Ultimate Guide To Using WordPress For A Portfolio

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WordPress is often thought of as just a blogging platform. But it’s capable of so much more. Even WordPress’ documentation includes an entire section on using WordPress as a content management system. Because WordPress is such an easy-to-use platform, it makes sense to consider using it as a platform to build just about any kind of website, a portfolio website included.

Whether you’re a photographer, graphic designer, Web designer or any other kind of visual artist, WordPress makes an excellent starting point for developing your online portfolio. And with the wealth of plug-ins and ready-made themes available, you can usually get a perfectly presentable website up and running in a matter of hours.

This article assumes that you have a clean installation of WordPress running on your website. For instructions on installing and configuring WordPress, please consult the official documentation.

Here are additional links that may be useful when designing your portfolio website.

The first thing you’ll want to do is decide whether to use a pre-made theme or design your own. If you’re a Web designer, chances are you’ll want to design a custom theme. But if you’re any other kind of visual artist, plenty of ready-made themes are available, and with a little customization (changing the background image, logo and color scheme can go a long way), one probably exists that suits your needs and will save you time. Therefore let’s first take a look at some freely available high-quality “portfolio” WordPress themes.

1. Free WordPress Portfolio Themes

Using a pre-made theme is a great way to save time. While some of the best themes are not free, they’re still significantly less expensive than hiring a designer to build your website or spending hours of your own time when you could be doing billable work.

Sharpfolio: WordPress Portfolio Theme | Demo | Free

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Viewport: WordPress Portfolio Theme | Demo | Free
is focused around a clean and simple, content based layout. The aim is to grab the user’s attention and draw them straight into the content. On the single post page the content is laid out clearly in full, with post controls and a widget-enabled sidebar. Created by Paul Bennett especially for Smashing Magazine and its readers.

Viewport WordPress Theme

Irresistible | Demo | Download | Free
Irresistible is a visually-rich personal blog, with a little bit of a multimedia focus. Incorporating some nifty video-options and widgets, Irresistible should meet all of your personal blogging needs. Just add your content to the mix.

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Portfolio – WPESP Theme | Demo | Download | Free
The Theme is a starting point in the creation of portfolios, using WordPress as CMS. In this short tutorial are the guidelines of the design, the Codex de WordPress used, where are explained the Custom Write Panel created to edit the content, and the adaptation to the Coda Slider Effect script, create by jQuery for Designers, and can be modified depending on what the user needs.

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Linquist | Demo | Free

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Monotone | Demo | Free

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Fotofolio | Demo | Free

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2. Commercial Portfolio WordPress Themes

ProudFolio | Demo | Price: $70
ProudFolio is most definitely aimed at aspiring designers, developers, artists and photographers who’d like a framework theme which incorporates both a great-looking portfolio and a feature-rich blog.

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Photopro | Demo | Price: $29+

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Design Photography Portfolio | Demo | Price: $25

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Cassiopeia | Demo | Price: $80+

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Sofa Designer Folio | Demo | Price: $30
Sofa Designer Folio theme allows you to keep designer’s showcase separated from the blog. For that reason this theme is using two type of templates: Portfolio and Blog.

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Portfolio WordPress Theme | Demo | Price: $39

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Geometric | Demo | Price: $70
Geometric takes a structured approach to showcasing two rather non-structured things: blogs & design portfolios.

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Great Portfolio! WordPress Theme | Demo | Price: $12
Great Portfolio is a one page portfolio and a very clean template. It has 2 color options to choose from namely, dark bule and dark brown. It also has a smooth scroller to each menu of the page. Contact Form is functional and ready to use.

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Sketchbook Blog Portfolio WordPress Theme | Demo | Price: $30
Sketchbook was created with the online professional in mind and is geared towards an online showcase of blog and portfolio for the creative individual. This theme comes with a few custom options, such as you can select if you would like an overall light clean airy feel, or if you would like a more bold dark impressive look and feel.

