Many artists graduate from formal art programs adept in color theory, brush techniques, and composition—but don’t know the first thing about business.
How can artists sell art and paintings online? How will they market themselves? Making a living as a career artist means understanding how to build an audience, how to price art products, and the unique requirements for shipping art. It means thinking like an entrepreneur.
Before ecommerce platforms, artists relied on third party gallerists, agents, and retailers to distribute work. The creator tools and sales channels of today were nonexistent. Now, independent artists can own their distribution streams, creating and selling their art online—and on their own terms.
For gallerists and curators, the shift in how we buy and sell in the past 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 online selling art such as painting, this step-by-step guide is for you. No matter what type of art you’re into—original acrylic paintings, digital art prints, sculpture—this resource has actionable advice for every artist.
In the following sections, we’ll cover the basics of selling art online for beginners and seasoned artists alike. Explore topics for every level including working with printers and dealing with plagiarism.
- Meet the artist experts
- Selling your own art versus selling works by other artists
- What to sell: original art versus reproductions
- Reproductions of art: open edition versus limited edition
- Printing art and choosing printers
- Photographing and scanning art
- Building your brand as an artist
- Setting retail prices for your art
- Where to sell art online: Your own ecommerce store
- Where to sell art online: More channels for selling
- Gallery exhibitions, pop-ups, and offline events for selling art
- Working with galleries to sell your art
- Marketing for art brands
- Packaging and shipping art
- Plagiarism issues and copyright protection when selling art
Meet the artist experts
We consulted successful artists, curators, and gallerists for their advice on everything you need to know to sell your art online. In this guide to selling your own artwork, their anecdotes will be woven into practical and actionable advice for any creative entrepreneur. Let’s meet our experts.
Cat Seto, owner and artist, Ferme à Papier
Cat Seto is an artist and author, and founder of Ferme à Papier, a San Francisco–based boutique representing unique goods from independent designers. Her stationery has appeared in multiple publications and landed her partnerships with brands like Anthropologie and Gap.
Maria Qamar, artist, Hatecopy
Best 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. Now she works full time on her art, selling her own paintings in multiple formats, from art prints to books to printed merch.
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.
What’s right for you: selling your own art or selling works by other artists?
There are two ways to sell art online: 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?
Create and sell your own art
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. This is arguably the easiest way to sell art online for many.
Maria runs her own online shop, where she sells art prints and merchandise, eliminating the middleman and keeping her costs low. But she also leans on relationships with experienced galleries for exhibiting and selling original artwork.
If you’re learning how to sell your art, note that galleries can expose your work to new audiences. They may also have access to resources and professionals to help promote, exhibit, handle, and ship artwork.
Curate the works of other artists
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 figuring out the best way to sell art online and instead 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 to sell their art online—be it 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.”
What to sell: original art versus reproductions
The best way to sell your art online will depend on the nature of your art and your chosen medium. You may choose to sell your art, reproductions of that work, or both.
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 formats:
- Original art such as paintings, drawings, illustrations (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, iPhone cases, 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. But 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 of art: open edition versus limited edition
Reproducing art on t-shirts or mugs, or as art prints means that a single work can bear fruit indefinitely—or for a limited time. There are two ways to approach selling your art as prints: open edition or limited edition.
What is open edition?
Open edition means printing and selling an unlimited number of products (reproductions or prints of an original work).
- You can continue to profit from a single piece of art indefinitely while there is still demand for it.
- Your art can spread far and wide through the hands of happy customers who are never met with an “out of stock” warning.
- The unlimited availability of your pieces may devalue your work overall
What is limited edition?
Limited edition means printing only a certain number of prints before they are gone. These are often numbered and signed by the artist to add value and authenticity.
- The effect is much like that of a limited time offer: creating a sense of scarcity and urgency is an excellent marketing strategy
- The limited availability adds value to the art, meaning you can sell prints at higher price points
- Because the demand is higher than supply, this creates a secondary market where buyers resell the pieces at inflated prices.
Spoke often opts for the limited edition strategy. “We work really hard to find things that are very special to sell. Things that are special should be treated like they’re special,” Ken says.
To help minimize reselling, Spoke will limit quantities of certain prints per customer. “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 your prints of your artwork 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 merchandise to your audience.
It’s possible to start selling your own artwork by creating quality prints yourself with high-quality paper, ink, and an at-home office printer. As a new artist, this method can keep costs low, but may be unsustainable as you scale over time.
“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 home 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 can be the best way to sell art online if you have a small catalog and high sales volume of those pieces.
With this method, you’ll still be responsible for packaging and shipping the prints you sell online. These companies can often produce high-quality prints due to more advanced printers.
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
Cat often prints large batches for collection releases. While she does use print-on-demand services, 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 option and the easiest way to sell art online—especially if you plan to sell your work printed on merch like t-shirts or caps.
Print-on-demand services generally integrate with your online store. When an order is placed, the integration triggers that piece to be printed and shipped directly to the customer. This is a great option for selling art on a budget, as there is no need to invest in 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.”
