Design + Creation

How to make money designing printables

December 1, 2015

I’m Michelle.
A modern maker with a classic approach to design. Ever in search
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Is it possible to make money designing printables? You betcha! In this article, I share some of the ways I’ve made money in my printables based business.

Is it really possible make a career out of designing printables? You bet! Here are 10 ways to make money and build a creative business built on the foundation of printable design. From Elegance and Enchantment.

When I shared my first printable on this blog, three years ago, I did it to thank my readers (all 10 of them, at the time), for showing up and supporting me. Little did I know that sharing those bookmarks was the first step on this journey from a tiny blog that nobody read, to launching an Etsy shop that provided me with a little extra spending money, to a full-fledged career that is now bringing in a higher income than any of my former full-time jobs.

When people ask what I do, I tend to stumble over my words. How can I possibly explain to them that I support myself by designing pretty things and giving a majority of them away for free, without them thinking I’m delusional? The reality is, the internet has made it awesomely easy for graphic designers and creatives like you and me to do just that. 

If you’ve wondered how you can take your creative talents and put them to work for you, this article is for you. It’s also for all those people who have never quite understood what I do for a living.

The list below outlines five different ways to make money designing printables— designs you create and distribute as digital files instead of as tangible products. If you’ve never sold anything online before, this is a really easy, no-risk way to get started as a small business. 

    1. Share printables as free downloads.
      This was the easy way I got started sharing printables on my blog. The more printables I shared, the more web traffic came my way. This has not only connected me to awesome readers from around the world, but has positioned me as an online influencer. Whenever I come across an awesome product or service that I want to share with my audience, it’s likely that the company behind said product/service would be willing to sponsor a blog post, or provide me with an affiliate link, compensating me to spread the word about something that I truly find valuable. This means, I get to keep sharing cool stuff, and readers get to keep reaping the benefits of freebies, which is a win-win-win for all.
    2. Sell your designs on online commerce sites.
      About a year after giving away freebies on my blog, I was sitting on a considerable amount of designs that were just gathering dust on my hard drive. I finally took the leap and opened an Etsy shop, called Enchanted Prints, where I listed all the designs I had already created, for sale as digital downloads. When the same designs that I was giving away for free on my blog, also started selling on Etsy, I was kinda floored. This was a lesson in what my favorite online entrepreneur Pat Flynn, teaches, which is to “be everywhere”. I was now able to serve two different audiences while reaping the benefits of two different income streams, therefore making more money selling printables!
    3. Convert your designs to products to sell on additional websites.
      Once I realized that I could sell these designs in other marketplaces, I started dabbling in other sites like Society 6 and Zazzle. The beauty of these sites is that they place your designs on products; tons of products like mugs, notebooks—even pillows, and they take care of the shipping and delivery. The downside is that they take a much higher commission because they are doing the heavy lifting, which means you need to sell an awful lot to see a significant profit.
    4. Enter your designs into online contests.
      Whenever family and friends are looking to purchase a designed good that I don’t have time to create for them, I point them in the way of Minted.com. Everything that is sold on their site is designed by independent graphic designers and is ridiculously lovely. So how does that help us? Every month, Minted opens their doors to designers and creators to submit their work for various specialized products like New Year’s Eve Party invitations and Nursery Art Prints. If your submitted design is selected, you are not only awarded with a nice cash prize, but you also receive a commission every time somebody purchases a product with your design on it. Like Society 6 and Zazzle, Minted takes care of all the printing and shipping so you can just focus on designing.
    5. Create your own independent website.
      When I launched my Etsy shop, I also created an independent website to go along with it, which was really just a domain name with a couple of photos on it. At the time, just getting Etsy up and running was a daunting task and I definitely wasn’t up for creating a separate site where I could directly sell my products on my own platform. Now, with a couple of years of Etsy selling experience under my belt, I’m ready to start selling my products my way, on my own site. Lucky for me, I’ve discovered a new service called Shopify— which allows me to be independent, but also provides tools for online sellers that make setting up and running a shop easy and intuitive. My big project for 2016 is to get EnchantedPrints.com up and operating as it’s own online shop, using the Shopify platform. Once I relaunch, I do plan to keep selling on Etsy— nothing wrong with maximizing my net and keeping with that “be everywhere” mentality.

It is my recommendation that after you have mastered the art of making money designing printables, that you take your already existing designs, and start applying them to actual products to maximize your selling potential.

