Despite protestations from skeptics, the popularity of NFTs (non fungible tokens) is not abating. In fact, NFT sales went from a $100 million industry to $22 billion in 2021 alone. And most of that growth occurred in the second half of the year.
For graphic designers and digital creatives, this is a great opportunity. Our industry has long been fraught with monetization challenges, especially for those who create more traditional art in the digital medium. While working digitally gives creatives the means to instantly spread their work far and wide, making a living doing so is seriously hard work.
"The blockchain-powered phenomenon helps put designers on equal footing with traditional artists."
That’s where NFTs come in. This blockchain-powered phenomenon helps put designers and other creatives on equal footing with traditional artists. It helps them add value and scarcity to their digital creations, without needing to produce something in a physical space. At the very worst, it’s a new income stream for creatives.
At best, you could end up like Mike Winkelmann, otherwise known as Beeple. Winkelmann’s unique art style garnered him a very healthy follower count on Instagram. Despite his popularity, the most he’d made from his digital creations before NFTs was $100 for a print. In March of last year, he broke records with a $69 million sale.
But if you aren’t a hardcore blockchain enthusiast, it’s all a little overwhelming. Plus, most of the information out there isn’t really geared toward the wider design community. It’s usually filled with jargon and assumptions of tech knowledge. But don't worry, industrious digital artist — we’ll break down how to make money with NFT art so you, too, can join the craze.
Let’s get started.
Art by Diana Traykov
What is an NFT?
An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a unique record, created with the same blockchain technology that powers cryptocurrencies. These records are immutable, meaning you can’t change or replicate them. When you create an NFT and assign it to a digital asset, that asset becomes a unique, one-of-a-kind item. It’s also tradable and sellable, and its ownership is verifiable at any time by checking the blockchain ledger.
Put simply, NFTs are a method for creating scarcity on a work of digital art where there was none before. While we won’t get into the weeds on the definition of NFTs, it’s worth going through a refresher on the basics.
"Put simply, NFTs are a method for creating scarcity on a work of digital art where there was none before."
Beholden to their name, NFTs work on the economic premise of fungibility. The idea is that fungible goods are easily transposed with other, similar goods. Non-fungible products, on the other hand, are goods valued for their unique characteristics. They’re one-of-a-kind objects considered digital collectibles.
Were you so inclined, you could download an image of “The Starry Night,” print it out according to its original measurements, and hang it on your bedroom wall. While you might personally value your fungible photocopy, it wouldn’t sell for much in the open market because Vincent van Gogh didn’t paint it. The non-fungible version is hanging in The Museum of Modern Art.
How NFTs Work With Cryptocurrency
While you don't need to be an enthusiast to make money with NFT art, you should at least be comfortable with crypto basics. Passing familiarity with the technical details will help you make more sensible decisions once your creations start selling.
The core of cryptocurrency — and what makes NFTs work — is the blockchain. When someone transfers Bitcoin or Ethereum, the transaction is recorded to a block of data and written to the blockchain, also known as the ledger. These entries are immutable, meaning they can’t be changed, at all, ever.
These ledger entries indicate when the transfer took place, how much crypto was transferred, and the wallet address the transfer was sent to. Anyone can examine every entry ever made to the ledger — it’s all completely open. Of course, because cryptocurrencies are anonymous, you’ll only see addresses corresponding to crypto wallets.
As the veritable pioneer of NFTs, Ethereum (ETH) is the most popular cryptocurrency for digital artists, collectors, and investors. It created the first standard for NFT creation, outlining the process and necessary information that defines a valid NFT.
Art by Anton Kakhidze
Creating NFTs For Sale With Ethereum
Ethereum was the first cryptocurrency to create a scalable implementation of NFTs and put forth a standard. The standard, called ERC-721, outlines the creation process, including how to start creating NFTs for sale and what information is added to an NFT blockchain entry.
This information includes, among other things, details about the corresponding item it’s linked to, where the item is located, and who created the item. You can also add custom data. For example, some artists include their digital signature in the NFT.
