How to make an online portfolio: 3 ways to build your own corner of the web

website builders portfolio
(Image credit: Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash)

Whether you’re an artist or architect, the days of dragging around a physical portfolio from interview to interview are largely behind us. Nowadays, if you want to be taken seriously as a creative professional, you need an online portfolio that’s easy to navigate, good looking, and presents your work in the most professional light. 

Yes, you could just post your work on Instagram, and many do. But that doesn’t allow you to organise your work in any way other than posting date. And good luck to anyone trying to find a specific project you’ve worked on via Google. 

The good news is, it’s pretty easy to set up a proper online portfolio, that allows you to divide your work into categories and add useful explanations; lets Google search it; and looks professional. In this article, we’ll go through the three main ways to do: using an free portfolio platform, using Adobe Portfolio; and creating a bespoke site with the best website builder. And make sure to bookmark our best web hosting services article for when you're ready to publish your online portfolio. 

Looking for a website builder? Read our guides to:

01. Use a free portfolio platform

Study July portfolio on Behance

Studio July's portfolio on Behance (Image credit: Studio July/Behance)

So you don’t want to go to all the expense and bother of building a full website. But you do want some way of sharing your work online, in a way that’s easily findable and searchable by others? Luckily, there are many free platforms that allow you to do so.

If you’re an illustrator, designer or design studio, we’d recommend Behance, a free portfolio platform from Adobe. Note that, as is typical for this kind of service, you won’t get your own bespoke website. Instead, you’ll get a dedicated page on Behance to host your work and details about it. Nor will you have any control over the design of the page, and all you can do is drop in your images and text into the page format provided.

On the plus side, that makes it one of the easiest ways to set up an online portfolio. And you’ll be in good company, as some of the profession’s top creatives have their own pages here. Behance users can follow each other and leave comments on your projects, which are generally positive. You get stats like Project Views and Appreciations displayed on your homepage, and Adobe does a good job at curating and surfacing the best talent on its homepage under the heading ‘Best of Behance’.

Loish profile on ArtStation

Famous artists like Loish have portfolios on ArtStation (Image credit: Loish/ArtStation)

If you’re a 2D or 3D artist, meanwhile, we’d recommend ArtStation. Again, you don’t get your own website, just a collection of pages where the design format is already set in stone. Your main page will feature a large cover image, with a few details about who you are and how to contact you, and then you’ll a selection of thumbnail images below. You can divide these into categories if you wish. Note, though, that these thumbnails are automatically cropped to a square format, so it’s best to edit your work accordingly before you upload it.

There are many famous concept artists working in the games and entertainment industries with ArtStation pages, so you have no fear of looking unprofessional by using the platform. Note, though, that these leading pros will probably have upgraded to ArtStation Plus or Artstation Pro, which cost $6.99 and $9.95 respectively, and gives you greater revenue share on sales, password protected pages, and 4K images and video. (Also, if you don't just want a page, but an independent website, ArtStation offers a website builder service, even on its free plan. You can find details of that here.)

500px homepage with image of hand holding pumpkin

500px offer a more professional look for a photography portfolio than Flickr (Image credit: 500px/Refat Mamutov)

Finally, if you’re a photographer we’d recommend 500px, which enables you to showcase your work and also set up a store to sell your work online. Whereas a service like Flickr is packed with amateur work, 500px is smaller and more focused on professionals. 

Rather than just uploading a ton of photos, it allows you to categorise them into galleries; you can add a bio and links; and you can sell through an online store. So while you’re not getting a bespoke website, you are getting a series of pages that act very much like one, in a way that’s easy to set up and free.

02. Use Adobe Portfolio

Adobe portfolio template

Adobe Portfolio's template are highly image-based (Image credit: Adobe)

The platforms we mention about are no good if you want a portfolio website of your own. And ultimately, that’s going to give you more control over how you present your portfolio, and look much more professional to prospective clients and employees.

Adobe provides a service that does just that, called Adobe Portfolio, as part of the Creative Cloud. So if you already have a Creative Cloud subscription, it’s well worth checking out. (If you don't, check out the latest Creative Cloud discount).

The emphasis with Adobe Portfolio is galleries, so it’s a good choice for creatives whose work is highly visual, such as photographers or artists. Photographers especially will appreciate the integration with Lightroom, allowing you to upload images quickly and easily. Those whose work is more conceptual and requires greater explanation though, such as UX designers, might struggle. The templates here are very well designed, but they’re not very customisable.

Also, while Adobe Portfolio provides everything you need to showcase your work online, if you’re interested in adding other elements such as an online store, you’re out of luck. Something else to consider is whether you’re likely to keep your Creative Cloud subscription up long term, because once that goes, your portfolio site will be no more.

03. Build a bespoke website

Rozette Rago's portfolio on Format

Celebrity photographer Rozette Rago's portfolio website was built using Format (Image credit: Format/Rozette Rago)

Want an all-singing, all-dancing portfolio site that can be customised to your heart’s content, and harnessed for purposes such as ecommerce and blogging? Then it’s worth thinking about investing a little money in building your own bespoke website.

There was a time when you either needed to know how to code, or pay a web designer to build a site for you, which would likely cost into the thousands. Nowadays, however, there’s a third option in the form of paid-for website building services. These provide you with templates to get you started, then you can upload your chosen text and images, tweak the layout so it works in the way you want it to, and you’ll have your very own website, which you can update as often as you want. 

You’ll pay a monthly or annual fee for this service, which will usually cover things like web hosting, a domain name, and technical support in case you need help. However, before you commit, it’s a good idea to try building your website by taking out a free trial. Almost all web builders offer them, and usually you don’t need to provide a credit card either. Play around with the interface a couple of hours and you’ll soon get an idea about whether a particular web builder service is right for you.

Squarespace photography portfolio template

Squarespace's templates are clean, minimal and quite beautiful (Image credit: Squarespace)

But who to start with? There are many to choose from, starting our pick of the best web builders. But for online portfolios specifically, we’d recommend Squarespace. That’s largely because it has the most beautifully designed templates: minimalist, image-led layouts with lots of white space to let your work breathe. You can also customise these templates to your heart’s content, and include elements such as a blog and an online store, and the interface is relatively easy to use. You'll find a walkthrough of the basic steps here.

That said, other website builders are also available, and some of the best web builders for photographers include specific services for building photo portfolios, such as Format, Smugmug and Pixpa. Other creative professions also have website builders aimed especially at them; for example, the best web builders for artists include Jimdo and Voog. Meanwhile, if your creative portfolio is essentially a shop window for driving sales, we’d recommend an ecommerce-focused website builder such as Shopify.

Looking for a website builder? Read our guides to:

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.