How To Print an Awesome Commercial Photography Portfolio

Portfolio Printing

The only thing better than pizza and beer is pizza, beer, and tequila. This is especially true when said tequila is Espolon. It's portfolio printing week here at RGG and we've been busy printing, thinking, and re-printing. Above is a layout we used as part of our new PDF and print portfolio, which we spent the past 2 days printing on our Epson Pro 3800. Printing a portfolio takes more time than you'd think. A lot of energy and consideration goes into pagination, pairings, and overall content of you book. It's the final process, the end game, and a powerful tool that is used to get new work. Having said that, we don't take this process lightly or quickly.

Below is a step by step look at printing our portfolio. At our studio, we currently use the company Lost Luggage for our glass frosted portfolios at 11x14 portrait double sided.

Step 1. Print out all of your images in about the same size and same dimensions. We typically do this with 4 1/2 inch wide images and lay them out on the table. These prints can be low res off any printer that you have available. You will want to make sure the tones are somewhat accurate, though. Pairing images based off similar tone is critical so having a decently accurate printer is important. Don't rush this step and make sure to get second opinions on the images you picked.

Step 2. Start making pairings based off of tone and content. Put images together and see what tones complement each other. For us, we try to pair images that have complimentary tones but are different in terms of content. And when we say different, we mean not too similar and not too different. For our portfolio, we print each image at 11x14 making the entire spread 22x14. This is especially critical when shooting images as well. Always be thinking to yourself, will this fit into my book, and how? Once you have the approximate amount of images, tape these image pairings together and flip through each page. If you are printing a one sided portfolio then don't worry too much about this step. Again, make sure to get a second opinion on the pagination and image pairings. 

Step 3. Consider pagination. Pagination is a lot like writing an essay. At the end of each paragraph, your content should begin to introduce the next topic or paragraph for a smooth transition into the next idea. Think of each page in your book as a paragraph. Each page layout should compliment your next page layout. Whether it's with tone or similar content, each page should flow smooth between the previous and take you on a journey through the book. This is one of the most time consuming parts, so prepare this to take you at least a day and maybe a week or two. One thing you do want to keep in mind, though, is content that is too similar. For example, in the above tequila shot, we did 2 very different bottles for the client. While the shots were similar, the same lighting was used and the addition of a second shot wouldn't make sense anywhere in the book. While the shot was awesome, the content was too similar and didn't add anything new. If you have images that are too similar, it can actually hurt the impression your book gives. It's like a video reel with the same awesome clip shown too many times, which is super destructive to the overall experience. It may make some want to stop watching. Less is often times more, especially in your book. You want to send a clear and concise message of who you are as a photographer without repeating yourself anywhere.

Step 4. Know your printing settings, color profiles, and printer capabilities front and back. Each type of paper has a specific color profile that you will want to get from the manufacturer. We use a program called ImagePrint that allows us to load each specific profile into the program. It's very expensive to make a mistake in printing, especially when you are printing double sided prints. Whether it's your fault or the printers, it's never fun seeing a print come out in any way other than what you expected. Printing can be a massively frustrating process, even if you know what you are doing and have a pro level printer. There are tons of things that can go wrong including but not limited to the printer not grabbing the paper and aligning it properly, file corruption, user error (a big one), and random faint roller marks. Always buy more ink and paper than you think is necessary to make up for errors and testing. And always make sure you ware watching what is coming out of your printer. It's like a baby, don't leave it unattended plugged into the wall. Also, wear white gloves while printing to preserve the pristine quality of each print. 

Step 5. Work off of a numbered and visual example. We can't stress this enough. If you don't have a visual aid that's numbered, it may open you up to printing the wrong image on the wrong side of the paper or on the wrong image. Re-printing just means more money and time. Each image takes upwards of 4-8 minutes to complete from loading the image into the program to final output. This doesn't take into consideration file preparation, numbering, photo finishing, and you forgetting to que up the next image.

Step 6. Protecting the pages is also very important. We use Moab "Desert Varnish" by legion paper, which is a UV and H2O resistant lacquer that enhances the life of the digital print. This helps protect the images from the greasy muck on everyone's hands. Over time, you want your book to be seen by as many people as possible, right? Unless you want to be reprinting pages due to stains and smudges, make sure to take the extra step and protect each page with 3 coats of Desert Varnish. The stuff is highly toxic and flammable, so make sure to open a window, turn on a fan, and put out your cuban cigar while printing.

Want to see our final PDF portfolio? Click on the link below to view. Want to see Rob Grimm talk about putting together a portfolio in an interview with Arron Nace from Phlearn? Click for the interview HERE.


-Gary W. Martin, Studio Manager

Chicago and St. Louis Commercial Photography

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Chicago Studio - 312-380-9339
St. Louis Studio - 314-652-9797