Selling Digital Art in 2022: Finding a Workable Strategy

Monetizing your art is easier than ever in today’s online landscape, but success requires dedication, focus, and embracing new paradigms.

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash + edits

Are you producing 2D art of some sort? Whether you specialize in fine art, graphic design, or photography, it’s never been easier to sell your works online. However, strategies that worked in decades past will not necessarily help you today.

In this article, I’ll imagine that I’m talking to a new artist seeking to strike out and build a career from January 2022 onwards.

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Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and if you go through them to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision on whether or not you decide to buy something is entirely up to you.

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Monetizing Your Intellectual Property

Copyright and Licensing

We all know how easy it is to copy digital images. What you may not be aware of is how even a tiny and compressed image of your work can now be blown up to a size suitable for large and high-resolution prints using software such as Gigapixel AI or cloud-based alternatives such as LetsEnhance.

You could try to combat image theft using services such as Pixsy to scan the internet and issue take-down notices continuously. However, it will have trouble picking up on versions that have been altered to a significant extent.

As your work’s popularity increases, policing its use will grow into a role significant enough to hire someone full-time to do it for you. However, I don’t think this is a good use of your time. Freeing yourself from the old paradigm and embracing the reality of today’s digital landscape will bring you far more benefits.

Certifying Authenticity & Ownership

Anyone can get their hands on a digital image of the Mona Lisa. One can even purchase hand-painted replicas. However, they don’t diminish the original’s value in any way. Every time somebody mentions it or shares its image, they are indirectly promoting it. The actual value is in the certified original physical work itself.

In the case of digital works, the equivalent would be an NFT (non-fungible token). If you have the NFT, then it doesn’t matter how many copies of the artwork are shared because they increase its social clout and raise the value of its associated NFT.

Providing Convenience

Most of Netflix’s content can be obtained for free via various torrent sites, but even savvy techies prefer to pay a monthly subscription because it’s more convenient.

Providing Access

You may be able to get hold of a top photographer’s work for free online. But, if you were a true fan, you’d probably happily pay to gain access to them. For example, you might pay to join their members-only site, where you can ask them questions about photography techniques, join private live streams, or download their latest custom photo effect filters.

Where to Sell

There are three places that artists sell online:

  • Marketplaces: Selling via a marketplace platform such as Redbubble for prints or iStockphoto for stock images is difficult. The barriers to entry keep falling, and the amount of competition keeps rising. Plus, it’s hard to build your brand on these platforms where your offerings are displayed next to others’.
  • Your Website: In this case, you have much more control over how your work is presented and a better branding opportunity. However, there will be minimal organic traffic, so you need to find ways to bring people. That said, long-term, this is the way to go if art is your career.
  • Shop Platforms: This is an option that is in-between marketplaces and having a traditional website. And, rather than trying to create an all-in-one site that might end up being a confusing mess, you can have a separate storefront for each of your offerings and make them available via a one-page list of links.

If you’re going to be active on multiple platforms, you need to have a links page to link from platforms that only allow one clickable link, such as Instagram, TikTok, or Unsplash.

  • One Page Site: Many artists now use Linktree or something similar (I like Carrd) as a central signpost that points to their various offerings.
  • Custom Domain: While building out an entire website is likely going to be too demanding, investing in a custom domain is worthwhile because, even if you change website builders in the future, you can use the same domain. I’m a fan of Dynadot for low-cost domain registrations.

What to Sell

Now that we understand the reality of today’s market for art let’s take a fresh look at what you might try to sell and how you might go about selling it.

Wallpapers

There are no shortages of sites and apps offering free wallpapers, so it’s going to be tough to try and sell yours. Instead, curate “packs” and give them away for free in return for signing up for your email newsletter. Email provides a reliable way to reach people and frees you from social media platform algorithms.

Gumroad is an easy-to-use platform with a generous free tier and newsletter/blog functionality built-in—ideal for this scenario.

Printables

Some people prefer to take a DIY approach to printing wall art. They get the files instantly after purchasing them and can have complete control over variables such as the size, paper type, framing, and printer used. Sure, they could enlarge and print your Instagram photos, but buying from you would be easier, plus you can make the experience personal in some way.

Flurly is free, easy-to-use, has low transaction fees, and can accept huge files.

Prints

Among those looking for wall art, a large proportion doesn’t want the hassle of DIY printing and would prefer to buy prints. If you’d rather focus on creating art rather than fulfilling print orders and dealing with customer support inquiries, then you’ll want to look into print-on-demand (POD) sites.

POD marketplaces such as Redbubble and Society6 have many strong points and work well if your work falls within their currently popular genres. However, it is hard to stand out, and your work will be displayed next to other artists. I prefer Darkroom because it is more oriented towards wall art, and your gallery will only feature your works.

Courses & Tutorials

If you enjoy teaching, it’s often easier to make money selling courses than by selling art. High-quality tutorial videos are always popular on YouTube. People are always willing to invest in education, and various brands will sponsor you once your reach is large enough.

The ideal platform depends on the course’s format. Look into Udemy, Teachable, and Gumroad.

Brushes & Presets

If people love your work, then a certain percentage of them will want to emulate your style. In the gold rush days, the people who made the most money weren’t the miners. It was the people who sold picks and shovels.

Gumroad or Flurly will be ideal if you want a minimalist stand-alone presence with some discoverability potential from their marketplace sections. More art-centric marketplaces include CubeBrush and ArtStation.

NFTs

Selling digital collectibles offers great promise. However, the tech is still early-stage, and “minting” an NFT is relatively expensive and consumes energy. It’s probably not worth getting into NFTs until you have accumulated a significant following of fans.

So far, most of the sales you’ve likely heard about have been occurring via NFT marketplaces. Most require a formal application. Others such as Rarible are open, but getting verified and features requires the same.

Origin Protocol has released a free online store service called Dshop, which allows selling NFTs. It’s pretty bare-bones as of the time of writing but should be improving in the coming years.

Getting Traffic

  • Social Media: Major social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter work well for many artists. I’d say that you really can’t afford not to be sharing your work on them regularly.
  • Free Stock Photo Sites: If you are a photographer, then the likes of Pexels and Unsplash will possibly bring you more exposure.
  • Art Sites: DeviantArt and ArtStation are fine, but you need to ask yourself if you want to be investing time in trying to sell to other artists since they make up the bulk of the user base.
  • Ever-Green Traffic Sources: Pinterest and YouTube are search engines of sorts. As long as you’re not focused on overly time-sensitive or trendy topics, then high-quality content that you share on these platforms can send you traffic for years to come.

Conclusion

Making a full-time living as an artist is not easy today. Although it would seem that there are more options and opportunities than ever before, there is also more competition. Analyze the most successful artists today. You will find that they all have an intersection of (i) creating great work, (ii) knowing how to promote it, and (iii) choosing the optimal approaches to monetizing it.

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