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1. How to start an art business step-by-step

How to start an art business step-by-step [2024]

If you've been dreaming of transforming your artistic passion into a rewarding venture, you're in the right place. In an age where social media platforms and ecommerce continue to shape consumer behavior, the art universe is also evolving, providing a plethora of opportunities for artists to shine and profit from their talents.

In this post, we will walk you through a step-by-step process of setting up your own art business online by partnering with a print on demand (POD) company like Gelato. POD suppliers make it possible to sell prints of your artwork on anything from canvases and posters to phone cases and clothing, all without ever having to purchase any merchandise until it's already been sold.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Selling art online can be highly profitable with strategic planning and execution.

  • To start your online art business, you will need to create a business plan, find your niche, develop your brand, obtain a business license, find a print on demand supplier, create your art products, choose a sales channel, create a professional website, price your artwork, and start promoting your business.

  • Partnering with a print on demand service is an easy way to start selling your art online.

  • By selling prints of your artwork, you can enjoy selling the same piece to multiple customers all over the world.

  • Print on demand services like Gelato also make it possible to offer your art on everything from apparel to phone cases.

  • When a customer places an order, we'll print your design on the desired products and even take care of order fulfillment.

How to start an art business step-by-step

These days, there are many ways to start an art business, from selling art in coffee shops and at art shows to creating art for children's books or greeting cards. The business plan we're going to look at today involves using a print on demand provider to sell your artwork to multiple clients.

Here's a quick overview of how it works:

  • You create your brilliant artwork as usual, whether it be a painting, drawing, or digital design. As long as it can be reproduced as a print, the sky's the limit.

  • Once your piece is complete, you'll want to find a way to turn it into a digital file, assuming it isn't one already. Taking a high-quality photograph or a scan of your work are two of the easiest options.

  • Upload your designs to your POD supplier account and choose which products you'd like to give customers a chance to have them printed on.

  • Connect your POD supplier account to your website or other online storefronts, where you'll announce which products are available for sale and at what prices.

  • Each time customers place an order, your POD provider will take care of printing your design on the chosen product and shipping it to the buyer for a percentage of your profits.

By cutting out the need for inventory management or order fulfillment, POD makes starting an art business a simple process. You get to stay focused on making art and bringing in potential buyers while your POD partner handles the rest.

Another cool perk is that you can sell your artwork to multiple clients instead of selling paintings or designs one by one. If you do have a piece that becomes incredibly popular, it will likely only increase the value of the original, which you can always sell if you choose.

1. Develop an art business plan

Planning art business strategy

Your business plan, above everything else, should start with a comprehensive market analysis. Analyze the current art market, identify your audience, and understand their tastes and preferences. Explore your competitors and note what works for them and what doesn't. This will give you vital insights into forming your price points, marketing strategies, and positioning your brand. 

The next step is to map out clear, achievable business objectives. Clarify what you want to achieve in the short-term as well as the long-term. Remember, these objectives should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. They will act as the compass directing your business decisions and help measure progress along the way. 

The crux of your business—the lynchpin that holds everything together—is your financial planning. Dedicate time to account for your income flow, pricing strategy, expense tracking, and cash cushions for unexpected setbacks. A sound financial plan can assist you in mapping out the profitability of your art business and help attract investors if need be.

2. Define your niche

The next step is to decide which niche you plan to focus on. For artists, a great deal of niche selection will come down to things like the subjects or nature of your artwork, as well as your unique style.

For instance, do you want to focus on digital art, illustrative drawings, paintings, or mixed media? Does your work tend to focus on nature, animals, cityscapes, or any other unifying theme?

Narrowing down your art style and the themes featured in your work can provide helpful clues when it comes to finding your target audience. Your target audience, aka target market, is essentially the type of people who are the most likely to buy your art.

Understanding your audience is a foundational part of learning how and where to market to them. It can also lead to inspiration when it comes to the type of art your customers might like to see in the future.

3. Develop your brand

Part of launching a successful art business is creating a unique look and identity for your brand - both of which should be right up your alley as an artist! Come up with a unique and memorable business name, and use your skills to create a sleek logo.

Consider the type of color scheme you want to use for your branding carefully, and select a few key colors that complement each other well. Then, spend some time thinking about the type of personality you want to infuse into your new business. Don't rush this process - remember, your goal is to create a brand that is a true representation of both your art style and the values you want your business to embody.

Think about your target audience, too. Who are they? What do they value? Are they looking for something unique and eccentric, or do they prefer a classic and elegant style? This will inform many of your future decisions, from the type of art you create to how you market your products.

