How to Sell Digital Art (and Love Doing it)
With all the fuss these days over NFTs, what’s the artist to do who simply wants to sell digital art traditionally? In this guide, we’ll break down the best ways to sell your art digitally, including pro tips to maximize your profits.
While some artists still balk at the idea of licensing digital copies of their work, many are realizing its potential as a means of monetizing and exposing their work. In fact, a large number even give away free images for other creatives to use as they please.
And, as we’ll learn soon enough, there are plenty of people looking to buy art digitally, as well.
In fact, a 2021 study of digital art’s growing popularity gives more support for this accelerating movement of artists into the digital realm.
And that makes sense – one alluring aspect of having digital art to sell is that there are so many ways to sell it! Have a painting? Once it’s digital, you can sell it as stock, as prints on canvas and any number of other products, bundle it to sell as a graphics package for designers, and lots more. In turn, it can potentially open up your life to possibilities as well, by adding another near passive income stream. Who wouldn’t love that?
So, if you want to sell your art as a digital download, namely to license it to an individual or organization with specific usage terms, where do you begin?
Disclosure: When you buy after clicking some of the links this article, we may earn an affiliate commission.
What to sell
Selling traditional art digitally
For this guide, we’re assuming that you already know how to take photographs or scans of your work. Let’s quickly go over some must-haves, and then transition to where online you can sell your work.
Preparing your art for successful sales
For selling digital art, you’ll need an image that:
- Is captured with a high quality sensor and a high native resolution – at the very least 4 megapixels, or 2,000 x 2,000 pixels. In other words, don’t take a small photo with your old phone and then enlarge the image in an editor.
- Is well-lit, with color-neutral, soft and flat lighting. There should be no shadows or glare anywhere on your piece.
- Is shot straight on, so there isn’t any difference anywhere in the image with perspective.
- Is cropped to show only the art itself. Leave your carpet, the frame, or any other nonsense, out!
Here’s a super informative video on properly photographing your art. It’s well worth a watch if you’re new to it, or have ever struggled to get clean, sharp images. Of course, you want your art to look its best, but a quality image will also sell better than one with flaws.
What types of art should you sell?
For traditional art turned digital, two-dimensional pieces will usually be highest in demand. Perhaps someone wants to make a print from your file, if you allow it. Having a photo of a 3D design is generally less popular than hanging a print of someone’s painting, for instance. That’s not to say there’s not a market for three-dimensional art – far from it – but when considering “traditional” forms of art, this is indeed the case.
What digital art actually sells?
Let’s do a search for “oil painting” on two very popular microstock sites – iStock and Shutterstock. Both sites allow us to sort results by popularity, though they don’t give us absolute download numbers. Even still, we’ll get an idea of what people are buying.
Here’s the search results page (SERP) for Shutterstock:
And here are iStock’s results for the same search:
For both sites, I refined the search to show most popular first, and changed the default view in iStock to show more results in the screenshot. We could refine the search a little more with specific styles or subjects, but the current results work well enough for now.
We can glean insights from these results right off the bat. First and foremost, digital downloads of art are actually selling. Second, both results pages feature a contemporary abstract cityscape, and some rather minimalist modern abstracts, as well.
Helpfully, Shutterstock gives us a general idea of how popular any given image is. Just click it to get to the details, then look for the usage report. The possible (somewhat ambiguous) values range from “Not used”, “Rarely used”, “Commonly used”, and “Often used”.
Even on the tenth page of results Shutterstock is reporting relatively high sales on pieces. That’s a great sign! We’re hundreds of images deep into technically less-and-less popular images (since we sorted by most popular first), yet they’re still being purchased frequently.
Studying results like these for trends can give you an idea of what type of art might sell better. That being said, if you have something unique to sell, give it a try. Don’t let the popular crowd hold you back. But, if you want an advantage out of the gate, this and similar tactics can give you that extra boost above the competition.
Selling other types of digital art
Aside from traditional art, what can you sell digitally? The short answer is, if someone can download it, you can sell it. Whether there’s an audience for your artwork is another question, though, and we’ll get to that soon.
Some examples of art you can sell digitally:
- Photoshop brushes
- Wedding/birthday/holiday/etc. card templates
- Graphic design elements (think buttons, icons, decorative designs, etc.)
