I have talked about portfolio setup in the past but not specifically the workflow. I don’t hide the fact that I prefer to build my layouts in Photoshop. It’s what I’m most comfortable with but also what gives me the most flexibility to blend images into one another and really experiment with layouts. I have seen others create their portfolios in Illustrator and InDesign which works too. I have implemented InDesign into my workflow, but as a management tool and not so much as a design tool. InDesign acts as a master file that houses all of my text and organizes all of my PSD files in one place. This means I can quickly comb through many pages at once to study the flow of the story and transition of graphics. It’s very easy to get caught up focusing on each spread as its own entity. InDesign allows me to see the document as a whole and creates a malleable environment to easily move pages around and make quick edits to text. Below, I outline the workflow that I used to create my latest portfolio and prepare it for printing.

1. Determine how the document will be printed

The process begins with deciding where and how I will print the portfolio. For this example, I will be focusing on online printing since this is the easiest and most accessible option for most people. Knowing how you will print the portfolio will inform certain specifications and sizes to be used. For example, blurb only offers a few sizes that will work for my portfolio and the proportions are quite different from my standard 6″x9” size that I have used in past portfolios. Therefore, I want to keep this in mind when designing my new portfolio because the size significantly affects the grid proportions and layout. However, Blurb also provides an InDesign plugin that sets up the file for bleeds, setbacks, and other pertinent document settings. This helps minimize any formatting issues when its time to upload the final portfolio design.

2. Photoshop Template

Once I determine where the printing will be done, I next set up a Photoshop template. This template is meant to mirror the InDesign document template exactly. Therefore, I will be using the exact same bleed settings and setback guides. Below is how I set things up in Photoshop:

2A. Initial Page Size: The individual page size will be 8” tall by 9.5” wide. This is the final cut size given to me by the online printing company. This means when you open the portfolio and look at the spreads, they will be 8” tall and 19” wide. Since I like to design by the spread and not by individual pages, I am going to set my Photoshop template to the 8”x19” size. I am also going to set the resolution to 300 dpi (dots per inch) and set the color mode to “CMYK Color”. The image below shows the setting I used when starting a new document. To make changes to the page size and resolution, go to “Image>Image Size.”



2B. Image Bleed: My portfolio has images and colors stretching all the way to the page edges, so I need to add a bleed to my template. The standard bleed dimension is 1/8” on all sides. Some printers may require something different so it is important to confirm this dimension with them before setting up the template. To add the 1/8” bleed space, select “Image>Canvas Size”. First double check that the anchor is in the center, and then increase the width and height by 1/4.” Obviously, the extra 1/8” could be added when setting up the initial page size, but I wanted to show how to add the bleed after the document has been created.


2C. Setup Guides: Once the size of the canvas is set, I insert the guides. I want to mark the locations of the cut line, text setback, and the fold. To do this, you must first turn on your rulers by going to “View>Rulers”. With the rulers on, select the “Move Tool” and simply drag guides from the rulers to the locations you need them. You can precisely place guides by choosing “View>Add Guides”. You can also lock the guides by choosing “View>Lock Guides”. The image below shows the state of my template at this point.



3. InDesign Document Setup

I want the InDesign template to be identical in size to the Photoshop template. This allows me to easily place the PSD files directly into InDesign without any alignment issues. 

3A. Initial Page Setup: Before setting up the InDesign Template, first look to see if the online printer has provided any online resources. For example, Blurb offers a plugin that generates a template for you. However, in some cases, a template will need to be created from scratch which I outline below. 

Go to “File>New>Document.” In the new document dialogue box, make sure “Facing Pages” is checked. This will allow you to create spreads instead of individual pages. Also, estimate how many pages your portfolio will be and insert that number into “Number of pages”. The number of pages does not have to be exact and can be changed as the document is developed.

Change the width and height to the final “Cut” size of a single page. In my case I want it to be 9.5” wide by 8” high. InDesign defaults to picas, not inches which is the unit I want to use. A little tip when setting the width and height is type what you want in inches and follow the number with “in” such as “8.5in”. InDesign will give you that dimension in picas. You can also change the units by going to “Preferences>Units and Increments” and change the ruler units to inches for both the horizontal and vertical. 

