How artists sell digital art

Many artists want to sell their work, to make part or all of their living from it or just to get it into the real world in a sustainable way.

There are many ways to sell digital artworks (works in digital format e.g. JPG or MP4, not a physical oil painting). Let's take a look at options being used right now by artists.

Print on demand services

E.g. Redbubble, Society 6

A digital upload enables selling a range of art objects (prints, mugs, stickers, cushions). This takes care of logistics, enabling fast, easy and professional production and delivery without ongoing input, although setup time is needed to adjust the image for each type of product.

On Redbubble, the artist earns 20%+ of the sale price (Redbubble takes 80%), but can adjust this upwards by increasing the cost to the consumer. This makes a relatively low earning per item, but can form a source of passive income.

Stock artwork royalties

E.g. Shutterstock, Dreamstime

Also simple to use and require only a digital upload, plus keyword tagging to allow buyers to find it via search. Provides royalties on sales, but in a saturated market.

Shutterstock artists earn between 15-40% of sales.

Digital Marketplaces

E.g. Creative Market, DesignCuts, Artstation, Etsy, Cubebrush, Udemy

These marketplaces sell digital downloads, often focused on tools for artists, students and professionals (e.g. Procreate brush packs, illustrations or CG). These may involve multiple licensing levels (personal or commercial use). Video courses and guides are also popular, teaching people directly.

Platform fees vary (Creative Market takes 40%, Etsy and Cubebrush take 5%), along with ease of upload, site audience etc. Can form strong passive income if your products connect with the right audience.

E-commerce tools

E.g. Gumroad, Shopify, Podia, Payhip

Gumroad provides a way to sell digital files, courses or subscriptions by embedding a checkout/cart into your website. Shopify allows you to create a full, personal storefront, and Squarespace lets you create a website and take payments.

Gumroad charges $10/m, plus a 3.5% + $0.30 fee, and Shopify charges $29/m (excluding credit card fees).

Personal online store

E.g. Squarespace

All the above methods can be used on your own store. If you aren’t using an e-commerce tool to support payments you can code your own. This gives complete creative control but requires time and technical capability.

If you aren’t using print-on-demand services, you can print your own and fulfil orders manually.

Digital sales platforms

E.g. Sedition,

These platforms sell digital downloads that are kept within the platform (i.e. in a digital ‘vault’). The buyer can view the artwork on the platform, and often resell inside the platform to other users, but doesn’t own the artwork file directly.

Sedition takes a 50% sales fee.

NFT platforms

E.g. SuperRare, KnownOrigin, DADA, Blockchain Art Exchange, Makersplace, Rarible

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital tokens that represent an artwork. Their ownership is tracked using blockchain, so they are unique (non-fungible means non-interchangeable) and can be resold outside the platform, as they are held in a digital wallet that sits on the blockchain.

NFT platforms allow digital artists to sell these tokens, which are separate from the art itself, which can be copied and viewed by others (notwithstanding copyright law), such as the Nyan Cat gif.

They also allow resale royalties to be automatically collected by the original artist, allowing passive income from future sales.

SuperRare charges a 3% transaction fee to the buyer. Artists often have to pay for NFT minting costs.

There are also a number of non-sales based methods:

Donations

E.g. Patreon, Buy me a coffee, Paypal

Patreon allows fans to ‘pledge’ small amounts of money that are sent per month, helping to directly support your work. Often these unlock ‘reward’ layers, which give pledgers access to extra content, which turn this into an active channel.

A simple Buy me a coffee or Paypal donation button on your website or social media can allow fans to directly support you also.

Ad revenue

E.g. Google Adsense, Youtube ads

Adding ads to your website or videos can generate small income streams if your content is evergreen or has sufficient views.

Google pays 68% of AdSense revenue, which equates to around $3-5 per 1000 video views.

Affiliate links

E.g. Amazon Associates

Where you have products you actually use, like and are asked to recommend (e.g. what tablet you use to draw on), affiliate links allow you to earn income from your recommendation, especially where you can offer your fans a discount via the link (likely only for more established artists).

You can also sell your own products via affiliate links, to incentivise others to spread awareness. You’ll need to offer an attractive commission, somewhere around 25-30% (depending on your product price).

Portfolio websites

E.g. Behance, Dribbble

Portfolio websites help you get discovered for freelance commissions, particularly for graphic designers, digital artists, art studios and advertising agencies.

Observations

Many digital art forms come with the risk of theft via direct copying or swapping via torrent websites.

‘Passive’ income sources generally require you to have an existing audience, so your time is likely to be spent focused on building this and communicating with them. Splitting your time between too many options can detract from this.

Despite these challenges, there is a huge opportunity for artistic independence, control of your schedule, forming direct relationships with great customers and helping improve peoples lives. Best of luck!