8 Ways to Earn Passive Income as a Graphic Designer

Start a Blog and Monetize It

In a previous article, I covered the importance of starting a blog as a graphic designer. Monetizing your blog can create an extra source of income without excessive maintenance. While some people set unrealistic expectations of “living off their blog,” that’s not quite what I’m suggesting.

Here are some real numbers: If your design blog generates 30,000 impressions per month, with a click-through rate of 2% (which is fairly high) and an average cost per click for ads of $0.25, you’d make $150 per month. Not a lot of money for that traffic.

However, a blog is a good way to draw attention to you as a creative professional and build relationships that you can leverage in other ways. If your content is strong and relevant, other blogs and websites pay you to write for them based on your content. Individual companies or brands may see value in your audience and decide to arrange a paid sponsorship with you. There are multiple ways to use your blog as a vehicle for passive income.

Whether you keep a regularly updated blog or have just discovered the blogosphere, The Golden Rules of Blogging by Robin Houghton is your guide to navigating the rulebook of blogging. 

Affiliate Marketing

When you have a blog, affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to make substantial money from it that you may be able to live off of at some point. It is not unheard of for web hosting affiliates and Amazon Affiliates to make upwards of $1,000 a month. If you can leverage affiliate marketing properly, build a large enough audience and create enough content, it can be one of the best passive income models out there.

Designers have a unique opportunity to take advantage of an Affiliate program like Amazon, since we are in a position to review and recommend everything from books to laptops. Amazon pays out between 4%-10% commissions based on a combination of overall volume, with caps on specific items like laptops. If your affiliate links sold a decent priced laptop everyday for a month, you could make as much as $750 for that month.

Write an E-Book

Writing a book may seem obvious, but few people take the plunge and actually do it. Designers have an advantage here, as they have all the tools and skills necessary to design, package and market an eBook successfully. The best writers write about what they know, and as a designer, you know quite a bit about your work. Consider writing a book that would benefit design clients or other designers. Once the book is written, you can sell it indefinitely and keep generating profits. Writing multiple books will allow you to build more credibility and a larger revenue stream. If you leverage your blog, you can easily gain more sales than if you tried to so without one.

Create an Online Training Course

Utilizing sites like HOW Design University, Udemy and Skillshare, you can create online courses around your skills in Graphic Design or Software Applications like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. These online course products are in high demand. They are more difficult to create as the best ones require video editing and audio editing skills. If you can overcome this barrier or invest in someone helping you it can be extremely lucrative. You can profit from this indefinitely and the platform you use will likely market it on your behalf. You can also in most cases distribute this content across multiple platforms creating even more revenue streams. The royalty on these products is usually between 30%-50% depending on which platform you use.

Explore HOW Design University‘s new, user-friendly interface and course catalog.

Create a Typeface and Sell It Online

Font foundries develop fonts and sell them through their website as well as other sites like MyFonts.com or even license them to font libraries or software packages like Adobe TypeKit. This can be a great source of revenue if you have the skills and software to create a unique and viable typeface. Museo is a great example of a recently developed font that has become extremely popular, so it is possible for a new font to catch on and be competitive.

Museo typeface. Image from MyFonts.com


Typography was my main reason for becoming a graphic designer,” Hannes von Döhren, creator of Brandon Grotesque, told Print Magazine. “I started by designing experimental typefaces by myself for fun in my spare time, alongside my job as an art director, making them available as free fonts on the internet and using them in personal projects. Playing around with type was such fun that I became seriously interested in the workings of fonts: their technology, their rules and their background.”

Read about 8 more exceptional type designers at PrintMag.com.

Sell Graphic Design Templates Online

It may seem counter intuitive to create a product that helps other designers, but it has many benefits. For one thing, it can establish your credibility and for another it is very profitable. With Design being a growing profession in high demand, the reality is that most templates are being bought by beginners or in-house designers that are more based in production and technical work that creativity. By building and selling templates in online stores like Envato you can gain a substantial amount of revenue from this growing market.

This also means you can focus more of your attention on high end clients, while selling entry level clients or the designers who work for them, template solutions. The royalty on these types of products tends to be between 70%-90%.

Sell T-shirts or Print on Demand Products

Print on demand products like T-shirts and posters have their ups and downs associated with them. On the one hand you don’t have to invest upfront money and you make a direct profit each time one of your items are sold. On the downside, the profits are very minimal. Unless you have a very loyal following you can usually only sell the products at a 10%-20% markup usually meaning you will only make $2.00-$4.00 per sale. Unless you are doing a high volume of sales, this can make gaining any significant revenue challenging.

There is also heavy competition and it can hard to stand out in the marketplace. Using as many platforms as possible, such as CafePress, DeviantArt and Spreadshirt, increase your chances of making sales. You should also leverage the audience you have built with your blog, as those will be the easiest customers to convert.

Referral Commissions

Being cooperative and having a good relationship with other graphic designers in the community can be mutually beneficial. Some people in the industry are extraordinarily competitive, but cooperation has several benefits, and referrals are one of them. If you have a good relationship with another designer who is overburdened with work, he or she may pass on a client to you. If you find yourself in the same situation, you may pass on work to them. Many designers offer a referral fee or commission (sometimes called a finder’s fee) for this practice. Out of the deposit, it is typical to pay a referral fee of 10% of the overall project to someone who brought you work they didn’t have to.

In this way, you can profit without having to do any of the actual design work or manage the client relationship yourself. Some designers have made this a very strong part of their revenue model.

Final Thoughts on Design and Passive Income

As a designer, developing passive income revenue streams can help you sustain yourself as a freelance designer or if you’ve developed your own studio. Whenever client work is unavailable for whatever reason, this will allow you to still have a source of income to cover any expenses you may have. Even if you are unable to scale this to a large portion of your income, you should still strive to diversify your income as much as possible, since it will offer you flexibility.

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2 thoughts on “8 Ways to Earn Passive Income as a Graphic Designer

  1. OlegION

    Me and my design studio tried to earn passive income on Themforest. As we heared this is a good opportunity to earn passive income. But now they have very strict rules of template approving. We tried to approve our first theme more than year. I described in detail about our torment: https://medium.com/@oleg_67082/thorny-way-to-sales-at-themeforest-net-ee5d370f4278#.disot7u4h.
    We received a lot of Hard Rejections, but not stop working. And now we have first product on Themeforest.