Passive income: my advice on selling art as digital products

Selling artwork to earn passive income in the form of digital products or resources is a growing attraction for many designers and artists.

It’s not a new concept though. Royalty free image libraries for example, have been going for decades. But things have changed since then. Dramatically. Now artists have more control over their work and how they sell it.

But given the relatively new nature of the digital product boom means it can be difficult to find information about the ins and outs of earning “passive” income. I’m often asked by other designers and artist who want to start selling online, “what should I sell”, “where should I sell”, and the most common “can I make a living from it?”.

So I decided to write an honest article answering some of those questions and give you the pros and cons about selling artwork online in the form of digital resources or print-on-demand (POD) products.

It’s not a step by step guide that will take you through how to open a shop and upload your artwork. But rather it’s an article on my first-hand experience at selling digital products online as passive income, including the good, the bad and the ugly. And trust me, there’s a fair amount of ugly!

I’ll be focusing on selling illustration-type products, but most of the insights and tips below will apply to just about any online digital product. So grab a cup of coffee, I have a lot to say on the subject which I hope you’ll find useful!

Topics I’ll be covering:

What should I be selling?

Actually, the first question you should ask is “Who am I selling to?”.

So many artists make the mistake of not identifying their customer. I know I know, we hate having to think about marketing stuff! But if you think about it, without a market you don’t have a business.

You don’t have to go deep into the boring stuff, just get a clear idea (and be clear, it’s important trust me), on who your target customer is and focus on their needs, wants and likes.

Don’t aim to please all the online buying customers, because you won’t no matter how hard you try. But rather aim to please the customer base you think is best suited to your style and type of products you love creating.

If you don’t know what you love creating yet, then by all means experiment. But at some point you’ll need to buckle down and focus on creating products for a particular customer.

Maybe you love painting watercolour flowers, so your market could be designers who create wedding stationery. And possibly crafting customers who love dabbling and creating projects like cards, invites, etc. Creating lovely floral watercolour graphics suited for these projects would be perfect for this market.

Or perhaps you love designing logos. You could create pre-made logo templates and sell it to customers who are new business owners with a tight budget or designers who need a quick logo for a client.

So you see, knowing your customer basically tells you what you should be selling! Do some research. Find out what your ideal customer needs, wants and likes.

Creating products with a particular customer in mind is easier than thumbsucking a random idea and hoping for the best.

How do I know if it will sell?

The short answer is, you don’t! Every time I invest time and resources into creating a product, I have no guarantee that it will sell. But what I do have is experience in my customers’ wants, needs or likes. You don’t have to solve all three of these areas in the same product.

I have a loose formula I’ve been using since I started selling products online:

Create a product your target audience wants that they can’t find anywhere else;
Or create a product that solves a problem they frequently have;
Or better yet do both;
+ do it in your own unique style;
+ create something you love to create;
= a successful product.

My genuine aim every time I create a product is to help my customers with their own work or projects by creating resources they will find useful and love using. Plus I don’t create work I don’t love creating myself. For me that defeats the whole purpose, and I believe people can pick up on your intention behind what you create. If you don’t love it, no one else will.

And the last, but very important tip I can offer regarding the success of a product is, be unique. Just because you saw another artist’s product do well, doesn’t mean by creating something similar, or worse identical, will mean success for you. I don’t believe that’s a sustainable business model. You’ll build a following much quicker and stand out a lot more if you focus on creating unique goods in your own style.

Make an effort to come up with your own concepts instead of piggy backing off others. Do you want to lead or follow? That’s the number one marketing strategy you can apply to fast track your success.

Can I make a living from it?

Yes absolutely! But how much you earn is directly related to how much effort you put in.

You could upload a few products, sit back and wait for a few sales to trickle in. But that’s the thing, it will be a trickle. The chances of you having success with little to no effort on your part are very slim.

Selling products online has the potential to earn you a very decent living.

To give you an idea, I ran my own graphic design business which was quite successful. I earned a good living doing that. It only took a year of proper, dedicated focus on my online business to quit my graphic design work and focus full time on illustrating and selling digital products.

Essentially I started earning the same income as my graphic design business selling digital goods by the end of that year. But be warned, it took huge commitment, sacrifice and serious hard work.

Think about it, if you’re a one man show as a graphic designer selling your services, your entire business relies on you, the service provider.

