9 ways designers can generate passive income

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There’s more than one way to make great money as a designer. If you’d like to increase your design business’ income without dramatically increasing your workload, keep reading – you’re going to enjoy today’s post.

Start and maintain a blog

My personal favorite way of increasing your passive income is to run a successful blog. Blogging isn’t easy, and if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make money, blogging definitely is not for you. But if blogging sounds like an intriguing endeavor and an exciting way to make extra money for your design business, GDB is packed full of resources for designers who want to blog.

Sell wordpress themes (or other templates)

A somewhat obvious choice, but selling wordpress themes (or other templates) is a phenomenal way to make money. It may be difficult to design a theme upfront, but it brings you continuous income for the remainder of your design career.

If you’re looking for a place to start selling your themes or templates, I can highly recommend MojoThemes.com. I’ve worked with a few marketplaces and can highly recommend Mojo Themes.

The link above is an affiliate link. If you click through, find them as helpful as I have, sign up, and buy or sell, please email me so I can personally thank you for helping my design business grow. …That brings me to my next point…

Affiliate work

As you saw demonstrated above, affiliate work can bring you some nice passive income as a designer. Affiliate work basically allows you to help other people sell their services or product for a percentage.

In the example above, I get a percentage each time anyone who clicks my affiliate link buys or sells on Mojo Themes. I am always careful to only use affiliate programs for products or services I genuinely believe in – which is a good word of warning if you’re interested in getting into affiliate work.

Sell or Recommend Site Hosting

If you’re a web designer, an easy way to make a few extra bucks on each project is to recommend or sell web site hosting. If you don’t mind managing the hosting yourself, offer to host your clients’ web sites. If you don’t want the headache of being the hosting tech service person, you could always recommend a particular service with an affiliate link like we described.

I personally recommend Dreamhost (notice, I always recommend it with my affiliate link) to my clients because of their super-easy one-click wordpress install and excellent customer support.

Sell photography

This is an area of passive income I have never personally invested time into, but if you’re a photographer, it works great, I’m sure. If you’re anything like me, you have all sorts of photographs sitting on hard drives in your office – not making you any money.

Take time to sort through them, find the best ones, and sell them on photography web sites. Since I have never done this one, I am going to call out all you photography-selling designers. If you’ve made any money selling your photos, please leave a comment and let us know how you did it.

Publish an ebook

If you have a moderately-trafficked blog or web site (or have a blogger who would be interested in selling your ebook) ebooks can be a great way to make extra money on the side.

The great thing about ebook sales is that you only have to create the content once. Then the product can sell for years into the future.

A few options for ebooks include a small ebook for your clients or potential clients about what makes a web site or logo successful.

The nice thing about ebooks is that you’re not only creating passive income for yourself, but your also building credibility for your design business.

Develop an app

If you can develop an application your clients are interested in, it can bring you a steady stream of income for a significant amount of time. Building apps takes time and money, so be sure to research your idea thoroughly.

Some ideas include Chris Coyier’s (from CSS Tricks) ‘Are my sites up?’ web app. It’s a great tool for clients who want to know if everything is working correctly with their web site.

It’s a great idea because it saves Chris time, money, and hassle, and offers his clients a way to verify their web site status.

Design T-Shirts and other Apparel

There are tons of web sites that allow designers to submit T-shirt designs and then take a portion of the sales from each t-shirt sale. If you enjoy apparel design, this may be the source of passive income you have been looking for.

I’ve never personally tried this avenue of passive income, but if you have, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


One of my favorite ways to make relatively-passive income is to offer add-ons to your design services. We’ve talked before about upselling your design projects, and offering simple and additional services can really make or break your bottom line.

How do you generate passive income for your design business?

Have you found some effective ways to build your passive income as a designer? Have I left some of the best tactics out of this post? I’d love to hear your comments, ideas, and constructive criticism. And I’ll do my best to reply to as many as I can. Leave a comment on this post here.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee


  1. Why you choose MojoThemes and not ThemeForest? Is MojoThemes better or you have another reasons for that?

    • @Alex,
      Great question! I have been very impressed with Mojo Themes because of their ability to make me feel like a friend and business partner instead of just another designer who submits work to their site.

