20 minutesBy Canva Team

Designing a portfolio website: How-tos, templates, and tips

Wow potential clients with an impressive portfolio website, even with zero coding or design experience. Find free templates and helpful tips for designing a portfolio that truly represents you.
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What is a portfolio website?

A portfolio is a curated compilation of your best work. A portfolio website is simply a digital version of this that can be accessed and shared online.

Portfolios serve as a tangible demonstration of one’s skills and abilities. Students, freelancers, and those applying for work present their portfolios to teachers and potential employers to showcase what they’ve learned, what they’ve done in the past, and what they’re capable of doing.

Digital portfolio vs print portfolio

Not too long ago, people had to carry around compiled printouts of their work and physically meet with potential employers to present their portfolios. But thanks to the internet, printed portfolios have, more or less, been replaced by digital portfolios.

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Digital portfolios — particularly website portfolios — have a leg up over printed ones in more ways than one:

  • Website portfolios are easily editable: Whether you’ve spotted a typo in your copy or want to replace older work with fresh new pieces, you can easily edit your website portfolio in just a few clicks. On the other hand, physical portfolios can go out of date in months, especially if you’re constantly working on new projects.
  • Online portfolios are shareable: Unlike printed portfolios, which have to be printed, mailed, and physically handed to an interested party, portfolio websites can be shared in a snap via email or social media. They can be viewed any time and from virtually any device too.
  • Website portfolios are more sustainable: Printing multiple copies of full color photos can be expensive. It isn’t exactly easy on the environment either. A fully online portfolio makes it so that you don’t waste any more ink or paper to share your work.

That’s not to say that physical portfolios don’t have their benefits too. Here are some reasons to consider keeping a physical portfolio:

  • You can choose who gets to see your work: While you can protect your online portfolio with a password on most web-builders, you can’t necessarily control who shares your work and what they do with it.
  • Physical portfolios aren’t affected by technical issues: No internet connection means no access to your online portfolio. On top of this, technical glitches and forgotten payments on domains can make your site go down temporarily.
  • You don’t have to think about designing a website and purchasing a domain: If you’re not a designer and have no coding experience, building a website from the ground up can feel like a lot of work. With physical folios, you only have to think about curating and laying out your work.

That being said, digital portfolios are far more practical these days, especially considering how much people rely on the internet to work.

Web-builders like Canva Websites make it easy to design a digital, one-page portfolio with ready-made templates, an expansive media library, and simple tools. There is no need for coding or extensive design knowledge either. Plus, you get the option of using a free domain or purchasing a custom one through Canva.

Who needs a portfolio website?

Portfolios are a necessary tool in any creative’s arsenal. But portfolios aren’t just for visual artists like photographers and illustrators. They’re also used by designers of all kinds, branding and marketing specialists, models and actors, writers, and students. Read on to learn more about who needs a portfolio website and how they can benefit from having a well-crafted one.

An example of a portfolio website

For photographers, a digital portfolio is a good way to showcase your best work.

Design(opens in a new tab or window) is the study and practice of creating objects, systems, and spaces (whether physical or digital) to solve a problem. There are many different types of design, including:

  • Graphic design
  • Web design
  • Interior design
  • Fashion design
  • Architectural design
  • Game design
  • Information design

Given that design is focused on functionality and problem solving, most design portfolios feature case studies to give context to the designer’s involvement in the project, their thought process, and the project’s outcome. For graphic, web, and game designers, a portfolio website is an excellent way to present one’s skills and adaptability, particularly through the use of interactive elements, animation, and videos.

An art portfolio website showcases an artist’s technical abilities, identity, and versatility. With a clean, minimalist background and large, high-resolution photos, artists can design their portfolio websites like digital art galleries.

Digital artists like illustrators and animators can simply upload their work to their online portfolios, but artists that practice in mediums like painting, sculpture, pottery, and conceptual art will need the help of a photographer to present their work in a portfolio.

Many photographers and filmmakers rely on social media to showcase their work and market themselves to a wider audience. While this is perfectly fine — especially when you’re just starting out — you should consider building a professional online portfolio to establish your credibility.

Film or photography portfolio websites also do some things that social media can’t. For one, you can customize your online portfolio exactly the way you want, incorporating your brand and adding little details that show your personality. With a portfolio website, you can also organize your work chronologically or per project, as well as provide deeper insight into everything that went into each piece or collection.