Your earning potential is directly related to how many hours you work. But selling online allows you to scale up without the need for more staff. Because you’re creating something once, and selling it over and over, possibly forever, your earning potential increases hugely.

You’re not relying on what you can achieve in an hour anymore, you’re relying on your product to earn you income long after you created it.

Which brings me to my next point (which has nothing to do with bunnies! he’s just there for his cuteness value).

There’s nothing passive about passive income

Many people believe that having a “passive income” business means you barely have to work to earn a living. How hard can it be? It’s called “passive” for a reason, right?

Well this may shatter all your dreams of earning a fortune for doing nothing. I’m afraid the only passive part about passive income is the automated sales. “Exactly!” You might be thinking.

Yes it’s true, you do earn while you sleep. But to get it to a point where you’re earning enough while you’re in deep slumber, takes a lot of hard graft which is the opposite of passive!

And when you’re awake, you’re basically working all the time. Ok, that’s not entirely true. But essentially I work 7 days a week. Some days longer than others.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I haven’t attended to something related to my business. Whether it’s answering emails, attending to customer support queries, writing a blog post, researching trends, preparing product files, creating product preview images, etc. it’s all related to building a successful “passive” income. And this of course excludes the main part of the business, which is creating products.

How much you put into all the above areas of your business is entirely up to you. That’s the beauty of being your own boss. But as I’ve mentioned several times already, effort = outcome.

How much should I charge?

Ah! The million dollar question. Actually more like the ten dollar question!

One of the concepts you might struggle with when first starting out is, you’re essentially selling work for as little as $10 that took you weeks to create and prepare. This can be difficult to wrap your head around.

But it’s a business model used by many successful companies. Your earnings come from selling the same low priced item over and over to hundreds, and hopefully, thousands of customers. Given that, it may take a while to make money back for the time you put in.

But once you’ve reached that point, anything earned after that is profit. And it can continue to give you returns for years to come if your product has longevity and isn’t too trend driven.

It’s becoming increasingly competitive to sell digital products. Customers have more and more choices, plus they’re constantly bombarded by really cheap, all-in-one bundles that seem too good to be true. The sad thing is, sometimes they are. Often quality is compromised when products are churned out so they can be bundled and sold for a song. This kind of business strategy can work, but it’s one that I chose not to follow early on in my online business.

I made a conscious decision to not try and compete with the mass, super-low priced products, but rather concentrate on creating quality over quantity and focus on building my own unique style and use that to help me stand out.

I feel undercharging for your work in the hopes of attracting more sales will be damaging to your business in the long run.

Do you want to be seen as the cheap clipart store? Or the quality, unique digital resource artist? It also damages the overall perception of this industry and the value of art. It creates a “race to the bottom” culture among designers and artists which is counter productive for all of us.

It is a bit of a balancing act between charging too little for what your work is worth, versus charging too much which could turn customers away. But as your confidence in your work grows and you gain more experience each time you put a product out, you’ll learn to balance the two and get a feel for what to charge.

Just remember to respect your time as an artist and in turn, respect your customer’s money by providing them with good, quality work.

Where should I sell?

Not all online marketplaces are created equal.

If you’re looking to sell your work on a site that has their own End User Licence Agreement, often that means your work will fall under their agreement and not your own. So do your homework! Read their licence terms carefully. Make sure you are happy with what they allow the end users to do with your work.

By law, the end user i.e. customer is bound by the agreement they enter into when making a purchase. You cannot impose your own licence on someone if it’s different to the licence of the marketplace they bought the item from.

This is why my licence and the licence of the other marketplaces I sell on are almost identical – the differences are minor, but the basic restrictions and terms are exactly the same.

I sell my digital products on four online marketplaces, my own website, DesignCuts, Creative Market, and Etsy. They all work well for me and my type of products.

I’m often approached by other marketplaces to join their site, but I’ve resisted the urge because I want to maintain a good focus on my current shops. And having my work scattered across the internet will make me feel scattered too!

Many other artists choose to have their work on several sites, but for me personally, that will become overwhelming and my customer service will probably take a knock, something I’m not willing to let happen.

I have also tried several other online platforms like Gumroad, Society 6, Zazzle, and more that I can’t even remember, that weren’t successful at all. So why did some work, while others didn’t? I believe it’s because I spread myself too thin and couldn’t give them each the focus they needed.

Giving them the focus they need would include uploading regularly. Promoting on social media. Sending out newsletters when there’s a sale. Basically reminding customers you exist.

