passive income designer

How to Generate Passive Income As a Graphic Designer

When you work as a graphic designer, your focus is on the here and now. Can I find and maintain enough clients to make a living? Do I have the resources I need to complete my work? Do I need to hire assistance to complete any projects? 

And while figuring out the answers to these questions is good and necessary, it leaves you without much time to figure out the long game. After all, what’s the plan for moments when you need to take time off, either for a vacation or a medical reason? What about retirement?

The solution is passive income. Setting up passive income streams now will help ensure you have sufficient income, no matter how many clients you have or how much time you clocked in this month. 

What follows is our all-encompassing guide to passive income. 

What is Passive Income? 

Before we dive into how you can set up passive income streams, let’s first pause to establish some definitions. Passive income is best defined as your revenue streams not tied directly to your work output. 

So when you work as a designer for clients or a company, you are paid directly for the work you complete – just as you would if you were an employee of a company. Whether you’re a contractor or employee, the time you put in is what you get out of it. This puts a pretty solid cap on your income potential. Even if you’re charging a decent hourly rate or flat fee, your time is still being exchanged for money directly. 

You can only work so many hours, after all. 

Passive income, however, isn’t tied to the time spent on the task. So while you may have to spend a decent amount of time creating assets to sell or something like that, you can then enjoy the revenue that continues to pour in long after you’ve earned money for your time. 

Active Income Vs. Passive Income: What’s the Difference? 

This leads us to another important question: What defines active and passive income? If active income is the money you make based on the work you directly put into a project, then passive income is the money you make that’s not directly tied to the work you put into a project. There is work involved – often a great deal of initial setup. And there may be maintenance tasks required, too. But even if you stop working, money will likely continue to roll in. 

Passive income is often portrayed as a get-rich-quick scheme, but that’s not the case. There’s usually a great deal of work involved. However, your overall income potential is much higher since you can continue to earn from these revenue streams long after the work is completed. 

6 Benefits of Developing Passive Income Streams 

If you’re on the fence about using passive income to bring in more revenue for your business so you don’t have to sell your labor by the hour anymore, let’s explore seven key benefits of this approach now. 

1. No Longer Depend on Fickle Client Work for Your Income 

The primary way graphic designers make money is either through traditional employment or by means of contract work. While this can make for a steady income, hiccups can happen. Delayed payments, missed deadlines, and low wages can directly impact your success as a graphic designer. And when you depend on client income, any misstep or issue can substantially impact your quality of life. 

Having passive income streams established alongside your client work can make the slow seasons easier to manage. Or, it can help you transition away from client work if that’s your preference. 

2. Boost Your Overall Income

Related to the above, passive income can serve as a serious supplement to your client’s work as a graphic designer. It can fill in income gaps or boost your income overall. This can make it easier for you to take time off when you need to or to put money aside in savings for emergencies – which is quite difficult for many contract workers. 

3. Multiple Income Streams are Smart 

One of the biggest keys to success in doing business online in general – not just with graphic design – is diversification. Having a diversified income can build a more stable business model over time. When you’re less dependent on client work, it opens you up to greater opportunities in the long run. 

4. Much Higher Income Potential Than Client Work Alone 

Again, when you do client work as a graphic designer, your income is limited by the number of hours you can work. And while some designers earn a lot in this fashion and have high hourly rates or project fees, your income potential is still limited by what you can complete. 

With passive income, you can earn income from things you created months ago with no additional effort. Investing this sort of time into passive income streams can mean building up a healthy stable of items or services that bring in money without spending more time past the initial effort. The earnings potential is extremely high – especially with time and dedication. 

5. Learn New Things 

Finding the time to learn new skills is hard when you’re caught up in earning a living. However, trying to build up passive income streams as a side hustle can motivate you to schedule and set aside the time to learn something new. 

Whether learning to create icons, pixel art, or edit photos, you can combine your efforts to learn new things into your passive income stream development. 

6. Less Pressure to Complete

You can do so at leisure since there’s no real deadline to create passive income streams. Or, when you have some downtime between client projects, you can turn your attention to developing some passive income projects instead of panicking about your lack of revenue for the day. 

