I’m on my last semester at school. We’re required to put together a physical portfolio for my portfolio class so I set out to find a really cool one online. It didn’t take much time for me to find most good-sized and nice-looking portfolios out there are pretty dang expensive. I needed a portfolio that was at least 11x14 in. and allowed me to add pages easily. I’m doing most of the work that’s going into my portfolio this very semester, which means I won’t have all my portfolio pieces until the very end of the semester. This ruled out stitch-bound portfolios since there wouldn’t be enough time left to send my files to the printer and wait for my finished portfolio to be shipped to me.
So, I decided to make my own screw post portfolio. The advantage of the screw posts is that they allow you to add or remove pages very easily. I felt that making my own portfolio would show possible clients that I have an eye for detail and care very much about my work and the way it’s presented. Plus, it allowed me to customize every aspect of my portfolio!
I showed my classmates my portfolio and they liked it so much they actually decided to make their own!
I’m sharing my process with you in case you’re in a similar situation or maybe you’re just interested in making a custom home-made book. You could make this into a sketchbook or a photo album, etc. It’s up to you!
I didn’t come up with this process myself. I gathered information from these online tutorials:
How to make your own screw post portfolio
Before shopping for materials, decide what orientation you want your book to have (horizontal or vertical) and what size you want your printablearea to be.* (this is the area that will be visible to someone looking through your book) Mine was 14x11 in.
Add 1.75 in. to the width of your printable area where you will be punching the holes for binding. My final page size was 15.75x11 in.**
*Making your page a custom size could end up being more expensive than you think. Look into your printer’s available paper sizes, printing capabilities and printing costs before deciding on your page size.
You might want to figure out your measurements so that they fit within a commercial paper size to save money. I found that most print costs go up substantially once you go any larger than tabloid size (11x17 in.). The width of certain papers also further complicates things, since not all printers can handle paper that’s on the thicker side.
**I was able to print my sheets on 12x18 in. tango board for a reasonable price. Again, make sure you check these things with your printer before you make any decisions.
Make your covers 1/2 in. taller and at least 1/2 in. wider than the printable area (not the final page size!) of your pages. Mine were 14.5x11.5 in.
Your spines should be the same height as your cover. You can choose the width to be a default 2 in. (I did this) or be precise and follow this formula: (Y + 1/2 in.) - (X + 1/4 in.)
Y: width of your final page size
X: width of your cover board
#1. add 1/2 in. to the width of your final page size (not the printable area!).
#2. add 1/4 in. to the width of your cover board.
#3. subtract the second number from the first number.
The result is the width of your spine. My spine’s width would’ve been 1.5 in., so 1.5x11.5 in. altogether.
Now you know how much book board you need for your covers! (enough to make two covers and two spines).
I used black matte board as my book board. I wanted my covers to be pretty thick, so I glued two matte board sheets together for each cover and each spine.
Materials & Tools:
1. Book board at least 2mm thick
2. 2-3 Post screws (Two is enough for a horizontal book. Three might be better for vertical)
3. *Bookcloth (I used a cotton print fabric)
4. Bone folder
5. PVA glue (I used Tacky glue)
6. Screw punch (I found mine at Michaels)
7. ruler (preferably metal)
8. utility blade (you can use an x-acto knife but it’ll take longer to cut through the board)
9. glue brush or sponge
11. scrap paper to protect your work surface
12. cutting mat
14. container for glue
15. binder clips
16. heavy books or weights
You may be able to have your book board cut for you. If you’re doing it yourself, measure out your covers and spines together and mark these on your book board with a pencil. Use a cutting mat to cut on top of or some surface you don’t mind scratching substantially. Cut out your pieces using your ruler and utility blade. Go slow and be careful. You want your covers to be cleanly cut and the exact same size. You can sand or file down the edges if they’re a bit rough from the blade.
3. Make a hole punch template
Take a scrap sheet of paper the size of your final page (or at least the same height. I used a regular 8.5x11 sheet of paper since that’s all I had at the time). Measure 1.75 in. from the left side and mark it with a pencil. This 1.75x11 in. area is the space you have to punch your holes in. You can place the holes wherever you want. I centered mine (0.875 in. from either side) and 2 in. from the top and bottom.
Use a screw punch to make the holes on the places you’ve marked. I used the largest (4mm) of the three options that came with my screw punch. (I don’t recommend using a regular hole puncher, unless you find a screw post whose diameter is equal to or greater than the hole puncher’s diameter. You want your screw posts to fit snugly through the holes so your paper sheets and covers line up perfectly and stay in place).
It’s better to make smaller holes and stretch them out to fit the screw posts through. You can use an awl if you have one or any cylindrical object that fits through the hole to stretch it out. I used a long drill bit :)
Optional: You can use fabric tape to hinge the spines and book boards together if you’re worried that your book won’t be archival enough, but test it out first. I found that the fabric tape actually made it more difficult for my covers to lie flat, so I decided not to use it. The vinyl and cotton fabric I used worked perfectly on mine.