This is all doable if all your different online shops sell the same product. But if you sell design templates on one, art prints on another, digital goods here and there, you simply cannot market all of them well enough unless you hire someone to help you. And the more you need to hop from shop to shop, the more time you spend away from creating.

In my passive income business I have noticed the shops, product types and platforms I spend the most time on, are the most successful. If you’re starting out my advice is keep it simple by deciding whether you’ll be selling print-on-demand products or digital resources. This will determine which platform is best for your product. Then pour all your energy into that. Once you’re established you’ll have more freedom to dabble in the stuff you want to try out.

Be aware though, not all customers within your chosen product and marketplace are the same. The customer base on Etsy for example, is quite different to the customer base on Design Cuts. So do your research. Read the forums. Look at what sells well. Does this suite your style and product?

Then there’s the ugly stuff

The internet is an amazing platform to connect people from all over the world. Which means your work has the potential to reach anyone, anywhere. But it also means it may end up in the hands of despicable people too.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of torrent sites that pirate work from artists, musicians, writers etc. And the bad news is, your work almost certainly will end up on at least one of those sites.

When I first saw all my products on one of these sites, I was devastated! It took me some time and several unsuccessful attempts at trying to get it taken down, to accept there was nothing I could do. The more popular my work became, the more sites it would appear on. It was, and still is, horrible.

You can try and spend hours finding the original site’s owner or IP address. Track down the host. Send them a DMCA. Send them another because they ignored the first one. But all you’re doing is trying to plug a huge hole with a tiny bit of chewing gum. Your stuff will be back within days if not hours. It’s also soul destroying and time consuming.

So I’ve learned to accept it and I’ve given up on trying to get my work removed from these types of sites. I also believe the people who use these sites aren’t going to buy from me in the first place. But it doesn’t make it easier to deal with and it doesn’t make it right.

Then there’s the legitimate customers who intentionally or unintentionally, breach the licence agreement terms.

Graphic resource licensing can be very confusing for some end users. And as a result many unintentionally use your resources incorrectly and ultimately breach the terms of the resource agreement. This in turn creates more work for you as you constantly need to educate customers about their obligations and terms of use and get them to rectify the situation.

Dealing with this ugly side of things can really have a negative impact on you and your work.

Recently I had to deal with a large well known international company selling my original files, as is, to their customer base which is worldwide. Their products are available in all major supermarkets and major online shops like Amazon. When I first found out I truly wanted to give up. It was kind of like the straw that broke the camels back. I’m still licking my wounds to be honest and I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with such a terrible situation. But I’ve also realized that I want to fight for my dream of illustrating full time. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am, I shouldn’t let unscrupulous people stop me from creating.

I know I haven’t even scraped the surface when it comes to licence infringements. There are countless people out there either fraudulently obtaining my work, copying and selling my art and misusing my products. It can be soul destroying if you let it get to you.

But I’m learning to see it as a liability cost of selling digital goods. Much like the corner shop owner builds in loses like theft and breakages, I need to build in theft and licence infringements.

It truly is the ugly part of an otherwise amazing job. I promised you honest insights into selling online, so if you think you’ll be destroyed knowing your work is being stolen regularly, then this may not be for you.

But if you can somehow learn to see your work as a gift meant to be shared regardless of the obstacles you face, then it can be an extraordinary and fulfilling career choice.

So why bother?

You might be wondering at this stage why bother if it’s so much hard work and has so many drawbacks?

Personally I bother because I love what I do so much. I bother because it brings me independence as an artist. I bother because I wake up everyday knowing I get to shape my day to suit me and do things that replenish my soul. I bother because living my dream of illustrating and getting paid to do it, is like winning the lotto!

I don’t regret all the sacrifices I made to get here. It was all worth it. I live a life jammed-packed full of amazing experiences. I get to form wonderful relationships with my lovely customers from all over the world. I’m privileged to be able to create and sell products that can help others achieve their own wonderful designs.

There’s a saying “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”

It is possible to achieve your dream but as with all worthwhile endeavors, it doesn’t come without a price. Effort = outcome. How much you’re willing to put in to reach your dream is entirely up to you.

If you decide to venture down this interesting path, I wish you great success and many happy hours of creating and putting your work out there! If you know of someone else who will benefit from this article on passive income, please feel free to share it.

