One of the first things you’ll need to do to get your illustration business off the ground is put your work online. While there are many options available for portfolio websites, I’ve narrowed down the best choices worth discussing.
First off, the old days of html and FTP’ing are long over. There are plenty of CMS options instead that offer a much simpler updating process while providing some pretty robust features. Most are free with some limitations, but can be upgraded through payment plans to extend their functionality and give you other perks like adding your custom domain. The best include:
WordPress is the most flexible option, though you’ll need a separate hosting package and domain name to run it. The platform itself and some themes are free, but most likely you’ll want to purchase a premium theme for your site. The benefit to WordPress is that the files are all your own so you can customize them in any way you see fit. The interface isn’t as pretty or intuitive as some of the other options, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s almost second nature. (As a side note, this site runs off of WordPress for anyone interested.)
Squarespace is rising in popularity every day. Your work sits on their servers so you don’t need a hosting package. While it’s limited in the number of available portfolio templates, each one they do have is really nice and would make a great theme for any illustration site. Squarespace is also quite easy to use and update and has a built-in e-commerce option for selling your work.
Cargo Collective is another wildly popular portfolio hosting site. With roughly 40 templates to pick from, there are a lot of great options for illustrators. Just like Squarespace, your work is hosted on their servers and it’s very easy to update when you need to.
Dunked is a newer portfolio option that’s just hit the markets from Orman Clark, a great WordPress designer who’s released some amazing themes over at Themezilla. Dunked only has 7 templates at the moment, but they’re all super. The interface is also simple to use and update, just like the other hosted options.
Finally, there’s Behance Prosite. With its ease of use and modern templates, Prosite is a terrific option. It also has the added benefit that it can integrate your preexisting Tumblr or WordPress blogs directly into your site. The only drawback is that projects must be entered through Behance, rather than Prosite, which can be a pain to switch between two different websites when you’re trying to update your work. Additionally, as of this posting, Prosite portfolios are not responsive.
Charting it Out
The following chart highlights the differences in these five options in a little more detail. Please keep in mind, though, that some info may have changed since this data was compiled and you should confirm the numbers on their websites before proceeding:
Other Notable Options
While I won’t go into every single option available, there are some others worth mentioning:
Stacy is a lightweight CMS that uses text files and folders to update content.
Kirby is another file and folder-based CMS.
Joomla is an extremely robust CMS that’s quite popular.
4ormat is a hosted option that also has some nice themes.
Indexhibit is a pretty basic CMS that has a good number of users (though, I must admit, I’m not a fan and I think the Indexhibit “style” is a bit out of date now).
Tumblr is mostly a blogging service, but can be used as a portfolio site with the right theme. Beware, though, that it does have some serious down time on occasion.
Koken is still in beta, but looks like it could be an interesting portfolio CMS.
Any of the options mentioned in this post are great for setting up an illustration site. When deciding, look at the themes available, the pricing structure that makes sense for you, and the amount of customizing you think you’ll want to do. Also, consider that most of these services have free trial offers so play around with them a bit and see what you feel the most comfortable using. Remember, the most important things are going to be the usability of the site for both you and your visitors, the ease of customization depending on how much you want to “own” it, and how well it actually showcases your work.