Here, we've not only chatted to artists and sellers to find out their tips on how best sell your work (and not get swindled), but rounded up the 6 best websites to do so.
How to sell your work online
Whether you’re fresh out of university or an established name, most illustrators make a neat chunk of their income by selling self-generated work, either through online manufacturers and retailers, independent labels or under their own steam. But knowing where to start can be a bit of a challenge, and as new sites and business models pop up all the time – all with different licensing deals – it’s important to do your research and keep abreast of new ways to pocket some cash.
Ideal for those just starting out, Society6 allows any illustrator to upload their work to the site, which can then be selected by customers and transformed into T-shirts, iPhone cases or prints. You retain the rights to your work, can set your own profit margins, or earn a fixed figure for products such as iPhone cases or laptop skins.
Chris Bodily, who sells his illustration work under the name Hatrobot says: “When I started as an illustrator, I made my own merchandise. If I didn’t sell all my products, I had to eat the loss. Because Society6 takes care of all the production and shipping, the artist can focus on what they do best, making art.”
London-based graphic artist Ruben Ireland currently sells his dark, dreamlike illustrations across a number of platforms and retailers, and has had particular success with Society6.
“For anyone wanting to sell their products, I think it’s a great idea to start online as it costs nothing, carries little to no risk and doesn’t require the organisational skills to produce and ship orders,” explains Ruben.
Illustrator Susie Wright recommends spreading yourself across a number of different platforms for maximum audience reach and PR power. “Even if you don’t always sell a lot of work through a stockist they can provide advertising of your work through newsletters, and just by having an association with them can lead to direct sales through your own web store,” she says.
Websites such as Caseable – which, as you might have guessed, produces all kinds of cases – also work with artists and designers to produce beautiful homes for any of your tech. It also allows artists a great platform to show off their designs (and, of course, earn too).
Dominic Walker, Country Manager for Caseable in the US and UK, says that Caseable "love being contacted by artists, and typically select artists who produce eye-catching, vibrant and colourful designs. This kind of artwork gets our attention, prints best on our cases, and catches the customer's eye. Each month, we add a new artist and feature them in our Artist of the Month newsletter as well as on social media.
"Artists can take orders on their own sites for our products (setting the price, and determining their own margins), place the order with us and receive a significant discount on our retail prices. We deliver directly to the customer. We print pretty much anything - as long as its not racist or offensive! Nudity is not offensive for us!"
Although the accessibility of sites like Society6 and Caseable are no doubt useful to newcomers, how do you escape being lost in an endless sea of work, especially if there’s little quality control? IllustratorRichie Pope says: “Avoid sites where they seem to be overloaded with users and their portfolios. The chances are, unless you have a very distinctive look and audience to your work, you’ll get lost within the crowd while still paying a monthly fee.”
With that in mind, This is a Limited Edition was founded, specialising in limited edition prints, cushions, ceramics and large scale items such as illustration-upholstered armchairs. Its big names include Kozyndan, Nathan Jurevicius and Tara McPherson. Director Darren Riley explains the benefits of the company’s business model: “We are by invitation, not everyone can join, so new illustrators will be rubbing shoulders with some special artists. We take our art to trade shows, exhibitions, we put it in front of real people as much as we can. It won’t remain just online.”
But be aware that although exclusivity has its benefits, be prepared to work hard to get a deal and always read the small print. “Because their prints and homewards are limited edition, the only restriction is that I’m unable to sell the work anywhere else, which is not the case with most other sites like Society6,” explains Ruben.
Danya Winter, communications manager at laptop, tablet, phone skins and clothes manufacturer Nuvango, recommends upping your online visibility if you want to get approached by a manufacturer.
“If you’re awesome and you’re diligent about self-promotion, we’ll probably find you organically,” she says. “We try to stay abreast of what’s hot in design (via Pinterest, our favourite sites and social media) and approach artists accordingly.”
Once you’ve been selected, negotiating your pay is the next hurdle. Tara McPherson sells her self-generated work across a number of platforms, ranging from collectable vinyl toys to high-end homewares and homemade prints. She argues that whether you’re dealing with a huge company or small independent, you should always try to negotiate for a better deal.
“If you’re working with a small company and they can’t budget for more royalties, get more product in return. Do your arithmetic and see how much extra money that will mean when you sell through your own shop.”