4. Punch holes into your spines
Line up one of your spines with its corresponding book board on top of your cutting mat. Allow a 1/4 in. gap between them. Place your template sheet centered on top of these and line up the 1.75 in. mark you made on your template with the left edge of your book board. Use your pencil to mark where the holes will be on your spine. Use your screw punch to punch the holes out. You may need to press your screw punch down and scratch out a couple layers at a time, like I did. Use the first spine you hole punch as a template for the other spine. Use your binder clips to hold both spines together to ensure they line up perfectly. If you need to stretch the holes out, punch the holes through first, then stack up your spines, clip them together, and stretch out the holes all at once. Go slow and only stretch it out wide enough so your screw post fits through snugly. (If you’re gluing two or more boards together to make your covers and spines thicker, do all the hole punching before you glue them together, using the first one as a template for the rest).
5. Measure and cut your book cloth
Lay your spines and their corresponding book boards next to each other on the back of your book cloth. *Allow a 1 in. margin around these with a 1/4 in. gap between each spine and its book board and mark it with a pencil.
Mark the corners of your spine and book boards so you can tell exactly where they’ll be glued down. I outlined the entire spine and book board for good measure (no pun intended). Cut out your book cloth for both covers.
*Depending on the size of your spine, you may need to make the left side margin shorter if you find it’ll interfere with the holes once it’s folded over. Make sure you cut it so that it wraps around the edge and allow room for it to be glued down.
6. Glue book boards to book cloth
Optional: If you would like to add an elastic band to your portfolio, this is the time to do it.
If you’re using tacky glue or very thick PVA glue, pour a good amount of glue into a plastic or disposable container and mix it with a bit of water. This will make the glue much easier to spread.
Do these one at a time. You might want to cover your working surface and a separate flat surface (where your covers will dry for several hours) with scrap paper or something to protect it from any glue drips. Have a wet paper towel handy in case you do get glue on something important.
Use your brush or sponge to apply an even coat of glue to your book board and carefully place it down into its marked area on the back of your book cloth. Quickly flip it over and use your bone folder to smooth out any air bubbles. Apply glue to the spine in the same way and place it down in its marked area. Quickly flip it over again and use your bone folder to press the book cloth into the gutter between the spine and the book board and smooth out any wrinkles. Place your cover on a separate, covered area and place more scrap paper or protective material on top and stack heavy books on top of its entire surface to prevent the board from warping while the glue dries.
Repeat the same process with your second cover and let both dry pressed down with heavy books for several hours.
Once the glue is dry, take your covers one at a time and cut the corners of your book cloth at an angle like this (not straight across).
Apply an even layer of glue to one of the flaps and tightly fold it over the edge. It may take some effort to get it to stick right away, especially if you’re using tough fabric like vinyl. If this is the case, do your best to hold it down and place a heavy book on top for a few seconds to allow the glue to stick. Continue to glue the flaps down one at a time. Use your bone folder to smooth out any air bubbles and press the book cloth into the gutter.
Switch out the boards to allow your first cover to dry flat with books on top, while you work on the second one. Repeat the same process for the second cover.
Allow both covers to dry pressed down by heavy books for a few hours or overnight.
Use your screw punch to pierce through the book cloth (and stretch the holes out, if needed) before continuing.
Measure and cut your inside cloth to be at least 1/4 in. smaller than your covers. Make sure you cut the edges neatly so your portfolio looks professional :)
Apply an even layer of glue to the inside of your cover and carefully place the inside book cloth centered over the cover. Use your bone folder to press the cloth into the gutter and smooth out any air bubbles. Use a wet paper towel to wipe away any excess glue.
Again, place heavy books over your covers and allow them to dry for several hours or overnight.
Use your screw punch to pierce through your inside cloth and stretch the holes out, if needed.
7. Assemble your portfolio!
(If you’re not ready to assemble yet, remember to save the hole punched template you made earlier to use when you’re ready to punch holes into your inside sheets of paper).
Use your paper template as a guide to punch holes into your sheets. Just line up your template with your sheets and use your screw punch to pierce through the holes. You may need to do this one sheet at a time, depending on the width of your paper. Go slow and make sure they all line up perfectly. You don’t need to stretch these holes out. They will adjust to your screw posts when you fit them through. Nobody will see into your spine, so you don’t have to worry about the holes being torn a little bit.
Use your bone folder to score each sheet so that the sheets can lie flat when clients flip through your book. Score your first few sheets along the right-side edge of your gutter. Depending on the width of your paper and how many sheets you have, you may want to shift over 1/16 in. or 1/8 in. to the right every few pages so your folds don’t stack up awkwardly.
To assemble, all you have to do is sandwich your sheets between the covers. Push the hollow parts of the screw post through the holes on your bottom cover. Stack your sheets in the order you want to present them and push them through the screw posts carefully. Place the front cover over them and screw down the other part of the screw posts. You can use a flat screwdriver to tighten the last bit. They should fit snugly together. You don’t want your covers and sheets to have any room to slide up and down the screw posts. I used 1/2 in. screw posts.
That’s it! Here are some suggestions on how to further customize your portfolio:
Add a pocket to your book (for business cards or self-promotional content).
You can stamp emboss your name or logo to the front cover or inside of your book (Warning: if you used vinyl or plastic fabric to cover your book, the extreme heat you need to create this effect could warp and ruin your fabric! I recommend you test it out first)
Use impact stamps to deboss your name or logo to the front cover. I didn’t look further into this because it sounds pricy. If you try it, let me know how it goes.
If you have other ideas on how to customize your portfolio, please feel free to share.