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How to Sell Digital Downloads on Etsy

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Selling digital downloads and printables on Etsy is a great way to earn passive income.

However, it’s important to know the basics before you get started so that you have the best return on your time.

I barely have any extra time at the end of the day for myself and for my online business. I need to use my time wisely and I want a monetary return for every hour I put into this venture.

That is why I love selling digital downloads and printables as my side hustle. I made over $10,000 last year in mostly passive income from my Etsy shop.

What are Digital Downloads?

Digital downloads are files that the customer can purchase and download onto their computer.  There is no physical product involved in the buying or selling of a digital download.

Some common examples include digital planners, Canva templates, SVG files, logos, business cards, social media templates, and digital invitations. But there are thousands of other possibilities.

There are many benefits of selling digital downloads compared to physical products such as:

  • No inventory to worry about
  • No need to spend that money much up front to start the business
  • No work needed to facilitate the order after the customer downloads

The seller makes the file on their computer, lists it on Etsy, and customers can download it immediately after purchase.  Technically, an infinite number of customers can download the same file which makes the return on a seller’s time insane.

Besides customer service, the seller typically does not perform further work on the product. Etsy fulfills the orders automatically. Typical customer service questions include “how can I download the file?” and other easy questions that the seller can answer in a quick sentence.

That’s why we love this business because it’s so passive! All of the work is done upfront and on your schedule. This is better than a side hustle where you need to trade your time to make additional money like freelancing, driving for dollars, or filling out online surveys.

What are Printables?

Printables are a type of digital download that the customer can print on a home printer, through an online service, or at a local print shop once they download the file.

It’s kind of like how a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t necessarily a square. A printable is a digital download, but a digital download isn’t necessarily a printable.

Printables include things like checklists, coloring books, stickers, kids’ games, birthday decorations, resume templates, wall art, gift tags, and more.

Going back to the square/rectangle thing though, an easy way to add more products to your shop as an Etsy seller is to add both a printable and digital version of any applicable product. For example, if you’re creating a planner to print, you might as well make a digital planner of that same planner.

Interested in creating a planner?

This demand for printables on Etsy has grown substantially over the past few years since people are shopping less at stores and doing things more DIY.

How to Decide What to Sell on Etsy

So you’re convinced that selling digital downloads on Etsy would be a great side hustle for you but what do you do next?

The first step is to decide what to sell.  Our number one recommendation for beginners on what to sell on Etsy is seasonal products.

Seasonal Printable - Valentine's Day Scavenger Hunt

We recommend you think of what upcoming holidays and events could have printables that would help people better celebrate or common gifts/items for those events. We have more instructions on picking a good product and how to do keyword research in our free ebook, The Seasonal Products Secret.

If Valentine’s Day is coming up, you can create games, love cards, or love coupons. If Christmas is around the corner, maybe you can start selling digital products like gift tags, holiday art, or letters from Santa. We list over 100 printable ideas for each month in the ebook just mentioned above.

If you’re looking for even more ideas, one good place to start would be to start searching for printables on Pinterest and see what catches your eye. You can also search on Etsy and get a sense of what is already selling!

How to Make a Digital Download

In order to make something like printable wall art, you need a graphic design tool that you can use to make the product. You can pay for a tool such as Adobe Illustrator (and many printable creators do this since the tool is so great) but we actually recommend you start with a simple tool such as Canva.

Canva.com is a free online graphic design tool and it is amazing! We find more and more that we use Canva to create printables instead of using the paid tools that we have purchased.

All you need to get started with Canva is an email address so you can make an account. It’s free! Eventually, if you start to love making printables, you may want to upgrade to the Canva Pro account which is what we use here at Gold City Ventures.

Canva Pro offers one-click resizing which is helpful when you want to make printables in multiple sizes without having to redo everything for the second size. For example, if you are making an 8×10-inch file but then want to make an 11×14-inch file. You can do that in one click with Canva Pro versus remaking the design again from scratch for the second file with just the free version.

Check out Canva Pro to see what other benefits it offers but we absolutely love Canva for creating digital downloads.

Now let’s get to the fun part — creating the digital download!

  1. Figure out the size of your design
  2. Pick out clip art, fonts, and colors
  3. Make the file
  4. Create the listing images
  5. Open an Etsy shop
  6. List the digital download

STEP 1 – FIND OUT WHAT SIZE TO MAKE THE DESIGN AND IN WHAT FORMAT

What kind of printable or digital download are you making? Do you know what size you need to make that printable for the customer?