4. Obtain a business license

Business license paperwork

In order to become a professional artist, you'll want to look into any licenses or permits that may be required by your state. Requirements vary from state to state, so your best bet is to visit the website of your local clerk or courts or the Department of Revenue site for your state.

Even the IRS website can provide helpful tips and tricks when it comes to licensing requirements and expenses that you can use as deductions. At this point, you may be wondering if this step is really necessary.

The answer isn't always an easy one and depends on how much money you intend to make as an artist. Many artists don't bother with it when they are first starting out and are just selling a few paintings here and there.

But if you do go on to launch a successful art business, it's important to make sure you make things legit for your own protection. The good news is that it's actually pretty easy to establish yourself as an LLC or sole proprietor online.

Sites like LegalZoom and Zen Business make it easy to choose the best type of license for your art business and get set up within minutes. Online banks like Oxygen even offer to help you establish your own LLC, S-Corp, or C-Corp alongside your new business bank account.

No matter which resource you use, you will want to set up a business banking account that you keep separate from your personal expenses. This will make things a lot easier when tax season rolls around.

5. Find a print on demand service

If you've chosen to incorporate the print on demand model into your business plan, then it's time to find a great supplier that you can depend on. When vetting potential POD suppliers, you'll want to consider things like:

  • Do they offer a wide variety of high-quality products?

  • Where are they based, and what locations do they ship to?

  • Do they offer reasonable pricing?

  • Do they have integrations that can easily connect to your own website or online store?

  • What type of customer service options do they provide?

Always remember, the success of your art business largely depends on your choice of print provider. As you evaluate your options, take the time to browse through their product collections and read customer reviews. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the shipping logistics and explore whether their global reach aligns with your target markets.

At Gelato, we work hard to ensure that we check all the right boxes when it comes to high-quality materials, fast shipping, and dependable customer service. We work with over 130 local producers in 32 different countries to ensure that we can create and ship your products to customers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

6. Create your art products

Now comes the fun part - deciding what products you want to feature your artwork on. You'll quickly discover that it's possible to showcase your art on a large range of different products, from traditional wall art to apparel.

Here's an overview of some of the many products that artists who partner with Gelato can choose from:

Wall art

One of the most obvious choices for artists is selling wall art.  At Gelato, we can print your work anything from traditional canvas to aluminum, wood, or a variety of different posters.

Photo books, cards, and calendars

Offering photo books that feature a large collection of work makes a great addition to any art website. Choose from hard or soft-cover books filled with your favorite pieces.

Offering your work on things like greeting cards and calendars can also be a fun way to offer your customers inexpensive options for customized gifts. They can also be a great choice for drawings or smaller works.

Customized apparel and accessories

Depending on your target audience, you might also consider working other key products into your business plan. At Gelato, we can print your artwork on a full range of high-quality products, including:

Not only do we offer plenty of different products, but we also have several different materials and colors to choose from. Don't be afraid to get creative and develop as many or as few options as you like, risk-free.

Selling strategy

Now, let's dig into a crucial decision you have to make: selling original art versus art prints or custom products featuring your designs. Both strategies come with their unique strengths and considerations. 

Original art embodies your raw talent and creative vision, often leading to a higher income per sale due to its unique nature. On the other hand, art prints or customized products are reproducible and may offer a steadier stream of income. 

They allow more consumers to own a piece of your artwork at a more affordable price, potentially extending your fan base. Keep in mind the production resources and time involved in each path. Consider your business model, target audience, and the scalability of your operations before making a choice.

7. Choose a sales channel

Artist researching sales channels

There are now a variety of different ways to sell your art online, from creating your own artist website to selling on ecommerce platforms or online marketplaces. Gelato offers easy integrations that can connect your POD account to a number of different sales channels, such as Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix, and more.

When making your selection, be sure to take into account any subscription costs or profit percentages that your sales channel may charge. Remember, the key to becoming a successful artist is to make sure you set your prices in a range that allows you to cover any overhead charges.

Just make sure you don't go overboard and set your prices too high. Checking out the stores of other artists in your niche can give you a good idea of what price ranges are considered reasonable.

Remember, the sales channel you select can either make or break your art business. It's all about finding the right balance between your products, target audience, and the sales channel's features. Harness the power of SEO to maximize your visibility and reach. Experiment, learn, adapt, and grow - that is the secret sauce to establishing a successful online art business.

8. Create a professional website

Invest time and effort in developing a professional website where your potential buyers can learn about your art, understand your story, and, of course, purchase your products.

Take the time to customize your site or store to align with your brand. Then, set up your payment processing and shipping options, along with a clear refund and return policy.