Or, maybe you’re waiting to hear back from a client about revisions to the work you’ve submitted. You have a day without much on the schedule. Instead of considering when those revisions will come in, devote that time to building up stock graphics or writing a few blog posts. You get the idea.

10 Ways to Generate Passive Income 

So you know the importance of passive income and why adding it to your workflow might benefit you. However, you’re probably wondering how to generate passive income on Earth. What projects can you tackle that might generate income for you over time? 

That’s what we’ll venture to answer now, with 10 ideas for generating passive income using your skills as a graphic designer. Let’s get to it! 

1. Create WordPress Themes 

One of the top ways to generate passive income is to create and sell WordPress themes. There’s a huge demand for them, and you can sell them in numerous places online. And while you can sell HTML templates still, they aren’t in demand as much as they used to be. Selling WordPress themes or templates for specific content management systems (CMS) like Drupal or eCommerce platforms like Shopify is much more lucrative. 

If you have web development skills alongside your graphics skills, you can create eye-catching themes that make it easy for people to build websites without touching a line of code. 

You can sell themes and templates on your website if you like. Set up an eCommerce site and allow people to purchase your themes as digital downloads. Several theme developers have gone on to make big money selling themes like Elegant Themes and ThemeGrill. 

Or, you can sell your themes or templates on third-party marketplaces where many designers and developers sell their themes. Envato is a good choice and offers multiple verticals for selling digital goods like ThemeForest and CodeCanyon

WordPress themes
WordPress themes

2. Create Templates 

Similarly, you can sell templates for other platforms – not just websites. People need templates for all sorts of things, from resumes to Powerpoint presentations to slide decks. People need business card templates and flyer templates, too. And you can easily use your design skills to whip up some templates to sell in a couple of afternoons. 

Then, you can build a website dedicated to these items or sell them on a third-party platform like Envato or Etsy. 

3. Create PSD Brushes

If you have Photoshop skills, why not create a few PSD brushes? After all, you’ve likely created some in the past for custom projects and whatnot. So, you could put those efforts to good use by simply repurposing them and selling them to other designers. 

Likely, you’ve even purchased resources from other designers in the past. So why not put your hard work out there available for purchase, too? Creating these digital products is a “one and done” approach and perfect for passive income. 

And you can sell these items in many different places and generate revenue for you for many years after your initial investment. A few places you should consider setting up shop include GraphicRiver, Etsy, Vecteezy, and Creative Market.

4. Create UI Kits or Patterns 

Like the above, you can use your design skills to create UI kits or templates and patterns for various software programs. Other designers can use any resources you create to help them save time on their projects. And in return, you earn a decent passive income for your trouble. 

ThemeForest is a good place for selling UI kits. 

5. Sell Graphic Design Assets on Etsy 

Beyond templates and such, you can also sell design assets on Etsy. Yes, the marketplace was made famous for its abundance of handmade goods. It also has a sizable cache of digital goods available for every niche you can think of. So, offering printables and downloadable products on Etsy is a no-brainer. 


A few things that do well on Etsy include printable organizers, planners, clip art, menu templates, schedules, etc. Most of these items are in PDF format, so the customer can print them out and use them as needed. 

You can also sell your printables across numerous websites or create your own shop. How you sell these items is flexible and ultimately down to your preferences. 

6. Sell Graphic Design Assets on Your Own Website 

As mentioned in the previous sections, you can also sell graphic design assets on your website. However, you could go even further and create your own store with a full range of products. It’s more work upfront and will require significant effort to drive traffic to it. However, it might prove beneficial in the long run as you won’t have a third-party marketplace taking a cut of your revenue. You can also set your own prices, and the terms and conditions of the marketplace won’t bind you. 

Another benefit is you can build up a set of loyal customers who will return for your assets and your assets alone, which can be great for building a long-term revenue stream. 

7. Start a Graphic Design Blog 

Another way to build up passive income is to start a blog about graphic design – or any subject. Doing this will take a lot of time at first, but it can be worth it, as you can monetize your website in many ways. Plus, if you optimize for SEO well, you’ll receive traffic long after you create your content. And over time, you can even outsource creating new content to freelancers and contractors. 