As with photographers and filmmakers, most performers and models these days use social media to establish an online presence. But with a performance or model portfolio website, you can create a dedicated section for headshots and snippets from past work, as well as showcase longer performances.

Unlike the above professions, writers and editors can’t really showcase the full breadth of their work on social media platforms. And while there are many free online portfolio sites for written work, these can often be clunky, or put a limit on how many links or pieces you can add to your folio. With a dedicated writing portfolio website, writers and editors have full control over the work they display.

Branding and marketing professionals can use their portfolios to demonstrate their creativity, problem solving skills, and knowledge of marketing tactics. With detailed case studies, they can present successful campaigns and provide more context on how they approached each campaign.

Some teachers require a portfolio from their students, where all their work, from assignments to reflection papers, are compiled. This is so they can assess their progress over a semester or school year, as well as have a record they can present to parents and mentors. Student portfolios are also used to teach students how to assess themselves and identify their own strengths and weaknesses.

Why a portfolio website is important

We’ve touched on some of the benefits that different types of professionals can gain from building a portfolio website. But in case you’re still on the fence about it, here are a few more reasons you should consider creating a portfolio website:

It’s a good way to establish your personal brand

Branding is about telling a story — who are you and what do you bring to the table? What are your goals and what do you value the most? A custom online portfolio is a great way to show future employers and collaborators exactly that.

Through the visual elements, layout, copy, and the work you choose to display, you get to decide how people see you. In turn, you attract the people who understand and appreciate your vision.

Preview of a Portfolio website on mobile and desktop

Customize your portfolio to reflect your brand and personality.

It makes you appear more credible and professional

A carefully crafted portfolio can leave a lasting impression on future collaborators. It shows your dedication to your craft, your willingness to go the extra mile, and your ability to communicate.

It allows others to find you

If you can take the time to learn how to optimize your portfolio for search engines, you can make it easier for others to find you. Optimized meta tags, page copies, and image alt texts will help your website reach the right audiences, upping your potential to get more work beyond referrals.

It helps you grow as an artist

It’s easy to slip into your comfort zone as an artist and forget to grow — especially if you’re getting consistent work. But if you want to keep growing and pushing your art further, it pays to sit down and update your portfolio every now and then. Having the time to assess your work and what you want to do moving forward can help keep you from stagnating.

Ways to format a portfolio website

How you build your portfolio website will depend on your content, style, and preference. Some formats will work with what you’re going for better than others. You can format your portfolio website in a few different ways, including:

One-page format

One-page websites are simple, scrollable sites that work well for image-focused projects like portfolios. With a straightforward design, one-page portfolio websites are easier for audiences to navigate. These types of sites often have higher engagement than multi-page ones — that is, with good design and content that’s interesting enough to encourage users to keep scrolling.

One-page websites(opens in a new tab or window) are also more likely to provide higher conversion rates. This is because visitors don’t have to go through page after page to find what they need.

One-page websites are also fairly easy to maintain. Finally, one-page sites tend to be more mobile-friendly than multiple-page sites. They load faster and work well with different screen sizes.

Sample format of a portfolio website

One-page websites display all your best work in one go, perfect for straightforward and simple layouts.

Multiple-page format

Unlike one-page websites, multiple-page sites are made up of several pages and subpages with different functions, including introducing the site’s owner (About page), providing contact information, and showcasing different projects or products.

Multi-page sites are more flexible in terms of SEO, as you can target different keywords in each page. Multi-page design is also the standard layout online, which means it’s a format that more people will be familiar with.

However, multi-page sites are also harder to maintain than single-page ones. It’s also easier for visitors to get lost or feel frustrated when they can’t find the information they need.

While one-page sites make the most sense for online portfolios, multiple-page sites might work well for multidisciplinary artists who have a diverse set of skills.

Case-study format

A case study is a detailed report of one’s approach in solving a problem. Case studies are often used by designers to communicate their role and responsibilities in a certain project, as well as walk readers through their thought process, and explain the overall outcome and client’s reception.

In short, case studies are detailed accounts of a designer’s journey from start to finish.

