When I graduated from art school, I had mastered color theory and brush techniques and composition—but didn’t know the first thing about business. How would I market myself? What steps did I need to take to sell my art? How should I price my work, and what would I charge for shipping? At the time, the creator tools and channels to amplify and sell your own art online were practically nonexistent.
In my very first week as a working artist, I learned a hard lesson: to succeed in art, you must also succeed in business.
The starving artist is a dying trope. Independent artists can self-sufficiently fund their craft by selling work directly to their fans.
Today, the starving artist is a dying trope. Independent artists can self-sufficiently fund their craft by selling work directly to their fans. While gallery or agent representation is still a great way to reach wider audiences, corporate clients, or buyers with deeper pockets, it’s no longer necessary in order to be successful as a working artist.
For gallerists and curators, the shift in how we buy and sell in the last two decades has allowed these businesses to represent more artists and expand into selling affordable art prints online to reach larger audiences worldwide.
How to sell art online
Whether you’re a creator or a curator looking to make money selling art online, this guide is for you. We consulted experts and successful artists for their advice on everything from marketing to pricing to shipping your art.
- Meet the experts
- What’s right for you: selling your own art or selling works by other artists?
- What to sell: originals or reproductions?
- Reproductions: open or limited edition?
- Printing art and choosing printers
- Photographing and scanning art
- Building your brand as an artist or art curator
- How to set retail prices for your art
- Selling art online: setting up your store
- More channels for selling art online
- Gallery exhibitions, pop-ups, and offline events
- Working with galleries
- Marketing for art brands
- Packaging and shipping art
- Plagiarism issues and copyright protection
- The artist as an entrepreneur
Meet the experts
We reached out to experts in the art world—two artists and a gallerist—actively making their living by selling art online. In this guide, their anecdotes will be woven into practical and actionable advice for any creative entrepreneur.
Cat Seto, owner and artist, Ferme à Papier
Cat Seto is an artist and author, and the founder of Ferme à Papier, a San Francisco–based studio and boutique representing unique goods from independent West Coast designers. Her stationery has appeared in multiple publications and landed her partnerships with brands like Anthropologie and Gap. Prior to the pandemic, Cat closed the retail arm of her business to refocus and find a new location. The recent hate crimes targeting the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community have influenced her need for change. “I have decided that I am at a time and place in my business in which my collections need to represent themes which matter to me and those around me,” she says.
Maria Qamar, artist, Hatecopy
Most famously known by her artist moniker, Hatecopy, Maria Qamar quit her advertising career to focus on art when her pop art paintings began to catch fire on Instagram. The success didn’t happen overnight. “I did contract work here and there,” says Maria. “When you’re starting out, you’re earning zero dollars.” Her full-time job, however, taught her business skills that were critical in getting her store off the ground and marketing herself as an artist. Now she works full time on her art, selling her work in multiple formats, from art prints to printed merch. She also published a book, Trust No Aunty, in 2017.
Ken Harman, curator and gallerist
Ken Harman is the man behind the art empire that includes Spoke Art, Hashimoto Contemporary, and publishing company Paragon Books. Together, these businesses represent many global artists through physical galleries, online shops, and pop-up exhibitions. Unlike Maria, Ken didn’t have a chance to transition slowly at the start. When he was unable to secure a temporary pop-up location for a curated show, he signed a two-year lease on a space. “I really didn’t have any other options,” he says. “I just pulled the trigger.”
What’s right for you: selling your own art or selling works by other artists?
There are two ways to get into the art business: create or curate. Cat built her career on both by creating and selling her own work and representing the work of others in her boutique. Which one is right for you? Let’s explore the two avenues.
As an artist, you are the creator, producing original art and/or reproductions of originals and selling directly to your customers or indirectly through a gallery, retail partner, or agent. It’s never been easier for artists to sell directly, with emerging creator tools popping up seemingly every day. Depending on your style and medium, choose a sales channel where your desired audience hangs out.
Maria runs her own online shop, where she sells prints and merchandise, eliminating the middleman and keeping her costs low. But she also leans on relationships with experienced galleries to exhibit and sell her original art. Galleries can expose your work to new audiences and may have access to resources and professionals to help promote, exhibit, handle, and ship artwork.