- 3D models
- WordPress templates
- Book cover templates
- Art or design masterclass videos
How to package your digital assets
Of course, that list is just scratching the surface. After choosing a platform to sell your digital art (and which you choose depends on what you sell), you’ll need to supply your work to its given specifications. These will be provided for you when you apply to be a contributor.
If you’re selling your art directly, you’d want to find out the standard format for whatever you’re selling. For example, if you’re selling a template, you might want to provide a layered Photoshop (PSD) or Illustrator (AI) file to allow the end user more editing capabilities.
Because each type of digital art asset could fill an article in its own right, we’ll leave it at that for now, and move on to where to sell your creations online.
Where to sell
Selling directly with your own e-commerce website
Selling your art digitally, direct-to-consumer, is the best way to control all the elements of your shop. From the look and feel to the pricing and license, all aspects of your digital art downloads can be handled by you.
On the other hand, those “pros” might as easily be “cons” to someone who has little web development or e-commerce experience.
Let’s consider if selling your art directly is right for you.
Things to consider before starting your shop
- Do you have an established audience that you reasonably think will purchase your digital art?
- If not, how will you build and grow your audience? Social media, email, word of mouth, or a combination of those?
- Are you comfortable handling orders, packaging, and shipping, while maintaining your online store?
Thankfully, if you have a bit of web development experience, you can get up and running fairly quickly.
What web host should you use?
I’m recommending Bluehost. New plans start as inexpensively as $2.95 per month for the first year, though I’d recommend at least the “Plus” plan for shared hosting.
A free SSL security certificate is included, as well as one-click WordPress installation, and 24/7 customer support. Is your digital art selling like hotcakes? Bluehost allows you to upgrade easily if you need the extra performance. You’ll also have a 30-day money-back guarantee when hosting with them.
Affordable, fast, and secure, Bluehost can help get your online digital art shop off the ground. They offer 24/7 customer support, and have a variety of plans for beginners and veteran developers alike.
How to create a file usage license
One potential downside of selling digital downloads directly is that you’ll need to protect yourself from misuse and other legal threats. On the other hand, established marketplaces will have this sorted out for you.
There are free license templates available, but I’m not a lawyer, and can’t vouch for the protections this/they may provide. You’ll want to carefully read over contracts like this in detail, or ideally pay a lawyer for a custom license.
In general, though, thinking about how you want your work to be used is crucial. Do you want to allow prints? Can designs made using elements of your work be sold? Can the digital art be used indefinitely? Questions like these are ones you should give serious thought before selling your work.
What software should you use?
Both solutions offer a large amount of purchasable add-ons, as well. These allow you to enhance your shop with extra features, like social proof, subscriptions support, checkout modifications, and more. WooCommerce has more (1,000+ vs 100+), but the core features you’ll likely need are available for both.
Interestingly, EDD’s extensions are bundled with their higher-tier paid plans, saving you money if you have a use for more than one or two. WooCommerce’s extensions are offered as individual add-ons, ranging in price from around $30/year to $99/year.
For a starter shop, though, give the free versions a try. They might have all you need! For example, EDD includes Stripe and PayPal payment gateways with the free version of the plugin, and WooCommerce has a number of free extensions, as well.
Easy Digital Downloads
Designed specifically for selling digital downloads, EDD is our top pick.
A solid choice, but will take tinkering to get to work as well as EDD for digital products.
Easy Digital Downloads vs. WooCommerce: Pricing
As mentioned, both e-commerce solutions have free versions to play around with. Here we’ll be looking at the upgraded plans.
Since you’ll be running the site yourself, you’ll need to pay web hosting fees. These range from a few dollars per month for a basic, shared hosting plan, to $20+ per month for a VPS, which offers more storage, speed, and customization.
You’ll also need to pay transaction fees. Stripe, for example, charges 2.9% of the total, plus $0.30.
Easy Digital Downloads Pricing
EDD’s lowest-cost plan is $99.50 for the first year, and $199.00 per year after that. To see which specific extensions and features are included in each plan, click the “Compare all Passes” button on their pricing page, shown above.
Just as EDD has a slew of options and variables that affect the price, so too does WooCommerce. In general, you’re going to be looking at spending about the same amount for a paid plan on WooCommerce as you do with EDD, give or take.
Fortunately, there are detailed guides on all the ins-and-outs of WooCommerce pricing, like this one.
