How to Sell Dig­i­tal Art Com­mis­sions On­line

Whether you’re a hobbyist or dreaming of becoming a professional, learning how to sell art commissions is crucial for artists wanting to make money from their skills!
This article will cover how to sell art commissions online, while emphasizing security, organization, and general best practices: for both artists, and clients!

Setting Up

Business Entity
No matter what you’re selling (even digital art), taking on clients still means opening your own business! That’s an exciting step, but it comes with extra responsibilities too. When starting out, it’s easiest to operate under what is known as a sole proprietorship.
A sole proprietorship means you can operate as a business, but not have to file any extra paperwork with your state (if you are located in the United States). Instead of an EIN (Employer Identification Number), you would instead use your Social Security Number (SSN) on any documents.
Accepting Payments
It’s important that clients have a way to pay you that is both professional and secure. Many artists sell over PayPal, but some also use Stripe, Payoneer, or other options. Your chosen payment method should support clients from any country, especially if you’re finding buyers from social media.
It is not recommended to use non-business Venmo, Cashapp, or PayPal “Friends & Family” transfers for your payments. If your client is asked to pay this way, they won’t be able to get their money back if something goes wrong. Experienced clients will associate these payment methods with scams, and might not trust you.
Always conduct your payments in the most trustworthy and professional way that you can, or it might cost you clients. This is especially true when you’re just starting out with digital commissions!
Associated Fees
Whatever payment processor you choose, they will still charge you a fee with every sale. This is usually a small percentage of the total price (2.9%-5%). It’s not ideal, but that is the cost of doing business. Be careful about charging clients extra to cover these fees.
Why? This is a practice known as “surcharging” and is against the Terms of Service for most payment processors. Don’t risk your account! Remember, keeping 95% of a sale is still better than nothing at all.
Terms of Service
You will need terms to govern your business transaction. This protects you (and your clients!) in case a deal falls through. These terms should also outline what your client can and cannot do with the commissioned piece.
Should your client be able to sell things with your design? Who owns the rights to the work? All these questions should be answered in your Terms of Service.
We recommend using a sample ToS from an established creator. Nadiaxel is a freelance digital artist with a fantastic sample ToS that you can reference for free:

Offerings, Pricing & Organization

Know What You’re Selling
When first starting out selling commissions, it’s best to specialize in your offerings. For example, if you’re great at character portraits, start by selling only digital character portraits.
Offering too many different commission types might overwhelm potential clients! Build your confidence, and ease into working with clients with a style you’re comfortable and confident with!
Setting Prices
Pricing is one of the hardest things for a new artist to figure out. Honestly? We could write an entire, separate article about this.
In short: Charge a fair hourly wage for however long it takes you to complete a piece. 10 hours? At $10/hr, that’s $100 you should be charging! And $10 is a low hourly wage, by most standards.
Keeping Organized
To sell art commissions, artists often use a slot system, usually in the form of a “counter” in their display name. For example: “Artist_Name (0/3 Commissions Open!)”. This lets clients know if you’re open for work.
The slots might be taken either on a first-come-first-served basis, through a random selection of all applicants, or by any other means that the artist might prefer. Note that you will have to update slot numbers and commission status periodically, or risk confusing your clients.
To increase transparency to clients, especially when taking on multiple commissions at once, consider using a queue. You can use a site like Trello or Notion to keep this organized, but it is extra work to constantly keep track of.
Despite this, a queue allows clients to see the status of their commission! It will also help you keep track of which clients have paid, which need work delivered, etc.

