9 ways designers can generate passive income

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, Millo 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.

💔 Falling out of love with your clients? Trade some of your worst clients for the best companies in the world with SolidGigs, our premium weekly freelance job list & course library. Love your business again. Learn more »

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.

Enter your email. Grow your business.

Submit your email below and join 45,000+ creatives who get our most helpful content via email every week. 100% free. Unsubscribe anytime. Privacy protected.

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.

Keep the conversation going...

Over 5,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

  1. Hi Preston, Thanks for giving us a hint, These are very helpful but it is always good to get a fresh viewpoint from someone who is helping others. Yeeeah!


  2. re MojoThemes and Themeforest, are the template sales not over-saturated, with fierce competition? I am new to this and I don’t know how to judge.

  3. Thanks for the post,
    I will try these for sure,

    I have tried bluehost, godaddy also but currently I am using affiliate system of webservicespoint.com
    They are providing webhosting at comparatively lower prices with greater value.
    I like their services.

  4. Most of my passive income comes from Campaign Monitor. It’s not much, but the more clients I get the higher it becomes – and it’s so easy for clients to use I very rarely need to provide support.

  5. As for selling photos, one pretty good service I use is ImageBrief (www.imagebrief.com/r/baIDfr). This is not a microstock service and requires from the photographer to actually apply for matching briefs with photos they have. You may expect to be contacted from time to time with a request to submit a particular image from your portfolio. On the bright side, winning a brief gives one a decent amount of money and the photographer retains full control over their images (unless they go for Royalty Free brief, which they don’t have to do). It’s easy to use service and in its standard option it’s free of charge.

  6. Wow, this is a long thread which is cool since maybe I can get a little feedback here. I was searching around for Graphic Designer Affiliate Programs since we just set one up. We sell Trade Show Displays (from small to large) and over the years have worked with a lot of Graphic Designers and at their request actually created this program. It seems like a win-win since you have the relationships and we provide an affiliate commission for the referral. I noticed that there is a big emphasis on ‘passive income’ like affiliate links. We don’t offer this *yet* since we are much more hands-on and the sales process isn’t as simple as adding to a shopping cart and checking out. That being said, the average commission is also much larger because the average order size is much larger. Does anyone have any suggestions for me on how we can successful build this out and benefit the graphic designer community?

  7. Great tips, I’ve just recently started a blog (www.seancoady.ca) and this post offered some great insight.

  8. Hello everyone,
    Thank you for offering the chance to write here some letters, it´s very kind from your side.

    I would like to comment something and perhaps, if you think that´s adequate, obtain a feed-back from you. Sorry for typing so long text, excuse me.

    In the field of Design, Illustration and Graphic Design, sometimes the relationship between designer-licensee is not always easy or fructify as it should be. Recently, I was in the Middle-East and East Mediterranean Countries. One company that works mainly exclusively for the National Patrimony and Museums of one of these countries. Asked me to create something for them, offering me the bases of what they would like to have. Something classic, classy, but modern at the same time, something that will have to deal with the actual situation of the country, their values, their colours and at the same time actual, trendy and passionate. Something with history and not only a aesthetic value, also an emotional, historical and of course, commercial one. They want to use it in high quality production of items destined to the international market.

    I was working in the project for more than 6 months, exclusively for them, reading, travelling, doing proofs in different textures, colours etc…( all hand-made previous the digital work ). That, as you might know means hours and hours of work, time and inspiration.
    When everything was done, I just called them and travelled there to show them my idea, a nice power-point, and all the designs of this idea, printed in paper, fabrics and of course, digital to could see the details and explain the why of them.

    They loved the idea, loved the designs and suddenly, all the stuff of the company and the director told me they want it. They want to purchase it. They didn´t wanted to put a price to my ideas, because each author has a feeling and a price…so kindly asked me to price them
    So we had a 2nd interview and we spoke about money.
    I told them that I wanted a X quantity of money per each drawing, and if they took the whole collection of 15 unique units, they should only pay me 10.
    They told me that they are thinking to use them and create 15 different items with my designs and sell them in exclusive stores of the National Museums and Patrimony.
    After that 2nd interview, they kindly asked me please to give to them the copy of my idea, some designs of paper and some fabrics to could discuss the idea with their CEO and chief ( due the Government should also say yes to these kind of projects ). And they will turn back them to me the next day. And will send to me an informative detailed e-mail in 5 days making another offer and explaining to me detailed the % of revenue etc…

    At the next day, they didn´t called me back, didn´t answered my calls, and didn´t replied my e-mails. I was in a hurry because I should take the plane to my country…so after a whole day waiting…I left.
    Passing the 5 days they told me to wait for, I didn´t received any informative e-mail, just and only at the 7th day one tiny e-mail saying ¨we are sorry for not having contacted you previously, but we were in a hurry and we will do later on¨. So I replied to it kindly and showing my expectation for what perhaps they should say to me. And why they didn´t turned back to me my printed fabrics, paper designs etc…

    One week later after this e-mail, they send to me another tiny e-mail saying such as this
    They want to purchase 8 of the 15 drawings
    They want to pay me ( I said X price per each ), so they propose X/3 price for the whole collection.
    It means, if I said 2500$ per one, they answered 825$ per the whole collection.
    And about the % of the revenue…they said that 2% ( two per cent, not twenty or eighteen that is want I was thinking about. Online I get in between 10% and 25% ).

    Of course I got very angry and sad, because that is not what we talked about months ago and in my interviews there. But now they already have the idea and the drawings ( not the digital detailed shape of course ) and I´ve heard that, having the soul and the ideas…someone suggested that…well…a copy is not difficult to do…

    What can I do ?

    If I agree, is just to sell myself for nothing and disrespect my art and values.
    If I don´t agree, they will copy them now that they have it.
    And Legally, even I have the copyright of each of one and uploaded them on-line in my private web and others, not showing to the public, I do have a copyright for each one…but I can´t fight legally against a government.

    Any idea of how to handle the situation previously answer them ?

    Thanks for your kindness and I apologize again for this long e-mail.l

  9. 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.

  10. 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! 🙂

  11. 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!

    1. Hey Hector, didn’t know about RedBubble, but the concept is pretty much like http://www.society6.com

      Some awesome and kinda famous designers/photographers have opened shops on Society6 so there’s a lot of traffic there

      Anyway, thanks for the share!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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…)

    1. 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?

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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. 🙂

  19. 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? 🙂

    1. Bit late to the post, but it’s worth looking into the Amazon Associate program. I’ve been using it for a few years now. Easy to set up. Easy to receive payments.

    2. Hi Paul

      Did you sign up with Zazzle? I’d love to know how you got on if you had a go at selling some of your older designs online.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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.

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

  25. 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!

    1. @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?

  26. Im a Photographer-Designer venturing into freelance and I’m just loving the feed from Millo. 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.

    1. @Abul Kalaam,
      Glad you’re enjoying the feed here. Thanks for the support and the kind words! I wish you the best of luck!

    2. Did you go to school for photography? What kind of camera do you recccommend for an amature photographer? Thanks Happy New Year

  27. 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. 🙂

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

      1. 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.

    2. 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?

    1. @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?

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

    1. @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?

The conversation's still going in our free Facebook group . Join us there!