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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

This is an incredibly long topic I could talk about until I'm blue in the face. I really try not to specialise too much myself, but I seem to have completely missed the moment where my work went into this sort of 'retro-but-contemporary' look. So now I gotta stick with it, because my entire portfolio confirms this theme.

Every other print designer out there will be screaming right now that this is wrong – but this is because most designers specialised by going into a full time job where, naturally, they had the specific position (textile designer, graphic designer, homeware designer etc) and have missed out on being a graduate trying to figure out what the fuck to do with life because there is no more decent jobs out there.

If you decide you really want to work with big companies - this post isn't for you. There, you will be asked to specialise by media, format and even delivery time. This post is for the new age agile creatives; designers transitioning into digital resources and working for smaller clients.


In university, we divide by media; textile, print, product. But in 2020, when you end up freelancing with smaller companies, chances are the same client that asks you to do print design for their socks, will be asking you to help them with rebranding or do their packaging etc. It's like you defacto become the in house geek for all things Adobe related (I've had clients expect me to do motion design even). Don't say no to this work - it will give you the ability to expand your aesthetic and work into different media as well as a glimpse of what it is like on the other side of the fence.

What you're supposed to do is sell a style or better yet, a story that a portion of the audience (potential clients and customers) can relate to. And don't forget - it needs to be a tinge different from everyone else; just enough to give you an edge and makes you memorable. Take me for an example - I sell retro patterns and illustrations with a contemporary twist, so my client's products will be vintage inspired, but always on trend, relevant and contemporary. I'm slowly building a reputation which is two sided - unfortunately, if someone needs a clean, minimalist product, they won't email me (even though I could do this easily and confidently), but if they want something retro & trendy, I'll possibly be the first person they think of. How can you apply this strategy to your own business?


So the above covers the inspiring part. Now onto the actual facts and numbers that should also influence this decision. We are in the time of lean start ups and yet we somehow do not apply this to creative businesses.

Here's some things to reflect upon:

Where in the timeline of your career are you? Are you a graduate with just student work in your portfolio? Or are you someone with 8 years experience who just got chucked out of their full time job in pretty much the worst time ever? The difference is, if you are just starting out, you still don't know who your client is, so you aren't really aware of what your product is. For this end of the spectrum, I really recommend keeping a wide portfolio of print and illustration that can be applied to a variety of products. Test out what sells and what you like doing (50-50 approach) and go into that direction.

If you're a veteran going from full time to freelance, dip into your knowledge of the market to figure out whether it is worth keeping the specialisation you had at your job (e.g. womenswear sleepwear print) or if it's worth branching out.

How big is the market you are after?

Or more importantly, how many designers are in that business? Fashion print for example is an extraordinarily massive market, particularly because high street is buying artwork in incredible amounts. However, there is also an incredible number of textile print designers out there - literally thousands graduating every year, coming into the industry.

Have a good long think about your market, your clients and your competition. If you are going after, let's say realistic botanical floral prints in fashion, chances are you are going to run into some tough competition, sometimes in the shape of massive, well connected print studios with thousands of artworks. Same goes for the 2019-20 trend of burnt orange minimalist organic shapes.

How much time can you spend not being paid a full salary?

This is a very sad, but realistic point. Specialising in a certain look will take time as you will be getting clients slower - so you're looking at a certain time where you won't be making a full salary or covering your costs. Keep this in mind when you're planning your freelance career - if you really want to do small watercolor geos for life, but really need to pay your bills this month - then maybe that's not for you.


Most designers will tell you follow your heart. I say following your heart is capitalist bullshit trying to sell you the 'dream'. We can't all sit and draw the same thing over and over again and hope someone picks us up and pays us something for our time.

This also has nothing to do with money (yet). At the very base of it, we are designers and the sole point of what we do is to design for people and the community. You painting and moaning about how 'nobody values or understands you' is not helping you. People don't value design they can't relate to or it doesn't give them anything emotionally. It is you, or rather us, that need to learn from feedback and needs of our clients and customers. And lastly, no it's not about money - it's about your survival. You need to make at the very least enough money to cover your bills and hopefully a holiday once a year. The point here isn't to make millions from a design business, but to build a sustainable, smart business. So when you're deciding how to specialise, what style to go with - forget the heart. Think objectively and ask yourself; does the world really need another monstera print with a burnt orange flower? I mean, really?

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

Have you ever failed at something and thought 'God, I can never tell anyone about this'? Because I have, countless times - and now I've decided to share all of these so you don't feel embarrassed when you get there (you're welcome).


1) I thought I'd automatically be accepted. Because y'know - I'm an actual TRAINED designer with a BA and MA in design, so I'll surely stand out compared to all of the amateurs trying to get in? Wrong. CM gets hundreds of shop applications every day and I ended up being rejected four times before I was allowed in. Every time I got rejected, I got more determined and the key to success ended up being a proposal that included the first products I would have uploaded, should I be successful in my application. So CM doesn't want to look at your entire portfolio - they want to see what you'd sell and how.

2) I resented everyone on the top. I thought all of these people who are making a 'passive income' uploaded their products and then they fucked off to their beach house or whatever, whilst the money rakes in. So wrong. These guys are super involved in their products, they update them all the time, reply to messages and check in with their customers, etc. I learnt from my mistake as well as from how these guys work!

3) I tried to make fonts. Oh dear. So I've known Creative Market for years before I joined it as a seller and most of my purchases included mock ups and fonts. So naturally, I thought - I'll make fonts too! Wroooong. Surface designers and illustrator differ from your traditional graphic designer so much and where this shows the most is our complete inability to work with fonts like they do. Graphic designers see things in perfect composition, ratios, they appreciate the symmetry of things like it's their second nature. Meanwhile, we usually like things a little bit more wonky than perfect, and more otherworldy than clinical.

