The Ultimate Guide on How to Grow as an Artist Online

May 6, 2022

If you’re trying to figure out how artists make money online, where the best place to sell digital art is, or even how to get started as a digital artist, then you’re in the right place. It’s time to talk about every possible factor you’ll want to think about to grow as an online artist and get your business up and running.

artwork: Olivia Bürki Design


Starting as an artist can be rough. There are likely too many questions floating about in your head–such as “where can I sell my art?” “what do people pay for digital art”, “will people pay me for my art?”–and they’re accompanied by doubt and a slew of other not-so-great feelings. And then comes the question of networking with other artists, of marketing and growing your name–it’s a lot to consider!

Let’s toss those doubts aside for a minute. 

While we won’t claim that we’re the end-all, be-all of art knowledge, we’ve worked hard to collate information that will be helpful to growing artists of any size. And at the end of the day, you can and should be able to make a living doing what you love. With that said, let’s dive right in.

How Do Digital Artists Make Money?

There are many ways freelance artists (digital or otherwise) make money. Whether it’s through commissions, patronage, or something else, there’s a niche for just about every artist. While it’s can be challenging to figure out your niche, you’ll find that things get quite a bit easier once you’ve done it. 

Let’s talk method for a bit, and then we can get into the actionable stuff shortly after.


Selling prints is the first and most commonly-pursued method. It combines the powers of a digital marketplace with the properties of traditional art. Whether you’re selling oil paintings, sketches, or full digital renders, you’ll find that many buyers just want to support artists that they love, and prints make that easy for both the artist and buyer.

Prints also have a particular benefit for the artist – you can sell the same work time and again. This is the most significant difference between prints and commissioned work (our next topic), and it’s something that most artists tend to gravitate toward. There are several reasons for this, but the most common justifications for opting to sell prints rather than commissioned work are:

  • Time – It takes time to make art, and you can’t get it back. Being able to resell a single piece of art improves the value you get out of every hour spent on the original.
  • Ease of Use – Making art is hard – there’s no question of that. But when comparing the effort of finding individuals to make one-time work for to the ease of reselling prints, the math is pretty straightforward.
  • Ego Boost – While this may seem like a minor secondary factor, it’s really quite important. Seeing how much others value your work is one of the fastest ways to remind yourself why you paint. Plus, you make money – and that’s never a bad thing.

(And perhaps the best thing about prints is that they don’t need to be physical! CO2ign Art allows you to sell unique digital prints of your work.)

Commission & Speculative Work

This is where the majority of work in digital art lies. Commissions and speculative work are quite different, so let’s start with commissions and work into the latter momentarily.

Commissions are artwork sold on a per-piece basis by an artist to a single client. The client can request pretty much anything, and it’s up to you, as the artist, to decide how much the work will cost. While clients’ means and expectations vary, many people who want to buy a commission go in with a surprisingly large budget – and that’s a good thing. Some commissions can take a very long time.

This is where we loop around to the time argument – prints allow you to sell multiple copies of that artwork into which you invested 15, 20, or even 40+ hours. On the other hand, commissions belong to the buyer once money changes hands. This means that you give up the rights to resell the artwork, and some buyers will even ask that you exclude it from your portfolio.

On the other hand, speculative work (spec work) is, for all intents and purposes, a competition between artists to earn work. You, and likely a handful of others, complete the requested artwork, and the buyer chooses the work they like best. Then, and only then, will you agree on a price.

Spec work, understandably, has gained a bit of controversy due to the uncertainty of fair compensation for services rendered. In fact, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has an official stance on spec work which essentially boils down to:

Only take spec work with the knowledge that you may not be compensated for it.

While there can be benefits to spec work, make sure you’re truly able to afford the time being asked of you if you end up not being chosen. AIGA believes that all skilled workers should be fairly compensated for any work they complete – and CO2ign is no different. Work deserves pay, period. 


In the “good old days” of fine art, artists could have been brought on as a permanent(ish) addition to a royal court, a wealthy individual or noble’s house, or even a church! This allowed the artist a place to work, food, and income in exchange for exclusive artwork. 