Once created, NFTs are stored in crypto wallets just like cryptocurrency. You can transfer them to others in the same fashion. When you trade, sell, or auction off your NFT, it’s transferred to the new owner’s crypto wallet. The transaction details are also added to the blockchain.
Rarifying your digital creations involves a process called “minting.” On Ethereum, this entails computer calculations, not unlike the ones required to mine for cryptocurrencies. You’re essentially mining the blockchain for the smallest possible denomination of its currency, which you convert to an NFT. As a result, minting NFTs requires a small fee, called a “gas” charge.
A benefit of using Ethereum is that the ERC-721 standard has built-in royalties. When you create an NFT, you can set how much of a cut you want of future sales. In other words, if someone buys your NFT and later sells, you get a chunk of the profit.
NFT Marketplaces To Sell On
OpenSea and Rarible are two of the most popular marketplaces in the NFT community. Both take the same approach in that they’re open platforms that anyone can sign up and create NFTs on. Generally speaking, they’re open, democratic NFT platforms.
Another popular option is Foundation, but it functions a bit differently than the former marketplaces. Foundation is built around exclusivity, where you need either an invitation or a certain amount of upvotes before you can create and sell NFTs. Nifty Gateway is another high-profile marketplace popular among artists like Grimes and Beeple.
The aforementioned gas fees associated with Ethereum concern some artists. The fact that they’re based on tiny bits of cryptocurrency means the cost of minting invariably rises with the value of ETH. As a result, other NFT marketplaces using different blockchain tech are popping up, such as BakerySwap and NFT Showroom.
Art by Tosan Garditama
Art by Outcrowd
How To Make Money Off NFT Art
If you’ve come this far, you’re primed and ready to venture out into the wider NFT community to try your hand at selling an NFT. If you haven’t dabbled in crypto yet, you’ll need a few things to get started:
- A crypto wallet
- Funds in your crypto wallet to cover minting and transactions fees
- Membership to a marketplace to create NFTs and sell your artwork
You’ll need to choose a wallet that’s accepted by the marketplace you plan on using. The most popular one is MetaMask. Keep in mind, your crypto wallet isn’t like a typical web service where you can reset your password if you lose it. Be sure to record your credentials and keep them in a safe place.
Once you’ve chosen your wallet, you’ll need to load some cryptocurrency into it to pay gas and transaction fees. This, of course, depends on the marketplace, but if you’re using OpenSea or Rarible, you’ll load your wallet with ETH.
Creating an NFT for sale and putting it up for auction is pretty much the same process across marketplaces. It involves adding the appropriate information about your artwork and paying the Ethereum gas fee. Once created, you can sell your NFT via auction functionality. You can either set a minimum price or sell it in an open auction.
The Best Types of NFT Art to Sell
If you’re a designer who created or followed popular digital art before the boom, you’re well-positioned in the NFT era. Successful NFT art runs the digital gamut, from illustrations and digital paintings to 3D models and animations.
In regard to style, you could classify most NFT artwork as either anime, surrealist, or outright abstract. As far as themes go, science fiction and retro are popular among collectors and investors. You could classify Beeple’s work as a kind of futuristic surrealist social commentary, for example.
Designers who work in 3D will be pleased to know that goods built in the Metaverse are drawing investor attention. Given last year’s announcement from Facebook — sorry, Meta — that the company is focusing on the Metaverse, an interactive virtual internet is all but certain. The early players are already selling plots of digital land and in-game 3D models for tidy sums.
Even game design didn’t make it through the NFT boom unscathed. While a few big-name publishers in the art and gaming realm have attempted implementations that resulted in enormous backlash from fans, other game designers have made NFTs work for them. Axie Infinity, a game designed around collecting, trading, and selling NFT items, has been enormously successful.
Examples of NFT Art For Sale
Whether you're looking for inspiration to make your first NFT or wondering what types of NFTs designers are selling right now, check out a few examples of real NFTs made by designers on Dribbble below.