If you’re not personally an artist but you have a great eye and a love of the art world, you can still get into the game of selling art as a curator. Some artists may be disinterested in marketing or selling their own work and rely on gallerists, curators, and retail partners to handle this aspect of the business. As a partner to artists, you make a percentage of the selling price in exchange for your business knowledge and service.
There are several ways to work with artists, from selling originals or prints to licensing works to be printed on merchandise or used in publication. “Most galleries offer an industry standard 50% consignment split for original art,” says Ken. “The artist provides the artwork, we do our best to sell it.” Spoke also operates its own print shop, selling limited-run prints of works by the artists it represents—offering a wide range of price points for their fans.
What to sell: originals or reproductions?
As an artist, you may choose to sell original work, reproductions of that work, or both. It will depend on the nature of your art and your chosen medium. Fine artists using classic mediums and selling at high price points may choose to only sell originals, for example, while digital art, which can be reproduced without loss of quality, is great for prints and merch. However, most art created in 2D mediums have multiple options for generating unlimited sales on a single work.
🎨 Consider the following options:
- Original art (Note: you can sell both the original art as well as prints of the same work.)
- Limited- or open-edition prints (framed, unframed, or prints on canvas)
- Digital downloads (desktop wallpaper, templates, print-at-home art, etc.)
- Custom art made to order from a customer request or commissioned by a business (Note: Generally, this art would be one of a kind and not sold again as a reproduction.)
- Merchandise (your art printed on hats, mugs, t-shirts, enamel pins, greeting cards, stationery, etc.)
- Repeat prints on fabric, wrapping paper, or wallpaper
- Licensing work to other brands or publications (great for illustrators and photographers)
- Collaborations with brands (limited collection sold through the partner brand’s store)
Some mediums, like sculpture, are more difficult to reproduce or use for merchandise applications. For those impossible to scan and print, there are still ways to generate additional income from a single design. For example, clay works may use the same mold to generate similar pieces, and 3D designs can be created over and over with a 3D printer.
Reproductions: open or limited edition?
Reproducing art on t-shirts, mugs, or art prints means that a single work can bear fruit indefinitely. If you sell prints, you can choose to sell an unlimited number (otherwise known as open edition). However, some galleries, like Spoke, opt for a limited edition model (there are only a certain number of prints produced) on many of the works they represent.
The effect is much like that of a limited time offer—creating a sense of scarcity and urgency is an excellent marketing strategy. For Ken, however, the decision to limit print runs goes deeper. “We work really hard to find things that are very special to sell. Things that are special should be treated like they’re special,” he says. While Spoke may be able to make more money selling prints as an open edition, the choice to limit them adds to the value of the art.
Limited edition has its drawbacks, however. “A lot of the things that we sell have secondary market values,” says Ken, meaning that limited edition pieces may sell for inflated prices on the resale market (think limited-edition sneakers) because the demand is high. To help minimize reselling, Spoke will limit quantities of certain prints per customer. It’s also built a blacklist of known resellers. “Making sure that the real fans are actually the ones who are able to get the things that we sell is always a priority,” Ken says.
Printing art and choosing printers
Understanding how to sell art prints online comes down to getting very friendly with a printer, whether that’s your at-home inkjet or a company that handles the task for you. There are multiple options, from DIY to completely hands off, to help you sell art prints and other merch to your audience.
It’s possible to create quality prints yourself with the right paper, ink, and home office printer. As a new artist, this method can keep costs low, but it may not be sustainable or scalable. “In the beginning, I would print, package, and deliver by hand every single poster that was ordered,” says Maria. “At some point the volume became so much that I couldn’t make time to draw. I was spending all of my days delivering and in transit.” This method is usually limited to selling art prints on paper, but some specialty printers may allow you to print on canvas paper or fabric designed specifically for this purpose.
Using a printing company
A local or online printing company can reproduce your work en masse and can even offer bulk discounts if you are printing many of the same piece. This is a great option if you have a small catalog of just a few works that you sell consistently and have a budget to purchase inventory upfront. With this method, you will still be responsible for your own packaging and shipping.