Print-on-demand products don’t just stop at paper prints. Your art can be printed on a number of items from phone cases to stickers to sell.
💡 Tip: Before you start selling your own artwork this way, 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 small business. Without the ability to feel a product, potential customers need to get the best sense of what they’re buying through clear and detailed images.
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
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 to sell
Product photography for art is a little trickier than 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’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 homepage 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.
Scanning art to sell
For 2D works, Ken recommends scanning as an affordable and effective alternative to photography. “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.”
In the case of more challenging scans, galleries and other printing services can help.
📚 Read more:
Building your brand as an artist
As an artist learning how to sell your artwork, 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 brand story as an artist could factor into someone’s decision to buy. And other business assets like packaging and site design should mirror or complement the visual aesthetic of the work itself.
Your branding exercise should answer the following:
- Do you create and sell art under your own name, a pseudonym, or a brand name?
- How will you approach brand storytelling? 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 your brand identity? What’s the tone of your communication?
- What branding assets do you need? Even without design skills or the budget to hire a graphic designer, you can generate a logo and execute branding design with free and simple tools.
The answer to these questions will help you build a set of brand guidelines that will form the foundation for 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.
Many artists build fan bases based on their online personas or personal brands that are closely tied to their art. Tatiana Cardona, also known as Female Alchemy, has chosen to put her face at the center of her social media strategy:
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 recently refocused to work on AAPI themes, 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.”
📚 Read more:
- How to Start Your Own Brand From Scratch in 7 Steps
- What is a Personal Brand? 7 Steps to Building the Business of You
Setting retail prices for your art
How do you sell art online—and actually 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
Running any business that will be sustainable in the long term involves being profitable at some point. To achieve this, you will need to price your art accordingly. If you’re just beginning to experiment with how to sell your art and don’t have a widely known name, you can start with a simple formula to price your original art:
Your cost to sell and market the piece + material costs + other expenses + your markup (profit) = retail price
For this method, it’s helpful to factor in the time you spent creating the art. 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 labor 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.
💡 Tip: If you are selling through a physical or online gallery, the gallery 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 + other expenses + your markup (profit) = retail price
Your markup may be on a scale depending on whether you sell open- or limited-edition prints. Other expenses may include office supplies, software or app fees, professional services, studio rent, and more.
“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: 14 Strategies for Finding the Ideal Price for Your Products
- Product Pricing: Set Prices For Wholesale and Retail
Where to sell art online: Your own ecommerce store
The best way to sell your art online is through your own ecommerce 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.
Start selling your art online and try Shopify free
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:
- Studio (free) is a theme that puts artwork first, framing it with bold blocks. It’s best for artists who produce in collections.
- Craft (free) is a simple theme that allows the detail of fine artwork shine.
- Editions ($) is an airy theme that gives bold artwork the breathing room it deserves.
- 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.
- Capital ($$$) is best for visual storytellers with a strong brand, large collection, and a need for flexible layouts.
Shopify is the easiest way to sell art online. It’s 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.
- Best Ecommerce Website Designs: 27 Exceptional Sites
- How Do You Pick the Best Theme For Your Online Store? Take Our Quiz
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 sell your art online:
- 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 POWRful Photo 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.
📚 Read more:
- The 24 Best Free Shopify Apps for Your Store
- The Creator Economy Tech Stack: 160+ Apps, Tools, and Platforms Powering Creator Businesses
Where to sell art online: More channels for selling
What’s the best place to sell art online? Aside from your own online store, it’s 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.
Having an omnichannel strategy is important for protecting your independence as a creator. A standalone site allows you to own the look and feel of your space as well as the audience you build. But layering on other channels can help you access additional markets and build your personal brand as an artist.
Where to sell your art online:
- A standalone ecommerce site using an ecommerce platform like Shopify is a great place to start.
- Online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay can plug directly into your online store, allowing you to sync sales and reach wider audiences.
- Other art-specific marketplaces help you show up where art lovers congregate (Society 6, Artfinder, Saatchi Art, Fine Art America, etc.).
- 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. Use your TikTok content to “drop” new works and drive fans to your online store, or create TikTok ads.
- Wholesale or consign to other online boutiques and galleries. You can browse wholesale markets to find compatible retailers that want to sell your art.
- Collaborations with other artists who sell art online. Get exposure to their audiences by producing collab work to sell and promote on both your site and theirs.
Cat now sells her work through multiple channels, but she cautions to start slow if you’re just learning how to sell artwork. “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, Cat now sells direct to customers 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 for selling art
Selling your artwork isn’t limited to online—you can sell via physical retail too. 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 who has technical skills and 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 when selling your own artwork IRL:
- Partner with a gallery to exhibit work and generate buzz.
- Look into local art markets, art fairs, 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 and validate the business idea. 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 trend toward digital experiences may mark big changes for the art world in the future. It’s important to follow consumer trends while you learn how to sell your art and grow your business.