How to Sell Digital Downloads of Your Art on Etsy

As an artist, there are so many ways you can make money from your art. Obviously, you can make an original piece of art and sell it, but there are lots more options too. Some of them have the benefit that you can create something once and potentially earn from it several times without having to do any more work. We will look at one of those options today and I’ll show you how you can create and sell digital files of your work for your customers to download and print themselves.

How to sell digital images of your art and paintings online. A step by step video tutorial shows you how to format and list your files

With this tutorial, I will show you how you can take a photo of your artwork, format it correctly for use online and for printing, and then load it into an online store to sell to your customers. Your customers can buy the file, download it and print it at home, or take it to a local printing facility. Then they can frame and hang your art in their homes and you got paid for that print without having to actually print it and send it yourself. It can be a nice sideline for your art income.

You will need:
An Etsy Store – sign up here to get your first 40 listings for free (or other online store of your choice)
A nice camera – check out these digital SLR camera bundles with everything you need in one package
A tripod – included in the packages above
Macro lens (optional) – usually included in the packages above
Photo editing software such as Photoshop (for the experts) or even PicMonkey (easy to use) or other free software
Photo paper to test your print – get 8 x 10 inch here or Letter (8.5 inches by 11 inches) here

239161347 429e7c8933Why you can’t really use your phone

Most likely you use your cell phone to take everyday images of your pours to share with friends, keep a record for yourself or upload to painting groups and those are great. Screen resolutions for display are typically set at 72 dpi (dots per inch) for digital displays. However, for printed files, you need a much greater resolution, ideally, a minimum of 300 dpi to get a clear printed picture on a home computer (even higher for professional printers). Therefore to create a Letter (8.5 x 11 inches) sized image for printing it needs to be:

8.5 inches x 300 dpi = 2,550 pixels by 11 inches x 300 dpi = 3,300
2,550 by 3,300 pixels = 8.5MP (megapixels)

Check this table for the pixel of common photo sizes on PicMonkey.

You will also need to crop your photo for the best result so most likely will need a camera with a minimum of 10-12 MP to get a good result. More is better. Many cell phone cameras are in the range 3.0MP- 5.0MP and up. True, some expensive models may be 13-16.0 MP and if this is true for yours and it takes a really clear photo – go for it!

But for the best results, you can’t beat a good digital SLR camera, tripod and lens.

See the finished example in my Etsy store here.

How to get your image ready for upload

1 – Take several images of your painting in the highest resolution possible for your camera. It is recommended to use a tripod to keep the camera perfectly steady. It’s also best to use natural light instead of a flash so take your painting outside. The background isn’t important because we will crop that out later, but try to make your painting fill most of the frame. Wet paintings often take more saturated and brighter photos than dry paintings, but watch out from the glare from the shiny surface.

2 – Review your images on a laptop or computer monitor to pick the best one. You really can’t get away with using your phone because the screen isn’t large enough to see your painting in detail. Enlarge it at least to the size you expect it to be printed so you can check for any flaws.

3 – Import your chosen photo into your photo editing software. Decide first on the size of image you want to offer. You might choose a straightforward 8 x 10 inch image which would fit perfectly into the standard size of photo frame, or decide on Letter at 8.5 by 11 inches to take up a full sheet of paper, but would be cropped to fit in a frame. Both would also work for the European and International audiences who use A4 as their standard paper size.

4 – Resize and crop your image as necessary so that it is the correct number of pixels, at the rate of 300 pixels per inch. How you do this will vary depending on what program or app you are using, so I won’t cover that in great detail here. (I show you in the video how I do it on PicMonkey.)

5 – You may wish to add a discreet digital watermark or signature to your image so that it can be identified as yours. Consider which way up the image might be hung and add it accordingly.

6 – Save your file as a JPG at the highest resolution for clear results and give it a sensible file name your customer will understand i.e. Blue and White Acrylic Pour painting by Deby 8×10 inches.

7 – Then – and very important – create a second image in the lowest resolution and put a water mark or signature right across the middle and save it. You will see why later.

How to set up up your listing on Etsy – or similar

My online store is with Etsy so that is what I will cover in the video, but most online stores work in a similar way for you to upload and sell digital files.

Another popular option is Letgo. If you are interested in giving this one a try also here are some tips for selling on letgo.

1 – Start a new listing, give it a name. Add in your basic details about the listing such as the size of the image in inches and pixels. Add any description for colors, design elements or features that you want to point out to your customer or that you think they might be searching for. Add it to the right section of your store as needed. IMPORTANT – make it very clear in your listing description that the buyer is receiving a digital file for them to print themselves and that they won’t be receiving a physical print of the image in the mail.

2 – Load up your image as a preview of the file they will be downloading. Don’t use the full res image, use the smaller lower res image that has your watermark across the center. Otherwise, if you load up the full image here, people will be able to just right click and save it and not have to pay to get the file!

3 – Load up the full res image as the downloadable file they will receive when they make the purchase.

4 – Preview and check your listing. When you are happy, publish it and your listing is now live.

Making sales of your image

When a buyer decides to buy your digital file, Etsy takes care of everything. Payment is collected, the file is delivered to the buyer and you get a notification of the sale. You don’t have to do anything at all. This is a great way to add a little extra income as an artist, without doing any extra work. Set it up once, and sell it (hopefully) multiple times.

I hope that gives you some ideas about how you can create digital files from your art for your fans and customers to buy online and print themselves.

Coming up…

In the next article, I will look at how you can get a company to print the images for you, frame them if needed, and send them directly to your customer. Everything is done automatically and you don’t need to do a thing! No work, just pay!


Photo credit: the tartanpodcast a few of my favourite things via photopin (license)

9 thoughts on “How to Sell Digital Downloads of Your Art on Etsy”

  1. Debby, this was a fantastic article. You now have a converted follower, lol. The way you organize and present your material is very impressive!

    1. You say to save in jpg, but isn’t it loosing quality ? PNG should be a better option or am I wrong ?

      Anyway thank you a lot for this article, very very helpful and motivating!

  2. Hi, Thanks for your info. I am already in the process of trying to do this but I am stuck because I want to offer the digitial downloads of my work in multiple sizes. so if people want a 13 by 19 or 11 by 17 etc they can choose that option from the drop down window on etsy. My problem is I don’t know if I have to offer a separate item on etsy for each size or is there some way to make the file a standard type like a pdf for example that could lend itself to any choice someone makes in size. My 13 by 19 ones are printing up beautifully at 2518 by 1500. Some are 9 mb some are 5 etc. Bigger sizes, but I have to do some alteration after printing to fit it all in and not have white showing on the paper. Not sure I can figure out exact measurements for each size and as I said, I am stuck. Can you help me figure this out to be able to offer multiple sizes at the customer’s choice. Thanks so much!

  3. soleh Hudimartono

    I am not an artist. Bu I can be a photographer. Is it possible for me to sell my photo collection in Etsy? Thanks.

  4. Hi
    Thank you, your article is very useful. Does scanning your art affect the quality one need to get it printed?

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