7 Ways I turn my unused designs into passive income

If you are like most freelancers, client work makes up the bulk of your income.
For me (and I suspect the same is true for most other designers) the creative process involves a lot of experimenting.
Sometimes this means that in the process of finding the one design that works perfectly for a project you go through several other ideas that are still good but are not the best fit.
This can result in a lot of good design work that goes unused.
I’m sure by now everyone knows about the option of selling that unused work on vector stock sites. I want to look at a more diversified package approach to turning that unused work into income. 

I sell it as stock art.

There are tons of sites out there that allow you to sell stock vectors and photos. I have sold stock vectors on most of the major ones and here is what I took from the experience.
If you have good, useful stock; it will sell eventually.
Payouts thresholds on these sites can be high, and therefor take a very long time to reach unless you have a huge number of files on offer.
Most require very specific file preparations that can be pretty time consuming.
I still sell my unused client work on stock sites but with a modified approach. Instead of spending lots of time uploading to all of the most popular sites I chose the one that pays artists the highest commission for their work Graphic Leftovers (http://graphicleftovers.com/?ref=benbrush) and focused on it.
Instead of waiting to build up enough sales for a payout I actuality use the revenue from the site to pay for stock art whenever I need it. This eliminates an expense, which makes my other client work more profitable!

I write tutorials

Did you use a cool or interesting technique while making your design?
Write a step by step tutorial explaining it and post it on your blog or look for paying blogs that are looking for guest posts.

I design merchandise

A lot of designs can be easily tweaked to make them work as Posters, t-shirt designs, phone cases etc.
I like to use sites like http://society6.com for this because they handle all of the printing and warehousing, making it perfect as a source of passive income.

I turn them into screen prints or art prints.

Edit your leftover designs into screen prints and art prints you can make at home and sell in an online shop like Etsy.

I built a giveaway pack for my website.

A lot of the time client work can end up being general stuff that anyone could get some use out of. Sets of icons, Photoshop brushes, themes and other items can make awesome giveaway packs to bring traffic to your monetized blog or portfolio website.

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I use leftover card designs for my own promo material.

If you made a knock out business card or rack card design for a client, that you didn’t end up using, it can be a huge time saver next time you have a promotion you want to make some marketing materials for.

If nothing else, it can boost your portfolio. In either case, your business gets a promotional boost.

I tap into the power of affiliate programs.

Write a review or how-to of a product or service that was used in the making of the unused work and post it on a blog with an affiliate link.

More ways to turn unused designs into cash?

None of these on their own will make you rich overnight but if you use them as a whole package in addition to your normal client work they will add a nice bit of extra income without a lot of extra work.

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What are some techniques you use to boost your passive income and reuse the leftover client work?

Let me know in the comments on this post.

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  1. Thanks for the ideas Ben. I must admit I’ve got tonnes of unused logos that I haven’t used and could be making me some money somewhere if re-purposed. It’s interesting to hear that the setup time for some of these sites can be time consuming. I’ll certainly bear that in mind before I decide to go down that route.

  2. A very useful and relevant article. We sometimes exhaust resources on pitching and development work and then move to the next project. We need to start using our unused concepts to generate some income hopefully!

  3. One method my brother has found to recycle his unused design work has been through sites like 99 Designs. Live briefs from real world clients, he finds a project that requires something close to what he has designed, tweaks and submits it. This site is tax free as you are technically entering a competition amongst others for each project, but for minimal work he has won quite a few and generated revenue from work that would have just been sat in his unused folders.

    1. That’s smart thinking Porter.

      As problematic as sites like 99 Designs can be, that’s probably the best use of them I have heard.

      Thanks for the idea.

  4. Hi. Thanks for the article. I’ve been trying to come up with ways to leverage my design services or a product, so as to create passive income, but without devaluing the core of my customized design services. I’ve thought of reselling unused designs, including logos, but while I make it clear in my contracts that unselected designs remain the property of my company, I’ve been ethically torn as far reselling them as stock (on my site or others) should the client for whom I originally designed them for see them. What is your view on this?

    1. I would say if you have a contract stating the designs remain your property, and they are visually different enough from the final result that none of your clients will feel ripped off, then it is fair game.

      However, I would choose a happy client over a new piece of stock every time. So if it feels like there is even a slight risk to offend a client I would avoid it.

  5. Great article! I wasn’t familiar with either of the sites you’ve talked about (GraphicsLeftovers and Society6) and they both look like good sources for buying and/or selling. Your advice about exploring possibilities for passive income is spot on, especially in a struggling economy where even ‘regular clients’ have become a little less regular as their needs/demands change. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas on the subject.

  6. Graphic Leftovers is not accepting new sellers at this time, according to their website. What would be your next best site, Ben?

    1. Sorry Paul,, I should have check that out first.

      The others that I’ve had the most sales with were Dreamstime and Canstockphoto but I think it’s almost as important to look at what site’s file preparation guidelines are easiest for you.

      Hope that helps a little.

    1. Thanks Cheryl!

      Have you tried any of these, or do you have any plans for trying some?

      Let me know how they work for you if you do.

  7. These are great ideas about how to turn your unused designs into something useful. I can’t tell you how many designs I’ve thrown out because I had no use for them. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Nina,

      Give it a try! Sounds like you’re a perfect candidate to turn those unused designs into some income.

  8. Great article, Ben! I’m 100% behind this method of repurposing your designs and resources to help stabilize your freelance income. I think it’s important and very beneficial for a freelancer to try and build something more than just a client base. Even if you can get a couple of digital products online, then maybe those sales could pay off one of your monthly expenses. Anything helps, right?

    The two platforms I benefit from the most are Creative Market and Gumroad. Check them out and see how you can utilize what they have to offer with your skills.

    It doesn’t take much effort to refine what you’ve already created, so don’t keep your resources all to yourself. Share everything you can and everything you know. It can generate additional income and even help build your online presence.

    Again, great article. Keep up the awesome work! 🙂

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