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Goldmine Portfolio Blog WordPress Theme | Demo | Price: $25

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Ambiguous: WordPress Portfolio Theme | Demo | Price: $30
This theme was developed to showcase your work. Ambiguous has a large featured portfolio items area well placed on the homepage showcasing the best of your work. Also on the homepage are your most recent blog posts. In the sidebar there is a custom twitter feed feature, about widget displaying brief info about yourself, and a site search feature.

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Foliotastic: A Premium WordPress Portfolio Theme | Demo | Price: $30
Foliotastic is a feature-packed portfolio/blog theme that includes a full-featured, tabbed Admin Panel to change options like colors (you can even enter your own custom HEX value), category settings, logo settings and more.

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Shuffle: Portfolio Blog | Demo | Price: $30

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YourFolio | Demo | Price: $25

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Fresh Folio | Demo | Price: $70+

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eGallery | Demo | Price: $19.95 per year (membership)

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GrungeMag | Demo | Price: $19.95 per year (membership)

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Modularity | Demo | Price: $49 per 3 months membership

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Cion | Demo | Price: $19.95 per year (membership)

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Briefcast Portfolio Theme | Demo | Price: $25

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3. Designing Your Portfolio

You’ll likely use two main types of pages on your portfolio website: a home page or main portfolio page and individual project pages. Your main page will likely consist of a series of thumbnails showcasing your work. Individual project pages offer more detailed information about your work.

Designing Your Main Page

One thing all of the above themes have in common is a focus on images on the home page or main portfolio page. A regular WordPress blog usually focuses on text. But a portfolio website needs to focus on the images. Whether you want your images to appear in a grid format, in chronological order, as a slideshow or any other way is a personal choice. But make sure each image is large enough for someone to have an idea of what they’re looking at.

Along with the images for your portfolio, you may want to include some introductory information. One way to do this is to include a “sticky post” (at least two plug-ins do this: Simple Sticky Posts and WP-Sticky). Another way is to use (or design) a theme with a “featured posts” function that sets apart selected posts from the rest of your content.

The way you handle images on your website is another personal choice. A variety of plug-ins are available out there to create various effects.

Plug-Ins to Handle Images

Images are the backbone of any portfolio website. Here are a few plug-ins for displaying and formatting your website’s images.

Thumbnail for Excerpts
This plug-in automatically displays a thumbnail of a post’s first image in the post excerpt (which appears on your home page or category pages).

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Slide Press
Integrates slideshows from SlideShowPro into WordPress.

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Carousel Gallery (jQuery) for WordPress
Creates a jQuery-powered gallery.

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WordPress ThickBox plugin
A plug-in for creating the Thickbox photo style. It also includes instructions for switching to the W3C-valid Smoothbox, along with some other useful modifications.

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PhotoQ WordPress Photoblog Plugin
This plug-in turns your blog into a photoblog. Very handy if you want to use a theme that isn’t particularly suited to a portfolio but don’t have the know-how or time to customize it to your needs.

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PhotoSmash Galleries
This plug-in allows you to manage multiple galleries and even more than one gallery per post.

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Image Drop Shadow
Creates an automatic drop-shadow effect for all of your images.

FlippingBook WordPress Gallery
This is one of the coolest plug-ins out there for setting up a portfolio. Instead of including a ton of thumbnail images on your project pages, why not set them up as a flip book, in which viewers can turn pages and zoom in to view details? This plug-in makes all that possible (and easy).

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Featured Content Gallery
This plug-in creates an automated rotating gallery of images from your posts or pages that you can embed anywhere on your theme.

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NextGEN Gallery
Another gallery plug-in with an easy-to-use back-end.

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WordPress Galleria
Creates photo galleries automatically; all you have to do is upload a folder with the photos you want for each gallery.

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Flickr Gallery
This is a great plug-in if you’ve already put your work up on Flickr. It lets you easily create galleries for your blog based on your Flickr photos, photosets and most popular photos.

Designing Your Project Pages

Each of your projects should have its own page providing details. The details you’ll want to include will vary based on what kind of portfolio you have. If you’re a Web designer, you’ll want to offer links to actual websites, along with a brief rundown of each project’s scope and possibly testimonials. If you’re a photographer, you’ll want to include information on the subjects, dates and locations of your photos. An artist will include information about the media used, inspirations and possibly from where and how the pieces can be purchased, or who has purchased them if they’ve already been sold.