      Have you tried either of them? What do you recommend?

  2. Yes. Tshirts.. I know a friend he does a few hundred extra dollars from http://www.chestwear.com and http://www.cooljewishtshirts.com using cafepress… I think most advertising for it comes from adwords..

    • @Mike,
      Thanks for adding those sites and tips, Mike. Much appreciated since I’ve never ventured out into that sort of thing. Maybe I will give it a shot. Have you every tried them?

  3. I personally love Zazzle to sell merchandise. You don’t have to stop at T-Shirts. I’ve sold posters, binders, shoes, hats, postcards, buttons…O and T-Shirts. :)

    Building the “store” is super easy, and they have templates for all your products. And you can link your Zazzle store to your FaceBook page. I had a photographer friend that had her stamps picked up by the Post Office from her Zazzle store. Quite nice. :)

    • @Amanda,
      Thanks for the recommendation! Of all the merchandise you sell, which do you find is the most successful?

      • Comparing Cafepress and zazzle. I have found much better results through the zazzle store as you get a single store for all your products for free, unlike cafepress where you have to pay for a premium store to list everything together (otherwise it is a single store for each of your products)

        Best sellers for me are tshirts and pin badges.

        You can’t just sit back after loading the designs and expect to get a steady income from them, you still have to market the products and let people know about them to get the traffic going there.

        I found setting up a little storefront on my website which is populated by a feed of the zazzle store works well for converting site visitors into customers.

    • Thanks for the tip Amanda. We purchased a laser cutting and engraving system a year ago for use in prototyping. We discovered many uses for it since, one of them being products we can make. I have been exploring how to get something up that we can have customers go to for sales. We have been a service company since 1995 and this is a new direction for us. Checking out Zazzle. Do you have any thoughts on Etsy?

  4. Great tips!

  5. Im a Photographer-Designer venturing into freelance and I’m just loving the feed from GDB. I’ve really made any money through selling Pictures, but I’m glad to focused on that point and I shall make an effort to do so.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Another way to get incomes, for designers who love vectors, is to sell illustrations, backgrounds and logos in stock websites. The one I recommend is http://www.istockphoto.com

    There are may others, you just have to look for it!

    • @Marco Javier,
      Thanks for the recommendation, Marco. I totally agree. I’ve made a little extra cash selling extra vector files. I have especially found that people are interested in buying vectors that are web elements like buttons or icons that they can change the color of easily.

      What vector sales have been most successful for you?

  7. I prefer selling graphics and vectors at GraphicRiver.

  8. Thats great article. I am already working on some of these ways and you indicated some easy earning ways for designers.

  9. I have found most successful sales on vectors that are original and have concepts that people can use on any graphic application. concepts like communication, business & family. I think there is too much web elements on stocks, so is better to try something different.

  10. I’ve had a little success with Zazzle. Particularly over the period of the UK Royal Wedding earlier in the year. I continue to upload designs, a couple a week in the hope of bringing in a reasonable passive income.

    I like Zazzle because it’s pretty easy to set up and there are some good customisation features when you start digging.

    Steve – Destinys Agent – http://www.zazzle.co.uk/stevesm2010

  11. There are some great ideas here. I’m on my way to check out dreamhost, zazzle and mojo right now!

  12. Hey Preston,

    Apart from all rest that you have mentioned I would say maintaining a blog, designing t-shirts, developing an app and affiliate work is really going to generate great income as one my friend who is awesome designer use to do these. I will recommend him your blog and this post, have already bookmarked this page. You know people/professionals like who share their thoughts and knowledge helps learning professionals like us a lot. We are keen to learn as much as possible about web, seo, designing and development. Lots of thanks to you! Please keep sharing.

  13. Great article. I’ll have to try web themes once I get better at coding/webwork.

    In my opinion photography can be shaky since a lot of designer’s photos don’t come close to professional photographers’. If you can do it, go for it, but selling photo prints isn’t the easiest thing to do as a designer.

    I have sold digital art prints before though. I also provide photoshop resources, namely brushes that artists and designers can purchase a commercial license for.