These days, most people’s association with “Patronage” is likely Patreon – where artists can offer incremental support tiers their audience can subscribe to, and get paid either on a monthly or per-work basis. Places like Patreon allow you to put up a wide range of work, with only a few limits. Keep in mind that once you have supporters on Patreon, you need to constantly sustain the content to maintain them – and that takes a lot of time and effort.

While it’s not quite as common nowadays as in centuries past, the olden-days style of Patronage also still exists as an option for artists: While royal courts and public-works-minded nobility may be a rarity these days, what we do have are city governments, companies, and wealthy private investors. One significant improvement in this field has been the internet – it allows artists to network and find people or groups who are interested in patronage.

The challenge lies in finding a patron. While the internet has undoubtedly made this process easier, it requires legwork on the artist’s part. And if you’re seeking a patron to pay you the big bucks, you need to have a stellar portfolio. Neither the legwork nor the portfolio comes easily, meaning this is a moneymaking operation for more experienced and established artists, more often than not.

If you’re trying to figure out how or where to sell digital art, patronage is a great stretch goal – but it shouldn’t be the only goal. There are countless platforms and manners in which to sell your work, but only so many will be realistic for you

With that said, let’s talk about how to make money as an independent artist in a few other ways before we move into the more nitty-gritty stuff.

Pay for Quality

Pay for quality is a pretty simple and self-explanatory term. It takes the concept of prints and allows artists more control over their work’s presentation and online quality.

One of the significant struggles you’ll likely find when hosting your work online is that people can just right-click and download an image anywhere on the internet – and your portfolio is no different. 

By uploading low-resolution images, you can combat this, at least to a degree. Sure, people can still download the image, but that small JPEG won’t print well or act as a desktop wallpaper. In contrast, you can offer a higher-quality version of your work for a fee and allow people to see what you do without them being able to take and use it to its fullest extent. While pay for quality doesn’t cut art theft entirely out of the equation, it certainly makes it a bit easier to police your portfolio.

Tiered Work 

Say you’re an artist offering commissions, and someone approaches you for work. They have a budget of $50 for a character portrait of their favorite tabletop character with a detailed background, a few key items, and specifically colored clothing. If you have a standard fee of $100 for that type of commission, your first kneejerk reaction might be to just say no. That’s a lot of time to invest, and you’d only get back half of what you would typically charge.

This is where tiered work comes into play – instead of turning down the client outright, you can instill limits to the artwork that will save you time. You could suggest a more bare (or just plain) background, limit the color scheme or clothing, or even say you’ll do one or two specific items but not three or more.

Establishing a tiered structure will make this process drastically easier when you start taking commissions. You’ll be able to say, “for $50, I can do X and Y, but not Z. If you want a combination of X, Y, and Z, that will cost $75” (or whatever you’ve established beforehand). Trying to figure this out in the moment can lead to frustration on both your part and the buyer’s, which can lead to a lost opportunity – taking the time to plan ahead means a greater chance that the buyer will be able to get what they want without you having to do more work than you’re being paid for.

Now let’s talk about the less common (but equally possible) ways digital artists can make money.


Like in acting, there are agents out there just itching to represent artists. While this isn’t super common, it is very real and worth mentioning.

Once you’ve built a name for yourself (or networked your way into an agency), you’ll be able to pay other people to represent you. Agents for the art industry help market, negotiate, and find work for artists. Groups like Plum Pudding Illustration focus on children’s illustrations, and others focus on novel, game, and advertising illustrations, to name a few.

If you can get a foot in the door, you’ll find that agents cut out a lot of the work you’d traditionally do yourself. Gone are the days of negotiating fees – if the buyer has an issue, they can talk to your agent. Never again will you need to studiously search for conventions with open booths – you have an agent for that. While this kind of representation generally comes with a fee, that fee covers a massive swathe of work that you no longer have to worry about.


And now we make it to everyone’s seemingly favorite subject – merchandise! Merchandise has two primary benefits: income and marketing.

With merchandise, you’re able to create a sustainable source of income. While it will vary based on your online following, the selection, and countless other factors, it’s a great way to spend a few hundred bucks – especially as an artist. YouTubers have near-endless types of merch, from mugs to sweatshirts and tees, and they’re often just showing a logo or catchphrase! And as an artist, the fact that you work in a visual medium is a significant leg-up on “everyday” merch from other creators.

