Digital Portfolios: Six Tips for Designing your Portfolio for University and College Applications

Learning and Interpretation
November 23, 2015


Samsung Digital Classroom: Creating a Digital Portfolio Workshop © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Samsung Digital Classroom: Creating a Digital Portfolio Workshop © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Creating your perfect portfolio can be tough, so here are six simple tips to create one that works. Applications to university and college courses can be a daunting process and increasingly, one of the requirements for an interview and entry is the submission of a digital portfolio. Although traditional physical portfolio making is part of GCSE, A-Level and International Baccalaureate courses, often the crucial step of creating a digital portfolio which is emailed along with applications is left out. To design a portfolio that catches the eye on the screen requires a different approach and with a few tricks and tips in mind, you can design something that shows your work to its best!

Last weekend with ran a workshop with London Art Portfolio as part of our Samsung Digital Classroom programme for 16 – 19 year olds. Here are six tips they shared with us to think about when choosing your work and creating a design that has impact.


Share your creative journey through your digital portfolio by carefully selecting your artworks

Leonardo da Vinci, Forster Codex, Volume I, 16v, 1505. Museum no. F.141 Volume I V16 (Forster)
Leonardo da Vinci, Forster Codex, Volume I, 16v, 1505. Museum no. F.141 Volume I V16 (Forster) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Your portfolio is a chance to show the tutors on courses the creative processes and ideas that you have. Rather than just showing your final pieces of work, mix in sketchbooks, notes, models and maquettes that tell them a story of how you got there.

Capture high quality images

You want to make sure that your work looks the best it can do on screen. Evenly light your picture and use a digital camera to capture a detailed image. If you have access to a scanner and your work fits in it then use it! You will get great quality images to work with and the high resolution will allow you to crop while keeping the details.

If you are capturing 3D works, take your images against a white background (a white wall will do the trick, or a crease free white sheet makes a great backdrop). There are some great tutorials on YouTube that show you how to take great photos without specialist equipment – take a look at this lesson from Saatchi Online.

Enhance your images using image manipulation software

Even if you have taken a great photo you may still need to do some tweaking. Remember that they will be looking at your work on a screen and not in person, so really make those pictures pop.

Use an image manipulation program such as Adobe Photoshop or the wonderful and free to boost your saturation, get your blacks blacks and whites white with brightness and contrast. If you have taken photos of work against a white background, use the magic wand selection tool to cut out the piece and layer it onto a background that you like. This tutorial video shows you how to use layers to control hue and saturation to get a vibrant picture.

Create digital images using multiple pieces of artwork

Using multiple images on a page is a good way of showing the research and development of a piece. It is also a way of telling more of a story with your work, creating links from one image to the next.

Some universities will ask for just 5 slides of your work, others 20. So, make the most of the space that you have by combining different images in grids or collage.

Designing a grid layout in Adobe Photoshop © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Designing a grid layout in Adobe Photoshop © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Use templates to upload and organise

Creating or using a good template can make your life much easier in having a portfolio that is well designed and clean looking. White space is just as important as the images that you use in framing your art, so use the blank space of a page to focus the eye on what you want the application staff to see and let the artwork breath on the page.

Creating a template might just be using a grid to arrange the images neatly or it might be a more ambitious design, but don’t over complicate things. If you are unsure of how to make your own, you can find free templates here and over at Smashing Magazine.

The text on the pages can be a way for you to talk about your processes and research alongside your personal statement. On each page of your portfolio, why not try putting in three simple sentences under the headings below:

Title /What is your piece called? What was the brief?

Research /Which artists did you look at? What other ideas  inspired you?

Method / What materials and processes were used?


Review the sequencing and continuity of your portfolio

When arranging the order of your portfolio think about the kind of story you want to tell with it. Ideally, you should have a narrative that leads from one page to the next, showing the development of an idea or different approaches to subjects and materials. Have a think about where you place your strongest work and how can lead up to it with the other pieces you have chosen.


The Samsung Digital Classroom is a new programme for 16 – 19 year olds which offers hands on, practical workshops exploring the latest in digital art and design. You can find more of our Samsung Digital Classroom Sessions online here and follow blogs about the sessions through News from the Learning Department.

About the author

Learning and Interpretation
November 23, 2015

I'm Team Leader for Digital Programmes at the V&A and run events, workshops, talks and festivals with artists and designers who use and experiment with digital tools, processes and manufacturing.

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