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Tools & Tips
Fresh graduate from a textile print course? Maybe an graphic designer oogling Creative Market's promise of millions? Or perhaps an illustrator with so much artwork and no idea what to do with it? Either way, I've compiled some advice on how to navigate this complex world of selling digital products and your artwork. Good luck!

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

Are you one of us? Y'know, a print or surface designer, maybe even illustrator who is struggling through this fuck up of a world to make money and survive?

Are you a recent graduate in print and you wonder who to ask for career advice (because hey, your professors have no idea, they have a full time paid job, why would they care about something so trivial as getting a job in the industry)? Or have you been recently laid off from a stressy job and the thought of going back into the lion's den makes your stomach bring back that generous lunch you just had?

Have you thought of pivoting your career? Evolving? Going lean?

You're probably thinking, what the hell is she talking about, but there is sense to my madness.


Because ehh, I don't. Going freelance is one hell of a journey. More like a roller coaster with missing wheels. Or even gaps in the track. You get the gist. And me? I just want to work my 8 hours a day, eat good food and cuddle my kitten. No nefarious millionaire strategy, no need to take over the world. Just sleep, food and cat. This is exactly the reason why I'm working on devising a system where I can do what I love for a living and not kill my mental health for it - and hopefully, share it all with you guys.

BUMPS IN THE ROAD I started out as a textile & print designer back in good old 2012 – went through being an intern to a design assistant to a textile designer and ultimately to a design manager. And then I quit. Fashion industry is infamous for bad treatment of people, so I won’t have to elaborate on that as you can probably imagine – but I knew this is not the path I wanted to take anymore. I wanted to work; but I also wanted to feel like a human being.

One from back in the day: AT-ONE-MENT shoot in 2018. I had a productive 14h day and promptly had a mental breakdown as soon as I came home after this.

There isn’t a lot of things where I’m really that good – but there are a couple of things. I focused on that for the next year or so: menswear and stationery patterns as well as CAD work for product development (womenswear and menswear). But all of that meant depending on my clients, which I wasn’t comfortable with. Couple that with not being a great chaser after unpaid invoices and you get a daily headache. Not to mention the issues arising in 2020, when jobs are dropping like flies, the fashion industry is gasping and the traditional idea of a designer is more or less dead – so I had to rethink. And most importantly, evolve and survive. But never fear – I think the future is very positive for designers such as us. We will always be needed. Sure, design is democratising; the everyday Joe can do a business card in Canva in 0.7 seconds – but he doesn’t have the knowledge, the touch, the intuition we do. And this is exactly why people are drawn to buy digital products such as the ones I make a living out of. Plainly speaking – we are here to inspire. And we are here to stay.


I’d love to tell you there is a recipe for success – but there isn’t. It’s trial and error forever – because we never stop learning. My story is one of perpetual failures and little successes that slowly build into a bigger one. Because statistically, if you win once in 100, then all I gotta do is fail 99 times, right?

But I’m not here to wax lyrical (even though I already kinda did), but here to give you some concrete advice. And even though I did fail a lot of fucking times – I am still really goddamn good at some things. So if you’re a fresh graduate, print designer, illustrator, painter, artist – looking to get your work onto products and make an actual living out of it, here’s the deal:

1) BE SMART IN HOW YOU SPECIALISE. Don’t shut the door on half the jobs you could get because someone told you at that posh design school you went to that you have to ‘specialise’. This is bullshit early on, especially when your portfolio is still graduate fresh. Set a clean aesthetic that is easy to diversify into different markets. Love doodling with pencils? Great, use it as a style across your entire portfolio. More of a Procreate dude? Cool, draw some graphics for t shirts, some for posters, some for cushions. Click here to read the full post I wrote about this.

2) GET FREELANCING SMALL. Easier said than done, right? Wrong. There are easy ways of approaching clients you don’t know exist yet. Granted, you won’t be making a massive living off of this yet, but it will expand your portfolio and your experience. There is a whole other post I have written about this, so I’ll just leave the link here.

