Updated: May 24
Passive income can come in many forms and is often prized for allowing you to earn extra cash over time while keeping your hands free. It can be difficult to find ways to supplement your income as a graphic designer if you spend the majority of your time working on projects. However, anyone can find time to build up some passive income sources that will let you make money without working overtime and free up time to work towards your goals!
1. Create an Etsy Store
Etsy is a very low-cost option to try out selling your own products. You only have to pay $0.20 per listing and, unlike other platforms, they don’t take a cut of your sales. It’s user-friendly, provides its own analytics, and can be integrated with platforms such as Printify, which would allow you to automate your own T-shirt sales without having to make any shirts yourself.
There’s a stigma around Etsy for those who don’t frequent it that it’s a place for only handmade goods. While there is a large market for this on the site, it’s also a lucrative option for other products like digital goods, templates, stickers, T-shirts, and more.
2. Sell your Designs Online
There are countless websites where you can offer your own designs for sale. The profit margins are different on each, but for the most part, quantity seems to be the most helpful factor. After all, with each design you publish it’s another chance for your entire store to be discovered by a potential buyer.
A great example of an artist who made a living off of selling his designs on shirts, check out Vincent Trinidad’s interview. He created the famous ramen wave design that you can see remade on many platforms.
3. Start a Design YouTube Channel
YouTube is a viable option for passive income for any trade, including graphic design. After all, it’s become one of the premiere places to learn new skills and many self-taught graphic designers turn to this as one of their main resources.
Despite some stigmas around creating videos, you don’t need much to start. You don’t need to show your face if you don’t want to and your tutorial can be any length you need it to be. You can cover broad topics or film tutorials on tools in different design software. We recommend using OBS as a screen capture program, which is free and used by many streamers.
4. Affiliate Marketing
This is an option if you’ve built a good social media presence (and if you haven’t, check out How to Build Your Social Media Presence as A Graphic Designer). Affiliate marketing is when you provide links or drive traffic to a brand’s website or product and you get a cut of the profits.
Related to this, you can also be paid to review certain design tools or supplies or feature someone’s product on your social media.
5. Asking for Commission or Royalties for Pay
It’s really a case to case basis for this to be a viable option, but if there’s opportunity for it, these can be very profitable. Many musicians collect royalties passively from their work, and the same can be applied to some design work.
Think projects like providing T-shirt designs, where a client will be reusing the work multiple times. In cases like these, it’s reasonable to negotiate a portion of the sales as royalties and to collect this profit on a regular basis.
If you’re fortunate enough to have so much work you have to turn some down, consider building a network of other graphic designers and freelancers to refer work to for a referral fee. This is popular among dentists for example, and can work well for designers.
You would need to work out an agreement with other trusted freelancers or an agency to be paid a sum for every project you send their way. It’s a win-win situation, as you collect some profit without even taking the project while someone else to benefits from a convenient job offer.
7. Start a Design Blog
Similar to YouTube, blogging is an option for anyone to make passive income. You can write about anything you want concerning design. Over time, if you’re consistent, more and more viewers will come to your site, especially if you are using SEO to its fullest potential.
Once you have the traffic, you can start implementing ads (in a minimal amount) to your site and collecting passive income. Some people build their entire businesses just off of blogs, and eventually even hire writers to run it for them so the business becomes significantly passive. You can start for free on websites like Wordpress, meaning you don’t have to spend anything but some of your time to start this passive income source.
8. Sell Graphic Design Courses Online
Sometimes, it can be hard to imagine ourselves as resources to a wealth of knowledge, but as a graphic designer you are just that. Design and learning software are skills that you don’t learn overnight, and this creates value that you can use to make passive income.
You can use your knowledge to teach others what you know through online courses (we recommend Skillshare or Udemy), or provide a resource yourself through selling an ebook. Since it’s a digital product, you only have to make it once and there will always be supply to sell at no additional cost to you.
9. Upsell Additional Services to your Clients
Nobody likes an aggressive sales shark, but you do not need to be one to offer additional services to your clients where it would benefit them.
For example, if you’re designing a website to a client and you know how to set up a domain and other steps in the process for their project, why not offer to cover these tasks in your services? It’s best practices to always ask first and let them know what the additional cost would be for your time, but it’s a great way to supplement the income you were already expecting and to offer your clients a turnkey experience.