Many of the printables we make here at Gold City Ventures are to be printed out by the customer at home and most of our customers are in the United States. That means that it is totally fine for us to make the digital product letter size which is 8.5×11 inches in the U.S.

In Canva we click ‘Create a Design’ with a custom size in the top right and type in the letter size dimensions (8.5 x 11″).

Create a Design in Canva

Do some research to be sure that you are making your printable in the correct size for the customer. This involves thinking about where the customer is located, whether they will print at home or in a print shop, etc. Also, research how other sellers are providing the files to their customers on Etsy.

Are they offering JPG, PNG, PDF, etc?  We recommend going with PDF if the customer is printing at home and also providing a JPG or PNG so they can use online services such as Walmart Photo Service to have the file printed and shipped to their house if they prefer. Walmart doesn’t allow PDF uploads.

STEP 2 – PICK OUT CLIP ART, FONTS, AND COLORS FOR COMMERCIAL USE

You want this printable to look pretty so we recommend purchasing clipart. Our favorite place to get clipart is Design Bundles and our favorite place to get fonts is Font Bundles. They have massive sales and everything just costs a few dollars.

We definitely stock up to get files that can last for months and through the holidays. It’s fun thinking of all the different printables and digital files we can create with this wall art!

Plus the license for commercial use is really easy to understand from Design Bundles and Font Bundles. You can’t just get any old clipart from the internet and put it on your printable and make money from it. You have to read the license of what you are buying or what you find for free to be sure you can use it.

For colors, you can try using the free website Coolors.co which can give you color palettes that look cute together. We recommend keeping everything matching or else it will make your printable look disjointed.

We’re not graphic designers, but we like to invest in paid clipart versus free stuff because it sets our products apart from others and it’s easier to understand the terms of use for the things we are buying.

STEP 3 – MAKE THE FILE

99% of making a digital download is just getting the guts to move forward with your design. It can be hard when you’re not coming from a graphic designer background and you’re second-guessing yourself.

But trust us, you can do this!

Here are some basic graphic design tips for creating your first digital download:

  1. Keep lots of white space
  2. Don’t stretch clip art or fonts across the page
  3. Think about what your target customer wants to see

Canva is awesome because you can just drag and drop clip art that you’ve uploaded to the Uploads section onto your design. Free accounts can upload clipart too and keep using it without having to upload it again. Sometimes we have so much clipart saved in Canva that we need to organize it into folders.

You can also upload fonts in the Brand Kit section on the Canva home page only if you have Canva Pro. We think it is totally worth it to upgrade to Canva Pro just for this feature alone.

There are some really cute fonts that can make your printable stand out that you can purchase and upload to Canva Pro to use again and again.

Google Fonts also has tons of free fonts that you can download and upload into the Brand Kit on Canva Pro. Lots of sellers use Google Fonts because of its great selection.

How do you know if your printable design is done?

Again, don’t overthink your first design. You will get better over time and you just need to start sometimes to get the ball rolling.

If you do a quick search on Etsy you will get a sense of what is out there and already selling and what customers are expecting to see.

You definitely don’t want to copy anybody else but you can make something completely unique to you and your style. We recommend looking at the products with the ‘bestseller’ tags.

STEP 4 – CREATE THE LISTING IMAGES

We always make our listing images in Canva even when we use other design programs since it is so easy. We recommend 2700px wide and 2025px tall. If you create the listing images in Canva, just click ‘Custom Dimensions’, enter the size, create the images, and export them as JPGs.

Etsy does recommend in their seller handbook that listing images be at least 2000 px wide on the shortest side so it doesn’t come out blurry and we 100% agree with that. Anything less than 2000 px may result in a blurry listing image which will hurt sales.

You probably need about 3-4 listing images although Etsy recommends you use all 10 of the pictures that it offers you. They have a max file size of 1MB per image but that loads way too slowly in our opinion.

Try to get your file sizes under 500kb each. You can compress your images using an online compressor or exporting from Canva and reduce the quality size of the JPG.

Don’t be afraid of putting text on the listing images that tells the customer what your product is all about. Some people are shopping on mobile and don’t even view the listing description so you don’t have to worry about being repetitive.

Once you have a good ‘set’ of listing images, you can duplicate the design for future digital downloads.

STEP 5 – OPEN AN ETSY SHOP

Once you’ve created your first product and listing images, you’re ready to open your Etsy shop!