Displaying the data for these types of posts can be a pain. You can just use a narrative format to describe the project as you would in a regular blog post. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, there are a couple of ways to deal with formatting posts like this. You can use a post template (check out the Post Templates plug-in) or a table (using the WP-Table plug-in). In any case, standardizing how information is presented for each project will make your portfolio look more professional.

No matter what kind of art or design work you’re showcasing, you may want to include additional images or screenshots of each project. Some of the image gallery plug-ins listed above are perfect for this type of usage.

What Else Should Your Portfolio Include?

Obviously, your portfolio should have images of your best work. But what else should you include? An “About” page should be included, as should contact information. (What’s the point of showing off your work if prospective clients can’t get in touch with you?)

If you’re feeling brave, you may want to set up a rating system on your website. There are plug-ins to do this (GD Star Rating seems to be the most popular). You can then use the ratings to feature certain projects or just use them for your own knowledge.

Whether to leave comments open on your project pages is another consideration. Again, it’s a personal choice. If you do decide to let visitors comment, I would strongly recommend setting up a moderation policy that requires all new comments to be approved. This prevents abusive comments from appearing on your website (a big concern if you’re posting projects you’ve done for clients, who might be offended if a negative comment showed up in reference to their website or logo).

4. Other Considerations And Tips

Keep the design of your portfolio website simple. You want your work to stand out, not the website’s design. A solid-colored or simple image background paired with crisp images of your projects is the way to go.

If you’re designing your portfolio theme from scratch or customizing a pre-made theme, here’s a trick I learned on my first project. Upload your theme or the basic framework of the theme to your website (or testing area). Then go to your home page and each individual page you’ll be designing and copy the source code. Save each of these pages as an HTML file. Open them up in your HTML editor of choice and attach the CSS from your theme. From there, you can edit your CSS and images and see how they affect the website’s actual design. Of course, you won’t be able to edit your PHP files, which control the functionality of your website, but it’s a great shortcut when working on the actual design.

Pick and choose the projects you upload to your website. No one says you have to include every project you’ve ever worked on. Pick the best ones, or the ones most representative of your work, and forget the rest. Better to have 10 or 20 excellent examples than 100 that are just so-so.

5. Portfolio Websites Built On WordPress

A lot of designers, photographers and artists already use WordPress to display their work. Here are just a few:

eric-powell.com

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Delineate

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John James Jacoby

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Cribble

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Lawrence Naman

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Branded07

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George Butler Design and Development

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Freshivore

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6. Further Resources

Here are additional links that may be useful when designing your portfolio website.

(al)

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Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

  1. 1

    I was kinda hoping for a “how to” and some sneaky tricks and tips with some hands on coding, but nice list of resources regardless~ Thanks~

    1
  2. 3

    Lots of useful goodies, as always; thanks a lot.

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  3. 4

    Yup, was hoping for a “how to”, too, although there’s plenty of resources covering that subject.
    Very nice collection! Thanks.

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  4. 5

    I’ve ever waiting for a post like this…
    thanks a lot sm

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  5. 6

    Moritz Gießmann

    April 29, 2009 9:15 am

    A weak article complained to the great headline.

    1
  6. 7

    Floris Fiedeldij Dop

    April 29, 2009 9:17 am

    I disagree with you Moritz. Sorry.. It delivers exactly what it implies.

    -1
  7. 8

    Excellent post.

    I agree that it could be expanded on (part 2?)

    Maybe more plugin recommendations and ways to integrate with social media.

    With so many people building these kind of sites this is a very handy post.

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  8. 9

    I hate Apple……
    Microsoft Rules……
    Don’t use a Mac, use Windows..

