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Art Portfolio Case Buyers Guide - How To Select A Portfolio For Your Art, Photography, or Graphics

Types of Portfolio Case

The first step in selecting a portfolio case is to identify the general category or type of case that fits your situation. The term "portfolio case" means different things to different people so it is important to understand the range of cases, bags, and books that go by that description.

Portfolio Cases or Bags For Loose Items - Traditional Zippered Portfolios, Canvas Art Bags (Student Portfolios), Expandable Portfolios

Generally speaking, this category includes anything that can be used as carrying cases for individual pieces of artwork or graphics that are not bound together. The artwork or graphics can be on paper, mounted on matboard or foamboard, on canvas, in individual print sleeves, or even framed. Some choices for unbound materials are:

Traditional Zippered Portfolios.

Traditional Zippered Art Portfolio

Traditional Zippered Portfolio

These are probably the first image that comes to your mind when you think of "art portfolios". They are usually made of semi-rigid vinyl with a simulated leather grain texture or fabric stretched around a wire frame and have a zipper running along the sides and across the top. To access the artwork, you unzip the zipper along all three sides and lay the portfolio flat on a table or floor. They are typically used for:

  • drawings on paper
  • student art assignments

When choosing a traditional zippered portfolio, some features to compare are:

  • rigidity and structure of the sides
  • the look and feel of the materials (leather grain vinyl, canvas, etc)
  • quality of the zipper and zipper fabric seam, which are the parts most prone to failure
  • warranty length

Limitations of traditional zippered portfolios include:

  • flexible sides allow the portfolio to bend or slump when held upright for inserting and removing artwork
  • zipper that spans sides and top is a pain point for users - jams, gets in the way, can scratch or damage artwork
  • lack of depth limits materials that can fit inside the case

Canvas Art Bags (Student Portfolios).

Canvas Art Bag

Canvas Art Bag

These tend to be the lowest priced portfolios for carrying artwork and are used primarily by students who have a temporary need for a portfolio. They are usually made from inexpensive canvas that is sewn to make a flat pouch without any depth. Some are sold with a disposable cardboard insert to keep it from folding over on itself. They can be suitable for carrying drawings on paper that do not need significant protection.

Expandable Art Portfolio Cases (Expandable Portfolios).

Expandable Art Portfolio Case

Expandable Art Portfolio Case

These are the most versatile type of portfolio case because they can accomodate anything from paper to foamboard to framed art. What differentiates them from other portfolio cases is that they expand to a depth that allows them to carry artwork and object that have substantial thickness. Some items that call for expandable portfolios are:

  • Graphics printed or mounted on foamboard
  • Event signage
  • Trial exhibit boards
  • Architectural drawings on foamboard
  • Engineering drawings on foam board
  • Advertising concept boards
  • Flat panel TVs or monitors
  • X-Ray films
  • Product samples that are rectangular but have some thickness to them

Extra Large Expandable Art Portfolio Case

Extra Large Expandable Art Portfolio Case

When choosing an expandable portfolio, some features to compare are:

  • expansion depth
  • ease of inserting and removing art and graphic materials
  • strength hardware for straps and buckles
  • portfolio structure (rigid sides vs. wire frame vs. unstructured fabric)
  • warranty length

Portfolios With Pages - Presentation Cases, Portfolio Books (Presentation Books), Display Easel Binders

When you are presenting a series of related documents, graphic, photos, or an assembled collection of work to be displayed in a particular order, a portfolio book, presentation book, or presentation case is what you need. The names are used interchangeably, but as a general rule, if it has handles, it is a "presentation case" and if it does not have handles it is a "portfolio book" or "presentation book". What all of these items have in common is that they have individual pages for your materials so the individual sheets are bound together and viewed in sequence.

Presentation Cases

Presentation Case

Presentation Case

These are like zippered artist portfolios, but with a binding system built into the spine to hold sheet protectors (page protectors). They are typically made of vinyl with a simulated leather grain, or of actual leather. Presentation Cases are often used to carry and display:

  • graphic design work
  • photographs
  • sales and marketing documents and graphics
  • artwork on paper

When buying a presentation case, some features to compare include:

  • type and quality of material (vinyl, leather, etc)
  • capacity of binder system ( how many pages will it hold?)
  • location of handle and binding system (handle on spine keeps pages flatter than handles on zippered edge opposite spine)
  • Niceties such as interior pockets and business card holders

Portfolio Books or Presentation Books.

Screwpost Portfolio Books

Screwpost Portfolio Books

These have front and back covers and a means of binding a stack of page protectors. They are typically open at the sides. A contemporary type of portfolio book that is currently in style is the Screwpost Portfolio Book, which can also be customized with a company's logo via color imprinting or laser etching. Portfolio books are typically used to show a collection of graphics or photos. Some features of portfolio presentatio books to compare include:

  • available materials (vinyl, leather, aluminum, acrylic, bamboo, bookbinder cloth, etc)
  • binding systems (multi-ring binders are easier to swap pages but feel more temporary. Screwpost bindings have more of a permanent feel)
  • sheet capacity
  • imprinting options (color imprinting, laser etching, debossing, etc)

Display Easel Binders.

Display Easel Binder

Display Easel Binder

These are like presentation books but have features that allow them to stand up on a table to be used like a flipchart.

Display Easel Binder are most often used for business presentations aimed at an individual or a small group sitting around a table.

When shopping for a Display Easel Binder, some feature to consider are:

  • Capacity / Size of Binder Rings
  • With Handle (carrying case style) or Without Handle ( book style)
  • Size and Format

Art Portfolio Case Shopping Tips

Check The Manufacturer's Warranty.
Look for a minimum of a one-year warranty. Some of the better brands, such as X-Port, have a two-year warranty to protect against breakage or hardware failure.

Buy For The Long Term.
Unless your need for a portfolio case is extremely short lived, consider investing more up front to get a case that will last for many years and convey a professional image. This can save you money over the long haul while helping the environment by keeping discarded products out of the landfills. A quality portfolio can also be sold used on eBay or Amazon if no longer needed.

Read Customer Reviews.
Some portfolio sites have product reviews posted. When reviews are not available on store sites, you can usually find buyer reviews and even video reviews on Amazon.com