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You can sell your textile designs and make money by working full-time, licensing your artwork, collaborating with print studios, selling independently online, or freelancing. Some really experienced textile designers do a little bit of everything, like Michelle Fifis, founder of Pattern Observer who I interviewed on the SFF podcast.
But don’t get overwhelmed about doing it all. Instead, we’ll talk about the pros and cons so you can pick one that feels right for you.
Selling Your Textile Designs Online (Spoonflower, Patternbank, Zazzle Etc)
Selling your textile designs on online platforms like Spoonflower, Patternbank, Zazzle (and a million others) is super easy to do. Which feels really attractive at first! You’re not creatively limited and can design anything you want. Then just put your designs up and BOOM – you’ll be raking in the moolah!
Not. So. Fast.
Since pretty much anyone can sell on these platforms, they are over saturated with designs. You will be one in a million (literally, Spoonflower has a million designs and counting!). The chances of getting discovered are super slim…almost like winning the lottery.
Now, if you do get discovered, the bonus is that you’re earning passive income. Once you put your designs up, every time someone buys one, you get paid. You can literally make money while you sleep! Sounds super cool, I know.
But the catch is that you don’t make a ton. Spoonflower pays out 10% of the final sale price. So if someone orders $10 of your fabric, you make $1. Pair that with the slim chances of getting discovered, and it’s hard AF to make a real living this way.
Now of course, every platform is different. For example, Patternbank gives a 50% commission. That’s way more money – awesome! But it’s not as easy to sell there – you have to apply. Beyond that, there is still a ton of competition with 75,000 designs available on the website.
If you want to make any amount of money selling textile designs online, it is far from easy. The only way it will scale is if you put out massive quantities of artwork that are also quality. It’s going to require a lot of time and continued persistence to build up to anything worthwhile. While I don’t know from personal experience, my guess is that if you calculate the amount of hours you put in based on the income you make, you’ll most likely be earning pennies an hour.
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of selling textile designs online on sites like Spoonflower, Patternbank, Zazzle, etc.
- Low barrier to entry and easy to get started
- No creative limitations – design whatever you want
- Passive income, a way to diversify your income
- Platforms are saturated, so it’s very hard to get discovered
- Must create large quantities of work
- Depending on the platform, payouts can be pretty small
Textile Designer Jobs & Employment
If you want to work full-time as a textile designer, you can look for jobs and find employment. At a glance, this can sound like a great opportunity, and for some, it is. But let’s talk about what this really looks like…
As with all employment, in a textile design job you do get some sense of “stability.” A regular paycheck, paid vacation and insurance are nice perks. But employment isn’t the most stable thing ever. Because when you lose your job, *poof* you’ve lost everything.
And let’s not forget that a full-time job is…well, a full-time job. You don’t have any freedom or flexibility that other textile design opportunities offer.
Obviously this is the case with any job, so that aside, one of the great perks of working full-time as a textile designer is you’ll have the opportunity to learn about other parts of the process and the industry. You’ll get exposed to so much more than you would selling your designs online or working with print studios. And that’s awesome!
But being a textile design employee also means you’ll be creatively limited. You won’t get to design any and everything you want, but instead are confined to only creating that one brand’s aesthetic. It can feel a little restrictive!
There also aren’t a ton of job opportunities for textile designers. Unless a brand is really print heavy, most don’t have the need or the budget to employ a textile designer full-time. Most brands are more likely to buy prints from top industry sites like Patternbank, from print studios, or hire freelancers.
At the time of writing, Indeed only has 419 jobs in the entire US and just 39 in the state of Colorado. That is VERY few jobs.
Compare that to 2787 fashion design jobs in the US, and 23 in Denver alone (not the entire state).
There is just very, very, VERY limited opportunity to work full-time as a textile designer!
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of working full-time as a textile designer for one brand
- “Stability” with a regular paycheck and benefits
- Learn about other parts of the process & industry
- Creative limitations
- No freedom / flexibility in life
- No diversification – if you lose your job, you lose everything
- Very limited opportunity
Licensing Your Textile Designs
There’s a mysterious word out there in the textile and surface pattern design world. Licensing. What does licensing your textile designs mean and how do you do it?
