Can you make money from stock icons?

For many designers, selling graphic design work to microstock agencies may feel like totally selling out. The financial return per design is often miniscule compared to what you would receive for doing bespoke work. On top of this, you don’t work directly with clients, which often makes it hard to gain return customers.

Stock Icons

However, particularly for designers who are new to the game, creating ‘stock’ icons can be a valuable experience in many different ways – creatively, financially and in terms of networking. There are many advantages to working with microstock companies that might not always be immediately apparent. Although the stock photography market is totally saturated, the market for stock icons is relatively much less busy, and should definitely be seen as an opportunity for any designer.

Every little helps

Microstock design certainly doesn’t pay nearly as much as bespoke icon design – this much is true. But bespoke icon design alone can’t always pay the bills, and even the most well-known and experienced designers can sometimes face dry spells. For those who would like to continue earning money only from their creative efforts – without being forced into a more conventional day job on the side – regular microstock work is a great way of subsidising your income from other design. It may also suit enthusiasts down to the ground, who may simply want to earn a bit of money from their hobby.

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One of the financial strengths of doing microstock is that people are able to buy your designs again and again. A few hours work on icons for microstock can mean months of a small but steady income from different consumers. One advantage of not dealing directly with clients is that not everything has to be perfect – agency reviewers are much more relaxed than clients looking for bespoke work! Rejected designs in your portfolio’s back catalogue could find a new home on a microstock site and even bring you a bit of cash.

Obviously microstock isn’t ideal and won’t pay nearly as much as bespoke projects – especially because the agency takes their cut – but it is certainly a feasible way of getting cash for your design work. Especially for new designers or first-timers, even a small amount of pay for your design work can be immensely satisfying and motivating if you haven’t been paid for it before. And you might even get return ‘customers’ as your microstock portfolio and reputation grows.

Room for experimentation

One big creative advantage of microstock work is that it gives you a lot of room for creative experimentation. When you’re doing bespoke design, clients will often want things ‘just so’, which can often restrict your creativity as a designer. Microstock work gives you the ability to expand your portfolio and experiment with techniques and methods you might not normally get the chance to use. The benefits of a diverse portfolio will also impact upon future business you may receive for your bespoke work. With a consistent style, you can successfully build up a stock portfolio and ‘self-brand’: “In order to become successful in microstock, you have to be able to make an impression on possible buyers and persuade them to buy your photos or images.” Creatively then, microstock icon design can really help free the artist in you and, more importantly, improve your work as a designer, and expand your portfolio and design repertoire.

The microstock community

Particularly if you’re working alone as a designer, design work can often be a rather lonely business due to its solitary nature. You’ll often see other designers as competitors rather than colleagues, which is natural given that you have to compete for clients in bespoke design work. But there is a huge community of microstock designers. Many agencies and websites also have their own forums, where designers can discuss different techniques and skill-share with one another. There are also ample networking opportunities, allowing you to make contact with other designers and collaborate on projects you might never have thought of before.

Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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