It’s important that we are the last sets of eyes inspecting, packaging, and shipping the product to our customers.Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier
While Cat uses a print-on-demand model for custom clients and orders, she often prints large batches for collection releases. In either case, the prints arrive at her studio first, rather than shipping directly to the customer. “It’s important that we are the last sets of eyes inspecting, packaging, and shipping the product to our customers,” she says.
Print on demand
Print on demand is the most hands-off and versatile of options, especially if you plan to sell your work printed on merch like t-shirts or caps. Print-on-demand companies generally integrate with your online store and allow you to upload your designs, which are then printed and shipped directly to each customer when you receive an order. This is a great option for starting a business on a budget, as there is little upfront investment with no need to buy equipment or inventory.
When the number of orders exceeded her capacity to print and ship work herself, Maria upgraded to using a print-on-demand company. “All I have to do is upload and let it do the work for me,” she says. “Now I can focus on actually creating the artwork and connecting with people.”
💡 Tip: Request samples from the printer so you can inspect the colors and quality of the print. This is especially important if printed items will be sent directly to your customers.
Photographing and scanning art
Photographing and representing your products clearly and accurately is important for any online business. Without the ability to feel a product, customers need to get the best sense of what they’re buying through clear and detailed images. Selling art online is no exception.
“If you have a bad image of your work or the image doesn’t represent the work accurately, you’re going to have a harder time selling it,” says Ken. Or, you’ll be stuck dealing with unhappy customers and processing returns.
Photographing art is a little trickier than shooting other products, and a basic light setup may still cause glare or color irregularities. Consider hiring a professional to shoot larger works or art with any three-dimensional or glossy elements.
If you have a bad image of your work or the image doesn’t represent the work accurately, you’re going to have a harder time selling it.Ken Harman, Spoke Art
For 2D works, however, Ken recommends scanning as an affordable and effective alternative to photography. Though his facility has a photography setup for shooting art, many artists submit their works to Spoke as scans because they need the digital file for their own archives anyway. “The most cost effective way to do that is to get a desktop scanner and scan the work in parts and stitch it together digitally,” he says. “If you've got a piece with a high-gloss coating or a resin, that's a little tricker, but for the majority of works on canvas or paper, it’s pretty easy.”
If you’re selling merch or other products that feature your art, the general rules of product photography apply. Take clear shots from multiple angles as well as zoomed-in shots to show texture and detail. Lifestyle photos (your product in a scene) are great for your home page and social media and help to show scale. Print-on-demand companies often provide mockup images you can use on your product pages in lieu of or in addition to photography.
📚 Read more:
Building your brand as an artist or art curator
As an artist, your brand may evolve as a natural extension of your art. Your chosen style and medium will define you as an artist and you will naturally attract fans and buyers based on this alone. However, there are many decisions you will need to consciously make when you start to think of yourself as a business as well as an artist.
Because art is a personal and sometimes emotional purchase, your story as an artist could be a factor in someone’s decision to purchase. And other business assets like packaging and site design should mirror or complement the visual aesthetic of the work itself.
🎨 Ask yourself the following:
- Do you create and sell art under your own name, a pseudonym, or a brand name?
- What’s your brand story? How much of your personal story will you tell?
- Do you have a mission, values, or a cause that you want to communicate through your brand?
- Outside of the art itself, what is the visual direction of the brand? What’s the tone of your communication?
- What branding assets do you need? Even without graphic design skills, you can generate a logo with free tools.
The answer to these questions will help you build a set of brand guidelines that will dictate many of your decisions going forward: branding, website design, marketing materials, etc. If you eventually scale your business, these guidelines will help you maintain brand consistency as you delegate tasks to staff or other partners.
In collaborating, I think it’s important to not only stay true to your brand, but to be able to listen and be proactive to whomever you are collaborating with.Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier
For Cat, the causes closest to her heart are central to her brand. While she is currently refocusing to work on themes that support the AAPI community, this isn’t the first time she’s made a statement with her work. Ferme à Papier launched a Saving Faces collection highlighting the stories of women and underrepresented groups.
Cat’s brand values influence the types of projects she takes on with brands and clients. “In collaborating, I think it’s important to not only stay true to your brand,” she says, “but to be able to listen and be proactive to whomever you are collaborating with.”
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How to set retail prices for your art
How do you sell art online—and make money doing it? Making a living as a working artist is possible if you know how to value and price your work. Pricing art is challenging because it doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into typical pricing strategies.