3) MARKETPLACES ARE YOUR FRIENDS. My relationship with these is full of epic failures. I’ve chronicled my fails at Creative Market here and the worse ones, Etsy here. Go and have a giggle. Most importantly what I want to say here is please make sure your shit is plastered all over every (relevant) existing selling platform out there. Update regularly, do freebies, sneak into your products a text document with a link to your website and a discount code. The point of all this is not to make the most money just yet – the point is to see what sells, what fails and learn from it.

4) THIS IS YOUR FULL TIME JOB. Did you hear this one properly? This is your full time job. You are employing yourself. Pretend like you just hired an intern – and you’re playing that intern. I say intern, because usually that’s who gets clobbered with all the shitty work, like updating the company Instagram, making sure all the files are in perfect repeat, doing the color separation etc. Drawing and scanning is barely the 20% of your work. The rest is much harder. So take it as a full time internship and be sure you get everything done in a timely fashion.

5) LEAAAAAARN. I can’t stress this enough. I'm sorry I have to go all Silicon Valley on you about this, but we as designers keep forgetting who we’re designing for. Yes, that lovely Creative Market pack of spindly florals is great, but if you have no idea who it’s for, then you can go and chuck it in the virtual bin right now. Post smaller products; see what sells, do more of that. Who’s your client? What do they use? Photoshop? Illustrator? Procreate? Do they even care about repeats? Do they want easily changeable colors or just PNGs they want to fling onto their products? Do AB testing of your products. Learn from your customers. And if it’s only 20 of them for now, that’s fine too – give them a whole concierge approach (stolen from the amazing Lean Start Up book, which you can find here). Message them and ask if they need any help with anything. Are the files okay? Up to their expectation? Maybe fling in a little freebie to get their typing flowing. My point is, you’re going to need to learn from your sales and evolve. Not just draw blindly because we’re taught in school we’re better than the rest of the population and we know what’s better. We don’t.

6) ITERATE. Basically, keep trying. Fail 99 times so you can win that one time. And no, this isn’t some inspirational bullshit, it’s pure statistics; if you try enough times, you’re bound to make it at the very least one time. Try in different markets, different files, different approaches, different clients. Some day, you’ll hit that sweet spot and you’ll know it.

That’s all for now – but you can find much more extensive info on my other blog posts, which you can see below. In any case: good luck and don’t forget to fail at least a couple of times before you make it – so you don’t make the rest of us look bad.

As always, if you want more helpful posts on how to make $$$ doodling and drawing, subscribe to my email list below! I routinely send out tips, tools, trends and other helpful bits!

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

I know, I know - it's easy for me to say 'just go out there and make some money!' to you and you don't even know where to start looking for such things. So here is a small list that can give you that kick in the arse you've been looking for.


These will be websites and apps such as Upwork, People Per Hour, Fiverr and similar. My opinion on these is incredibly conflicting, so bear with me during my bipolar recollection.

Over the years I've had over 50 different clients through these websites and I started as early as 2012 whilst I was still a student in Slovenia - back then I couldn't even get paid properly and all the funds had to go straight to Paypal instead. Fun times (not).

Personally, I found it pretty easy to find small gigs on these websites. But there is a couple of tricks I learnt over the years that made it easier to get gigs:

1) Fill out the entire profile. Yes, I know it's annoying and you have to do this on EVERY website, but it's worth investing the money. Putting in your portfolio images and describing them will make it so much easier when you're applying as you won't have to attach a PDF or go search for applicable pictures - you can just say 'if you're interested, have a look at my profile!'. 
This way, the potential client will click on your profile to see your portfolio, but ends up seeing your other jobs, reviews and even a headshot - this way you become more of a person they can relate to as opposed some random name in a message that sent a PDF.

2) Keep your cover letters short. It should only include the following: a greeting, a couple of sentences on who you are, a description of how you think you'd solve their problem / tackle their project and then a short list (bullet points) of your skills plus a 'please have a look at my profile for my portfolio of work'. Kind regards, boom. The thing is, nobody reads these things properly anyway. So most people will be captivated by something that involves them (I know, we're a narcissistic race) and spend longer on that message.

