Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Seller Handbook

How to Sell Digital Downloads on Etsy

Add listings to your shop, reach new customers and get creative by selling downloadable art, patterns, templates and more on Etsy.

By Taylor Combs Aug 25, 2016
Photo by The Crown Prints

When Jenny Kun’s daughter was born, Jenny designed a few prints to hang in the new nursery. One night, while browsing Pinterest, she discovered a digital download for sale on Etsy and inspiration struck. “I uploaded a few products and I was shocked — I got a sale on my first night,” Jenny says. Since opening her Etsy shop, The Crown Prints, in August 2015, Jenny has sold close to 5000 digital downloads of her original art. Jenny loves that digital downloads let shoppers make a purchase and have new art hanging in their home in minutes. “As a consumer, I really enjoy that instant gratification,” she says. Jenny also loves that selling digital downloads allows her to run a business without dealing with headaches like shipping. Shop owners across Etsy who offer digital downloads in their shop are selling everything from sewing patterns to party printables to beautifully designed resumé templates. Offering digital downloads is one way you can add more listings to your shop and exercise your creativity.

Selling digital downloads can also be a low-maintenance way to stay in touch with your creative and entrepreneurial passions. Claudine Hellmuth sells printable gift box templates that she illustrates and designs. When she first started selling digital downloads on Etsy in 2011, Claudine was self-employed and had more time to devote to creating new digital designs and marketing her shop. She recently went back to a full-time job as a graphic designer, but her Etsy shop remains a source of income on the side. “It’s such a great way to create passive income!” Claudine says. “You don’t have to store or ship your product and you can sell the same item multiple times.”

Whether you’re thinking about starting a new shop or just want to try something new, these tips will help you get started selling digital items.

Jenny created these animal silhouette prints for her daughter's nursery and they inspired her to try selling digital downloads on Etsy. She's not currently selling these designs, but they'll be added to her shop soon.

Getting Started

Listing a digital download on Etsy is just like creating a listing for a physical product, except you’ll upload the file your customers will receive when they make a purchase. After buyers purchase a digital file on Etsy, it’s immediately available on their downloads page. You can upload audio, image or text files to your listing. See all the steps of listing a digital item.

Although no special skills are required to list a digital download on Etsy, a good working knowledge of design programs like Adobe Illustrator will make creating files easier, says Jenny. “I use Adobe Illustrator because it’s a vector-based program that gives me the flexibility to resize my designs,” she says. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s a great tool to have in your toolset.”

Remember that a big part of running a business on Etsy is learning and adapting your shop over time. Claudine recommends experimenting with selling digital downloads by starting with a few designs. “You don’t have to wait to have hundreds of designs to open your shop,” she says. “List a few designs, see what your customers respond to and then make more of whatever category is selling well.”

Tips for Success

If you're already familiar with the process of listing and selling on Etsy, listing your first digital item should feel familiar. But, there are some nuances to know about when photographing and pricing digital items, and shoppers might have different customer service expectations.


In addition to stylized photos of a completed project, Sarah includes a fifth photo to explicitly state that the listing is for a downloadable sewing pattern.

Great photography is essential for any listing on Etsy, but photographing digital items and ensuring that shoppers understand exactly what they’re buying poses certain challenges. Sarah Norwood sells hand-sewn lingerie and digital download lingerie patterns in her shops Ohhh Lulu and Ohhh Lulu Sews. Sarah includes photos in her listings that communicate the aesthetic of her brand and show shoppers what they can create with her patterns. “I always try to create a mood with my photos,” Sarah says. “So even if it’s just a picture of the pattern itself, I try to give it a romantic feeling or style it in such a way that people can really picture themselves using it.”

Adding a stylized photo of the pattern itself has dramatically cut down on the number of confused customers Sarah encounters who think they’re purchasing the finished item and not a pattern. Emphasizing in your titles and tags that the item is a digital download can also help.

Simple props like a vase of flowers and clean marble and wood surfaces are essential to Jenny's home photo setup.

Jenny has also tailored her photography to best capture her downloadable art prints. When she first started selling her prints, she used standard mock-ups, many of which are sold on Etsy, that placed her art into a frame and setting photographed and designed as a separate image. “I wasn’t sure it was showing my products in their best light because a lot of sellers are using the same mock-ups,” she says. Now, she sets up her own frames and props at home and photographs them herself. “I like doing that because I feel like I have complete control over my branding and my look,” she says.

Customer Service

A subtle banner across the bottom on her listing images lets shoppers know that Claudine's product is a printable kit.

Digital products will save you storage space and trips to the post office, but they can sometimes require extra customer service effort. As a pattern seller, Sarah has found that her communication with pattern customers is much more in-depth than the questions she gets from shoppers who purchase lingerie from her. “Sometimes customers need more step-by-step instruction, especially if they’re new to sewing,” she says. “So I might not spend a lot of time with order management, but I spend a lot of time helping people remotely." Sarah uses her blog to share more in-depth details and how-to's with her customers. Creating these resources allows her to reply with a link for more info instead of repeatedly answering the same questions via Convo.

Claudine has also found that shoppers sometimes need some additional resources to make the most of their digital downloads purchase. On her YouTube channel, she shares videos that show exactly how to put together her printable, 3D gift boxes.

The questions and comments you receive from customers are a great opportunity to think about how you can improve your pattern or download to make things clearer for future customers — saving you time and improving your customers’ overall experience.

When you start selling digital downloads, you might also find yourself answering customer’s technical questions. “You’d be surprised how many people do not know how to download and open a PDF or are unsure how to change their printer settings from portrait to landscape,” Claudine says. She includes step-by-step directions in the email buyers receive with their files.

Jenny also recommends becoming familiar with the printing process and color modes your customers might be using. “Send your designs to various printers so you can see how they turn out and anticipate what your customers will experience,” Jenny says.


How do you place a value on a digital item? That question can be difficult to answer if you’re just getting started selling downloads. Jenny started by thinking about how much she would have charged for the art if she had printed it, packaged it and mailed it. She also considered how much time she puts into each design and what she would consider a reasonable profit to reach her prices of $5.40 USD for single prints and $10.80 USD for sets. Then, she added on expenses like Etsy fees to settle on a final price. “I feel like my customers have been pleased with the price they’re paying,” Jenny says. “Many have come back and said it was so efficient and it cost them less than if they had purchased a print and had to wait for it to arrive in the mail.”

Another concern is that selling digital downloads might take away from sale of your other products on Etsy, but Sarah says it’s unwarranted. “I was nervous to start selling sewing patterns because I didn’t want to take away from my lingerie sales, but I found that it’s two different markets,” she says. “The people who want to make their own lingerie are not the same people who are going to buy made-to-order lingerie.”

Offering digital downloads can help you add more listings to your shop, reach different audiences and explore new sales channels. It might also save you some time, so you can focus on creating new products and designs. “It frees you up to focus on the creative stuff,” Jenny says. “I’m having so much fun with it and I’m growing as an artist and a designer.”

If you sell digital downloads, share your tips in the comments below!


Taylor Combs

Taylor Combs is a writer and editor for Etsy's Seller Handbook.


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