Creating Custom Folios for Self-Promotion & Presentation

By David Saffir Back to

custom portfolios, david saffir, photo technique The portfolio, closed and unfolded

A teacher of mine once told me “nothing matters except your book” –referring of course, to my portfolio. Photographers use portfolios for self-promotion, to share a story or point of view, to help create a body of work, or to establish or reinforce professional identity.

The range of options in portfolio design and presentation makes for a number of choices—format, size, paper type, books, boxes, albums, printing processes and more. Other considerations: Budget? How much time to invest? Can new work be added, or can old work easily deleted? How do I pitch my work to different audiences?

In this article I’ll discuss a presentation option I’ve been working with lately and it’s one that I like quite a bit. Simple and inexpensive with straightforward construction, it’s changeable, elegant and a bit different.

david saffir, custom portfolios, photo technique
Pre-cut folio with prints

The ready-made folio itself is made from a precision- cut sheet of heavy paper, folded to create a recloseable envelope or pocket that holds 10–15 prints. I’m currently using this design to showcase a dozen of my images printed on 310gsm Ilford Gold Silk inkjet paper. Each image is imprinted with my name, the title of the body of work and my web address.

I created my own simple Photoshop templates (vertical and horizontal) that photo technique readers can download for free to create their own folio pages with a minimum of stress. (See resources).

Please follow the link to download the templates: Custom Folio Templates

I’ve always enjoyed books and prints. The experience of picking up a fine art book or print can’t be duplicated—a digital display doesn’t come close. I enjoy the experience of feeling the texture of the paper and seeing the print without glass in front of it. So one of my requirements—the tactile experience—is satisfied in this format.

These folios are versatile in that a photographer can create a body of work around a concept, story, location, culture or time period. Pages can be moved in and out of a collection, reordered, or reprinted and remade. I use my folios as a marketing tool for my general photography business and also to promote sales of larger versions of my prints.

A folio like this can be shared with a group. Prints can be passed around, discussed and so on. A customer might un-bundle them and frame individual prints. The folio cover also has a die-cut window that allows creation of an introduction image with title—and of course this can be changed as desired.

david saffir, custom portfolios, photo technique
david saffir, custom portfolios, photo technique
Final Proof

Folio Materials
The folio consists of three components: the folio cover, a mat board inserted for reinforcement and the prints. Pre-made folio covers from Neil Enns of Dane Creek Photography in Seattle, Washington are offered in a variety of colors. The colors are cut from Royal Complements 100lb. acid/lignin-free paper, the white covers are made from Domtar Cougar Opaque. Mat boards are made from different sources depending on color and all are acid/lignin-free.

When assembled with a mat board the folio holds up to 15 pages depending on paper thickness. I am currently using Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk, which is about 310gsm. Thicker papers will limit the capacity of the folio.

Image Editing and Media Types
My image editing leverages the relative high Dmax and nice black point of this Ilford paper. This paper has a 96 brightness rating and a relatively warm baryta base. Working best with pigment inks, it’s a robust all-around paper and it doesn’t impose its personality on the image.

Of course you have many different choices for ink- jet paper. Pick your favorite to showcase your images. I usually shoot in 16-bit RAW, and process in Phase One Capture One to 16-bit, ProPhoto RGB. Normal image edits in Photoshop or Lightroom usually include color correction, black/white points, midtone contrast and sharpening.

I designed a pre-formatted template in Photoshop to prepare each image for folio printing. I edit the image first then copy/paste it into the template. The screen shot shows the layout guides (in blue) that help me position the image on-screen. I use Edit>Transform to fine tune size and position to balance the image and text on the page. Adjust the boundaries and image size to your preferences.

The pre-made folio covers also have a window on one side. Create a small image that is a bit larger than the window—perhaps including a title and your name and attach it to the inside of the folio. This adds a nice touch of professionalism and personality.

david saffir, custom portfolios, photo technique

Given the 8.5×11 format of the folio, I’ve found it’s easier and less time-consuming to purchase cut sheets at this size. I’ve been using the Epson 3880 and the HP B9180 printers for these jobs, as both have nice ink sets and straight or almost straight paper paths. Printing on larger sheets or on roll paper could be less expensive, but there are issues that I’d rather not deal with such as including crop marks, trimming, paper curl and more. At current prices ink and paper together should be less than $1.50 per page. With 15 pages and the cost of the folio, the entire package should come in around $25.

david saffir, custom portfolio, photo techniqueI recommend that you print using “application managed color” and use an ICC paper profile in your printing. Most paper manufacturers offer paper profiles online for a range of printers. I’ve also gotten excellent results making custom paper profiles, particularly when using matte-finish fine art media.

If you are using matte-finish fine art paper, consider using a spray or other protective coating to reduce vulnerability to scratching and scuffing. Some people use an interleaving sheet—but this may reduce the number of prints that will fit in the folio.

I print these as unsigned open editions unlike my larger gallery-sized prints.

Collateral Materials
You can include an artist statement that might contain an introduction to your images, a description of the scope of the work, project objectives and the like.

Brooks Jensen who made some of the earliest digital folios suggests adding a colophon, which is a brief description of the provenance of the work and methods and materials used. Generally, the artist’s statement is placed at the beginning of the print series and the colophon at the end.

I feel that this design is a sometimes-overlooked option in presentation and promotion—it’s easy to set up and execute and the results can be very satisfying. I find it helps to differentiate my work—the form and format are different than books and boxes most commonly seen in the market. I certainly plan to continue to create and use these folios in the future!

Resources: Dane Creek Photography –, Ilford Galerie Papers –

david saffir, custom portfolios, photo technique

About the Author

David Saffir
David Saffir is an internationally recognized, award-winning portrait, commercial and fine art photographer and printmaker. He teaches workshops and seminars in photography, printmaking and color management. He lives in Santa Clarita, California. He is the author of Mastering Digital Color: A Photographer’s and Artist’s Guide to Controlling Color, published by Thomson/Cengage and a photography book, The Joy of Discovery.