  1. Work with an online printer to convert your designs to products like art prints, notebooks, mugs, and more.
    This is essentially taking the principle of working with a site like Zazzle or Society 6, and taking things into your own hands. This allows you to shop around for the best prices, the best products, and best of all, you get to decide what you want to charge. About a year into selling on Etsy, I started working with a couple of different printers to ship and sell the art that my customers were already buying as digital downloads, which means I was multiplying my reach once again. Now I was able to appeal to the DIY audience who wanted to take care of the printing themselves and the audience that would rather just have the printing taken care of for them. If you decide to go down this road, I definitely suggest looking for a printer who offers “drop shipping”— which means that you place the order, and they will print and ship directly to your customer, eliminating the need for you to package and ship on your own. If you are on the hunt for a great printer, I would definitely suggest these two awesome companies that I work with: Stationery HQ and Digital Lizard.
  2. Print your products and sell them at a local craft fair or festival.
    As an alternative to shipping products to your customers one by one, you can order a whole bunch and set up shop in your local community. This is a great way to get your name out there and to connect with fellow artists and makers. While this is something I haven’t tried yet in my own business, but it’s definitely on my to-do list!
  3. Sell your work at local stores and niche shops in your area
    After you become comfortable selling in your community, use this advantage to shop your workaround to stores in your local city or town. Once you start selling in bulk, that’s when the real funds begin to pour in. Plus, you cannot replace the feeling of seeing your work for sale in a shop, in real life!
  4. Work with a wholesaler to distribute your work around the country, and world.
    If you are seeing success in a local market, chances are you can have the same kind of sales around the country and potentially, worldwide. Shoot for the moon, friends! Consider contacting a wholesaling company who works with small businesses to distribute products to shops and marketplaces. I’ve personally been exploring a few different options: Etsy Wholesale, ArtSetters.com and a few independent dealers.
  5. Open your own brick and mortar store
    This may sound a little crazy, but if you’ve found success in selling your creative work using the avenues above, you may want to consider opening your very own storefront, where you can sell your work exclusively, or include other products and companies that complement your style.

If you were to ask me how many of these places you should be selling your work in, I would answer, “in an ideal world, all of them.” My thinking is, once the work of creating your design is done, why not put it out there in as many different formats as you can? My advice, however, is to start small. I am a bit of a slowpoke, but my business has been operating for about three years and I personally haven’t made it past selling exclusively online yet. If you can master the art of making money selling printables, absolutely graduate to selling tangible products, but don’t try to do it all at once, or you will most certainly burn out.

I hope that this list of resources has provided you with a primer for the possibilities that are available to you. If you’re a graphic designer, or a wanna-be graphic designer and want to learn more about how to create printables to build a more profitable and fulfilling business, I’d love it if you joined us for the next session of Printables for Profit, a free educational session!

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  1. pamela lepage says:

    This article is great. I can not wait to get started…So glad to find something I that will help do something I enjoy and bring some extra income in.I am in my final quarter at school. When I am done I will have my AA in Graphic Art.

    Thanks Pamela

    • Michelle says:

      Congrats to you, Pamela! Printables are a great way to bring in some extra money which will be perfect as you set out on your career! 🙂

  2. Louise Myers says:

    Wow – huge thanks to you for this post – found via Pinterest via a blog subscriber who’s testing my new printable social media planner! This couldn’t be more timely. I look forward to more of your awesome info 🙂

  3. Great ideas Michelle. Thanks for posting!

  4. Thank you for this post, Michelle. It has been both informative AND inspiring! Good stuff! Thanks for being so forthcoming with how to start.

  5. Maddie says:

    Thanks for this article!
    I find myself facing a dilemma and so it would be great if you could give me your advice: I have a
    I share printable planner freebies on my new blog (to attract viewers), and I sell other printables on Etsy. I’d like to get more items on Etsy by adding the freebies I created for my blog, but I’m afraid that Etsy buyers would complain and feel cheated about paying for something that was available for free all along somewhere else.
    That is of course, if the Etsy buyers end up realizing it’s available as freebies, but still, that’s the one concern that’s stopping me from adding my freebies on etsy. Did you ever have unhappy customers? What do you suggest? Thank you 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Maddie! Great question. As crazy as it sounds, I have never once had anyone complain or get upset about this. As long as you aren’t using Etsy as a platform to point traffic or sales in another direction, they don’t care either. There’s no problem offering freebies, but also selling them in your shop. You can always offer a refund in the event that anyone were to get upset over it. 🙂

  6. Tay says:

    Thanks for sharing all this, I recently started giving free printables on my website. I eventually want to make money from it and these all have been great tips!

    • Michelle says:

      SO glad to hear that, Tay! Free printables can lead to so many great things. 🙂 Hope you’ve already seen the benefits on your site.

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