Pricing original art
If you’re just beginning and don’t have a widely known name in the art world, you can start with a simple formula to price your original art: your time and labour costs + material costs and other expenses + your markup (profit). For this method, you will need to assign yourself an hourly wage. It is typical for artists to undervalue their time and work, especially at the beginning.
Knowing what your products stand for and what you aren’t willing to compromise are key components in driving decisions about pricing.Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier
Where the formula above fails is that the value of art is subjective and not necessarily dependent on concrete details like material cost or labour hours. Famous artists can fetch exponentially more for a piece that has roughly the same creation costs as that of a new artist. Check the market to compare your pricing to similar artists at similar levels and adjust accordingly.
Remember that if you are selling through a gallery, that business will usually take half of the final selling price. You can usually work with gallerists, who are experts at valuing and pricing art, to set a price that makes sense for you, the gallery, and the market.
Pricing art prints
Selling art prints or other types of reproduction can follow a more simple pricing formula: the cost of printing + your cost to sell and market the print + your markup. Your markup may be on a scale depending on whether you sell open- or limited-edition prints.
“Knowing what your products stand for and what you aren’t willing to compromise are key components in driving decisions about pricing,” says Cat. For her, printing on sustainable paper was a must-have, even though it would drive up material costs and ultimately the retail price. Communicating these decisions to the customer is important, especially if your prices are higher than average.
📚 Read more:
- How to Price Your Product: What You Need to Know About Pricing Before You Launch
- The Price Is Right: 13 Strategies for Finding the Ideal Price for Your Products
- Product Pricing: 5 Steps to Set Prices For Wholesale and Retail
Selling art online: setting up your store
First, take a few minutes to create your store. At this point, you can set it up as a trial and tinker with it for two weeks before committing. You’ve already done a lot of the work if you’ve established brand guidelines, pricing, and business model (originals, prints, or merch)—this part is simply assembly.
Get started selling art online and try Shopify free for 14 days
Store design and themes
When setting up your online art store, choose a Shopify theme that lets your art breathe–large images and lots of white/negative space. Themes are like templates that you build upon, layering in your own images and copy, and tweaking colors and layout to suit your business.
🎨 Some of our theme picks for selling art online:
- Narrative (free) is a theme for storytellers, allowing your artist persona to live front and center.
- Editions ($) is an airy theme that gives bold artwork the breathing room it deserves.
- California ($$) is a clean theme that lets your art be the star. It’s great for large collections.
- Highlight ($$) is a bold theme with slideshow and parallax scrolling features that are great for visual storytellers.
- Artisan ($$) is an ideal theme for artists who sell custom work and commissions.
Shopify is designed so anyone can set up a custom online store with no coding or design skills necessary. However, if you’re interested in customizing your theme even further to suit your business, consider hiring a Shopify Expert to help you with design or development work.
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Apps for art stores
The Shopify App Store is packed with apps that plug directly into your online store to solve specific pain points, add unique features, and help you run your store more effortlessly—allowing you to focus on the creative aspects of the business.
🎨 App suggestions to help run your online art business:
- Print-on-demand apps. If you sell your artwork via prints and merch, apps like Creativehub, Printful, or Printify can sync with your store, taking the burden of shipping and fulfillment out of the equation.
- Gallery apps. An app like POWR Image Gallery can feature past or out-of-stock works, serving as a portfolio or full catalog of your work for galleries or brands looking to partner with you.
- Social marketing apps. As a creator, you may lean toward visual social media platforms like Instagram to help market your products and build an audience. Keep site content fresh with an app like Instafeed that pulls Instagram images into a gallery on your site.
- Product page apps. If you’re offering a specific piece of artwork with overlapping options (size, frame or no frame, paper type, etc.), use an app like Bold Product Options to layer item variants.
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More channels for selling art online
What’s the best place to sell art online? Aside from your own online store, it’s the place where your ideal customer is already hanging out. If you have amassed a following on a particular social channel, for example, that might be a great place to start.
Where to sell your art online:
- Online marketplaces like Etsy or eBay can plug directly into your online store, allowing you to sync sales and reach wider audiences.