I set my margins to 0.25” except for the inside margin which is set to 0.5”. The margins act as a barrier by which important text and images stay within. However, images and graphics can extend outside of this line and should continue all the way to the bleed edge. Different size margins are okay to use but I wouldn’t suggest going less than 0.25”. You will want a larger margin in the inside edge to account for binding.

Finally, I set the bleed to 0.125” (1/8”) for all four sides. 

Choose “Ok” to complete the setup.


3B. Master Pages: Masters are essentially templates that you can overlay on multiple pages. When you make a change to a master, it will update all book pages that the master was applied to. This is useful if you are adding page numbers, a title, or a graphic that needs to appear in the exact same place on multiple pages. In the case of this portfolio, I really only need it for page numbers. There are situations in my portfolio where the page number gets lost in a dark background, therefore, I create a second master with white text. To view master pages, go to “Window>Pages” and you will see the masters at the top. Clicking on a master thumbnail brings up the master page where you can make changes. They can then be applied to the portfolio pages by dragging them on top of the pages you wish to apply them to in the pages palette.


4. Develop Photoshop Spreads

With the documents set up, I began the process of laying out the designs in Photoshop. I used filler text to determine general placement of paragraphs and titles. I placed all my text into a group layer of each PSD file so that I could easily turn off the layer when it was time to place the file into InDesign. 



5. Place PSD Files into InDesign

As I develop the PSD files, I insert the new files into the InDesign document using the “Place” method. Placing the PSD files creates a link between the two programs so that if a change is made to the PSD file and saved, it will update in InDesign without the need to place it again. 

To do this, simply drag the PSD file onto the InDesign page and align the bleed edges. The longer route is to go to “File>Place.” When the dialogue appears, navigate to the PSD and choose “Open.” Then click on the desired InDesign page to place it. Finally, adjust the location so that the bleed edge of the PSD file aligns with the bleed edge of the InDesign file. 

To check that the PSD file is properly linked to the InDesign file, you can make a change to the PSD file in Photoshop and save the changes. Then, move back into InDesign and see if the link is asking to be updated. A list of all of the linked files can be found under the “Links” palette which can be turned on under “Window>Links”. If a link does need to be updated, right-click on the link and choose “update link” or choose the “update link” icon at the bottom of the links palette.


6. Add Text in InDesign

Next I need to add the final written text into InDesign. As mentioned above, I prefer to add text in InDesign instead of Photoshop because it allows me to easily manage the text in one place ensuring consistency throughout the document along with easy proofreading. It also exports as a vector graphic to PDF which will yield crisper results when printing. The Photoshop files are rastorized when placed in InDesign meaning any text in the Photoshop files would be rastorized as well. 

7. Export to PDF

The final step is packaging the portfolio to be uploaded to the online printing company website. Most online printers prefer PDF files, but it is important to confirm this with your online printing company. Choose “File>Export”. In the export dialogue box, choose a location to save the document and be sure to select “Adobe PDF (print)” as the format, then click “Save”. 


Once the PDF dialogue box appears, you will see a ton of options. This is again a time to check to see if the print company that you are using has specific settings that they want you to follow. For example, Blurb has an entire section of their site dedicated to explaining the settings they want you to use. Below are general settings I have used in the past if the print company does not already have specific requirements:

7A. Under the “General” tab on the left, set the “Adobe PDF Preset” to “High Quality Print”

7B. Under the “General” tab on the left, verify that “Pages” is selected and not “Spreads”

7C. In the “Compression” tab on the left, leave the default settings as is. Bicubic Downsampling should be set to 300 pixels per inch for both color and grayscale images. The only reason you should change this is if you need a smaller file size.

7D. In the “Marks and Bleeds” tab on the left, ensure “Crop Marks” is checked under “Marks” and that “Use Document Bleed Settings” is checked under “Bleed and Slug”. This ensures the printer can print the bleed and also know where to trim the document.


I want to emphasize that these are general settings and different situations may require different settings. While this is meant to give you a starting point, it is crucial that you follow the specific requirements of the printing company that you are using. This portfolio workflow in general is one that works best for me, but may not be best for everyone. It gives me the right balance of creative flexibility along with organization and editability.  I am sure there are some things I forgot to cover in this post so I will be sure to update as I think of them.