    -1
  9. 11

    I send this video to people almost daily. Will help catch you up with all the setup stuff and bring you up to where this article is a bit more useful.

    http://www.freevlog.org/vlog/index.php/2007/07/05/1-how-to-install-and-setup-wordpress/

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  10. 12

    I am a graphic designer who is relatively new to the web scene, in compared with my print work. I have had the opportunity to work with a WordPress developer on most of my web design projects. I provide a custom design and he makes it function as a CMS in WordPress. As a non-coder, this solution has been incredibly useful! My clients have really enjoyed the usability of WordPress and the library of Plugins allow for extreme flexibility and extensibility without the added work and cost. My portfolio site is also a WordPress site.

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  11. 13

    I’ve used WordPress for just about every kind of site, but my favorite to date is still using it as my own little ffffound.

    I use it with a related images/tags plugin that I modified to have a never ending stream of inspirational images that I have found and uploaded using firescribe.

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  12. 14

    What a great resource. Thank you. I hope to get started soon on a new site.

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  13. 15

    Good article, and a very useful link collection. Thanx.

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  14. 16

    Thanks a lot. Good collection. Noah Lieske

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  15. 17

    so nice

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  16. 18

    Great article! Lots of familiar stuff and a few new things: perfect!

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  17. 19

    Nice Article Cameron… One of my friend also just published an article on “How to Create A Better Online Portfolio” on iShift few days ago… Nice to see another article with more resources.

    DKumar M.
    @instantShift

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  18. 20

    A.B.C. Photography

    April 29, 2009 11:15 am

    I was hoping for something more. WordPress just cannot beat Pixelpost. Yet…
    But reading the article headline, I thought it would.

    0
  19. 21

    I wouldn’t call Monotone a “portfolio theme” – especially if you compare it to other themes you suggested.
    People using Monotone please note that coding and CSS are far from perfect in that theme + little support is given, since it’s a theme meant for wordpress.com and then released for wordpress.org
    If you set it up on your own server, be prepared to some tweaking.
    The idea behind it is great, though.

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  20. 22

    Pretty great article for the list of themes alone.

    0
  21. 23

    Moritz Gießmann

    April 29, 2009 12:35 pm

    @ Floris What do we have here? Mostly links to some WordPress templates and Plugins. As a designer I create a worpress theme myself. I estimated some real proposals top create my own WordPress portfolio, not copying what someone else has done.

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  22. 24

    like a few others was hoping for some custom functions and code tricks

    0
  23. 25

    i agree with several of the comments above… the title of this article is a bit deceptive. i was under the impression i’d get a page with some information about customizing wordpress to be used as a portfolio.

    there could have been some good information on using custom fields and temples to create an easy to use & update portfolio. regardless, there is still useful information for beginning wordpress users.

    0
  24. 26

    Wow, this is awesome! Thanks a lot!

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  25. 27

    I just put together my own portfolio from a smash-together of wordpress, blueprint css and a little jquery. KernMe.org.

    0
  26. 28

    Shout out to Robert Basic for his fantastic tutorial on how to use WordPress as a CMS WordPress as a CMS. I used his instructions for my website and it worked brilliantly.

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  27. 29

    happy to see WPESP Theme was showcased. I found this theme a couple of week ago. An absolute divine!! my portfolio is looking sexy now :)

    0
  28. 30

    i was bookmarking portfolio-building resources yesterday, so very timely for me. excellent collection of wordpress portfolio themes!

    question: why use a plug-in for a static page? why not just use the pages feature?

    also, why not mention the power of custom fields to accomplish a lot of features common to all portfolio sites?

    thanks again. very much appreciated.

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  29. 31

    I had to laugh when I saw the screen shot of the “Great Portfolio!” theme: “I build websites based on the latest web standards”. Talk about irony. If someone is good at Web Design, and was launching their “portfolio”, why would they download or purchase a theme that someone else built? I think if I came across a designer’s blog that didn’t use their own custom theme, I wouldn’t be hiring them.

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  30. 32

    yup. i’m another wordpress portfolio user and it makes everything so very simple

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  31. 33

    This is a tremendous resource. Thank you for sharing…

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  32. 34

    Michael Langham

    April 29, 2009 2:55 pm

    An amazing post. I’m not sure whom I should thank first– S/M for contracting you for this post, or You, for pulling together all that is here, into a most well-rounded article.
    And as always, it has come at a perfect time as well.