Gallery-style portfolios

Whereas case study-style portfolios provide a lot of context to each project, gallery-style portfolios let the work speak for itself. Typically used by visual artists like photographers, filmmakers, painters, and illustrators, gallery portfolios don’t contain a lot of text. Instead, they’ll feature large images or videos and titles or brief descriptions for each one.

Sample of a gallery-style portfolio

With Canva Websites, freely layout your gallery how you like it — play with size, create perfect grids, or customize a collage.

What to include in a portfolio website?

Your portfolio website is your own canvas. You get to decide which of your works to include, how many, and how to present them. But while there are many ways to format your portfolio website, don’t forget the following elements:

Sample “About me” section in a portfolio website

Adding a section about yourself boosts your credibility and highlights relevant experience and skills to prospective clients.

Your About section should tell readers everything they need to know about you, the person behind the portfolio. Some key components include:

  • Your name
  • A professional photo of yourself
  • Your educational/professional background
  • Any awards, special recognition, or press coverage
  • A few short sentences about who you are as an artist or designer, what you’re interested in, and why

When writing your About section, bear in mind the importance of good storytelling. Don’t just drop random bits of information. Weave a compelling story that tells potential clients what sets you apart from other prospects.

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This is the meat of your portfolio. Throughout the process of building your portfolio website, you’ll spend the majority of your time figuring out which examples to include and how to present them.

Generally, you want to include not only your best work, but work that is relevant, meaning it must be up-to-date and linked to your skills and interests.

If you have personal projects that you’re especially proud of, don’t be afraid to include them, too. For young creatives and those just getting started in their field, preparing conceptual work is a great way to fill up a portfolio, even with limited experience.

You’ll learn more about this process later on in our How-to section.

This component is especially useful for those with a diverse skill set, such as multidisciplinary artists, graphic/web designers, and filmmakers who are skilled in multiple stages of production.

A call to action (CTA) is a prompt that directs users to take action, whether that means to connect via email, request a quote, or ask for a proposal. A CTA is often designed as a button or clickable text that tells interested prospective clients how they can get in touch with you.

Remember to keep your CTA simple, to the point, and easily identifiable. Use action words like “Learn more”, “Contact me”, or “Let’s talk”. And make sure your CTA stands out from the rest of your site’s copy and design.

A testimonial is a short writeup from a former client, summarizing their experience collaborating with you. Good testimonials work like product reviews — only, you are the product. They let potential clients know that other people can vouch for your ability to produce the kind of work and professionalism that they need.

While there are no hard and fast rules for designing a testimonial section, it’s generally a good idea to include at least three one-to-five sentence write-ups in your portfolio website.

Even if your CTA already tells users how to contact you, consider including your contact information in another section as well. Typically, contact information is found alongside the About information or in a separate section at the very bottom of the page.

Make sure to include your professional email and links to any social media profiles you’re willing to share, like your LinkedIn and Instagram.

How to create a portfolio website

Now that you know how you can format your online portfolio and what key components to include, you can start building your portfolio website using Canva Websites. Just follow these seven steps:

How to create a portfolio website

Why are you creating a portfolio in the first place? What do you want to achieve with it? By answering these questions, you can hone in on a central idea or theme that’ll guide you through the process of building your portfolio website.

For example, your “why” could be that you need a way to show audiences what you’re capable of beyond the confines of social media. Another reason to build a website would be to have a single platform to upload and share all your recent work. Once you figure out your “why”, you’ll find it easier to get through the next steps.

Find your why with a diagram
If you can’t find your “why”, try visualizing your thoughts with a diagram.

One of the biggest roadblocks artists and designers face when creating a portfolio is choosing which projects to include. For some, the task can prove so difficult that it stops them from finishing the portfolios altogether.

When you’re struck with analysis paralysis, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Decide how many pieces to include: You’re not required to show all your past work in your portfolio. In fact, doing so may only overwhelm site visitors. Instead, choose anywhere between 10 to 25 pieces or projects.
  • Show your strongest work: Think of your portfolio as a highlight reel — a platform to show off your greatest strengths as a creative.
  • Mix it up: Choose works that represent the diversity of your talents and interests. Though you may have carved a name for yourself in a certain niche, you’ll attract more prospects by showing your range.