Next, upload high-quality images of your products in all their glory! Most artists order at least one sample of every product they intend to sell, both to make sure they look perfect in person and so that they can photograph them for marketing and sales purposes.

Be sure you also help your customers avoid surprises by including detailed descriptions of each product in your store. Using relevant keywords in your product titles is also a good way to increase the odds that your products will enjoy a higher rank on search engines. You might wonder how many keywords are enough. It's less about quantity and more about quality. Finding the most relevant and high-ranked keywords for your art is key. Services like SEMrush or Ahrefs can assist you in discovering the best keywords for your niche. They help you permeate the saturated market and reach your target audience effectively.

Keeping the customer in mind is also crucial. Imagine what they would search for to find your products - what art styles, themes, or materials are they interested in? By integrating your customer's voice into your product descriptions, you're likely to increase both visibility and store traffic.

9. Price your artwork effectively

Setting the right price for your art can be a pivotal factor when launching your art business. Begin by calculating the cost of materials, overheads, such as studio rent or equipment, and time spent creating each piece. Having a sound grasp of the current market value by analyzing sales of similar artworks can also help define a reasonable price range.

Keep in mind the complexity of the art medium and size - a large oil painting will typically be priced higher than a small ink sketch. Also, put a value on your time, expertise, and creativity. Building up a pricing strategy like this not only appears professional but also ensures your prices are cost-effective and profitable.

Think about the market in which you're operating and your target clientele. If your target is those who find value in high-end art, pricing your pieces too low could make them question the quality of your work - even though we know it's top-notch. Similarly, if you're catering to a more budget-conscious crowd, then sky-high price tags might make your art inaccessible and, ultimately, decrease your reach and sales. 

Maintain consistency in your pricing. A uniform pricing structure creates trust among your customers and allows for equitable pricing across all your works. While the desirability and perceived value of art are subjective, centered pricing lends your business a perceived professionalism and structure. 

It's also important to consider your return on investment (ROI). Beyond covering your expenses, make sure the price has room for a reasonable profit margin. Remember, you're not just selling a product, but your creativity, hard work, and time.

10. Establish and promote your art business

Artist planning marketing strategy

Now, it's time to launch your successful career by promoting your products online! In the long run, establishing and maintaining a strong presence online is one of the most important keys to attracting potential customers.

Make sure your art business has a dedicated page on the social media sites that your target audience uses the most. Tap into your inner content creator to engage with your followers through regular posts and take the time to network with other artists and influencers in your niche.

It's never a bad idea to create business cards featuring your social media handles to hand out at craft shows, art fairs, and anywhere else people are buying art. Participating in such events can be a fun way to promote your products and meet potential customers.

Creating an email list can also be a great way to promote your artwork, as well as share news about new designs or special sales. Running discounts, BOGO sales, or other promos from time to time can also be a helpful way to drum up extra business.

Make a profit from your own art business

Ready to take your art practice to the next level? Sign up for a free Gelato account today to explore what's possible!

By partnering with Gelato, you can enjoy selling art prints and other products featuring your work without having to worry about keeping up with inventory or shipments. Our customer service team and production partners are standing by to help you turn your art into a new stream of income.

Art business FAQs

What do you need to start an art business?

Much like art itself, there are an endless number of approaches when it comes to starting an art business. Integrating print on demand into your business plan can be an excellent way to reach a larger audience and make more money from your work.

To get started, you'll need a reliable POD supplier, high-quality art designs, a selling platform, and a solid marketing strategy. You'll also want to research whether there are any legal requirements to start an art business in your area and keep good records of any business-related expenses.

Can you sell art as a beginner?

Absolutely. Even if you are a first-time artist with no major contacts in the art business, it's still possible to set up your own small business and start selling your work online.

Consider following professional artists on social media and visiting their websites for inspiration. The internet has made networking easier than ever before, so don't hesitate to reach out to online art communities for tips and advice.

How much does it cost to start an art business?

Startup costs for an art business can vary widely, depending largely on your business model and scale. At a minimum, you'll need funds for art supplies, branding, website setup, and print on demand service fees. Besides, don't forget marketing and advertising expenses. It's wise to have a detailed budget in place before beginning.

Is it worth starting an art business?

Absolutely, starting an art business can be incredibly worthwhile. It allows you to monetize your creativity and passion, and with the right approach, it can deliver significant profits. Plus, in today's digital age, it's easier than ever to sell your art worldwide.

Do I need an LLC as an artist?

While it's not mandatory, forming an LLC can provide artists with crucial benefits, like safeguarding personal assets from business liabilities. However, it's essential to consult a legal expert to understand the pros and cons suited to your situation before making a decision.


Next steps

Start selling products with Gelato