    Kudos for sure to the both of you.

    @craig: for the most part i’m in agreement. for a writer- it’s cool; for a photog- fairly cool; but for a “designer” of websites to utilize an out of the box solution- very questionable.

    In contrast to that statement though is my consideration for designers not really “feeling” the bones of a theme’s construction, but applying instead, as they learn, their ‘touch’ or ‘skin’ to a foundation they find appealing to their style.

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  33. 35

    I built my portfolio on wordpress, really useful and convenient for quick and simple updates.

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  34. 36

    @Craig – Because that “someone” might be better. ^^
    And If you’re a busy business owner, you’ll be “wow!”-ed by the webdesigner’s portfolio and hire him. You don’t have the time to search the net to see if that’s his actual work anyway.

    I was expecting a “how to” – several readers also told you that. But nice collection anyway!

    0
  35. 37

    i’m struggling trying to decide between hosts.

    i know this is a highly debated topic, and possibly endless.. but anyone have any good suggestions? reliable / ease of use / effective ?

    0
  36. 38

    This is something I’ve been trying to research and do for the longest time. SM always posts about what I need at the right time! I’ll be using this in the near future.

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  37. 39

    Excellent!

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  38. 40

    “Irresistible” is such a good theme, it look like a professional one. Btw, nice list :)

    0
  39. 41

    Christian Schenk

    April 29, 2009 10:54 pm

    Thanks for the mention and this nice guide!

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  40. 42

    Well, WPESP it is… Now I know the ground zero for my new portfolio =)

    BTW thx for another smashing post =)

    0
  41. 43

    很不错呀,能否多关注下Firefox theme 和Add-ones之类的,谢谢

    0
  42. 44

    Great, Thanks alot!

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  43. 45

    Thanks for your tips

    0
  44. 46

    Great post… thanks…

    0
  45. 47

    man! i love this magazine!

    0
  46. 48

    I can’t believe the level of content you go to in your posts. I shall be implementing some of the ideas into my blog. No wonder smashing magazine is the best designer blog. Cheers guys.

    0
  47. 49

    Hm… I think that a true designer and developer can create his own portfolio and do not use templates.

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  48. 50

    “Great Portfolio” is lovely, but it’s NOT a wordpress theme. I thought it was, bought it, and discovered it’s just a site template (albeit a nice one).

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  49. 51

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!! I’m in the process of designing my own wp theme for my personal portfolio/blog site and needed some inspiration! Perfect timing!

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  50. 52

    “Ryan (April 29th, 2009, 9:46 am)

    I hate Apple……
    Microsoft Rules……
    Don’t use a Mac, use Windows..”

    haha right…. I take it design isn’t your career…. boy, that was a good one.

    Anyways, good post… I was looking to buy a template to start a portfolio/tutorial type site of my own. These are great. Perfect timing as well…almost eerie.

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  51. 53

    thanks, good post

    0
  52. 54

    “I hate Apple……
    Microsoft Rules……
    Don’t use a Mac, use Windows..”

    Grow up…

    0
  53. 56

    GREAT article, one of your best recent WordPress posts!

    0
  54. 57

    okay once again and without any link :-)
    great article and great tips. i used a modified version of foliagmod_v2 for my personal portfolio. wordpress + a good theme + a few mods = a highly usable portfolio page

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  55. 58

    Oh God, this is GREAT! :3

    Now I want to redo my site

    …again. :s

    0
  56. 59

    Awesome, I have been playing around with converting my portfolio site to WordPress. This is great! Is smashing going to design a portfolio site theme any time soon? Hint Hint… I love the “magazeen” theme you guys did.

    0
  57. 60

    John James Jacoby

    May 1, 2009 9:00 am

    Thanks Cameron for the mention and link to my portfolio. Lots of good info and examples here on how to use WordPress as a personal portfolio site.

    Great work!

    0
  58. 61

    We just re-vamped our site, using WordPress as a CMS. It’s working well so far. This article has some definitely relevant stuff, though we had to do a lot of customizing to get things to look and function the way we wanted. Take a look and let us know what you think:

    Alphabet Arm Design

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  59. 62

    Thanks Cameron for mentioning the SlidePress plugin!