If someone loves a particular work you’ve done, buying it on a phone case, travel mug, reusable tote, or other physical item that’s more practical than a decoration is an appealing option to many buyers. It brings some fun into their daily life, and when someone else sees it and inevitably asks where they got it, you now have people pointing others towards your business. This is called word of mouth marketing, and it brings us to the other big benefit of merchandise: By putting your work on things that buyers can wear, carry, and use daily, your creations are carried throughout their neighborhoods and homes. This brings the attention of people outside of your niche and online community to you, and often, they’re people you otherwise never would have reached.



Now that we’ve covered some of how and where to sell digital art, let’s talk about how you can get started doing it. Before diving in, you’ll need to establish a plan: consider what you want to make, where you want to sell it, how you want to be paid for it and how much, and what you’ll do to market it. 

This can be a super intimidating prospect, but the reward is absolutely worth it. Having a plan will reduce your ultimate workload when all is said and done; the struggle lies in getting going.

What Do You Want to Make?

To sell digital art, you first need to know what you want to make. This process is something that is shared across mediums. Whether you’re a writer, painter, graphic designer, or just about anything else working freelance, the biggest challenge is finding a niche.

You’ll have a much easier time finding people who want to buy your work if you can show them that you’re good at doing one thing. If you like to draw characters, look into nerdy communities and find what gets sold consistently. If you want to paint portraits, work to establish yourself as a portrait artist with your style, rather than a generic one. 

This goes for every type of art imaginable; figure out what you want to do, develop the skill and talent (if you haven’t) to do it, and then move down this list. 

The absolutely most important thing here is that you enjoy what you’re doing and feel that you’re compensated sufficiently.

Luckily for you, that’s precisely what the next section will cover! It’s almost as if that was the plan all along…

How Will You Get Paid?

Once you know what you want to be paid for, the next step is figuring out how you want to get paid.

There are many options available, including apps to help independent artists take and process various forms of payment. You’ll need to consider whether you want to use something like Venmo or PayPal that comes with fees but ease of access or pursue an actual card processing format such as Stripe. Both have their own up and downsides, so it’s essential to look into each to see what works best for you.


Another thing you’ll need to consider is where your audience is. Older art enthusiasts are more likely to be looking in person for art, whereas millennials and gen-z buyers are more likely to be on Twitter, Instagram, Patreon, or Ko-Fi.

Each platform comes with its own tradeoffs, but the major questions you’ll need to ask to figure out what’s best for you are the following:

  • How much work do I want to do to sell my art?
  • To whom am I trying to sell my artwork?
  • How much can I afford in site terms, conditions, and fees to sell my work?

Sites like CO2ign Art and INPRNT allow you a hands-off experience in which you only need to upload work once, but don’t provide for community interaction (yet!) Other sites like Patreon are great for subscription-based revenue but require consistent work to keep the content updated, and often charge hefty fees to use their service. While companies like Ko-Fi are trying to remedy this, for the time being, you’ll may be paying hundreds a year just to host your work – and that’s not including card processing and transaction fees on sales. Some platforms will have terms and conditions that involve usage rights to your work. Make sure you know the true cost of each platform as you evaluate where to host your art.

Deciding Your Prices

The last thing you need to do (other than marketing, which we’re also getting to) is to decide your prices. This can be a confusing, frustrating, and intimidating process for many artists, as asking “what is my art worth” requires a certain amount of self-confidence–but there are guidelines and structures you can put in place to make it feel less personal. We’ll get much more in-depth on this shortly, so skip on down to How to Decide What Your Art is Worth to read more on what sorts of things you’ll want to consider.

In short: you have to start somewhere, so pick a number and adapt it as you build a portfolio.  Think about what you might pay for similar work, or, if there’s a specific expense you’re looking to cover, how many pieces you’d need to sell at $x, $y, or $z prices. Also check what similar/competing artists are asking – and don’t try to underbid each artist you find. Not only does that contribute to art being under-valued as a whole, the goal is to honestly assess the value of your work and charge accordingly. 