It’s a bit of a complex topic for this guide, and something I’m not personally familiar with. You have to consider things like exclusive vs non-exclusive, copyrights, royalties, time + quantity + product limitations, and more.
You can make a good bit of money this way. But it’s not easy to find brands who are willing to license, and a lot of designers have agents that rep them.
If you want to learn more about licensing your textile designs, here are some resources.
- Elizabeth Silver, surface pattern designer with tons of licensing advice
- Art Licensing, hasn’t been updated in quite some time but still valuable info
- Everything You Need to Know, a brief yet good overview of some details
- How to License Your Art, a paid guide that seems legit
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of licensing your textile designs
- You can make a good bit of cash upon initial license
- There is opportunity for subsequent payouts based on use
- It’s complicated
- It’s hard to find brands (you’ll likely need an agent)
Making Money From Your Textile Designs With Print Studios & Agencies
It’s very common for textile designers to make money by working with print studios and agencies. In fact, this is probably the most common route.
So, what is a print studio (sometimes called a print house or agency)? It’s a business that reps many different textile or surface pattern designers and works as the middleman between the artists and the companies buying the prints.
Every print studio works a little differently, but it essentially goes something like this:
- Textile designers create a ton of artwork. Some studios require a certain amount of output, like X designs every week.
- Print studios work with brands. This is a two way street – sometimes the studio will “pitch” artwork either online, at trade shows, or via traveling sales reps. Alternatively, brands may approach studios and ask for specific kinds of art.
- When the brand purchases the art, the designer gets paid.
So while this arrangement can sound pretty good – someone else is selling your artwork for you – it’s kind a shit deal in my opinion.
Re-read step 3 of the process above: “When the brand purchases the art, the designer gets paid.” Meaning you are often required to submit design after design after design, and you only get paid once someone buys it.
Some print studios do employ full-time designers in-house, but it’s pretty rare. Most of the time they represent a large pool of independent designers who are required to produce on a regular basis yet only get paid once someone buys.
Pretty abusive if you ask me.
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of working with a print studio
- They do the selling for you
- You may be required to pump out a ton of artwork
- You only get paid when something sells
Selling Artwork as A Freelance Textile Designer
Taking control of your own career and selling your textile designs as a freelancer is, in my opinion, the best way to do it. You get to work with brands you love, set your own schedule, and get paid for all the work you do.
Let’s compare freelancing as a textile designer to the other options we’ve explored for selling your work and making money.
Freelancing vs selling online (Spoonflower etc) or through a print studio.
As a freelance textile designer, you don’t have to create a bunch of work in advance and *hope* it sells (like you do on Spoonflower or if you work for a print studio). Instead, you create a portfolio that speaks to a specific aesthetic and find brands that match that aesthetic.
Those brands hire you as a freelancer, and you create custom artwork specifically for their project. Then they pay you for that artwork. Think about that compared to pumping out 10 prints a week and crossing your fingers that one of them sells!!!
Really think about it.
Would you rather create a TON of designs and hopefully sell some?
Would you rather get paid for EVERY design you create?
The answer is obvious.
Freelancing vs licensing your work.
It’s much easier (and much less complicated) to get started as a freelance textile designer than to get your artwork licensed. You don’t have to worry about any of the complicated stuff like royalties or exclusivity or copyright. As a freelancer, the brand hires you, you create custom artwork for them, they pay you. Done and done.
There’s no middleman taking a commission, and you’re in control of who you work with.
Freelancing vs working in-house as an employee.
As a freelancer, you have the opportunity to work with multiple brands. So your creative opportunities are unlimited. And while you don’t have the “security” of a full-time job, your income is diversified. If you lose one client, you still have others to support you while you find more work.
Plus, it’s much easier to find a new client for a textile design project than it is to find a new full-time job. Because as I mentioned earlier, there just aren’t that many employment opportunities!
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of being a freelance textile designer
- Work on a variety of projects you love
- You get all the $ (no middleman)
- Get paid for all the work you create
- Freedom and flexibility in life / schedule / location
- You have to find the clients (there are easy strategies)
- Manage the selling / biz stuff (much simpler than you think)