- Social selling channels let you sell directly to fans who are already following you on their preferred platforms. Create customizable storefronts on Facebook and Instagram that integrate with your Shopify store.
- Wholesale to other online boutiques and galleries. You can browse wholesale markets like Handshake to find compatible retailers that want to sell your art.
Cat now sells her work through multiple channels, but she cautions to start slow. “Having multiple avenues came as an evolution to what first began as a wholesale business,” she says. While her retail channel is on pause for the moment, she now sells direct to customer and works on custom projects for clients and brands in addition to her wholesale business. “If I had tried to balance all of these from the onset,” she says. “I believe I would have been overwhelmed.”
Gallery exhibitions, pop-ups, and offline events
Because Maria works frequently in traditional mediums, much of the impact of the texture and scale of her work gets lost digitally. “It’s actual physical work, so when we do exhibits, you can walk into a gallery and see that I’m a real person that has technical skills that can do paintings and large scale installations,” she says. Artists can also connect with fans and find new audiences by taking work offline. You can use in-person experiences to drive people back to your online store.
🎨 Consider the following:
- Partner with a gallery to exhibit work.
- Look into local art markets and events, and set up a one-time or semi-permanent booth.
- Consign or wholesale with art, gift, or lifestyle retail stores, or set up a small pop-up within an existing store.
- Open your studio to the public when you launch your website, or keep consistent weekly open-studio hours to invite fans into your process.
- Run a pop-up shop (partner with other artists to reduce costs).
- “Lend” or consign work for décor to emerging retail businesses like cafés in exchange for the exposure.
Before Ken opened his permanent gallery, he dabbled in pop-ups as a means to build his reputation as a gallerist and validate the business idea, but has never let go of the physical part of the business. For those selling original works, some element of in-person experience is critical, says Ken. “It’s very rare to find a successful art gallery that functions entirely online.”
However, advances in technology like 3D and AR for online stores and the acceleration in digital experiences brought on by the pandemic may mark big changes for the art world in the future. It’s important to follow consumer trends while you grow your business.
Working with galleries
If you’re interested in having your art represented by a gallery in addition to selling prints on your own site, there are a few dos and don’ts:
✅ DO check out the gallery’s social media accounts. “If you have more followers than that gallery does or that gallery doesn’t have a lot of followers, that may give you pause,” says Ken. A gallery should be able to give you a wider exposure than you can get yourself.
❌ DON’T approach a gallery via social media. “You’d be amazed at how many people try to submit to us via Facebook Messenger or tag us in a post on Instagram and ask us to look at their work,” says Ken. “While social media is a major focus for us, that’s just not a very professional way to come across if you’re an artist.”
✅ DO your research and contact only those galleries who represent work in line with your own style. “You can’t sell street art to somebody who collects impressionism,” says Ken.
❌ DON’T sacrifice quality for quantity. “It’s frustrating when an artist who's hoping to catch our attention tags us and 20 other galleries all in the same post.” Select the top few galleries that you want to work with most and send individual outreach to each.
✅ DO your homework. “Find the name of the director or the curator for the gallery,” says Ken. “Being able to personalize an email is a great first step in that process.”
Marketing for art stores
Many artists like Maria got their start on social media, growing a following first before launching a store and monetizing their work. The channel where you’ve gained the most traction in the beginning is a natural place to spend your energy and marketing dollars first.
🎨 More ideas to get traffic to your site—and make sales:
- Run paid ad campaigns on platforms like Google or Facebook.
- Invest in organic social by producing consistent content and engaging with fans and art communities frequently.
- Run contests or offer exclusive discounts to social followers (bonus: use these to help build your email list).
- Reach out to influencers and press when you launch your site or a new collection. As you scale, you may opt to outsource to a PR firm.
- Use content marketing to drive organic traffic. Use your expertise to create content around art, how-tos, behind the scenes, etc., either through a blog, vlog, or podcast.
- Learn about SEO to help improve your store’s discoverability.
- Drive exposure with offline marketing. Participate in art shows and markets or work with a gallery to expand your reach to new, larger audiences.