Selling through a marketplace
There are quite a few good marketplaces and communities to sell your digital art with. Let’s look at a few, broken down loosely by the type of art you’d like to sell.
Where to sell digital downloads as stock images
There are billions of stock images for sale. A lot of them aren’t great. Tons of them look the same.
So, selling your art as stock is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd (another stock cliché as it so happens).
Stock images are simply images that you can license and download for personal and commercial use. The licenses vary depending on the site and type of usage allowed. Typically, buyers of stock images are able to make (but not sell) prints, use the images in their designs that they can sell, and use for personal projects.
Here’s a list of a few sites you might consider if you want to sell your art as stock. These picks are informed by earnings polling that MicrostockGroup has been doing for years, and by personal experience.
As the self-reported top-earning site for contributors according to the MicrostockGroup poll, Adobe Stock is a great platform to sell your digital art.
Their royalty rates are 35% for video and 33% for everything else, which includes photographs (or scans of your art), illustrations, and vector images. Those supported formats are typical of stock image websites, and the other two sites on this list are no different.
Another great option for artists, Dreamstime doesn’t have quite the same name recognition as some of the others in this list. That said, contributors ranked them high in earnings. This could be partly because they offer a number of bonuses on top of their standard royalty rates.
As for the rates themselves, they’re a bit complicated, and depend on your exclusivity or lack thereof, how the image was purchased, and more. Scroll down to the bottom of their contributor page for details.
As a contributor to iStock, I can attest to the fact that you may indeed make money selling images there. According to the previous poll, it’s also neck and neck with Dreamstime in earnings.
Their royalty rates are fairly low, but jump a bit when you sell more and become an exclusive contributor. If you’re casting your net and trying to capture a variety of audiences, give iStock a try.
Where to sell art prints
There are countless sites online that will sell your art as prints on merchandise. The items themselves differ a bit between marketplaces, and so do the options for artists. Here we’ll break down the best sites online to sell your digital art as prints.
On Foundmyself, if you sell prints directly, you can keep 100% of your sales. It’s free to sign up, post your art, and take orders. You’ll just have to handle printing and shipping.
After posting your work for sale, visitors can send you purchase requests. If you approve the request, and have a PayPal account, you’ll be given a special link that you can send to your buyer. It will bring them to a custom checkout page made just for you, and the payment will go straight into your account, bypassing Foundmyself. If you don’t have PayPal, you can arrange payment with the buyer in whichever way you see fit.
Alternatively, Foundmyself also has a print-on-demand program. All items (canvas prints, metal prints, mugs, and more) have a base price. You can increase that price by up to 200% and when an item sells, you get your entire markup. Say you have a canvas base-priced at $100. You mark it up 100% to $200. When it sells, you get $100 in profit.
Rising in popularity and name recognition, TeePublic offers a low-friction and potentially profitable marketplace for your art.
Unlike the other sites in this section, TeePublic pays you a fixed fee for each sale. For example, if you sell a t-shirt, you’ll get $4. During a sales event, you’ll get $2 for the same product. You can see a chart of all earnings potential here.
From a customer’s perspective, this pricing model keeps things nice and predictable, as individual artists can’t charge more or less for the same product. Because of the even pricing, it can disincentivize other artists from stealing and modifying your work to sell at a lower price, which is an obvious plus. The downside is, though, that TeePublic can change this fee at any time, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.
Overall the site gets excellent customer reviews on TrustPilot, which should give you piece of mind as a creator. Artists also rave about the ease of the upload process, where applying your art to different products is simple and fast, allowing you to spend your time creating.
With a great platform and equally great customer reviews, TeePublic is well worth a try.
Redbubble is another popular print-on-demand marketplace. They offer over 70 unique products that you can apply your artwork to. What does that mean for you? More products increases the likelihood that your art will be seen and purchased. It also means, though, that you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time adjusting your artwork to fit the differently-formatted templates.
Artists are paid the amount over the base price they’ve marked a particular piece up, similar to other sites on this list. Learn more about how much Redbubble pays.
With a solid user base and plenty of great products to brand and sell, Redbubble’s a great choice for selling your art.
Fine Art America has loads of items that they sell, from apparel to tech accessories to home decor. Like Foundmyself, you can sell originals free. Also, as on Foundmyself, you set and keep a markup of your choosing on pieces you sell.