    Threadless is also another option for hosting and selling graphic t-shirt designs. There’s some pretty amazing designs there.

  14. Pixmac Microstock is a great way for designers to sell their photos – it’s a cool alternative to istock. Take a look at http://www.pixmac.com if you get a moment.

  15. Not being a fan of direct advertising on personal blogs, I’m going to look into sites like Zazzle for selling some of the designs sat in my sketchbook, particularly t-shirts and posters.

    Affiliate links also appeal to me but I’m not sure how to go about setting these up. Is there a blog post/guide that you could direct me to that explains the ins and outs of becoming and being an affiliate? If not, perhaps you could write one? :)

  16. Thank you for this article!! I’ve been struggling with this for awhile and this article gave me many ideas. Now…to just find the time to do them. :)

  17. Victoria Montilla says:

    Etsy is another great site where you can sell your own design projects and/or templates.

  18. Some good ideas there Preston.

    I do a lot of print design so I met with some printers in my area and organised trade print rates which allows me to add a small margin. It’s easy to sell print to someone who’s already come to you for design, it allows me to offer a complete service and make things easy for my clients.

  19. I found this to very helpful. I will try to implement some of these techniques in my arsenal. Thanks alot designers!

  20. oliveria oliver says:

    Great article, I was just thinking today that I like my mix of freelancing with some direct client work… but that I needed to generate more income. The perfect time for me to come across your ideas. Thanks.

  21. I sell my photos/digital collages on http://www.zazzle.com. It’s not much money (though I don’t promote it as much as I should) but it’s a great feeling to log on to my e-mail in the morning and see “Your product sold!” notices. One example: I am English, live in the US, sold photos of Paris, France, to Australians. Gotta love global trade! (sometimes… but that’s another story…)

    • That is great, it appears you can sell almost anything on Zazzle. How is the copyright with t-shirts and stuff. Say I used a vector image I created of Bruce Lee on a t-shirt, would that be allowed? Has anyone had any success with graphic novels?

  22. I’m trying to build a design powerhouse with designing and fashion. My passive income sources are my blogsite http://www.cocoalafemme.com, my design site http://www.BridgetFields.com, Shopstyle, Amazon Associates, Zazzle, and Etsy other than that I’m on sites like Pinterest and Wanelo (new site check it out ladies) that direct traffic to the PPC/affiliate sites.

  23. While not completely passive, I create hand-carved rubber stamps and sell them on etsy. Creating the graphics for the stamps is a really great creative outlet, plus I like the technical aspect of carving them.

  24. This is really some fantastic info! Keep it coming!

  25. I have both a Zazzle and RedBubble account and I prefer RedBubble. It had prints, posters, T-shirts, hoodies, iPhone cases and stickers. With one high-res design you can add it to multiple if not all products in a single upload! You are also given a store of your own for free if you choose.

    I have set up my payments to be a specific amount and when the profits reach it RedBubble send me a check!

    Zazzle may have more products, but you need to always have new designs to be on te top of the search results. It then becomes a job in itself.

    At RedBubble the top result are of the best selling designs. So some of the designed I made 6 years ago are doing quite well!

    Thank you for the great tips!

  26. What a way to start a business….thank you for your tips.

  27. I’ve had pretty good luck with zazzle, They have great SEO and keywording with the search engines to get your products seen and found, and you can set up a nice professional looking shop for free. It’s good to keep up with whats trending – that will really help your sales, (current events, topics, prepare ahead of time for holidays). Sometimes its also a matter of just doing a design better than someone else has done :) You’ll notice there are many of the same sayings, just differently designed – many choices – make yours the best – make it stand out and a best seller! :)

  28. Great post. I sell website hosting along side my services to local clients, which has helped build a successful client base. I’ve been tempted to create themes to sell on places like mojothemes, but I worry about the saturation and income it may or more not bring for the effort that goes in to it.

    At the moment, website hosting is my only way of passive income and it doesn’t require much time to maintain. So it gives me the time to focus on creating great digital experiences and branding for new and existing clients.

    Besides website hosting, is there any other avenues that require less time that you know of?

    One other thing I do offer my clients is monthly website maintenance. But not everyone seems to go for it.


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