• The H&Co Guide To Buying a Photography Portfolio

January 08, 2018

A significant part of our customer base for our portfolios, are photographers. They hail not just from the UK but from around the world and their photographic subjects and disciplines are just as varied as their geographic locations.
From our point of view, they share one thing in common - They all want to present their printed work in the very (very!) best way possible.

It is at this point however that this common purpose splinters into a number of different camps or preferences. Portfolio books or portfolio boxes? If it's portfolio books should the pages be bound directly into the portfolio, or do you use hinge strips, or are sleeves the answer to solve grubby fingers??

After many, (many!) conversations with our customers, we decided to put together this brief guide to commissioning a custom and bespoke professional photography portfolio for your printed work.

A photography portfolio is on the one hand branding (i.e. the cover colour, the 'feel' your name/logo etc) and on the other hand, how you want the presentation of your work to un-fold to the viewer.

The best place to start is, where it's going to spend most of its time? Is it going to live with an agency or is it living with you?

If it's going to an agency and being passed around a great deal (without you), then it's going to need to stand up to the ware and tear of lots of handling, which means a durable cover, probably good quality page protectors and therefore a portfolio book. Another option would be leather, but you must appreciate the 'worn' and 'lived in' look that lots of handling will have, might clash with your style and the look of the work inside it. 

A portfolio box would certainly protect your prints, but if they are lose, then quite unintentionally after a few months some might not make it back inside your box.

If however your portfolio is going to remain strictly with you, the next question is..

What’s your presentation style?

Photography presentation divides into two camps - Those who want to present their work in a particular order, with prints being shown one at a time (for very strategic and commercial reasons) and those that want to go through their work one at time and then lay it out to be seen as a whole body of work, again for the same reasons.

If you are the former, then you are probably in the portfolio book camp, if you are the latter, then it's portfolio boxes.

There is no right or wrong choice! It's down to what style sits best with you, your work and who you are talking to. It's not a hard and fast rule, you could certainly adapt both, but it will come with compromises which are either worth living with or not worth the hassle.

Photography Portfolio Boxes

print portfolio box open for graphic designer

Portfolio boxes are traditional places to keep photographic prints and if specified well, lend a lot of impact to the brand and the great reveal. Some photographers like to mount their presentation work, (thereby ruling out portfolio books). Also for presentation purposes, portfolio boxes are ideal for presenting your work individually and then laying it across a table to be seen as a whole.


Just like portfolio books, our portfolio box prices are based on international and US paper sizes but just like books, portfolio boxes can be made bespoke to your requirements at no extra cost. 

The other pricing factor is the depth of the box. Our standard depths are 4cm, 6cm and 8cm. Essentially though, we make the holding tray fit whatever is being placed inside it plus a couple of millimetres.

Types of Portfolio Boxes

Clamshell Box

The clamshell box consist of 2 trays with three sides that fit into one another (like a clam shell). They are also known as Solander boxes or archive boxes. Your prints sit in the smaller of the two trays and the bigger box and outer cover enclose your work when closed.

clamshell portfolio box in custom blue and black buckram

Pros: Strength - your prints are protected by a double of box sides
Cons: A little more unwieldy compared to the half clam shell.

Half Clamshell Box

The half clamshell just has the single tray which is open on one side. The outer cover encloses the whole box (unlike the clamshell) and there are magnets in the flap and the tray which helps to keep the box closed.

half clamshell portfolio box with magnetic flapPros: Easy to present with as you are not having to deal with the opposing tray
Cons: Doesn’t have the second tray.

To be honest there is not much in it between the two other than preference in look!

Portfolio Cover Materials

This is where part of the ‘special’ bit occurs! The start of the subtle (or in your face) branding occurs. Actually, there are one or two considerations that need to be highlighted.

  1. There is no extra charge for using more than one colour in your portfolio (though there is you choose one of or Non-Standard materials.
  2. The shinier the material, the more robust it is. Reyon book cloth looks and feels great, but it can’t be wiped clean. 

Reyon Book Cloth feels and looks great, but it is un-protected cloth, therefore a bit of mayonnaise from someones lunch, or a coffee spill or grubby hands and then that’s it, your portfolio goes from pristine to rustic in less than a moment. 