📚 Read more:
- Increase Website Traffic: 20 Low-Cost Ideas
- SEO Checklist: How to Rank a New Website
- Authenticity Sells: A Beginner's Guide to Marketing on TikTok
- Press Kits: How to Create A Hype Media Kit
Packaging and shipping art
As art is visual, you should pay attention to the smallest details, down to how your art is packaged and shipped. Art that arrives undamaged is the bare minimum—give your customers an experience that matches the quality and care you put into your work. As art can be fragile, follow these guidelines for ensuring your work arrives safe and sound.
If you are shipping original art, or elect to ship prints and canvases yourself, rather than through a print and fulfillment company, take extra precaution with your packing. Larger prints and posters are best shipped in cardboard mailing tubes, and smaller prints in rigid cardboard mailing envelopes. Use glassine (a water and grease-resistant paper) or clear cellophane sleeves to protect prints within the packaging.
Shipping expensive and oversized original work
Framed works and canvases require additional precautions. Packaging supply shops offer packing and shipping materials like cardboard corners and specialty box sizes designed specifically for art.
If you’re shipping original work to a gallery or art collector, there are ways to cut costs. “The cost to ship an oversized painting that’s stretched on a canvas can be pretty substantial,” says Ken. “Sometimes what we do is unstretch a canvas, roll it in a tube, and ship it that way, which dramatically lowers the freight costs. Then we can have the canvas stretched locally.”
Shipping direct with print on demand
The easiest way to manage shipping is to not manage it at all. If you opt to sell prints or merch only, your printing, order fulfillment, and shipping can all be managed by your print-on-demand partner. They are able to access great shipping rates due to volume and partnerships with carriers.
Shipping insurance for fine art
Insurance is important when shipping original works, as a lost or damaged package can’t be replaced. Many standard carriers offer fairly basic insurance on most packages, and artists should look into the specific extra coverage costs and limitations of each carrier’s insurance offerings.
For higher-value pieces, Ken takes additional measures to ensure the safety of the work. “Shipping anything worth more than a thousand dollars is definitely tricky,” he says, and suggests that artists look into using a private freight company or a carrier that specializes in art handling, despite the higher costs.
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Plagiarism issues and copyright protection
Artist Tuesday Bassen waged war on copycats—large chain stores who ripped off her original designs—by hiring a lawyer and taking her story to the media. However, both Maria and Ken say copycats and plagiarism are just an unfortunate reality of doing business. Maria took legal action only once, before shifting her perspective. “At the end of the day, it took me my whole life to learn how to do this,” she says. “If somebody is copying me, they’re going to have to sit down and eventually learn for themselves, because sooner or later they’re going to run out of ideas.”
It’s a sign that I’m inspiring others and that what I’m doing is right because they wouldn’t copy me otherwise.Maria Qamar, Hatecopy
Maria takes Hatecopy’s copycats as an indication that she’s on to something.“It’s a sign that I’m inspiring others and that what I’m doing is right because they wouldn’t copy me otherwise,” she says, “I’m not offended or bothered by it anymore.”
For galleries that represent multiple artists and sell art online, copycat websites are a consistent problem. “We do have an issue with various online sites just bootlegging what we do,” says Ken. “It’s part of the way the world works, unfortunately. We do our best, but it happens.”
While copycats may be a reality, artists and businesses have legal recourse and should seek the advice of a copyright lawyer to help protect intellectual property before infringement happens.
The artist as an entrepreneur
Like many entrepreneurs, Cat started her art business from a spare bedroom. Whether it’s a basement or a kitchen table or a guest room, the space you’ve got is the space you use. In this stage of your business, you’ll wear all the hats: creator, marketer, packer, shipper, web designer, and customer service rep.
Cat describes this time in her own journey as lean and humbling. “It gave me assurance of knowing every aspect of my business inside and out,” she says, “including its strengths and weaknesses.”
You could know everything about business and you could know everything about art, but it's the combination of both that really makes a successful brand.Maria Qamar, Hatecopy
Thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur right from the get-go will be crucial to your success. You may stumble as a creative to learn the business aspects, but they will ultimately help you grow and scale. Eventually, you can delegate and automate, allowing you to focus on what you do best: making beautiful things.
“You could know everything about business and you could know everything about art, but it's the combination of both that really makes a successful brand,” says Maria. “I am obsessed with creating that harmony.”
Feature illustration by Pete Ryan