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Ask Lawrence: PDF vs Online Folio; which is best?

26 Sep 11:00 By Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers Folio PDF Online

Who doesn’t love modern technology? Without wanting to make myself sound like I’m about to pull out a zimmer frame and shake my fist angrily at those ‘young kids making too much noise’, when I first started in the creative recruitment industry, every designer would often come in to meet with me with this huge volume under their arm. The days of the old school folio seem to be well and truly gone, having been replaced by the PDF and the online folio, although I have to admit that there is a part of me that nostalgically loves it when someone pulls out a beautifully bound collection of their work.

So, let’s get this debate started! Right now, in 2017, what is the best way to get your folio out there? PDF or online?

I’m going to look like I’m sitting on the fence here however, in my opinion, it really depends on the situation. Perhaps the best way to look at this is really within a pros and cons context.

PDF Folio

The obvious pro with a PDF folio is that you’re able to guide the flow of work in front of whoever is looking at the PDF. This means that you can rearrange it based on who will be looking at it and placing the relevant work upfront.  It also means that if you wanted to create a PDF folio that was solely based on your packaging work or layout work or basket weaving work, you could do that and it would send a very strong message that this is something that you’re good at. In a sense, by doing that, you’ll avoid that potential ‘jack of all trades’ label.

The obvious con is that you have to keep a PDF file below a certain file size to make it truly practical. There is little point in having a digital file if the file is too big and causes your email to bounce back when you attach it.  

Be careful as, to reduce the file size, it often means running the risk of compromising the image quality too and that’s something that you don’t want to do.  Nothing kills the vibe more than a pixelated image that requires a creative imagination to restore the work to it’s former glory.

Of course, if you’ve done digital work (especially in the form of animation), a PDF makes it really hard to showcase some of your talents there. Having said that, if you’re a digital designer who is relying upon a PDF to sell your skills, I think we can safely agree that there is a problem.

Online Folio

Online is great because of the sheer volume of content that you can house within your website. It is also a problem due to the sheer volume of content that you can house within your website.

Ultimately, we need to remember what the purpose of a folio is; it is to showcase your work - right? Who is looking at it? Someone who is considering if you’re right for them. How much time do they have to do this? Frequently, next to none!  

This isn’t a gallery for people to casually spend time admiring all the subtle qualities of your work, this is a folio. Clients will often approach a folio with the hope of finding great examples of work similar to what they have to produce. If they have to go searching to find that or, worse, find a whole lot of work that is completely unrelated, then it is really going to work against your opportunity. In a sense, the PDF has the upper hand here as it can guide the viewing experience quickly and easily. If your website has bad navigation, you’re going to have to hope that your client has plenty of time and commitment to you to find what they’re looking for.

Image size is still going to be a factor here, as it ensuring that all your links are working and the website is functioning properly. Broken links are far more common than I would care to mention; I’d say almost every second website folio I look at often has a faulty link, badly loaded image or something wrong and it sends a strong message that it hasn’t been checked. If you’re not checking your own site, then how is that going to provide confidence to your client that you’re double checking the work you’re producing for them?

This raises a valid point; how you present your work can often play as much of a part in the decision making process as the quality of the work produced. If they find that the presentation is sloppy and the website has issues, then it sends a subtle message about the attention to detail.  

What’s the verdict?

Ultimately, it comes down to what kind of creative you are and an understanding of the way that your target viewer consumes their information. Having said that, as George Michael famously said, ‘if you’re going do it, do it right (right, do it with me!)’ If you’re going to do a PDF, consider who is going to be viewing it and adjust it accordingly, giving attention to the quality of the image and the overall file size. If you’re going to do a website, consider what work they’re going to want to see and ensure that you’ve checked the links work and that it looks good across various platforms. Do that and you’ll give your work the opportunity to shine!

If you have any thoughts, questions or simply would like to get in touch with me and offer up a topic for the next Ask Lawrence, you can contact me on or you can find me and connect with me on LinkedIn.