Over the last few decades of cosplaying, I've had the privilege to judge many cosplay contests in various locations. From this experience, I've come to appreciate how much a well-presented portfolio can help contestants gain an edge over the competition.
But suppose you are new to competitions or don't have experienced friends to help you figure out how to structure one of these documents. In that case, there's not always a place to turn to help you figure it out!
To help, I took some time to compile advice I've given to others on what I think makes an impressive cosplay contest portfolio! What follows is my personal recommendations based on years of viewing the portfolios of cosplayers across a wide range of skill sets & levels.
If you deliver this portfolio in person, use a plain binder or have a local office supply shop print and bind the document. If this document is for an online competition, opt for a clean, no-frills PDF document or PowerPoint layout. Don't go bananas with colors, text & image fly-in animations.
You want your document to be categorized & organized. A mistake many contestants make is handing over a packet that is essentially a photo dump that they will then try to walk the judges through. You will want your document to be self-explanatory because judges only give each document a brief review when deliberating on all the contestants.
You should structure this document like a PowerPoint that a very distracted person could follow. This is not to say the judges will be distracted. Still, it helps to make it as simple as possible for them to find information in a short time, so include big titles like "Construction Notes" or "Wig Work" at the top of each section.
Here is a rundown of the sections I suggest your document include:
Stick to just a few references, enough for them to understand what you are trying to make. Concept art sheets are ideal.
Don't give them a whole art book. It's okay to include one or two 'flavor' references if you take liberties with the costume design, like creating an art nouveau version or something historically inspired. Label these references as 'Inspiration.'
This section should not take up more than one page of your document.
Having a list of materials used is a great way to give judges a quick overview of your fabrics & crafting supply choices.
If you bought parts of your costume, include a list of those items here as well. Some contests require you to disclose purchased items, but even if it's not needed, it's just good form to include this.
Including your fabric swatches is a nice touch, but if you do this, make sure to cut them into evenly-sized blocks with pinked edges. Affix them with staples or strong contact cement to a sheet of cardstock.
3. Work in Progress
This will be the majority of your document. This section should give a broad-stroke look at how you put the garments or armor together. Focus mainly on the parts that require advanced skills, like mitered corners, quilting, or adding structure.
The first part of the WIP section should have an example of your patterning process.
Explain if you used draping, flat patterning, pattern modification, or a combination of these to draft your costume. Include a picture of this step in your construction. This is especially important for Journeyman and Masters level judging, where patterning skills are increasingly important.
It's also just good form to cite resources you used, so if you bought a template for a prop or costume part off Etsy, make a note of who's work is helping you. Some contests require this. I suggest it is worth including by default.
After showing your patterning process, your WIP photos should include a few 'raw' pictures of the costume in the early stages of construction. This is primarily the 'proof' part of the document that shows you did indeed make the costume yourself.
This section is not a how-to guide. You do not need to walk your judges through every step of making a costume. Assume your judges are qualified and also know how to sew a blind hem or inset sleeves. Suppose you reinvent the wheel and create an unorthodox method of construction that most people would not follow without photos. In that case, it's okay to walk through that process in your WIP.
When done well, the WIP section showcases skills, so think of this as a highlights reel of all the skilled techniques you completed while making the costume.
A mistake a lot of people make is giving judges TOO MANY work-in-progress photos. It drowns out the good stuff if it's a big ol' photo dump. Pick only your best-looking, most visually instructive WIP photos.
Lastly, include a photo and description of how you finished the garment (i.e., bound seams, lining, overlocking)
If you use an unorthodox method, have a sentence about why, such as 'I wanted to reduce bulk.'
4. Props / Wig Work / FX / Makeup / 3D Modeling
Create different sections for any wig work, makeup, FX, or props you make. Treat each skill set as a particular focus to showcase and create a mini WIP section for each.
Dividing these different skills into their own sections will illustrate your range of talents at a glance.