Marketing & Promotion

And finally, we make it to marketing. In short, marketing is spreading the word about your business. It can include networking, paid advertising, and word-of-mouth, among other things.

The first, networking, consists of forming relationships with people. While that’s easier said than done, remember that you’re trying to establish friendly professional connections, not a personal friendship (though that’s not to say you won’t be friends); most professionals are open to making further connections, so long as they’re mutually beneficial.

These days, most networking is done on social media, but the principle is the same basically everywhere: look for like-minded people, with similar interests to your subject. You’re not necessarily looking for people who want to buy something from you–rather, this helps to build a community and name for yourself and allows you to participate in the conversation surrounding your niche.

Networking ties into word-of-mouth–the oldest form of marketing; each time you hear about a fabulous new restaurant or bar, that’s word-of-mouth, and the same thing happens for artists. Just put your best (most business-y) face on and make friends, work with clients, and watch as you earn new ones!

As for paid advertising, that’s a different beast. You can pay Google (and many other services) to advertise you to anyone online. While that will absolutely get you traffic, it costs money – so maybe hold off until you have the spare cash to make it happen.

artwork: Blanka Sőre


Like we mentioned above, this can be one of the hardest parts for artistically-minded people: deciding your art’s value, represented as cold, hard numbers. This tends to be intimidating! The below section lays out what similarly cold, hard facts you should be considering when you decide what your art costs.

Things to Consider When Pricing Your Art

There are five general things to consider when figuring out how much to charge for digital art: content, time, experience, need, and the piece’s ability to resell. Let’s break those down:


This is the most important thing to consider – take a look at the following list, and it’ll make a bit more sense:

  • Completion: This means how “completed” it is. Think of a rough sketch vs. a fully-finished painting. The more “completed” it is, the more you should charge.
  • Style and Medium: Think about what goes into making art in your chosen medium. Paint isn’t cheap, nor is digital art software – so factor that into your pricing.
  • Subject: What is your art depicting? Something like a full-body portrait is worth more than just a facial portrait, which is more valuable than a background illustration, though this varies on the artist and client.
  • Offering: Are you designing icons, character sheets, or full scene illustrations? Those each have more going on than “traditional art” in that you’ll likely need revisions and specific, minor detail work. This means that you should charge more!

Time Spent

As we discussed above, think in terms of minimum wage. The longer you spend on artwork, the more you should be paid – period. In other words, remember that your time is valuable. You’ll never get those hours back, and clients need to understand that!


How long have you been making and selling art? If you’ve been doing it for years, you’ve got more inherent value than a starting digital artist. While that may seem unfair (and it kinda is), that’s the reality of our world – the more work experience you have, the more you’re worth per hour.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation quickly: you want to get a blog up and running. You’ll need to hire a writer, editor, and at least one web developer to do so. When looking at writers, are you going to go for the person who charges the bare minimum ($.01 per word), or do you want the writer who’s established in their niche and has a published portfolio–even if they charge $.10 per word?

While the latter is undoubtedly more spendy, you know what you’re getting: They’ve got work on a number of websites, former client reviews, and just generally puts out the vibe that they know what they’re doing. With the first person, they may charge way less, but are less likely to have visible work or client reviews–meaning you’re less confident in what your end product will be. 

And while basic money skills would say that the more expensive writer may ask too much, the truth is that they charge that much because they have the reputation and experience to do so. At the end of the day, clients are often willing to pay a premium for talented people – even if they don’t know it yet. So sure, start with the lowest rate that feels reasonable – but don’t be afraid to bump your prices as you continue to work. You’ll find that some people actively seek out artists who charge more because it means they can expect more and better quality from you.

Can It Be Resold?

This is another simple question. If you can resell your work, it has more value to you but less so for the buyer. Often, buyers purchase art to support their community and own something unique. If you charge commission prices for prints, you’ll find that fewer people want to buy them. 

But if you sell commissions for print prices, you’ll have the opposite problem – too many big projects from people expecting stellar work for minimum wage prices. While “too much interest” is sometimes an excellent problem to have, you must take your limits as a human being into account–so a piece’s ability to resell is important to include when you think about your income as a whole.

