Building your Portfolio: Custom Website or Online Service?

Deciding when to launch your first portfolio online can be a challenge. It’s tough to know exactly when your work quality is good enough to share with others. Plus how should you get it out on the Internet? There are numerous methods and building your own custom website layout isn’t always the best choice.

I’d like to share a few ideas for creatives about building your first online portfolio. The process is much simpler than you might think, and the toughest part is making exemplary work to demonstrate your skillset. But how people find your work is also very important. I hope to shed a bit of light on this topic and help designers make the right choice for their online showcase.

Self-Hosting your Portfolio

Building your own website can be tough if you don’t know a lot about HTML/CSS. Yet this is typically a popular option because it lets you create anything. The layout, the domain name, how the portfolio looks and the written web copy is all up to you. Might seem a bit stressful, huh?

Well it may seem stressful at first, especially if you’re brand new to the industry. I’d suggest looking into how much work is required so you can determine if hand-coding a website something you’d want to learn. Paying a freelance developer to code your website isn’t always worth the money – especially because HTML/CSS is so easy to learn with a bit of practice.

The more difficult part is knowing how to design a great website before coding. Arduous choices include building a helpful navigation, user interface, portfolio gallery, and color scheme(among other topics). You might consider looking into other design portfolios for inspiration just to get some ideas. But copying another design is not the answer. You need to create a design that’s somewhat unique yet true to yourself and your work.

Custom Themes

If you’re a little nervous about designing your own custom layout then why not purchase a premium portfolio theme? You can get them as cheap as $40-$60 from marketplaces like ThemeForest. Each theme comes with many different page layouts and portfolio styles which work nicely for writers, photographers, artists, graphic designers, even musicians or comedians.

The largest benefit of using a custom theme is the simplicity. WordPress is free to install so all you need is a domain name along with some web hosting. Just setup WordPress, install your theme, and customize to your liking. It’s real easy to start uploading your own portfolio pieces into the theme and you probably won’t need to change any HTML or CSS code.

If you are making your very first portfolio but really want to have a unique website(ie. then I would highly recommend starting with a theme. You may only use this for a few months or years before updating to a newer design. But it will show professionalism that you may not be able to replicate on your own. Custom WordPress theming requires not just HTML/CSS knowledge, but also PHP and sometimes JavaScript/jQuery. Theming is a complex task which anybody can learn – but it will take some time, and unfortunately you might not have that time available.

Popular Online Services

Aside from launching your own domain name there are many online portfolio services both free and paid. I’d recommend signing up for a couple of these even if you do have your own website.


behance network website homepage

Popular networks like Behance can get your name ranking in Google very quickly.

Quick ranking happens because online portfolio services have very good standing with Google’s algorithm. Your new domain name could require weeks or even a month to start ranking in Google. Using both a custom site and online service helps to get your name out there faster – plus you can often link to your personal website from services like Behance so that other users find you online.

When just getting started I would highly recommend Behance. The general service is free but they offer a pro account to build your own personal portfolio on their servers. It’s not totally necessary and the free account is more than enough to get your work out there.


carbonmade portfolio service homepage design

Another great choice is Carbonmade which has been online for many years. Their free account limits you to adding only 5 projects and 35 images. This could be more than enough for a beginner so it’s never a bad choice. Each portfolio will look like a custom site using a subdomain like Check it out and see what you think.


deviantart social network designers artists

The very popular online art community deviantART has to be one of my favorites. The site is a bit more laid-back yet still serves as a great place to share creative work. DA behaves more like a social network, so artists will post work and other users can leave comments & critiques.

Still a great place to use if you want to share alternative work that you don’t wish to include in your main portfolio. Also deviantART is free forever and there aren’t any upload limitations.


coroflot website portfolio layout design

One other suggestion is Coroflot which combines unique portfolios along with open design jobs. This site behaves like a social network for creative people and companies looking to hire creative people. You can signup for free to get started with lots of great portfolio features.

Coroflot is aimed at those who also want to put themselves out there for hire. The profile page is perfect for potential hirers looking for hirees to fill a role in their studio or company. Many big-time companies use Coroflot for job offerings and although it’s still a competitive industry, signing up for your own portfolio certainly can’t hurt the odds.


As you might imagine there is no single correct answer when it comes to portfolio design. In fact, many designers will have their own website coupled with online profiles like Behance and Dribbble. Just getting your work online is a big first step. When potential employers or clients search your name it should return quite a few results demonstrating your expertise. But when you’re just getting started pick whatever feels most comfortable and keep pushing yourself! The best creative people know that you’re never done learning – it’s always a growth process.

Jake is a researcher and writer on many design & digital art websites. He frequently writes on topics including UX design, content marketing, and project management. You can find more work on his portfolio and follow his latest tweets @jakerocheleau.

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