it should be in your portfolio. Will the image get you work? Does it best represent you and the kind of work you actually want to do? These are all questions you need to answer before including something in your beloved portfolio.

Shape your book to your work. When it comes to layout, let the contour of your work dictate the contour of your portfolio. Let’s say you’re an Instagram star and 100% of your work is square aspect ratio. Well then, how about a 7×7 or 12×12 book?

Update, update, update. This is one of the great things about using a service like Blurb—you don’t need to commit to a huge print run. With print on demand, you can print just one copy at a time and update it with new work.

Get specific. If you have a big client you want to work with, then make a book specifically for them. Why send a generic portfolio when you can create a ‘super book’ for one special client?

Send your work in the mail. Use small books, like 5×8 and 6×9 Trade Books as mailers to your top clients. I actually send books to people I don’t know with no explanation. I find people who are inspiring, and I send small books. Sometimes we connect; other times we don’t, but it’s always worth it.

Get your portfolio in shape and see where it takes you! Or share your own tips in the comments below.


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