- Slimes World by Gal Shir
Slimes World is a boutique collection of 1,000 magical Slime creatures created by designer Gal Shir. With this NFT concept, you can adopt a character and join the Slimes on their mission to take over the galaxy. View the collection on OpenSea.
Art by Gal Shir
- The High Level by Yegor Meteor
Yegor Meteor is a digital artist and illustrator known for creating intricate sci-fi landscapes in vector graphics that he sells as NFTs. The NFT example below is an illustration titled The High Level. Check out Yegor's NFT illustrations on Foundation.
Art by Yegor Meteor
- NiftyNafty by QClay
NiftyNafty is a hand-drawn collection of 2D fluffy and cute rabbit warriors fighting for their home! Designed by the team at ClayQ, each NFT character is based on a random generation of over 500 hand-drawn unique traits. View the collection on OpenSea.
How Much Money Can You Make Selling NFT Artwork?
The big question for creatives is how much money can you make selling NFTs. For some artists, the figures are mind-boggling. For others, selling NFTs is a profitable pastime — a hobby that pays some extra cash here and there.
Like the traditional art world, financial success from selling art varies from individual to individual. If you’re a skilled designer with an original style and a decent following, you might do pretty well. But even then, there’s no real recipe for success other than persistence and passion. If you love creating and you want to know how much you can make with NFTs, you’re the only one that can find out. Give it a shot.
While you probably shouldn't start looking at mansions just yet, it’s worth pointing out that NFTs draw serious investor attention. These investors follow trends and snatch up promising NFTs in the hopes of cashing in later. Referred to as NFT flipping, they follow the tried and true formula of buy low, sell high. If you aren't a designer and you're trying to figure out how to make more money from NFTs, this is the way.
Important Note: Remember that NFTs, like traditional art, are speculative investments. More than that, the tech and concepts are in their infancy — cryptocurrencies are still wildly volatile, making NFTs inherently the same. Even for designers and artists, minting NFTs requires modest investments, so don’t drain your savings hoping to strike it rich. In other words, NFT responsibly.
The Controversies Around NFT Art
Like most overnight sensations, there are controversies around NFT art. Ethereum’s gas fee, for example, is controversial within the community. Outside the community, the reckless entry and subsequent disruption of the art world have left many traditional artists and collectors shaking their heads.
Storage of digital assets with NFTs is another cause of concern. In the technical sense, an NFT is nothing more than a chunk of data written to a blockchain. While you can theoretically add your digital artwork to the NFT itself, it’s cost-prohibitive given the expensive calculations inherent to blockchain tech. As such, NFTs merely point to a corresponding file somewhere else on the web.
So, what happens if the site hosting the artwork goes down permanently? While you can still follow transaction logs in the ledger to verify ownership, the NFT itself forever points to a dead link. Cloud storage solutions and other technical approaches attempt to address the issue, but there’s still some figuring left to do.
Arguably the biggest controversy surrounding NFTs — and cryptocurrencies at large — is the potential environmental impact. The underlying technology, while infinitely secure, is massively inefficient. Blockchain technology is designed to exponentially chew through computational cycles in the currency mining process, resulting in massive energy expenditures.
That said, the controversies aren’t preventing the NFT train from barreling onward. People from all walks are jumping aboard. Twitter’s former CEO, Jack Dorsey, auctioned off his first-ever tweet for almost $3 million. Musicians, from Snoop Dogg and Eminem to Grimes and Kings of Leon, are also fast at it. Even athletes like Tom Brady are piling on, with Autograph, his Los Angeles-based NFT marketplace start-up.
A New Way for Designers to Earn
We’re living in an age of revolution and disruption. Crypto technology, originally intended to do precisely these things to the banking industry, has taken hold of the art world and flipped it on its head with non fungible tokens. Graphic designers and digital creatives are uniquely poised to jump atop a wave that’s already changed how we approach art, making money with NFTs
When all’s said and done, NFTs give creatives an additional avenue for monetizing their work regardless of each individual’s success. For a community whose value is often overlooked, that’s a breath of fresh air.
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