Social media, keeping an eye on trends, and carefully tracking what you’re selling are also useful tools for developing your work to increase sales. Solid research into the needs of a retailer is also essential before you pitch to them.
Victoria George from smartphone and tablet case brand Get Uncommon agrees: “Bright colours, patterns and fun illustrative designs tend to be the most successful designs for us. We have a fairly strong female audience, so always keep in mind who you’re designing for.”
Knowing about the technical requirements of each manufacturer will win you points in a pitch, as will creating illustrations that work both in landscape and portrait formats, and can be easily cropped. Also make sure you get your work professionally shot if you don’t work digitally.
Like many, Tara warns of the perils of signing away the rights of your artwork. If royalties are not an option, she licenses the usage for a certain amount of time or run of 100 T-shirts, rather than selling outright.
Illustrator Sebastian Gomez de la Torre agrees: “As with anything, there are people that will try and take advantage of artists. You should never have to sell off the rights to your own artwork. There are exceptions though; Threadless has a similar clause, but that’s okay because I trust them as a company and I trust their design team to make good choices.
“You should avoid ‘art contests’ and spec work. You should never have to put money down or give out your credit card info. Even at a lot of legitimate sites, the payoff isn’t worth your time. Just make sure you do your homework before you jump into anything.”
If you’re keen to have more control over the manufacturing process of your products, or have excess stock from previous partnerships or solo ventures, retailers such as Bouf are a smart option. The curated boutique is a marketplace platform where you’re responsible for production and distribution, but it’s very selective, has a strong PR team and has strong links with the consumer press.
Susie Wright first approached Bouf to sell some products that she worked on for clothing line Oddities, and now sells bags inspired by the oak trees, deer and red kites found in Windsor Great Park. There the fit was perfect, but she warns to make sure you tailor your work to each individual vendor. She says: “Be aware of who the audience is for each seller and offer a suitable selection of work, paying attention to prices and what your return will be. You can’t sell a print on one website for £50 and the same one for £100 on another. Be selective about what you sell where.”
Despite the advantages of selling your work under license, many illustrators also choose to go it alone, selling work through their own shop or collaborating with an illustrator run-label. Although such ventures take many different shapes and sizes, financial rewards are usually a lot greater – as both you and label bosses put a greater value on your work – but these must be measured against the extra effort you will have to undertake to produce and distribute your product.
Just as This is a Limited Edition builds a must-buy credibility by producing only a certain number of special products, illustrator Richie Pope suggests that those selling their own work, on platforms like Big Cartel, might try doing the same. “Limited runs are good because they have an immediacy for the customer and it saves you from having to get one job printed every time you get an order,” he argues. “Once it sells out, you can label it as ‘Sold Out’ and gauge the demand on your social media to decide whether to print subsequent series.”
Where to sell your work online
One of the leading print-on-demand sites, Society6 is a wonderful way to sell your art as anything from a print to a throw, without having to do most of the hard-lifting yourself – including printing, packaging and shipping. But it doesn’t magically solve the need to promote your work yourself if you want to sell anything: some people sell nothing, but some make hundreds of thousands.
Caseable sells some truly gorgeous work with great build quality. Just contact Caseable with your most eye-catching work, and start the discussions
There is no room for tackiness or rip-offs here; This is a Limited Edition, previously Click for Art, is a limited edition store for prints, furniture, ceramics, clothing and more (believe me, way, way more). Unlike some of its larger, more traffic-driven competitors, This is a Limited Edition is incredibly picky in the art it chooses and the products it prints on.
Your art will be in good company here. Predominantly, This is a Limited Edition invites artists to submit work, but you can apply here.
Design by Humans was founded with the vision of giving artists a way to share their art with the world (and fill up their wallets). Artists can set up their own branded storefront, on a diverse range of products (not just t-shirts, as you might think).
Though you will certainly be cared for as a Design by Humans artist, as they try to promote you on social media, you will be also one of 15,000 artists, so it will be harder to distinguish your work from others, than it would be on the picky This is a Limited Edition.
RedBubble is pretty well known. You can sell art prints, cards, t-shirts and more, all of them high quality. Again, there are a hell of a lot of artists and even more art, but if you put effort into promoting yourself, you should reap the rewards. It’s simple and free to join; the hard work comes later.
Threadless will give you plenty of freedom: open a shop with ease or submit a design, which might be chosen for print. With such a wild, diverse range of artists and art, works can differ in quality, but they do have some seriously cool artists on their side, including Tara McPherson.