71 thoughts on “Passive income: my advice on selling art as digital products

  1. What a wonderful blog post, Lisa. So much information, well written, and great insights! Rest assured you have a dedicated following who will continue to support you, both financially and emotionally.

    BTW that little bunny is really, really, cute!

    1. Thank you Natalie! You are such a lovely human being my friend! 🙂 So glad you found the post useful.
      Couldn’t resist adding a bunny somewhere! XX

  2. This is such an amazingly informative blog post. I love the last section. I’ve been asked the “why bother” question maaany times by my colleagues (at a geophysics research lab) and it’s really because I love it. Because the idea of not making fonts makes me so sad. The rush you get with a new sale, a sweet review or seeing your work in use just makes me too happy. 🙂

    1. Exactly Ana! It’s hard for others to understand it if they haven’t experienced all those wonderful emotions yourself 🙂 So happy you found it informative!

  3. Thank you for sharing so much of your experiences! I’m glad you were so honest about the pirating too! I’ve seen many favorite artists copied and I’m really not sure if I could deal with that. It makes me wish I’d become a lawyer instead so I could represent artists! I’m still trying to figure out my own direction and you’ve been a tremendous help with that! And I LOVE your work!!!

    1. Hi Bethany, I wish you became a lawyer too! 🙂 Someone with your passion and respect is desperately needed!! 🙂
      Thank you for your lovely comments, I really appreciate that. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure out your own direction, just be sure to create everyday, something, anything. And your path will become clearer xx

  4. What an insightful article! Thank you for setting the bar so high and representing our trade well. Your commitment to maintaining great customer service, charging a fair price for your work, and not allowing yourself to be spread too thinly across various marketplaces are especially helpful reminders to me as I begin to lay the ground work for my “passive” income business. I, too, have had the unfortunate experience of having to go to bat for my work – a website I spent an entire year working on was carbon copied within weeks of launching. The whole “imitation is the highest form of flattery” sentiment does not make thievery and forgery any less painful! Keep up the great work, Lisa! Glad to witness your success and benefit from the work you put out into the world!

    1. I hear you! “You should be flattered” just doesn’t cut it for me either. Sorry you had to deal with that! But I’m also super excited to hear you are forging your own path with a passive income stream. Glad you found the post insightful.
      Thank you Allison for all your lovely comments, you are a fabulous and kind person! XX

  5. Thank you SO much for this Lisa!

    Really interesting read & something I have been pondering for awhile but seem a little overwhelming on where and how to start. But its given me the kick I need to go home after work today & start building up a proper library of work to sell as I’d love to be working for myself one day too.

    Thanks for being realistic which is SO needed for us creatives – but mega inspiring – I’m a true believer too that you can make it happen if you work hard enough and have a realistic business vision.

    Love a creative success story – well done and thanks again for the insight. Shiv Xxx

    1. Hi Shiv, Yes to building your creative library!!
      Glad you found the post useful and I hope the insights help you to navigate all this stuff a little easier 🙂 Best of luck with your creative endeavor, hope to see your work out there soon!

  6. Wonderful insightful article. I’ve been selling my designs for a few years without much success, but because I love it I keep at it. Finding the right market has been a huge challenge for me. Your thoughts on “who should I be selling to” gave me some idea of how to figure this out. The pirating & theft of the creations of others infuriates me. Like you I believe it’s something to be endured because there’s just no stopping it. Thanks for sharing your experiences & thoughts!

    1. It’s a great pleasure Teresa! I know how hard it is to find your niche, but once you have, you’ll be unstoppable!
      As artist we need to always stand together against theft and piracy even if it’s just knowing someone out there understands how infuriating it is, so it means a lot that you get that!
      Keep creating! XX

  7. Thank you for your thoughts and candor. Your article was not only informative but the most honest perspective I have read regarding selling digital products. It’s something I would love to do one day and, if that day come, I will definitely remember your words. Thank you.

    1. Hi Donna,

      So happy to hear you found it informative and honest 🙂 Definitely give it a go if it’s something you’d love to try. And if you can think from the start about these important areas, you’re on the road to success!

  8. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for writing and sharing such an informative article. I love your work. The standard of your work is exquisite. I buy it whenever I get the opportunity and I use it to make my own physical products (personalised stationery)to sell locally online and at markets. I am going to re-read your T’s & C’s to make sure I am not infringing on your copyright. Please don’t stop creating your beautiful work. Would you be ok with me sharing your article on a closed FB group – Hello Boss Creative. It’s a group supporting freelance creatives like GD’s and photographers etc in SA. I think many people are ignorant of the damage they do when they use designs that are for personal use only in goods for sale or share digital files. All the best!