    We wanted to create a useful tool for people to integrate SlideShowPro flash galleries in their WordPress sites, without needing to know anything about Flash or XML. The plugin has several options for data sources and nearly unlimited styling options which will hopefully make it easy for anyone to start using and create great looking slideshows.

    Thanks again,
    @slidepress

    0
  60. 63

    Great reference! Just in time for my site overhaul, will definitely go with WordPress for this revision.

    0
  61. 64

    Igor Barbashin

    May 2, 2009 1:06 am

    Picasna — widget for creating fullscreen portfolios uploaded to Picasa Web Albums. Still in beta test. Now developing flickr-friendly version.

    0
  62. 65

    Recep Kütük

    May 6, 2009 8:34 pm

    I would really like an “ultimate guide to using Expression Engine for a portfolio” post, with comparison :)

    0
  63. 66

    YAY! Thanks for mentioning cribble. x

    0
  64. 67

    Vincent Franco

    May 12, 2009 6:15 pm

    Wow thanks for featuring my site guys! I am addicted to SM!

    0
  65. 68

    May I suggest “Fresh Foto” to this awesome list…
    http://www.freshlimesoda.us/wp-themes/freshfoto-premium-wordpress-theme/

    0
  66. 69

    I have found what i was looking for !!! thx )

    1
  67. 70

    i will definatelly recomend this program to my photographer friend for his work

    0
  68. 71

    Now is too easy be a web designer

    0
  69. 72

    Interesting. I’ve also tried to use WordPress for something similar, not a portfolio but a genuinely interactive resume. http://potluck.com/2008/09/my-life-in-tags-creating-an-interactive-resume-and-biographical-website/ — may give people here some ideas about how to make their WordPress-based portfolios even more interesting/functional.

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  70. 73

    This is definitely a nice list for sure. I was looking forward to more tips and tricks….maybe some new one page techniques.

    0
  71. 74

    I came out with my own wordpress portfolio theme not long ago:

    silverio.sachagreif.com/

    The problem with a lot of portfolio theme is that they’re too busy and their design ends up overpowering your own work. So I tried to keep things very clean and simple.

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  72. 75

    I developed a free/GPL WordPress theme for artists called WPFolio. I work as an artist and with professional artists often and this theme was designed to meet their needs.

    0
  73. 76

    it is a really very great post. smashing magazine rocks. I also found some free but premium wordpress themes, which are great for portfolio too. One is named Aurelius wordpress theme, and the other is a single page wordpress theme called YourInspiration. Both are very nice, you should definitely have a look. the url is: http://pengbos.com Hope it is also valuable

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  74. 77

    Thanks for the great article.

    I have worked with Joomla commercially for quite some time but only started trying out WordPress recently. I would like to use it for my personal portfolio, so this article really gave me lots of useful information. Thanks once again.

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  75. 78

    Here’s a new free html5 theme I just released. It uses the custom post types in WordPress 3.0 to display portfolio items: http://wptheming.com/2010/07/portfolio-theme/

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  76. 79

    We just released a beautiful new minimalist, grid based and customiseable WordPress portfolio theme called ‘Ezri’ at http://monomoda.com/themes

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  77. 80

    okay once again and without any link :-)
    great article and great tips. i used a modified version of foliagmod_v2 for my personal portfolio. wordpress + a good theme + a few mods = a highly usable portfolio page

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  78. 81

    At last. I got this one. Thanks for the details in here.

    0
  79. 82

    Great stuff!

    Oddly enough I found a lot of marketers don’t even know how to install WordPress, check this out for help nicheoptimizer.com/free-guides/wordpress/how-to-install-wordpress/

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  81. 84

    I’ve powered my web design portfolio with WordPress now for 4+ years, and wouldn’t suggest anything else. It’s so easy to add a new project, and also separates the content well making it easy to update the design – something we web designer do all too often it seems.

    0
  82. 85

    The links to the other Smashing Magazine articles (on successful online portfolios and beautiful and creative designs) are no longer working…

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