3) Don't apply for EVERYTHING. Firstly, you're just wasting time. Secondly, some of these (such as Upwork) put the info on how often you're awarded jobs (in percentage) on your profile which can be damaging. Really have a think if this is something you can really do, if it's worth the money and the time as well as how clear the brief is.

4) Do NOT underprice yourself. Repeat after me: ONLY I CAN PUT A PRICE ON MY OWN WORK. Now, if someone decides you're too expensive, that's fair enough to them (and trust me, you will get a lot of these and you just need to shrug them off). Refrain from looking at other freelancer's fees as they will vary from anything like 2 USD a day to 2,000 USD a day. It depends largely on the freelancers location (everybody's gotta pay rent, right) and years of experience.
When you're applying, be honest about what you expect the cost of your service for that project would be. This way, you weed out immediately people who don't have an appropriate budget. In addition to this, if you underprice yourself, you'll be raging everytime they want to 'amend' things. So make sure you account for those little bits of time as well.

5) Reply immediately. I take it as a phone call: someone calling up for a quote, so obviously you reply immediately. This gives the impression you're organised and easy to communicate with.


Because all of these are remote opportunities, make sure you are crystal clear on all points. Ask as many questions as humanly possible without being annoying. What is the top budget for this (to account for amending and file fiddling)? What is the deadline? What file format do the need and in what sizes? Do they need this for a very specific printing technique (e.g. screen print which requires colour separated PSDs)? Do they want to color match with Pantone? Everything.

Also be very clear on payment details. This is one bit where we sort of shrink into ourselves a little bit usually as most us feel like we're taking something from the clients. But this is not the deal - it's a legit exchange of labor for money. There might be a myriad of sketchy clients you will find that either want a trial for free (and then run off with the free work) or want to pay after 'they're sure the work is good enough' or people that flat out refuse to pay. One way I personally deal with this is to charge my minimum rate for a deposit. This is to cover my costs and the website fees just in case if the client decides to be sketchy. If they refuse to pay the deposit, you will know it's a red flag immediately.


Most clients do not want to rehire after they've found a designer they like even if there is something small they dislike (e.g. late to reply or slightly too expensive etc) as they will avoid the whole hiring and interviewing process all over again. So if you're successful in getting the gig, being good in it and on time, chances are there is more work for you in there. Check up on them after a couple of weeks, ask how the printing or the project went and if they need any help with it - and insert somewhere in there that you're also available for any other potential work they might have. You've managed to gain their trust so far - so keep up the good work.


This might be just me, but I'd absolutely love the entire industry to be like this. A lot of clients will ask for a 'trial' or in translation, free work. Now if this is something that literally takes you half an hour, by all means go for it. Anything more than that isn't a trial - it's them squeezing free work from at least 10-20 people that applied. I recently received a message from a potential client that they love my work (t-shirt brand) but to be able to 'take my application seriously' they would need me to put together 3 designs that are done according to their brief. I politely replied I can offer them a day's worth of work at 50% off if they're unsure, but I cannot offer free work. I never heard from them again.

Long post short: keep applying, one of the fish will eventually bite and from there on it will just go up, up and up. Hold your ground, do not waiver on your price and show the finger to anyone that wants free work.

As always, if you want more helpful posts on how to make $$$ doodling and drawing, subscribe to my email list below! I routinely send out tips, tools, trends and other helpful bits!

Back in the day, I used to have a lot of interns under my 'wing'. Later on, when I branched out and started doing purely freelance work, I started getting messages from all these wonderful people I used to work with and teach - asking me one question: how do you make money?!