    1. Thank you so much Melissa! Your respect is really appreciated. And yes of course, please feel free to share the article. I know so many end users don’t intentionally misuse work. And often people forget that there’s a real person on the other side of that piece of artwork they are using. The more that learn about that, the better!

      And thank you for your business! I wish you great success with your own products 🙂

  9. It’s an absolute pleasure Sarah! I have only done limited licensing of my artwork and some outright sales of patterns and illustrations. That’s a whole another world that I definitely would like to pursue more in the future, but I know it needs proper focus and commitment. So it’s something on my list for later 🙂 XX

  10. Thank you so much Lisa for devoting so much of your valuable time to create such an in-depth and detailed post about this subject, that I have honestly not much knowledge about (and absolutely zero experience). My first real introduction to the money stream possibilities of “passive” income came from listening to your –incredibly aptly named– “Honest Designers Podcast.” I have recently decided I need to have a real career pivot to truly chase my dreams of being a creative full-time. I have been a long time DesignCuts client and recently have been unable to much (including work) because of a back injury, thus I have had a lot of time to listen to the podcasts and try to come up with a game plan for this career change. The podcast has helped immensely and I was wondering about this idea that kept popping up in your conversations. Your post has illuminated so much for me and allowed me to realistically envision how this method of income can fit into my transition. Your work and your advice always brighten my day. Thank you for the all joy and earnest hard work you put into this world that I feel lucky enough to share with you.

  11. Hi AJ,
    That means so much to me that you found this so useful! I’m humbled by your comments and feel so gratful that I can somehow help you a little in your journey.

    So sorry to hear about your back injury. I’m glad you took the time to think about your plan for change. Any career change is scary, so congrats for making a commitment to chase your dream!! Do something everyday that will get you one step closer, even if it’s 5 minutes of your time, it really does all add up and you’ll get there much sooner 🙂

    I wish you a speedy recovery! And many hours and days of excitement and joy as you venture down your creative path!

  12. Lisa, this post is just great! I could highlight a lot of thoughts that are really true and your way of writing deeply touched my soul. I started with traditional scrapbook 10 years ago, they I discovered digital and in no time I was creating personalized stationary for kids parties. Yes, I know how it feels to find your work in this kind of sites, but I always had loyal customers and followers that even warned me about that. Some I could remove, some I couldn’t, and life goes on. After that I started designing digital scrapbook kits, but in the past 2 years I gave it a break and tried to follow new roads. I have some physical products I want to dedicate to, as planners, small kits with cards and stickers, wall art and small parties decoration. I’m always searching for designs to use in those products and I hope I can produce them at a regular basis in 2018. I intend to open a studio in the following years, to create and impart classes. I still cann’t get rid of my regular job (which I love as well, but not that much) and I think about my artistic side as a plan for retirement. It is what feeds my soul, maybe that’s why I’m still on it even if I can’t make a living… yet! Thank you so much for your words and your work, it really makes me want to create with it. All of it!! =)

    1. What a lovely comment Vanessa! I love hearing about your journey. You sound like you managed to deal with the ugly side of things very well. I think I’m still learning how to do that although I’m a lot better than I was 🙂

      Physical items are always so wonderful to sell, it’s something I’d love to get into one day too. Having your artistic side as retirement plan is the best idea! I thing creating feeds our soul and the wonderful part is you can do it at any age!

      Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment, I wish you all the best xx

  13. If you see someone selling your work on amazon, contact amazon customer service and and let them know. In my experience Amazon is quick to shut down unscrupulous sellers and they hate any kind of negative press.

  14. This post is terrific, thank you! You have given me new enthusiasm.
    I’ve had a couple of nasty copyright issues and become despondent about selling my creations and had closed up shop.My worst was to have had my own work reported as a copyright infringement by someone who had pirated it and posted it elsewhere. .I found that impossible to fight and had to remove it before my website was closed down.

    1. Hi Judy, So sorry to hear you went through such a terrible ordeal! I was gobsmacked to hear you had to end up removing your work!! 🙁 Please do keep creating and putting your work out there. Those kind of people will never win in the end, and the world needs more art and creativity that’s true and authentic (and not stolen!). Best wishes to your on your creative journey!