In short, the more times a piece of art can sell, the less its per-sale value is to most buyers.


And finally, we make it to need – the last (but not least) qualifier for the value of art. Need means, well, how much does someone need it?

If your work is being sold for decor purposes – as a print to hang or display – it may be considered less “valuable” (and therefore need a lower price), as its not something a person arguably “needs”. As opposed to designing logos or graphics for a business–those are elements they ultimately need, and should be charged with that in mind: you’re providing something they can’t afford to not have.  Projects like nonprofit/charity events that sell artwork are in the same vein. If you’re designing artwork to be resold on auction or for charity, you can likely charge more than for other individual works – after all, the idea there is to raise money for a good cause!

On a similar (but ultimately different) line of thinking, you have to remember what your needs are. Something that tends to get forgotten by buyers is that as a human, you have needs! A common occurrence that you’ll find on social media is flash sales from artists with simple descriptions like, “So I can buy a cup of coffee before I paint,” or, “I want to buy my partner a nice dinner – they deserve it.” 

Being genuine with your buyers is a great way to remind them that, at the end of the day, you’re a human with human wants and needs. This helps draw attention to the fact that you’re making a living off of this rather than doing it “for the experience” and put a piece’s cost in perspective.

artwork: sensetus


Self-promotion is the bread and butter of freelance digital artists. Instead of devoting money and resources to paying someone else to market themself, freelance artists often opt to do it on their own. This gives them more control over their public image and a bit more freedom, though it comes at the cost of time.

Let’s look at a few ways to market yourself.

How to Market Yourself as an Artist on Social Media

In terms of doing the marketing yourself, there are a few ways in which you can go about it. The somewhat obvious first step for most digital artists trying to sell their artwork is social media. Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok are all great resources for growing artists, as they’re entirely free – a big bonus!

Let’s talk for a moment about marketing yourself on social media. You’ll find that each social media platform has its own laundry list of good and bad, so let’s check them out:

  • Twitter: 
    • Twitter is an excellent resource for just about everyone. It allows you to show your visual work and talk with the community in a way that’s unique to the platform. While Twitter certainly has its downsides (trolls and the like), it’s a great starter resource – especially for networking.
  • Instagram:
    • Instagram is pretty much made for hosting an art portfolio. It’s a highly visual medium focusing on beautiful pictures, paintings, and the like. You’ll find that both Twitter and Instagram are great for a relatively low time investment to get your portfolio up and running.
  • TikTok:
    • Now TikTok is a different beast. It’s snowballing in popularity, but it also requires a great deal of work to get content up and going. You’re not posting individual photos or image files – no, you’ve got to film, edit, and upload a whole video. With that said, many artists have found a home for their artwork and community in TikTok, so don’t discount it if you have the time to support its content needs.
  • Meta (Facebook):
    • Meta (formerly Facebook), love it or hate it, is the only major social media platform with its own marketplace. This means you have a clearcut place to sell your work and network, but it comes with a caveat. As per Meta’s terms and conditions, “The selling fee is 5% per shipment, or a flat fee of $0.40 for shipments of $8.00 or less.” In other words, you can sell on Facebook, but it’ll cost you.

There’s one more thing to address with the big four out of the way – ensure you’re putting your best foot forward. Work on your “about me” and bio sections; build a personal brand and show who you are. This helps to establish yourself in the field and makes it easier to identify you by captions and hashtags, which is a great way to build recognition.

Offline Promotion

Offline promotion is the traditional and (arguably) more complex form of marketing. Offline promotion consists of getting your “boots on the ground” and hitting the pavement – you know, what dad always said you needed to do to get jobs! While job hunting is now an online experience, finding people to buy your art often isn’t. 

You’ll find that there are countless conventions worldwide, each catering to a niche audience. Often, the people at these events go into them planning on buying art and cool stuff. If you can get a booth, you can be that cool stuff!

There’s a concept called artist alley at most of these conventions. Those who’ve been to ComicCon or something similar already know this – but it’s worth mentioning for those who don’t. Artist alley is the section of the convention dedicated to artists – up-and-comers and veterans alike are often welcome, and it allows you to sell your work to like-minded geeks! 

