When you’re used to physical artwork like oil paintings or pencil drawings, the idea of selling digital art can be confusing; if the art is digital, you aren’t producing anything physical, so how can you sell it?
The deeper I’ve gotten into digital art, the more I’ve realized that not only does digital art sell, it sells REALLY well - I now realize how large it’s market really is, how well it sells, and how it’s market is growing daily.
Digital Art DOES sell, in many forms and in many industries, in price ranges that vary wildly and on multitudes of products around the world.
It is competitive with traditional, physical art, and in some industries is much more commercially successful; digital art is a very viable career path, but it is different to selling traditional art.
There are many different kinds of commercially-successful digital art…..
First I should establish exactly what I mean by ‘digital art’ - most people, including myself, will think of 2D work, primarily drawing and paintings, as well as illustrations and graphic design. It’s important to note though that Digital art also includes 3D work and animation, and within both are multiple different disciplines, including modeling and sculpting, texturing, rigging, animating etc.
….in many different industries….
While fine art tends to be a market for traditional art like oil paintings or clay sculptures, the market of the entertainment industries like film, TV and games are dominated by digital art. Book covers are also overwhelmingly a digital art market.
….and sold in many different ways!
There are many different ways in which artists monetize and sell digital art, and lots of platforms they sell their digital art on, including but not limited to:
Selling prints and merchandise on their own websites and marketplaces like Redbubble, FineArtAmerica etc
Selling t-shirt designs on shirt marketplaces like Teespring etc
Selling adult coloring books on Amazon
Selling book cover and interior artwork to authors and publishers
Creating art for video games including concept art, production art, promotional art etc
Similarly to the above, creating art for movies and TV, which also includes the discipline of Matte painting
Selling fan art online and at conventions
Creating stock art for Pen and Paper RPG marketplaces like DriveThruRPG
Creating stock assets for video games and selling on marketplaces like the Unity store
Making videos on YouTube about being a digital artist and how you make your art
Streaming your art creation process on Twitch
Selling your work, or insights into your creative process, on Patreon and Gumroad
Selling your work on the newly emerging digital blockchain marketplaces, like MakersPlace....
...I think I’ve gone on long enough!
The list is huge and grows years on year as older markets mature, and new markets emerge.
Some industries prefer digital art over traditional
Digital art has some distinct advantages that make it perfect for commercial projects - being digital, it obviously can be stored easily, delivered worldwide in seconds and reproduced infinitely, and so can be shared and worked on by multiple artists, all over the world, at the same time.
Digital art has a much more flexible creation process - if something in the art needs to be altered suddenly, it's very easy to do with digital art, but an absolute nightmare with traditional art.
Digital art can also be made with very little equipment (an iPad with a stylus is actually enough equipment to do commercial work), but traditional art requires canvases, easels, racks of paints and mediums, storage space etc.
These advantages mean digital art is greatly preferred by the entertainment industry as a whole, including video games, board games, card games, wargaming and miniatures, movies, television, novels, comics and advertisement and probably a lot more.
How much money can be made with digital art
The income of digital artists varies hugely, just like it does with traditional artists.
Just as the price of one oil painting versus another can vary wildly, the same is true for digital art. How much money you will be able to make with digital art is based on many factors:
What you're actually selling - are you selling commissions, or t-shirts, or prints, or tutorials, or all of them? All of these make very different money.
How in demand your work is. The more people want your work, the more you can charge for it.
The industry you’re working in and what the art will be used for. Novel covers will often sell for multiple thousands of dollars, and pet portraits will usually only reach the hundreds.
What rights over the work are being transferred from you, the artist, to the purchaser. Just because someone bought art from you, doesn't give them the right to start printing that art on tshirts and mugs. If they want that right, typically it costs a premium.
How fast you can produce art - obviously, the more art you make, the more customers you can have!
How much time you are able to work on your art and your business. Art and marketing both take time, so generally the more time you have for them, the more money you'll be able to make.
Some examples of different kinds of successful digital artist
Freelance artists in the entertainment industry can make a solid income.
At the time of writing, digital artists working on video games can expect to make $40k a year and up, digital artists creating book covers are usually paid between $500 and $3000 per cover, and artists working for the Magic: the Gathering and Hearthstone card games are paid $1200 and up per card.
PATREON has created all kinds of opportunities for digital artists, and some are earning vast amounts of money there.
Sakimichan sells digital art tutorials through Patreon. Her last public patreon earnings were $30k a month when she had 4k patrons; she has since roughly doubled in number of patrons.
Similarly, Peter Mohrbacher makes a great living through Patreon selling tutorials and prints. His last public Patreon earnings were around $8k per month when he had 1k patrons, and though his earnings are now private, his patron count has grown to around 1.4k patrons.
With Patreon, YOUTUBE presents an amazing opportunity for digital artists, if they are willing to put themselves or their work on camera.
Ergojosh is relatively new to Youtube, but in 2019 he earned roughly $40k from youtube and selling his digital brushes on gumroad.
Some artists, instead of working on commercial projects, concentrate on creating art for PRIVATE CLIENTS who only want the art for personal use, such as for playing Dungeons & Dragons.
Blake Davis and Steve Nickel are friends of mine who make a living in this way, making upward of $30 per hour creating digital art for D&D players. They also stream their work on Twitch, giving them another source of income.
Some artists focus on selling MERCHANDISE, like T-shirts, mugs and adult coloring books.
BeeJayDeL is one such digital artist who made $13k in December 2019, around $9k of which was made from T-shirts and coloring books sold on Amazon.
As you can see, there are plenty of avenues. The main method that is not open to the digital artist is selling an original painting, however some artists have even figured out how to get around that - Gavin Valentine explains in this blog post something he calls a ‘Master Print’. He prints a limited edition run of 1 single, huge 24x32 print of each of his paintings, which he charges $1000+ for.
The future of digital art
Bear in mind that digital art is still very young compared to traditional art; the very first pieces of early digital art were made in the 1950’s, while the first pieces of early traditional art were made tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago! I know it’s not exactly a fair comparison, but you see my point ;)
Digital art will only continue to grow as a medium and in popularity - look at how the iPad has completely transformed the digital art market from how it was in just 2010, making digital painting much more accessible to everyone.
With each innovation like the iPad, awareness of digital art grows year on year.
This doesn’t mean that traditional art will die out - in fact its value may actually increase if more and more artists switch to digital and traditional art gets rarer in time. It’s impossible to say what the future holds, but I can say it looks bright for all artists, everywhere, digital artists included.
So, will YOU be able to sell digital art?
Hopefully you can now see that digital art is a viable medium, and whether you choose to work with digital art or traditional art, there are many different career paths. The real truth is that the medium you choose will not be a big factor in whether you make any sales or reach success.
An art career requires skill, persistence and a dedication to creativity and self-improvement, no matter what medium you use.
If you can live up to that, then you will be able to sell your digital art.
Hey, I’m Christopher
I started making digital art in 2009, became a full-time freelance artist in 2016, and now I’m able to work on my own schedule from anywhere in the world.
I created this blog to help other artists make the same journey.