  15. Thank you Lisa for writing this wonderful and honest article about passive income work. You see i’m a 40-ish yr old mother who went back to school in graphic design and i’m finishing my course this december. I’m planning on being a freelancer but my plans were also to create digital items to sell in order to create a passive income. Thank you so much for laying it all out there in black & white, and it didn’t scare me away so that will still be in my futur plans.

    thanks again!

    1. Yay! So glad it didn’t scare you away Isabelle! I do think you should give it a go especially now that you are venturing into a new career path. Congrats! I think that’s amazing. I wish you all the best with that, and huge success in both your passive income and freelance business.

  16. Hello Lisa,

    I just stumbled across your delightful blog and this super helpful and encouraging article while looking for advice on pricing digital design work. Just taking a moment to say thanks and to wish you all the best! I have you bookmarked now and look forward to following your blog. Your illustrations are so delightful!

    1. Hi Amanda,
      So happy you stumbled across my blog 🙂 I’m thrilled to hear you find it useful, that makes me happy to hear. Thank you for taking the time to drop me a note, I really appreciate it.
      Warm wishes,

  17. Thank you for this wonderful and honest post! Your work is really great! I am a stay at home mom at the moment who gave up a full time graphic design job to spend more time with my son. It has always been my dream to be able to sell my artwork on my own terms so to speak. I am currently with zazzle and am building my stable of designs. Like you said, it takes a huge amount of time and requires quality work but I love what I do too, so I am going for it 🙂

    1. Yes! Definitely go for it Jen! You won’t regret putting in the hard work because it does pay off. It may be a little bit of a long road to get there, but once you’re there, the freedom and joy is amazing. Best of luck to you xx

  18. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for your wonderful article.
    I’ve only just designed to delve into the world of digital illustration.
    The world of passive income via digital products certainly appeals to me.
    Working on commissions doesn’t.. 😛

    Do you mind if I ask, what sacrifices did you make to get yourself on this path?
    I’m keen to hear what you’ve been through.

    I’m a mom with 2 young kids, with a partner whom I run a business with, which my heart isn’t in.

    Love your work. 🙂


    1. Hi Esther, Congrats on deciding to delve into digital illustration! I wish you all the best on your creative journey 🙂 The sacrifices I made mainly revolved around my family and social life and spare time, which I had none of when I was trying to make the transition. I would work almost every night after my day job plus every single weekend to get it off the ground. My relationship with Cliff, my partner suffered, but thankfully he is very understanding. And because my weekends were taken up with work, I rarely went out with my friends. The bad side affect to all this, it became a habit, and now I find it difficult not to work everyday. But it’s something I’m trying to change and thankfully slowly getting right! 🙂

      I would say it was definitely worth it, but the follow up to that is, I would advice to keep checking in with yourself to make sure you still have some kind of balance and don’t miss out on the other important things in life which are relationships and moments with people you love. So make time for yourself and your family and friends. Hope that helps! Best of luck!

  19. Hi Lisa, I got to your blog through the skillshare class, this blog is informative and I thank you for your insights. I am making the transition from graphic designer to illustrator and indeed it’s been some long nights. This article is helpful about selling digital products. I just got approved last month for a Hungry Jpeg site and the sheer work of getting up a few starting files was tough. I learned that passive is not passive. The time of getting the store up and making the product page took away creative time for sure. I have been thinking about getting on a print on demand site but your thoughts about being spread thin definitely gave me pause and I will spend time trying to get the first market up first.

    1. Hi Kaye,

      Congratulations on launching your online store! As you’ve discovered, it’s no small feat so you should be really proud of yourself. I’m so happy to hear you found the article helpful. It can be tempting to start putting your work onto every platform out there, but in the end it becomes difficult to manage and really do it all justice. Best of luck with your new store, you seem to be willing to put in the work, so I’m positive it will go well for you!

  20. Thank you so much for such a wonderful and informative blog post. I found it very helpful and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I am currently a full time illustrator who works on commissions and I wanted to phase out of it. This article addressed my questions and concerns. So thank you again for taking the time to write it!

    1. Hi Rhian,

      I’m so happy to hear you found the article helpful! I know how daunting it can be to change your creative path, so I’m thrilled it answered some of your questions. I wish you all the best in your new venture and hope your journey is a happy and creative one 🙂

  21. Your blog is very inspiring!!

    I like this quote so much :
    Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.