My income is still tumultuous and this is something I had to get used to - one month it's incredible, one month it's laughable. But this is not due to the amount of my hard work or even sales - it's a combination of the effect of the season, availability of opportunities, the global market, the pandemic. Key to a solid income over the year in independent print design and illustration is a variety of sources: you need to be everywhere, at all times. You need to be up to date, alert and out there. Everyone's situation will be different, but here is mine:


Creative marketplaces will normally be the first thing you will start with. This is the fastest way to dip your toe into the massive market of digital resources and see what sells and what doesn't. For myself, this makes up a good chunk of my income and it fluctuates depending on how often I get featured (CM) or which season it is (run up to Christmas is the most lucrative timeslot on Etsy). Some of these will be invitation only (such as YWFT), curated (Creative Market requires an application which they review) or plain open (Etsy or Patternbank). Join any that you think are relevant to your niche and start adding products.


By this I mean selling your artwork through an extended commercial license for your client to use or sell forward. As an example, I was recently approached by Canva, which bought up almost my entire shop to feature on their website as available elements to their Pro customers. I was also approached by Pixelbuddha who bought one of my illustration sets for their subscribers.

Big opportunities in distribution deals are also bundles - there are websites such as Design Cuts which puts together massive packs of design good (such as this one that I'm part of right now!) and then sells them at a ridiculously low price. This in turn attracts a high number of sales, so everyone involved makes a decent income from this one bundle.

Unfortunately, I have no way of advising you how to approach these dudes - I was invited to all of the listed. I do however, know that the invitation came from my consistent work and being present on all of the above creative marketplaces - and they routinely check these websites for potential talent.


If you're a textile print designer, you'll be fairly familiar with these. Normally, they will take anywhere between 40-60% of your income made through them (with payout showing up within 60-90 days from purchase). Whilst this sounds like a lot, it's still worth trying this out - chances are you hit the nail on the head in terms what their clients need and most your income starts trickling in from these dudes. In addition to this, each fashion print sells for between 200-400 GBP, so making a living out of these isn't so far fetched at all.

Easiest way to approach these will be to monitor their social media accounts - it happens quite often actually that someone is on a lookout to add another freelancer to their team. I'm currently writing up a list of all the fashion print studios I know for a separate post, so keep an eye out!


If you are a graduate, this will be a hard one as most clients are looking for experience and an extensive portfolio. It's a hard wall to tear down, but it's just a thing of statistics - if you apply 100 times, you're bound to succeed at least once. You can go through job boards and filter out full time jobs to find the freelance gigs (these websites will depend on the country you're in). I've also gotten quite a lot of clients by way of emailing them even though they're looking for a full timer - and offer then a better, faster and cheaper option by hiring a freelancer.

Another quick way of scouring the market for gigs are freelance job services such as Upwork and Peopleperhour. Beware of looking at other people's fees though as you'll be shocked what some people will offer for a low price. Having said that, a professional client with some degree of understanding how design can change their business will never be afraid to pay a premium rate if it means getting what they want. Never lower your price for anyone.

Most of my clients personally come from Upwork invitations, Fashionworkie (UK) applications as well as by being found on Instagram.

Don't forget to upsell yourself - e.g. if you're working with a womenswear department, ask your client what they're planning for next season or ask for the other department's email. Getting in there by word of mouth is invaluable and doesn't happen a lot - so grab it while you can.


Another decent income for me is just the 'side skills' I have. This will depend on which degree you did or your industry experience. For myself it's tech packs, CAD work, product development, trend forecasting and sustainability strategies. Trend forecasting is a particularly useful skill in surface design as clients will typically ask for opinion on what to develop.


So I hope you got the gist of it - my point remains that it will be incredibly difficult to suddenly make 3,000 quid off of Creative Market or Etsy overnight. Remember: the key here is to survive by doing creative services. You can get there much faster if you build your income bit by bit from different streams. And most importantly one of these will almost certainly lead to another; selling your products on CM will lead onto getting a distribution deal, working with a client on Upwork will lead to long term freelance work with them and so on. Build your career like a house - brick by brick. And if one of them falls off, don't worry - you still have loads to use.

As always, if you want more helpful posts on how to make $$$ doodling and drawing, subscribe to my email list below! I routinely send out tips, tools, trends and other helpful bits!

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