I’ve been selling digital downloads on Etsy since 2017 and it’s been a major source of cash flow for me, which is why I recommend incorporating digital products into your business as a fun and mostly passive source of income. If you’re not sure what kind of digital products you could make, check out my post on 20 types of digital products you can sell on Etsy for inspiration.
Once you’re ready to get selling, here’s everything I want you to know as you get started making and selling your products.
(This post contains affiliate links.)
How to Make Digital Products to Sell on Etsy
The idea of making your own printables to sell on Etsy might sound intimidating if you have no design experience, but it’s actually not that difficult once you learn the software and make a few items that can be used as templates.
My preferred software for creating printables is Canva, which will work great for most types of designs. Keep in mind that Canva is excellent for newbie designers, but some of their features like graphic elements, stock photos, and design templates are not permitted for commercial use, meaning you cannot use them in designs you plan to sell (read their full licensing agreement here). This is why I recommend buying your own commercial-use fonts and graphics (more on that next) and uploading them to Canva Pro, which costs $12.95 per month.
You can avoid licensing restrictions and get your shop started today with my free Canva templates for planner pages & printable wall art, which you can access here. You can use these templates commercially however you want, so there are no concerns when you make something with them that you’d like to sell.
PicMonkey is another design website that’s simple to use and will accommodate most kinds of products. I use PicMonkey most often for quick photo edits and to create mockups for my product images, but it can do much more than that.
Planify Pro is a new program designed specifically for creating printable planners, low-content books, and even fun products like printable sticky notes. If you have any interest in selling planners, journals, or similar products, Planify is a life-changer.
You could even make your printables using Google Docs or a Microsoft Office program like Word or Excel. This is a more ideal option for things like worksheets or spreadsheets as opposed to something like wall art.
Finding Fonts and Graphics for Commercial Use
The internet is filled with millions of fonts and graphics that can be used to create commercial designs. My best-selling designs are either simple text quotes, or text combined with graphics from a site on this list. Regardless of where you buy or download them, it is crucial that you make sure they are clearly allowed for commercial use, which means they can be used in designs you intend to sell. Here are a few of my favorite sources:
Creative Fabrica – loads of free and $1 fonts, graphics, and craft vectors made by designers and artists around the world. Sign up for their email list and you’ll get a free commercial use font every week, along with a regular rotation of free and cheap graphic bundles. Some of my favorite fonts that I use the most often come from here.
Creative Market – Their commercial use licenses are a little more costly, but they have plenty of high-quality fonts and designs as well.
Sidenote: You could even sell your designs on those two websites if they offer the type of digital products you make.
Font Squirrel – They scour the internet for free commercial use fonts, so this should be one of your first stops if you’re looking for something fast and free.
Unsplash – Free high-quality stock photos for commercial use by photographers from around the world.
Check Trademarks Before Creating Designs
Before you start coming up with your printable design ideas, it is CRUCIAL that you check you’re not violating any trademarks with the phrases you’re using. You can learn more about trademarks through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, and perform a search through TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System.
This is important because Etsy reserves the right to close your shop after too many violations if they think you’re too much of a risk on the platform. Trademark violation applies to FAR more than just the obvious like Disney, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc. People and businesses trademark common phrases you’d never expect to be trademarked. I once sold a shirt that said “polite as fuck” and got a trademark infringement notice because some company (who just happened to have the money and resources to do this) trademarked the phrase “polite as” and used it to wipe out their competition.
I’ve seen this happen with a lot of common phrases on Etsy – Dog Mom, Boy Mom, and Bullet Journal get a lot of shops in trouble. You also can’t use “onesie” to describe that, uh… child’s leotard, and you can’t use the phrase “at a glance” to describe that calendar that has the whole year at a… gander, I guess.
Bottom line: Cover your ass and check TESS first, it’s not worth the trouble and possible shutdown (and the fury when you find out “Oh Ship!” is trademarked). Here’s my full post on avoiding trademark infringements as a seller.