    Somehow I lose hope with my drawing business eventhough I get many orders but I’ll fight again.

    I have to bookmark this post so I can reread it again since there are so much gem in your writing.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Marcella,

      It makes me so happy to read that the blog post inspires you to keep going for your art dream! I know it can be tough and sometimes it feels like your fighting a losing battle, but keep believing in yourself and backing yourself! Hard work does pay off in the end 🙂 Best of luck to you my friend xx

  22. Thank you for posting this! I am looking to delve into the digital download realm myself. I have the same concerns about my original works being pirated too. I’m hesitant on posting some of my more time consuming fine artworks because of that…I may save those until I’m a bit more experienced. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!!

  23. This information is very helpful! I’m a graphic designer. I’m in the process of defining my brand and who my target audience really is. I went to design school, so I have the ABILITY to design logos, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to create logos for restaurant owners. I have the ABILITY to design flyers, but that doesn’t mean I will enjoy designing flyers for people in the medical field. Personally, I love to create hand-lettering. My ideal client would include designing hand-lettered event invitations, such as weddings, parties, etc. This helps me narrow down the type of work I want to take on and how to market myself towards these types of people (who can benefit from what I have to offer). Instead of just creating random digital art, hoping that it will sell- which hasn’t worked for me at all! Because my skillset is broad, I often try to be all things to all people, for fear that if I turn away a request to complete a certain project, I just lost an opportunity to make money. But by doing that, I’m all over the place, with no clear target audience. You made a great point by cultivating your own unique style and creating art for a specific client in mind. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Alexis, so happy to know you found the info useful! I totally hear you about the broad skill set and also the pressure of not taking on the work you don’t necessarily want to do. But you’re already far down the path to success by knowing and understanding who your ideal customer is, sometimes it takes people years to figure that out! Best of luck with your creative journey, your hand-lettered items sound lovely!!

  24. Thank you so much for this post..and the honesty. It’s what I needed. I’ve self published something like 7 books and repeatedly found them pirated- I echo the soul destroying moment you find out. I never thought about the same thing happening with clip art and such, I feel better prepared now.

    1. So sorry to hear about your books being pirated! That’s such a disheartening thing to deal with! It’s so terribly sad how others don’t realise they are contributing to this underground market when they download these items. But I hope all that doesn’t stop you from creating xx I think there are lots of amazing customers out there willing to support and pay creatives for their hard work!

  25. Dear Lisa, thanks so much for this insight.
    I have a question for you. I sell decks of cards on Etsy, they are Yoga Permission cards that are the same image printed double-sided to hand to students. I have recently been bombarded with requests for digital files, but seeing as I deliver my cards in decks of 25, beautifully branded and packaged I feel that it is going to leave the world wide open to copy them and distribute them freely.
    Would you allow someone to print out something like this themselves? I’m feeling not to, but dont want to miss out on sales either. Any advice you might have would be so helpful!!!

    1. Hi Susanna,

      This is a tricky one because your original product is a physical item and you’ve established a brand etc like that. I don’t know if it’s possible, but perhaps you could have a less elaborate image for the digital version? And keep the “Special” one as your hardcopy product. I think selling anything digital will definitely open you up to theft and misuse unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way around that at this stage – if only someone would invent software to protect digital downloads better! My gut says don’t have the same product as a digital download and perhaps create a less expensive option that’s less elaborate, less time consuming to make and that you don’t feel as attached to. So if it does land up in the wrong hands, it won’t break you! Hope that helps! Good luck 🙂

  26. Hi Lisa, Great article and so helpful. I sell graphics on Etsy and have been approached by someone who wants to use them to print on textiles for a new start-up business. I know I need to write up a license agreement, and have done a bit of research online & have discovered the high cost of hiring an Intellectual Property Attorney! I’m a bit frozen on how to word a license agreement and my customer is waiting. Do you have an example that you have used? I realize licenses are relative to their use – but I need someplace to start. Thank you!

    1. Hi again Lisa, I just found your license overview and it helps a ton. Thanks! I am glad to see you are from Cape Town – my husband is from Durban!

      1. Hi Suzan,

        So glad that it helped! Licensing can be a minefield 🙂 But remember you can always tweak as you go and shape it to suit you and your business.

        Have a look at Maria Brophy’s website, she has a huge amount of resources on the topic. She also sells licence contract templates which are fantastic!