At this point, you should also write brief descriptions or case studies for your chosen works

You can map out your site’s layout with a wireframe, a rough blueprint or outline of your page’s interface. Even if you’re building something as straightforward as a one-page portfolio website, a wireframe helps ensure your page is functional, easy to navigate, and makes sense for your needs.

Remember, clear and simple navigation is key. This means avoiding adding too many subsections that may clutter your page and confuse users. Refer to our components section above for a guide to the essential sections for your portfolio.

When it comes to organizing your work samples, consider some of the following strategies:

  • By genre: This could mean organizing your samples into commercial, editorial, artistic, print, digital, and other similar groupings.
  • By theme: You can also organize your work by mood or subject matter. For example, a photographer could create different sections for their nature photography, pre-nuptial and wedding work, street photography, aerial photography, and product work.
  • By style: This means organizing work based on the particular format or technique used, such as film, black and white, and composite techniques.
  • By client: Organizing work by client is popular among interior designers, architects, and branding and marketing specialists.
  • In chronological order: If all else fails, you can always present your most recent work first and work your way backwards.

With Canva Websites, you can choose from a variety of professionally designed and fully customizable one-page portfolio website examples. This takes away all the hassle of laying out a webpage from scratch.

When choosing a template, consider what you want your site visitors to get out of your page. A simple and minimalist template strips away all distractions, directing all attention to your work. Minimalist portfolios are also easier to design and maintain. A busier and more playful aesthetic, on the other hand, allows you to show more of your personality and communicate who you are as a creative beyond just your work.

To use our portfolio website templates, simply find the search bar on the Canva homepage and type “portfolio website”. Click on Portfolio Website from the results and choose from any of the available templates. Clicking on a template opens it in the website builder, where you can use our drag-and-drop tools to customize your portfolio.

If you can’t find a template that fits the exact layout you want, don’t worry. You can mix and match templates on Canva. Just search for portfolio website templates in the Design tab and select which page to add to your design. You can also choose from dozens of premade page layouts from the Layouts section of the Design tab. Here, you’ll find layouts for banners, About sections, photo galleries, and more.

Once you’ve chosen a template or honed in on your desired layout, use our drag and drop editor to upload and add photos to your website, as well as illustrations, graphic elements, text, and videos. To add animation to elements like photos and text, click Animate on the toolbar above the editor.

If you want to add a navigation menu, you’ll have to add titles to each page. To do this, select a page and click on Notes. Type in the page title in the topmost text box. Then, when you preview your design, select With Navigation on the dropdown.

Preview your design by clicking Preview on the editor menu. Once you’re happy with your design, you can move on to publishing your portfolio website.

Having and maintaining a personal brand not only communicates who you are as a creative, but also signals consistency and professionalism to prospective clients. So, consider setting up your brand guidelines before you start working on your portfolio.

To publish your portfolio website, click Publish Website on the editor menu and select Resize on mobile to ensure your site is mobile responsive. Then, choose whether to publish to a free Canva domain or purchase a custom domain.

Later, you can also choose to edit your site settings, like your URL slug, site description, password protection, and SEO settings as well. This ensures that your website can be found in search engines.

It may seem that printed portfolios are passé these days, but that’s not true. As mentioned, printed portfolios still have some advantages over digital ones.

Apart from those mentioned above, physical portfolios can help artists and designers stand out from their peers and leave a lasting impression with prospective clients. After all, printed portfolios are more expensive, more difficult to produce and update, and harder to distribute. This just shows that anyone willing to put in the effort cares a lot about their work.

Get inspired with these portfolio website templates

Whether you’re a fledgling graphic designer looking to create your very first digital design portfolio website, or a seasoned writer hoping to build a professional yet easy-to-maintain writing portfolio website, Canva Websites has all the tools and free portfolio website templates you need to get started.

All you need in a portfolio website maker

Creating a portfolio website doesn’t have to be the terrifying and time-consuming task that many believe it to be. Canva Websites’s online portfolio maker lets you create professional one-page websites in no time with free, customizable templates, easy drag-and-drop tools, and free and custom domains.

  • Stunning one-page website templates

    Stunning one-page website templates

    Hundreds of templates for any kind of website — no need to start from scratch.

  • Free and custom domains

    Free and custom domains

    Use a free Canva domain, or purchase a custom one. Optimizable for search engines.