One limitation is that free accounts can only upload 25 pieces. If you want more, you’ll need to spring for a Premium account, which allows for unlimited uploads and costs $30 per year. Personally I think the limit should be automatically disabled if you sell a certain number of pieces per year, but if you’re able to sell a decent amount of products, the cost is reasonable.
Anyway, it’s free to join and post, so why not give it a try?
Where to sell templates, web designs, Photoshop brushes, and more
Alright, we’ve made it to essentially the “miscellaneous” section. Here are some of the best sites online to sell your digital art that doesn’t fall into the other categories.
Aside from their completely rad site design, Gumroad is a solid platform for artist entrepreneurs to sell pretty much whatever digital goods they’d like. The list of things Gumroad won’t allow is shorter.
It’s kind of as if Easy Digital Downloads were set up and maintained for you. You just need to bring your fab product and some marketing saavy.
There are no monthly fees, just a percentage of each sale plus $0.30. The fees get lower as you sell more, starting at 9% of the total price for a new account, all the way to 2.9% if you sell $1,000,000 or more of digital goodies.
So, do that!
Jokes aside it’s actually a fair system, and it’s based on lifetime sales rather than some arbitrary amount of time.
With excellent overall TrustPilot ratings, Design Cuts is a worthwhile choice when selling digital art online.
Although they take a higher commission than most of the other sites here at 50%, they justify it by offering a high level of customer support, curation, and promotion. Indeed, the online reviews often praise the products and support the customers received.
Design Cuts sells a broad array of digital items. The top-level categories include:
- Affinity accessories
- Procreate accessories
If you’ve got a bundle of grungy backgrounds, say, that’s something you could sell in “Graphics”. Greeting card templates? Online courses? Photoshop effects? Check, check, check.
You can apply to sell through the link below. They’ll review your work to see if you’re a good match for their audience. Before you sign up, you might want to review their helpful Product Academy, which will give you an idea of what to expect as a contributor, as well as what they’re looking for.
While Esty isn’t promoted as a place to sell your digital wares, they do offer them. In fact, as of this writing, there are over 3 million digital downloads, ranging from original illustrations, to icons, to resume templates and more.
Unlike the other sites on this list, Etsy charges a listing fee of $0.20, which gets your item listed in their marketplace for four months, or until it sells.
If an item sells, you’ll be charged a 6.5% transaction fee plus a 3% payment processing fee, plus $0.25.
There’s another funny fee called the Offsite Ads Fee, which is another 15% charge, but only if your item was sold as a result of Etsy advertising. Shops making $10,000 or more in any consecutive 365 day period are required to participate in this program, while smaller shops may opt out.
It’s because of Etsy’s name recognition, traffic, and reputation they can charge these fees. It’s a competitive marketplace full of seasoned shop owners, but if you’re looking for another outlet to sell your digital art, Etsy should be on your list.
The Envato Market is a collection of different sites, each with more or less the same format, but also on a different domain. It’s a little confusing. The marketplace consists of:
- Web – Website templates and themes to skin popular CMS products like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.
- Video – Royalty free stock footage, motion graphics and project files for applications such as Adobe After Effects.
- Audio – Royalty free music and sound effects.
- Graphics – Royalty free layered Adobe Photoshop Files, Vector Graphics, Icon Sets and Add-ons for Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
- Photos – Royalty-free stock photography.
- 3D Files – 3D Models, Textures, Materials, Shaders and Concepts.
You’ll notice these different sections at the top of their navigational menu. Each topic covers multiple sub-topics as well. For example, website themes are organized by CMS or programming language. So, while it’s a bit cumbersome to switch between sites completely when exploring new media, finding quality products is relatively straightforward.
Also confusing is the fact that there’s a separate site – Envato Elements – that sells many of the same items, but under a subscription model. I’ve opted for Envato Market because their payment system is much more transparent and straightforward.
On Envato Market, you set the sales price. When someone buys your item, Envato takes a fixed fee plus a percentage, and you keep the rest. More information of their earnings can be found here.
I’ve personally purchased dozens of different creative assets from their different marketplaces, and have been quite happy with the quality and service offered. They do, however, have some unsettling Trustpilot reviews. Though while reading them, I noticed most of the reviewers have just the one review. I can’t say for sure that it’s a negative review attack, but some of the similarities between the reviews make me think that’s a distinct possibility. As always, use your research, insight, and instincts when approaching a new outlet for your digital art.