4) I underestimated all of my skills and talent. Continuing on the above tangent - I kept looking at how other people make money (which, whilst I'm at it, you don't see on Creative Market anyway, so it was all assumption at that point) and thought 'oh, I should do/change that', inclusive of my horrific let's-make-fonts escapade. For example, I noticed a lack of human touch in seamless patterns if the product came from a graphic designer that does mostly fonts or templates - and it seemed so obvious to me (example 'oh, just offset this little layer to give it some depth' or 'just redraw that circle a bit wonky so it's more organic') but they seemed oblivious. It's because they didn't go through what I did (and I didn't go through what they did) so they couldn't possibly have my skills in some of these products.

5) I thought everything would sell equally. Oh, sweet Jesus. The difference between my best seller to my lowest selling product is a literal monetary canyon. There is a lot of factors that you cannot possibly account for when making a product, amongst them being a season, trend, current average spending, relatability, usability, if you get featured or not. It's okay if something sells incredibly and something doesn't sell at all - we all experience that!

6) I thought having a freebie in the newsletter will get me a lot of $$$. Er, no. I had the chance of having a freebie in the lot for Free Goods Monday newsletter and the difference between these two experiences was stark. In the first, I was on CM all of 2 weeks and had about 5 products. My freebie was downloaded 42,000 times, but I made less that 100 USD in the whole week that the promotion was running.

Second time around, I had 16 products with a wide variety of price and category. My freebie was downloaded 27,000 times, but I made just under 400 USD in 48h that it went live. Ironically, a lot of those sales came from my product Autumn Inks, which was a freebie first time round!

7) I didn't take in account the statistics. So, in true designer form, I kept trucking along with my 'I'm a designer and I know better', all the while ignoring a really important part of the CM seller interface that gives you info on where your customers come from. Once I started taking this into account (e.g. most of my views comes from people clicking 'more from this shop' and search within my shop page, so I realised the key to sales will be diversity and number of products to browse).

I hope this helped a little bit to show you what it's like to be a seller on CM - and remember, fucking up isn't a bad thing. I also wrote up a similar post, but based on my fails of selling on Etsy, which you can find here!

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

You might have noticed that in addition to my digital products on Creative Market and similar marketplaces - I also sell home decor DIY prints on Etsy. This is because it was fairly easy for me to take some of these elements and implement them as printable JPGs for people to download and print at home. Easy money, right? Wrong. Here's all the ways I failed at Etsy all the ways I learnt from that:

1) I didn't do any market research. So one of the first things I did was spend about 2 weeks uploading my artwork to a dropshipping service and then connecting that to my Etsy shop. Whilst that got some interest, it didn't sell - at all. The reason to this - once I actually spent time researching the culprit and uncovered it - was that most of my competitors on Etsy had vastly cheaper prices for the printing services. I didn't have that option, so I had to rethink my strategy and ultimately went for digital files instead.

2) I thought spending $$$ on advertising was key. Wrooong. There is a variety of reason why something sells so the 'inhouse' Etsy advertising is just a drop in the sea. I ended up spending a lot of money on advertising and focused on the 5 products I had, ignoring the fact that constant updating and adding new products kicks your ass up the Etsy algorithm 'ladder' - but most crucially, I completely ignored tags.

3) I refused to spend time on tag research. Possibly the worst mistake to do. I have since learnt from my mistake and now spend at the very least half a day every once in a while inspecting trends in tags, competition as well as potential red flags - I use Marmalead for this task, which has greatly improved my profit from Etsy.

4) Testing was something only 'people after money' do and not 'true artists'. Ah, cringe. Basically, when you enter a new market you don't know shit. This was essentially myself when I started selling on Etsy. What I quickly figured out was that I had to AB test a lot of my products - does the dark background sell more than light? Does a bundle attract more than a single print? Does a % off get more attention than a certain amount off? Testing, testing, testing - and then weeding out the bastards that didn't work. Etsy ranks you higher depending on the sum of how well all your products are doing - so it's pretty important to chuck out the ones that don't work.

5) One day, you can just leave it be and it makes you money, right? I actually did this a couple of times; had a good sale increase, then I left it for a couple of week and it literally went down to zero. The reason to this is that Etsy ranks you higher depending on how active you are and updating your shop (I've heard some people even tweak EVERY product every day to rank higher, but I'm too lazy for something like that) so it incredibly important to be in motion all the time. Another one is to update your tags every once in a while - especially taking in account seasonal differences.

6) I only did one format of each print. I recall seeing other people do different files and I thought eh, who's got time for that? Well apparently, only me. It's almost crucial to have different ratios (I do international paper, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5) as people will either a) constantly keep messaging you for a different format or b) just refrain from buying anything from you. I know it's tedious, but in the long run it will save you a lot of time.

7) Forgot about Pinterest. Every living soul that sells on Etsy spends an inordinate amount of time diligently pining their products to Pinterest. Somehow, I thought it's not really worth it and blatantly ignored it for a while until I realised I was shooting myself in the foot. Pin every single photo onto your boards - but be smart about it. I've now devised a strategy where I spend zero money on advertising, but I still get a solid 5k views and at least 300 clicks a month. That's 300 potential customers - with no ads. I'll put together another post to explain this further soon!

I hope this helped if you're looking to sell digital products on Etsy - remember to keep testing and weeding out the non successful products and eventually, you'll get to a point where you understand your customer and know exactly what to make in the future.

I also made a post on All The Times I Failed On Creative Market, if you're interested in learning from my mistakes there too!

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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