        Hope that helps 🙂 Best of luck with you project!

  27. Thank you so much. I truly enjoyed this article. I have a silly question, is your artwork is done digitally with a Wacom pen? The reason I am asking is I have always done traditional artwork i.e. paint and colored pencil and have tossed around the idea of digital downloads. I am trying to find a place to start for my retirement years. I assume almost all artwork nowadays are created digitally with a digital tool except for maybe Fine Art America prints where the art might be scanned other than photographs?

    1. Hi June,

      Glad you enjoyed the article! That’s not a silly question at all! My artwork is a combination of traditional and digital. I always start on paper even if the artwork ends up digital. But I also sell watercolour illustrations made the old fashioned way (paint on paper), then scanned, cleaned up and background removed – like this example.

      I use Procreate a lot in my work, before I bring it into Adobe Illustrator. I have two Skillshare classes you might find helpful if you’d like to look into that method which you can find here and here.

      So the main thing to consider is your end product you sell to customers needs to be in the format that they can use for their projects. If you’re selling art prints then that’s not so important at all. But if you’re going to sell graphic resources for others to use in their craft projects then you would need to make sure they have usable files like PNG files with a transparent background for example.

      Hope that helps! Good luck with your venture!

  28. Thank you for sharing your valuable advice, Lisa! You’re such a generous resource to artists like myself who are trying to find our way through this exciting but scary digital age. Very grateful for the work you do!

  29. The article is really helpful for Artists who are looking to sell their art online. I like the part where you said it is important to keep in mind who your customers will be while creating the art piece.
    Thank you for sharing

  30. You know, I’m stuck in a financial job even though I studied Art/Animation. I’d rather earn a little less, but do what I love then get up every morning without any motivation. This article was a huge motivation booster for me, that I need to stick with my art and hopefully sometime make a living off of it. Thank you!

    1. Hi Fabienne,

      That makes me so happy to know that this post helped motivate you and keep on track with your art goals! You can get there! 🙂 I wish you the best of luck, and hope you enjoy the journey to realizing your creative dream.

  31. Hi Lisa, I found your blog and enjoyed your article regarding the subject of selling ones artwork through digital downloads. It was helpful as an artist. First of all your art style is lovely. I love the nostalgic feel from it. I feel my targeted audience are women and children. Like you my work has that aw factor but my problem is marketing my work. I’m pretty bad with it. I think I also need to learn patience because when I feel no one is responding to my work I get discouraged. I then second guess myself as an artist and I start to listen to outside options which hasn’t been helpful because all I do is go around in circles. Example oh don’t create fairies no one buys that you need to create more mass market subjects. I then find myself flustered because I’m not really creating art that flows through me. I don’t just create fairies but also animals, flowers, and children. Anyhow, I’m thinking of sell art prints on Etsy but I”m a little uneasy about selling my work through the download system, because of those who go against the license agreement. I understand it’s a chance the artist has to be willing to take once the download is out but for now I think prints is what I’m going to stick with. I do agree with you in what you put into your work is what you get out of it. In other words the harder you work the more it’s going to eventually pay off. I have friends who are also a fan of my work and they tell me not to give up, plus I can’t or don’t want to no matter how frustrated I may get .To any other artist who read this please don’t give up, it’s worth loving what you do as a career no matter how long it takes. Thanks for sharing Lisa. I love when other artist are willing to help other artist.

    1. Hi Sandy,

      So glad you found the article helpful! It is a very long road but a journey worth taking. Without a doubt there is a balance you need to find between creating what you love and feel passionate about and creating to appeal to a particular market. Sometimes that may not be the same thing. For example some of my personal fine art work would never sell in the market that I create for in my shop so it’s something I do on the side with no expectations. But at the same time I adore creating the work for my shop too, it truly fills be with joy! So it’s important to know what your market wants then do your best to get noticed in that market. I agree that some people may give bad advice but at the same time if you’re getting a lot of the same feedback it might be something to look into more. Having supportive friends are great! But are they your target customer? These are just things to consider when creating work you love and also knowing what would appeal to and serve your market.

      Hope that helps! Good luck xx

  32. There is nothing passive about passive income sounds on the money. It takes a lot of work to create a product sales funnel and even when passive it takes work to maintain. Love the idea of selling art work as digital products, not something you really thing about, but I guess it is a niche market.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *