How to Make a Portfolio in WordPress

male and female coworkers collaborating in a booth

Displaying your creative and professional work online can be challenging. Whether you create images, words, or websites, your samples are typically your ticket to more work. However, maintaining an online repository for your past projects can be frustratingly time-consuming. 

Fortunately, WordPress makes online portfolio-building both easy and flexible. As an open-source Content Management System (CMS), WordPress has a constantly-expanding directory of themes and plugins. These tools can help you create an eye-catching portfolio that is as unique as you and your work.  

In this article, we’ll discuss why you should consider WordPress for your portfolio. We’ll also look at how to build your portfolio using themes and plugins, and share some of the top solutions that are available. Let’s get started!

Why Make Your Portfolio in WordPress?

Aside from being the leading CMS on the web, WordPress has many other benefits. Its versatility ranks high on that list. With this one platform, for example, you can create a stunning portfolio that also serves as an eCommerce storefront.

Building a Portfolio in WordPress With a Theme vs. a Plugin

It’s important to understand that WordPress themes determine the look and feel of your website. This includes your site’s styles, colors, layouts, and fonts. A few themes do come with built-in portfolio functionality, but if you’re looking for a real ‘wow’ factor, you’re likely better off using a plugin for that aspect.

Additionally, changing themes can sometimes put your content at risk. Here at WP Engine, we recommend backing up your site before changing your theme. With a plugin, however, you can check for compatibility ahead of time, and add portfolio functionality to almost any theme you like.

Create an Online Portfolio Using WordPress Themes and Plugins (In 4 Steps)

If you want to use WordPress to create your online portfolio, all it takes are four quick steps. If you’re working from an existing website, don’t forget to back up your content first. Otherwise, you can get started with a brand-new WordPress site.

Step 1: Select Your Best Work 

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide what projects to include in your portfolio. After all, trying to squeeze in everything might overwhelm your visitors.

Of course, it’s hard to be objective about your own work. That’s why it’s often a good idea to enlist the help of trusted friends or professional peers to help you pick the portfolio pieces that best represent your skills. 

portfolio website

Overall, selecting work for your portfolio is best approached as a ‘quality over quantity’ situation. You’ll want your site to showcase key pieces that highlight your talents. That way, it presents visitors with a compelling reason to get in touch.

Step 2: Ensure That All Images and Documents Are of the Highest Quality

In addition to picking out your best pieces, you’ll want to make sure that the images and documents you display are of extremely high quality. That means including plenty of attention-grabbing media to represent your work.

Of course, you’ll need to strike a balance between page loading times and image quality. Optimizing your images is important if you have an image-heavy portfolio, and you want your pages to load quickly.

High quality images for a portfolio site

Even if you have fewer images and more PDF files in your portfolio, you can take steps to improve performance. For example, there are plugins available to optimize and enhance how those files are embedded and viewed on your site. 

Step 3: Use Themes and Plugins to Build Your Portfolio

Both plugins and themes come in a wide variety of styles and price points. WordPress offers detailed information in the individual Plugin and Theme Directories for most tools. This includes developer notes, instructions, user reviews, ratings, and links to developer resources.

WordPress plugin directory homepage

In order to use plugins to build your WordPress portfolio, you’ll need to select, install, and activate them through your WordPress admin dashboard. In a bit, we’ll introduce some portfolio-related plugins and themes you might want to check out. As a general rule, however, you’re best off opting for a multipurpose theme, and using plugins to add in key features.

Step 4: Preview Your Portfolio

It’s smart to avoid developing your portfolio live, and to use a staging or development site instead. Staging sites are a fool-proof way to build and test your portfolio prior to debuting it online. 

WordPress Staging Area

Here at WP Engine, our WordPress hosting plans include easy staging and development sites. That way, you can experiment with plugins and themes without worrying about breaking your site or showing your work in progress to visitors. 

Once you create your portfolio, we recommend previewing its content and construction prior to publishing it. If you’ve used dummy content or placeholder images while creating your site, a preview is a good way to make sure you’ve replaced everything with real content.

Best WordPress Themes and Plugins

Deciding on a theme for your website and picking out the right plugins can be tough. However, the following options should help you get the ball rolling.

Best WordPress Themes

When picking out a theme, it’s smart to read reviews and try out live demos if they are available. While there aren’t many portfolio-specific themes out there, here are a few that can provide a nice launchpad for creating a site to display your work. 

1. Clean Portfolio

Clean portfolio WordPress theme to create a portfolio website

The Clean Portfolio theme is both minimalist and responsive. If you’re looking to create a site that lets your work shine and gets right to the point, Clean Portfolio might be worth checking out. It’s also a translation-ready theme, which can be an added bonus if you work internationally.

This theme has a free version if you want to try it before you buy it. Other enhanced functionality on offer includes extra featured content options, more portfolio post and page choices, and built-in WooCommerce options.

2. Kalium

Kalium portfolio templates to create a wordpress portfolio site

If you’re looking to get your portfolio up and running fast, Kalium offers fully-loaded demo sites for a wide variety of categories. This means there are not only layouts and single pages you can use, but also entire sites designed for specific uses – including portfolios. 

With just one click, you can install a demo site and start customizing it with your own content. Also bundled with this theme are several useful plugins that can help you design your portfolio, such as WPBakery Page Builder and Slider Revolution.

Best WordPress Plugins

You can think of plugins as the power packs of a WordPress site. There’s a plugin out there for almost any functionality you can think of, which means there are plenty of useful tools for your portfolio website.

1. Envira Photo Gallery

Envira photo gallery wordpress plugin

Envira Photo Gallery is a free plugin (with a premium option) that gives you the power of drag-and-drop editing in a photo gallery. It’s also Gutenberg compatible and search engine optimized.

The Envira feature list is extensive. It includes options for water-marking your images, setting up a storefront, creating video galleries, and importing functionality from Instagram. With this kind of tool, displaying your work dynamically online doesn’t have to be frustrating or require extensive coding.

2. NextGen Gallery

NextGen Gallery WordPress plugin for images

This gallery plugin has been an industry standard for over ten years. NextGen Gallery comes in both free and premium versions. The free tier offers three different styles of galleries for front-end display, and batch uploading capabilities on the back end.

If you need eCommerce options, the premium tiers might be more your speed. They come with extra gallery display options and additional user support. Either way, this plugin is notable as being ‘for photographers by photographers’. So if you have image-heavy needs for your portfolio, NextGen can help out quite a bit. 

3. Visual Portfolio

Visual Portfolio plugin for WordPress

Finally, Visual Portfolio generates shortcodes that can help you easily create a unique layout for your portfolio. Layout styles on offer include Masonry, Carousel, Slider, and Tiles. If you need video support for YouTube or Vimeo, Visual Portfolio has those options as well. 

Additionally, this plugin features hover effects and custom post types for further customization. Along with Gutenburg, Visual Portfolio also works with page builders like WPBakery. That makes it an excellent choice if you want your portfolio’s design to be unique.

Showcase Your Work on WP Engine’s Digital Experience Platform

If you want to showcase your work while providing your portfolio’s visitors with a quality digital experience, choosing the right themes and plugins is an excellent first step. 

However, building your online portfolio requires solid developer resources as well as an attention-grabbing theme. At WP Engine, our plans include the Genesis Framework, along with more than 35 StudioPress themes just waiting to help you showcase your work to the world!