The actual process of opening the store is fairly simple. Just visit Etsy.com and create an account. After your account has been created, click on the profile icon at the top right and select ‘Sell on Etsy’.

From there, you’ll be able to set your shop name and preference.

Picking the name may seem daunting but we have 99+ Etsy Shop name ideas listed here to get you started.

It’s important to note that in order to actually open your shop, you will need a completed product to list. So steps 5 and 6 are essentially happening at the same time.

STEP 6 – LIST THE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD ON ETSY

The first step is making sure you select that this product is a digital product since there are different fields to fill out for digital products versus physical products on Etsy.

We don’t want you to have to redo everything if you forget and start filling out the physical product selection which is the default setting.

Once that is set, you’re ready to start filling in the product listing template.

Think about what the customer is typing into Etsy looking for a product like yours and use that as the title of your product. You don’t have to overthink the title but it helps to have something that is Etsy search engine friendly or SEO optimized in other words.

We also recommend you use all 13 tags that Etsy provides to tag the products for different keywords. You only have 20 characters in the tags but don’t worry too much about it. At Gold City Ventures, we believe that you don’t have to overlap tags.

So bachelorette as one tag and party games for another tag is just the same as “bachelorette party games” in one tag. Etsy knows how to add them all up together if that makes sense.

For the product description, write something that a human can read and understand. Give all the information the person needs to download the file and let them know what type of file they are going to get (PNG, PDF, what size, etc).

Make sure you pick a relevant section and select any holidays or special occasions that apply to your product. Etsy has a bunch of dropdown choices and you can always edit these later.

Attach the digital file when you are ready, attach the listing images you already made, and then click publish. You’re done!

Marketing your Etsy digital downloads

The great thing about Etsy is that it’s a search engine, so unlike selling digital downloads on Shopify or on your own website, you don’t have to do the hard work of bringing traffic to your Etsy store.

The best way to get Etsy buyers to visit your shop is to leverage SEO (search engine optimization) and keyword research. We recommend using a tool like eRank to discover popular products and optimize your existing Etsy listings.

The goal is to find products that have a lot of search volume, but low competition. If you can create digital products that meet those criteria, Etsy will show your product naturally to those who are typing in relevant keywords into the search bar.

When it comes to optimizing for Etsy SEO, pay close attention to the following parts of your listing:

  • Title
  • Listing Images
  • Description
  • Tags
  • Special Categories (holiday, season, etc)

Making each of these components as clear as possible will help to ensure that the right people are visiting your listing.

In addition to SEO, you can also market your product across all of your social media channels. We’ve seen people do really well on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

If you have a website, linking to your digital products is another great way to generate sales.

Ready to learn how to sell digital downloads on Etsy?

When I first started to sell digital downloads on Etsy, I took the DIY approach and spent dozens of hours piecing together the entire process via Google and YouTube.

I made so many mistakes and there are many things I would have done differently if starting over today.

But fortunately, you don’t have to make those same mistakes and learn the hard way.

We’ve now helped over 10,000 students get started selling digital downloads on Etsy and have spent a lot of time perfecting the research, creation, and marketing processes.

Our course, E-Printables, helps people go from zero to a successful Etsy shop in 4 weeks. Our top student made over $150,000 on Etsy last year!

Check out E-Printables if you want a more step-by-step guide to selling Etsy digital downloads on Etsy.

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Julie Berninger

Julie Berninger

Julie Berninger earns over $1,000 per month in her Etsy Shop for printables, The Swag Elephant. Julie also has a lifestyle blog, Millennial Boss, and hosted a financial independence podcast, Fire Drill. She co-founded Gold City Ventures with Cody Berman to help others start profitable online businesses.
Julie Berninger

Julie Berninger

Julie Berninger earns over $1,000 per month in her Etsy Shop for printables, The Swag Elephant. Julie also has a lifestyle blog, Millennial Boss, and hosted a financial independence podcast, Fire Drill. She co-founded Gold City Ventures with Cody Berman to help others start profitable online businesses.
how to sell digital downloads on etsy

Learn how to start a business selling printables on Etsy!

how to sell digital downloads on etsy
Meet Julie & Cody

Julie Berninger and Cody Berman of Gold City Ventures have made thousands selling printables and digital downloads in their Etsy shops and on Shopify. They help others start printable businesses with their programs and templates.

how to sell digital downloads on etsy

Learn how to start a business selling printables on Etsy!

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how to sell digital downloads on etsy