Printed Portfolios

Even in this world of online meetings, websites and blogs we need a printed portfolio book to show prospects. I’m in the process of re-doing my books so I’ve been researching this pretty heavily.

My old (current) book. Moab Chinle 8x8
My old current book Moab Chinle 8x8

The format and styling of your book will depend greatly on who you’re marketing to as well as your own personal style. A wedding book is not going to be anything like a commercial book which won’t necessarily look like a pj book. In general here are a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve been able to scrounge in my research.

1. Size Between 8×10 and 11×14. Any smaller and they can’t get a good idea of your work. Any larger and it’s just too big to work with. Remember your target audience and where they are going to be viewing it. Imagine trying to lift, lug and flip through a book that’s 13×17 (which opens to 26×17) inside a cubicle.

2. Number of images This will depend greatly on your genre and type of work you do. Generally, between 40-75 images is a good range. Again, depending on the type of work you do, this will vary. Also, 35 blow-their-socks-off images are far better than 35 “blow-their-socks-off” images and 25 “meh” images.

3. Layout Digital printing and inkjet printers have made interesting layouts possible for portfolios. We’re no longer limited to one image per page. If you want to do that, fine, but don’t feel restricted. Think multiple images per page, two page spreads, and negative space. Note: Use a professional graphic designer!!

4. Printing Simply put, the best you can find. You may be able to print top-notch images on your inkjet printer, if so, great. But don’t skimp here. Many of the online photo book producers use 133- or 150-line halftone printing. That’s fine for a magazine, but this is your baby. Do it right. If the printing is off, the only thing your viewer will remember is “Something was wrong with that book.”

5. Sleeves are evil Really evil, like Dick Cheney (or Nancy Pelosi) evil. They glare, they get creased and scratched and they smell funny. They get in the way of your images.

6. Interchangeability is good If possible, use a system that allows for interchangeable pages (aside from sleeves). Show your book enough times and one of the pages will get messed up. Someone will spill coffee on it; or it will get penned, or creased. It would sure be nice to be able to pull one or two bad pages rather than replacing the entire book.

7. How many? Probably two or three. Again, depending on your market and the type of work you do, you will need at least one to keep handy at all times, and probably one or more to send out. If you have an agent, sales rep or marketing help, you’ll need more copies.

8. Customize Put your name on and in the book. It seems like a no-brainer,   but you’d be surprised at how many times art buyers see a great book and then have to hunt for whose work it is. On my old drop portfolio I even put my FedEx number on the back. (Of course, it still took forever to come back!)

There are several great companies that produce materials and books for photographers’ portfolios. Some links below…

Lost Luggage

Case Envy

Moab Paper

Brewer Cantelmo

House of Portfolios

Asuka Book


Pina Zangaro

This list is by no means comprehensive, if you know of more please leave comments. Thanks!

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Blurb does a hundred things right, but I wish I was more impressed with their print quality. WIth their B3 process their color management is good, service is great, princes are great, but I’ve never seen them be able to manage printing an otherwise blank grey page without mild but visible bands. I’m not sure what the cause is (ink passed along via the paper transport mechanisms, maybe?), but it’s not the way I’d spend a few hundred bucks to make the best impression to my customers.

  2. Some interesting info here, but I’m not sure how seriously to take a writer who confuses ‘there’ and ‘their’. . . Blow OUR socks off and proofread!

  3. Joe,

    I agree about blurb. I’ve tried on a number of occasions and had books printed, but I’m just not liking the quality. It’s a shame because I like their software and the ease of the system. Of the on demand printing I’ve seen, Asuka does the best quality – but you pay for it.

  4. Jaxx,
    Thanks for the note. Our editorial staff had the weekend off. Should be fixed now.

  5. Steve,

    A few questions – I’m looking at books now. I’m really liking the Case Envy series.

    I have read elsewhere that the recommended number of images is somewhere between 15 and 30. You’re recommending a much higher number of images here. Thoughts on that? After 30, they know what you can do, how you do it, and what your style is.

    You preach against sleeves, yet recommend that we find a system that allows for interchangeability. What other system is there? Lost Luggage, Case Envy, Brewer-Cantelmo, and others have screw post albums, but how do we hold the pictures in there if they’re not in sleeves? There’s the hinges from Case Envy, but what other options are there?

  6. Bill,

    RE: # of images, this will depend on the type of work you do and your intended audience. Some people will get it in 5 images, others, in 50. Also remember, from a commercial point of view, books are usually only brought in after you’ve been vetted by your website. It’s very likely your book will be shown to the end client who may not have the same level of visual sophistication as the creatives.

    As far as interchangeable images, both Lost Luggage (which is also Case Envy) and the Moab Chinle books have precut and drilled inkjet pages that fit into their screwpost books.

    Good luck


  7. Steve – I love your current book (but I might be a little biased being a Moab guy). I appreciate your using our books and hope they’ve worked well for you. We just launched a joint project with Case Envy to create 8×9 and 12×13 portfolios available with a bunch of different papers. You can check it out here.

  8. One more thought is how to ship your book, we think a shipping case is the best with your name at the top so it stands out from the sea of bags. Regardless, don’t use a FedEx box and bubble wrap!
    Again, image is everything. (

    And for a great printer who works with the Moab paper, we recommend PushDot Studios in Portland, Oregon. They do all the printing of the interior books we design via Brand Envy ( and do a great job.

  9. Steve: Yeah, I’ve heard great things about Auska, but I just don’t have the customers in my line to sell a lot of $200+ books. Such is life!

  10. Great blog – I always love the sharing! Thanks Nadine for passing it on! My 2 cents on portfolios – use it for MARKETING (get that book off the shelf and show it around). The other key is not to bog yourself down with how many images should be in the book – but rather how many spreads. My number of choice is 17 – 25 spreads. Each spread has it’s own story to tell (color, theme or actual subject matter) – and as a whole the spreads should flow from one to the next. The goal at the end of the book is to be able to walk away and be able to understand the vision and how one’s work can be applied to a certain project. I recommend creating a book and using that book for all requests (within your focused genre). If you have a project that requires specific images – don’t undo your book – gather images into a smaller book for that one project or set up a digital gallery. A GOOD BOOK should last you a year…

  11. I’m thinking of making a book, print run of around 300. I don’t have any idea of what publishers to use (I’m based in the UK), and what sort of printing and paper weight I would require (I’d like it to be much like professional fine art books, it will be printed in black and white so colour shifts would be an issue). Any advice?

  12. Printed portfoilo book is always good idea. Client wants to hold pictures, to feel the paper

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