Buckram on the other hand is acrylic coated and spills can be wiped off.
We can also get Faux or Vegan ‘leathers’ which are another safe bet for durability.

Our Veg tanned leather is gorgeous and gives the senses a real lift! It looks great, feels luxurious and smells divine. That said it doesn’t have a plastic coating and it is 100% natural, so it will scuff and mark - which is not a problem, or in fact ideal, if you want a ‘natural’ look,

Our fabric swatch can be found here

Photography Portfolio Books

We differentiate portfolio books into two main categories.  The first distinction is our binding process, which can be either screw post or ring binding. This types of portfolio books help to complement different styles of presentation you might have.

Our screw post  portfolios tend to be preferred choice and come in 4 different styles. Exposed screw post, Fixed back screw post, Hidden Screw posts and Leather screw post. The ring binders are available in Fixed back or Leather.

Book Sizes

First thing to point out here is that your portfolio is being individually handmade, that means it can be made to any size or format you require.

Although our prices are based on standard international and US paper sizes, we measure the exact size of the portfolio on what is being placed inside it. For instance, if your work is printed on A3 landscape paper and the pages are being punched or drilled in the margin and then placed directly into the portfolio we will make the size of the inner cover to exactly fit your page when closed, i.e. 297mm x 420mm. Should you be using hinge strips to attach your pages into the screw post, then the inner cover will be marginally wider to accommodate the size of the strips, if you are using page protector sleeves, the the inner cover will not only me marginally wide but also slightly taller as well.

Consistency is key however. If you choose to have a portfolio that is made to fit just pages, if you change your mind at a latter date and opt to use hinge strips or page protectors, then you will find that your portfolio book will be smaller than the work inside it.

How Many Pages Fit into a Portfolio?

A regularly asked question, but not one that comes with a definitive answer. The quick answer is “as many as you want it too” but essentially it depends on the weight (thickness) of the media inserted. 30 x 300 gsm pages are thicker than 30 x 100 gsm pages; also page protectors are thicker then paper.

portfolio book with plastic sleeves

So, How do you calculate the answer? It’s very basic, lie all your work down in a pile and then measure it. We will then include the right size post and make the right sized spine to fit.

What if the size of work varies depending upon each project?

We recommend either commissioning an Exposed screw post portfolio or within reason a Leather screw post portfolio. An Exposed screw post does not have a spine cover, therefore by changing the lengths of the screw posts can be made to fit any thickness of work. Just let us know, what sizes you require and we will happily include a variety of posts free of charge.

Inserting Your Prints Into The Binder

There are 3 different methods to choose from (and all come with pros and cons). The first is to allow a 2cm magic or gutter on your prints and then punch holes (with a standard paper punch) into the gutter and then insert these directly over the posts and into the portfolio.

wedding album photographers in leather portfolio

The second would be to use hinge strips. These are plastic (polyester) strips 293mm/11.5” in length and 25mm/1” wide. On the left hand side there are punch holes and on the right is an adhesive strip. You peel back the adhesive strip and attach it to the back of your print. Ideally you would want to score the paper along the length of the strip so that it folds neatly and essentially helps the page lie flat when opened.

A guide on how to do this can be found here 

The third option is to use page protectors or sleeves. We sell 2 different options, the thicker polypropylene and thinner polyester, the former being the cheaper of the two.




Next to your choice of cover material, this is what makes having your portfolio stand out against an anonymous black art book or print box.

You have a number of choices ranging from a standard no colour ‘blind’ debossing to a foil stamped. Full colour impact can be achieved via a sample recess in to the cover where a printed card is glued snuggly into place or a full colour UV inkjet printed design directly onto the cover.
More information on Personalisation options can be found on this page here.

Just like the cover of a novel, the cover of your portfolio is going to be the first thing the viewer touches, feels and lays their eyes on before they’ve even seen your work. Like any shop front or packaging it’s going to be making a statement about you the person, before they get to you the photographer. Whether your preference is for portfolio books or boxes, mounted, inserted directly or page protectors ensure the first sense the client gets about you the professional is the one you want.

See our range of photography portfolio books here

To see collection of inspiring portfolios that we've made for creatives click here

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