Finding Clients

Selling to Your Followers
Each of your followers on social media is a potential customer! Start by telling everyone you’re open for commissions. Post the announcement, along with your commission sheet, in as many social medias as you’re present. Keep it visible in your profile, update your bio!
Make it as easy as possible for potential clients to see what you’re selling, and for them to reach you.
Finding Work
If you’re willing to put in the work, there are lots of art commission subreddits, facebook groups, and forums where you can find potential clients. Make sure to have a portfolio ready, so potential clients can see if your art style is what they want!
The Process
First Contact:
Clients might contact you via email, Twitter DMs, Instagram DMs, Discord DMs, etc. Their message ideally includes a description of what they would like drawn, as well as any reference images, or any additional questions. Be sure to reply to clients as quickly as possible, and obtain any additional information you might need!
Accept or Decline:
After accepting the commission, set your price. Communicate with your client if there are any extra charges for a particular request, i.e. a difficult background or additional character.
Make sure to ask all the needed questions before you start working on the piece, to avoid wasted work.
Get Paid & Begin Work:
When the artist and client agree on the price, it is customary to charge 50% upfront, usually through PayPal.
You should give your client an ETA on the commissioned piece, periodically delivering sketches or Work In Progress (WIP) of the work. Make alterations according to feedback from the client, adjusting things as and if needed.
Final Version:
When the commission is ready, the artist sends the complete, high-quality version of the piece to the client, and the client sends the remaining 50% of the payment.
Usually, the image is sent through Google Drive or other lossless versions of storage, as digital art can suffer greatly from some websites’ compression (for example, if sent directly through Twitter DMs).

Common Issues & Protecting Yourself

As you can see, there are some underlying problems with how digital art commissions are generally handled.
For starters, there is a severe lack of professionalism in doing a business transaction via social media DMs with a complete stranger. This often results in a lack of trust between both clients, and the artist. Would you purchase clothes or electronics from a store selling only through DMs? Probably not.
Chargeback requests are heavily biased towards the buyer: artists tend to lose chargebacks if they do not provide sufficient evidence that the product was delivered.
Since the product is digital art, it can be difficult to demonstrate that the transaction went as intended and that the chargeback request is fraudulent, with “sufficient evidence” being mostly left to interpretation of the credit card issuer, the bank, PayPal, etc.
Be sure to document as much of the process, including timestamps of delivered art. Just in case!
Clients Refusing to Pay
If the artist sends the finished product before the final payment is made, the client might run off without paying.
You can try to convince clients to pay completely upfront, but they might not trust you. For example, the artist could run off with the commission money, without ever delivering the piece. The usual split of 50% upfront and 50% later also provides the problem of leaving the artist with more transaction fees.
Try to keep things as safe and fair as possible when taking payments. If a client is being problematic early on in the process, don’t risk it! Consider canceling the commission.
Artists Not Delivering
Clients are not safe from being scammed either! Some artists insist that their payment is made through Cashapp, Venmo, or PayPal’s Friends & Family option to avoid fees, but it means that if the artist does not deliver the commission, then the client cannot get a refund!
Lack of Customer Service
If the artist has some real life issues come up, they might take longer than agreed to deliver the commissioned art piece. Clients might understandably feel bad about bothering them for an update, and even if they do, there is no guarantee that the artist will respond.
When dealing with clients directly, they have no one to contact if you stop responding. Remember to keep in touch with clients whenever possible, and communicate things before they become an issue. Repeat clients can be the best source of income for artists, so try and make them as happy as possible. This includes providing great customer service, and lots of updates!
Issues with Organization
Artists often take more than one art commission at a time, and even with the slot system it can be challenging to keep track of every commission.
For each client, you must track the content of the commission, deadlines, status of payment, status of delivery, client feedback and adjustments to make, and so on. This sounds like a lot, and it is! Running your own business is unfortunately more than just making art, it truly encompasses becoming a professional.
Keeping track of all your commissions can easily get overwhelming, but you’ll get better with experience!

Consider Trying Artistree for Commissions!

Artistree provides security, organization, and fair pay for artists. Our mission is to reduce the burden of taking commissions: let us handle the business, you just provide the art! Best of all? Artists keep 100% of what they make, and Artistree is free for artists to use!
We offer an all-in-one digital art commission platform, with integrated commission request forms and waitlists, automated client invoices, customer service, handle sales and VAT, and much more!
We protect both artists and clients alike from scam attempts, and protect artists from chargebacks by automatically documenting work delivered over the platform. Best of all? We donate to plant a tree with every sale!
Read more about the site here, and sign up to give Artistree a try!
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