  • Easy drag-and-drop building

    Easy drag-and-drop building

    Assemble your one-page website even without any software or coding knowledge.

  • Track traffic with Website Insights (Pro)

    Track traffic with Website Insights (Pro)

    See who views and engages with your website in real-time with our built-in tracker.

  • Password-protection for privacy

    Password-protection for privacy

    Encrypt access to your one-page website for exclusive viewers.

  • Optimized for mobile

    Optimized for mobile

    One-page websites that are easy to build, easy to read on mobile.

Portfolio website best practices

Now you know the basic steps on how to create a portfolio website. But there are still more things you can do to create a showstopping portfolio website that’ll increase your chances of winning prospective clients. Follow these best practices to ensure your portfolio website stands out among the best.

Highlight the work you want to do more of

Have a passion for a certain niche but not a lot of experience to show for it? Portfolios are useful not only for getting the type of work you’d be good at, but expanding your skill set and growing as an artist. Instead of merely mentioning particular areas of interest, consider presenting personal projects related to those interests.

Ungroup elements in the portfolio design template

Edit your various types of work into groups so they stay together as you move them around your website design.

Write case studies

We’ve mentioned case studies a few times already, and with good reason. While photos of finished products show your technical abilities, they don’t provide much insight into your creative process, ability to problem solve, and expertise in the subject. Case studies allow you to talk extensively about these things and establish authority and credibility.

Learn SEO basics

If you want your portfolio website to reach more people, you have to learn how to optimize it for search engines. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process of making a website more visible in search engines like Google. The goal of SEO(opens in a new tab or window) is to “attract website visitors who will become customers, clients, or an audience that keeps coming back.”

If you don’t have the time to learn about the more technical aspects of SEO or the resources to hire a specialist, there are some things you can do yourself to improve your site’s visibility. For example, optimizing your content. This means using high-volume and low competition keywords in your alt-tags, titles and subtitles, meta description, and overall copy.

With Canva Websites, you can add and optimize your meta titles and descriptions, as well as use custom domains. Canva Pro and Canva for Education users can also track traffic and engagement through the Insights tool.

Update your portfolio website regularly

It can be hard to constantly maintain a portfolio website when you’re working constantly. But the benefits outweigh the costs. Having an up-to-date portfolio is simply more likely to land you better jobs than one that’s several design trends behind.

Here are some simple ways you can update your portfolio without giving it a major overhaul:

  • Remove old projects: This creates room for newer stuff. Some things you can cut are school projects and personal redesign projects.
  • Update your type: Typography trends come and go fast, so outdated fonts can be a dead giveaway for a portfolio that hasn’t been touched in years.
  • Revisit your About info: Perhaps you’ve moved cities, experimented with a new medium, or collected a few awards since the last time you updated your portfolio. Make sure your About section reflects your most recent life changes.
  • Experiment with animation: Animations, even simple page transitions, make portfolios more dynamic and give them a little more oomph.

Canva Websites autosaves your work and reflects your changes in real-time, so you can keep updating as needed, without having to publish a new website everytime.

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Need another space to draft your case study? Don’t look outside of Canva — just open a Canva Doc and start writing your case study. All for free.
Edit texts in your portfolio website

Updating elements in your Canva Website is as easy as a click and a drag and drop, so you can stay on top of your portfolio.

Portfolio website FAQs

The difference between a CV and a portfolio is that the former is a brief overview of a person’s work experience, skills and qualification, while the latter is a collection of one’s best work. Although the two have similar purposes, portfolios are far less common than CVs, and are typically used by those in creative professions, such as designers, artists, photographers, and models.

Most people use their own or their company’s name for their domain names. Bear in mind that it’s good practice to give your portfolio website the same name as your domain.

Yes, you can print your portfolio website made with Canva. Using Magic Switch, you can resize your portfolio website into a print product such as a photobook. Then, you can download your design as a PDF and print it later.

You don’t need to learn how to code to create online portfolios with one-page Canva Websites. Our customizable templates, drag-and-drop site building tool, and library of graphic elements are all you need to get started.

Yes, you can link your social media profiles to elements in your portfolio design, such as icons, photos, and text. Simple right-click an element, click Link, and paste the URL of your social page in the box. After you’ve published your website, linked elements will be clickable and redirect users to the linked social media platforms.

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