Have 1-2 Dozen Items Ready to Launch
You can open a shop with just one item, but there are several reasons why I recommend having at least a handful of items, or more ideally, a full page of 24 items.
First, the obvious – the more things you sell, the more opportunities you have for people to give you money.
Secondly – there are about 50 million products for sale on Etsy. That means no matter what you’re selling, your items make up only the tiniest, TINIEST percentage of listings. The more you have in the pile, the more chances there are for you to be seen, and the more keywords you can use to target customers from different angles.
Final reason – optics. Think like a shopper. If you found something you liked on Etsy, clicked through to the person’s shop and they only had 2 items for sale, would it affect your decision to buy? Or would you feel more comfortable buying from a shop with a full page of items? More items
Another great way to add more products to your store is with print-on-demand. With this method, you can take the digital designs you make and place them on t-shirts, mugs, bags, posters, and other physical products. With print-on-demand you outsource the printing and shipping, so all you have to do is upload the products to your shop and approve orders as they come in. You can read more about print-on-demand over here.
When someone purchases a printable from your shop, the files are automatically made available for them to download in their account. You don’t have to send them anything or do anything unless they message you with a question.
You can include up to 5 files with your digital downloads. The file types needed may vary depending on what you’re making, but in most cases, I recommend including a PDF. PDFs are easier to print and more difficult for someone to modify to resell. All of my printables include a JPG and PDF because some printing companies don’t accept PDFs and vice versa – it’s better to give people options when you can.
With Canva, you can download JPG, PNG, standard PDFs, and high-resolution print PDFs.
With PicMonkey, you can only download PNG and JPGs.
Naming Your Files
When you save your files and get them ready to upload to Etsy, make sure you name them so that they’re easily identifiable and your customers can easily find them once they’re downloaded.
Most people download things and never bother to rename them, so if you sell a meal planner page titled IMG_2019_01_05.PDF it will be a lot harder to search for than if you name it MEAL PLANNER PAGE 1.PDF. It’s a simple but important detail that your customers (and your inventory management) will appreciate.
Include Detailed Download Instructions
If there’s one thing you’re going to learn
Start with your listing description, which should include everything your customer needs to know:
- That this is a printable/digital item and nothing will be shipped to them
- File type and size
- Ideal printing sizes, methods, and other recommendations (if relevant)
- Disclaimers, such as:
- No refunds on digital downloads
- Not for commercial/resale use
- Colors may vary depending on monitor settings
Since my printables are wall art, I suggest to my customers that if they don’t want to print at home, they can print at a store like Costco or Walgreens, or use an online printer like Mpix or VistaPrint.
You can also include a tip sheet as one of your downloadable files that includes everything they need to know. Title it
Improve Listing Images With Mockups
Mockups are the easiest way to bring your products to life. PlaceIt has mockups for just about anything you could make, including picture frames in room settings so people can envision what your product looks like framed.
Additional reading: Where to Find the Best Mockups for Your Online Store
SEO: LEARN IT AND USE IT
Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important tools for anyone selling anything online. It’s the practice of using specific keywords, tags, and descriptions to tell search engines what your product is, so it’s included in as many search engine results as possible. Without SEO, you have to do ALL the work to attract customers, and without it, you’d be better off flushing your money down the toilet than spending it on ads. Whether you have one item or 1,000 items in your shop, this is the most important factor to your success. I have a whole post on Etsy SEO tips, tricks, and best practices, which you can read here.
I hope this inspires you to start a digital Etsy shop! If you know you’re ready to get started and you’d like an extra push to start taking action now, make sure to check out my eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Selling Digital Products on Etsy. This book includes a step-by-step walkthrough of everything I’ve done to create multiple digital shops, including a design tutorial for beginners and tips for making more sales without more work.
Ready to open your shop? Use my seller referral link here and we’ll both get 40 free listings.
Make sure to also subscribe to my email list below for some free printable templates that will help get you started!