If you’re wondering how to sell art at anime conventions or similar gatherings, artist alley is likely your best bet. 

Try to get some cheap items (business cards, pins, stickers) that you can give out for free with a link to your work and something cool on the front – it’ll remind people to check you out, even if they don’t buy anything at that moment. And if you’re able to, investing in banners and the like with branded imagery of you and your work, you’ll build your brand a bit and get your name out. That’s kinda the whole goal here, so make the investment if you can.

Artist alley and conventions are also great locations to meet and network with other artists, so if you manage to snag a table, try to also take some time away from it and see who else is in attendance!

Streaming & Live Art Online

And finally, we’re going to talk about streaming and doing live art online. This can come in many forms, from Twitch streams to YouTube or TikTok live, but the point is to get your name out.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each, shall we?


Twitch is primarily used to stream video games, so you may be thinking “can I actually stream art on Twitch?” Yes! Though it’s essential to think about your audience. Are you making anime or manga-style art? Then Twitch’s audience (gamers and nerds) is likely a great platform. It’ll allow you to take donations live, interact with your audience, get more friendly with them (always good), and rep your portfolio and commissions! 

Keep in mind that Twitch Bits (Twitch’s proprietary currency) takes 30% of donations made to you. That’s starting to change, and not how we’d like.

Artist YouTubers

YouTube is known worldwide for being the source of countless “random” channels, allowing just about anyone access to a public platform. This is really good for you. You can freely upload videos and do live streams, make ad money, and even get donations if you’re lucky! 

Keep in mind that YouTube prefers channels with a niche so they can market your channel – so pick one and stick to it. Anime, comic, and manga channels often do pretty well, so you’re already set if that’s your thing!

TikTok for Artists

TikTok is another fantastic resource for marketing yourself. Some artists do “how I did it” or “work in progress” videos for complex pieces, while others just upload supercuts of their portfolios. No matter how you choose to post, TikTok allows so much freedom for visual creators that it’s pretty remarkable to see.

Take a look at this tattoo artist, for example. He posts a couple of watermarked images, a Linktree with his information (PayPal for donations/commissions and a portfolio), and has over 300,000 followers. He adds a touch of humor to his videos and simultaneously builds a following and sells his art. Sounds nice, right?

artwork: bethanyillustration


Big surprise, everyone – you knew it was coming, so here it is. Let’s talk about CO2ign Art – who are we, why do we do what we do, and how?

While this is can be a complicated discussion (as shown in our white paper), there are a few things that you should know

Who Are We?

CO2ign Art is a site built by a small team of people just like you who are tired of the status quo of selling digital art. Being a digital artist can be difficult, confusing, and quite hard to turn into a career – and we felt that needed to change. We also know that the online art community is invested in the future of the planet, and wanted to provide a way to turn that investment into action.

By tying the purchase of digital art to carbon credits, we’re able to offer a place for artists to host, network, and sell their art–all while making a tangible change for the better through thoroughly-researched carbon reduction projects.

Why Use CO2IGN Art?

CO2ign Art isn’t blockchain-based, nor is it related to NFTs. Perhaps more importantly, we offer real means for artists and buyers alike to know they’ve helped fund legitimate carbon reduction efforts. 

Every buyer receives a digital image file with a unique digital signature from the artist to prove ownership. Following the purchase, here’s exactly where every cent goes:

  • 30% of the purchase goes straight to the artist – that’s far higher than most similar platforms (who average around ~15% to the artist).
  • 20% goes to CO2ign Art (we’ve gotta pay the bills, after all).
  • The remaining 50% goes to Verra-verified carbon reduction projects (try saying that three times fast!)

Additionally, CO2ign knows the struggles of being an up-and-coming artist. We’ve been there and understand that a helping hand can go a long way. Things like advertising, event hosting, and partnerships all can do wonders for artists – so we decided to make that a part of the offering here. We see the value of art and the people who create it, and we want to make it easy for everyone to see that value. 

Lastly – if you haven’t signed up yet, we’d love to have you! Request an Invitation to join CO2ign Art today.