Monetizing a blog can be done in several ways. For starters, you can bring in ad revenue using AdSense. You can also join affiliate programs for products you believe your target audience might be interested in. Whenever someone clicks on a link to an affiliate product on your blog, and they make a purchase, you’ll get a cut of the sale. 

Popular category designers will become affiliates for include: eCommerce tools, web hosting companies, WordPress themes, graphic design marketplaces, and email services. It’s best only to recommend products you believe in, however, as this can help to build your reputation as a trustworthy source of information whose opinion matters. 

8. Offer Your Designs on Physical Products 

Or you could sell tangible goods to generate a passive income stream as a graphic designer. And the best part is you don’t need to create the tangible goods yourself. Instead, you can sell your designs on print-on-demand products from various websites. For instance, Society6 lets you sell your designs on prints, mugs, shirts, shower curtains, and pillows. 


Or, you could sell your goods on websites like Printful, Printify, or RedBubble. Many print-on-demand websites like this exist, so research before committing to a site. Compare the best rates, product offerings, and overall user experience. 

9. Create an Automated Online Course 

Another option is to create an online course and sell it to share your knowledge. You can use your design skills to make the course aesthetically pleasing and share information you’ve learned as a professional in this industry. 

One option is to sell the course you’ve created on a course marketplace or platform, like Skillshare or Udemy. Or, you could create a course website using a learning management plugin (LMS) and sell it yourself. Of course, the latter would take considerably more work, but you would get to keep a larger portion of the proceeds. 

10. Sell Merch 

Beyond selling tangible goods described above, you can also sell merchandise related to your graphic design business. And this can serve as a great addition to starting a graphic design blog. If you gain a following on your blog and have built a reputation in your industry, you can also expand upon that by creating a merch line. 

Put your graphic design skills to work to create something fun and interesting, and you’ll go a lot further than just a T-shirt with your logo on it. 

In addition to Printful, Printify, RedBubble, and Society6, you can sell your merch on websites like CafePress and Zazzle. 


A Couple of Notes Before You Get Started 

We’ve presented several options for generating passive income as a graphic designer. And we know that can be a bit overwhelming. However, there is a way to build passive income streams without overworking and dooming your prospects before you even start. 

Before you dive in, keep the following 3 tips in mind. 

1. Be Realistic 

When you first learn about passive income, it’s easy to fall in love with the concept and want to fall in hard. That is, it’s easy to want to do everything at once. And it’s also easy to slip into faulty thinking that passive income is easy or a way to get rich quickly. 

This is just not true. 

You won’t get rich quickly with passive income streams (and anyone who promises that isn’t telling you the truth). 

However, you can build a healthy revenue stream outside your client work if you apply diligent effort. It will take time to see progress. You won’t make money overnight. And you will need to put in considerable effort up front before you ever see a dime. But it can and will be worth it if you consistently manage your expectations. 

2. Schedule Time for Maintenance 

While many passive income streams require considerable upfront investment and minimal upkeep, some maintenance is still involved. 

If you sell your templates or designs on a marketplace, you must update files, fix bugs, and answer customer questions. 

Sell an online course? You may be involved in student evaluations or need to update your courses to reflect new information. 

And if you sell tangible goods, you’ll likely want to refresh your designs over time or create new product offerings. 

Finally, if you create a blog, you must write blog posts, perform site maintenance, and seek out new affiliate programs. 

Passive income can net you a pretty penny, but you must put in the work upfront and ongoing, as is required. And if you play your cards right, the passive income streams could replace the need for client work. 

3. Pick One Option and Run With It 

Though tempting to try every passive income stream at once, it’s much better to pick one to start and pursue to the best of your ability. This way, when you have some downtime between clients, you can pour all your effort into it. You’ll get results faster, won’t spread yourself too thin, and are more likely to make real money at it. 

Conclusion: Generating Passive Income as a Graphic Designer Starts Now 

With the above information, there’s no time like the present to build up a passive income stream for yourself. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, and fleshing out passive income can build greater financial stability for your business and your life. 

How will you generate passive income? What options appeal the most to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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