I am a developer by trade but I design and sell vector icons for websites and apps to supplement my income. Icon design is also my favorite hobby. I do not devote myself to icon sales full-time but I was the Supply-side Manager and a Sr. Developer for Iconfinder, a marketplace for buying and selling premium icons, for 3 years. I have devoted a huge portion of my life for the past 7 years to learning everything I can about icon design, who the most talented icon designers are, and knowing the icon market inside and out.
I encounter the question, “Where are the best places to sell (or buy) icons”? This post gives the details about the top marketplaces from a seller’s standpoint.
This is a two-part article:
The best site for selling (and also buying) icons, by far is Iconfinder.com, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Iconfinder focuses exclusively on selling icons and no other products. When it comes to high quality icons, they have the most extensive inventory and most of the best designers creating high quality vector icons. They just passed 2.6 million icon mark in mid-2018. The site attracts a huge number of monthly visitors (about 2 million if I remember correctly).
Iconfinder offers two purchase models: pay-as-you go (single downloads for $2 each) or a monthly subscription with monthly and annual billing plans. If you sign up for annual billing, you get the last 2 months of the year for free so you are only paying for 10 months.
Iconfinder has 3 subscription tiers: Micro, Starter, and Unlimited. The Micro plan gives you 10 icon downloads per month for $9. The Starter plan is $19 per month and gives you 50 downloads. Their premium, unlimited plans sells for $49 per month. When companies sell “unlimited downloads” there is often doubt about whether or not that truly means unlimited. It is important to note, however, that Iconfinder’s subscription is intended to be an on-demand, as-you-need-it service. So you can’t download 10,000 icons in a month then cancel. As long as your usage is consistent with the Terms of Service, you can download as many icons as you need for your active projects. What you can’t do is download all of the icons you think you will ever need, to build a personal library, then cancel.
The average per-download fee paid to designers, when calculating both subscription and pay-as-you go sales, is about $0.50 per download. Sometimes it is higher, sometimes lower, but over time, the average is about 50-center per download. As a long-time seller, my first reaction to subscription models was negative but as I’ve seen the steady sales from subscriptions, the per-download average may be lower, but my overall sales are higher. This isnt’ really surprising if you think about it, though. When you are trying to increase sales, there are only so many ways to do that and adjusting price is one of the most effective ways to do so. Possibly the most effective way.
In order to give some context and manage expectations, a designer with around 3,000 high-quality icons, in the categories and styles customers want, you can expect to make around $300–500 per month (not guaranteed, but that is based on my own sales and observations of comparable designers over a period of 3 years).
The other thing to note about Iconfinder is that the people are top-notch. They are kind and caring and work really, really hard to do something meaningful to help designers. If you want to know anything, just email them. They will respond.
The Noun Project
The Noun Project is also very popular and some designers make a fair amount of money from them. I have spoken to designers who claim their sales on The Noun Project are comparable to sales on Iconfinder. I have also spoken to many designers who get only $10–20 per month in sales, but admittedly, I don’t know how many icons they have available on the site, the quality of the icons, or what the subject matter of the icons in question are. These things matter a great deal, so take these sales figures with a grain of salt. I don’t have the same insight into The Noun Project as I do with Iconfinder.
Personally, I have about 200 icons on The Noun Project and make about $50-75/mo. in sales. My sales on The Noun Project peaked in 2015 and reached just under $200 per month. However, after they implemented their subscription plan and launched several partnerships with companies like Square Space and Tailor Brands, revenues started on a steady decline, consistently going down month-over-month. The number of total downloads has remained constant, while the total revenue and per-download average have gone down.
Flaticon.com, is an icon marketplace based in Spain. Flaticon offers three sales options. They have the standard contributor model that allows you to upload your icons for sale and you split the revenue with the site. Designers get 50% of each sale and the site keeps 50%. They also have a pre-paid revenue option wherein they will pay you in advance for expected revenues, typically about $2 per icon. You get a big, fat check up front, BUT, you forego all future revenues, allowing the site to recuperate their initial payment. You are still listed as the owner of the icons and you can sell them on other marketplaces. Third, in some cases, they will buy your copyrights. I do not have enough experience with the site to evaluate sales volume yet.
Envato Elements is by invitation-only in order to keep a balance between the supply (amount of inventory) and demand (amount of sales). Because of this they keep revenues decently high for the sellers. I make about $250/mo. from Envato selling about 4–5 icon sets. All of the resources on Envato Elements are very high-quality and the company is aggressively growing the marketplace. They have leveraged their huge market share and brand recognition to methodically build a subscription-based site that pays designers very well.
Envato’s business model is unique among the different marketplaces that sell icons because they actual have a sort of profit-sharing in place. If you sell on Envato Elements, you will get a monthly pay-out even if your sales are low. They have what they call a “seller’s bonus”. About $200 of the revenue I see each month is from the bonus and not actual sales.
I really have to tip my hat to Envato. Since I know the inside workings of microstock I worry that this model might not be sustainable but I also don’t know their financials so I am thrilled to be wrong. But as a seller, I am very grateful that they share profits with designers in this way.
UI8 is an online store run by a design firm in San Francisco. The focus of the site is on UI/UX templates and resources. UI8 accepts a limited number of sellers and control the pace at which new content is published on the site. This maintains a balance between supply and demand. UI8 does a good job of keeping revenues respectable for designers. They offer a pay-as-you-go and subscription sales model. My sales on UI8 are pretty low but I also only have about 2 icon sets on the site. I really like them even if I don’t sell a lot currently but this is a site where I know there is un-tapped potential – if only I could find the time.
CreativeMarket.com – Creative Market’s primary products are not icons but appear to be fonts and design templates for various projects. They do sell a lot of icons, however. My sales from CreativeMarket are not great but decent enough to continue selling. I would estimate I sell maybe $50/mo. on CM. They are a good operation and I’ve never had a single problem with them. I believe they are based in San Francisco as well. If anyone from Creative Market reads this, I would love to learn more about the company. Feel free to contact me.
Pixel Buddha is a bit of a hybrid and not a marketplace like the others listed here. They are, themselves, designers of design resources including icons and sell on a lot of other marketplaces listed above. But they will also buy icon sets outright (you transfer ownership of the copyright to them). I have never done business with them so can’t comment on that aspect. Their website says they pay between $50–$200 per icon set which, honestly, is ridiculously low. They are making out like bandits at that rate.
iStock Photo – https://istock.com – is owned by Getty Images and was, as far as I know, the first online marketplace to sell premium icons. The main focus is on photographs but they have a massive collection of vector icons also. My sales on iStock have not been great but that is mostly due to lack of effort, to be honest. The time I have available to devote to building my online sales on the various marketplaces is limited so I focus on the ones I know very well and can effectively drive sales.
The main issue I have with iStock is that there seems to be too much inventory. I will admit, however, that I have no concrete data to back this up but any search for icons on the site returns dozens and dozens of pages that are overwhelming due to the lack of consistent formatting of the products as well as lack of consistency in what the product is. Some icon sets for sale on the site have 100 icons while others have 10, or fewer.
Again, take this opinion with a grain of salt. Sign up to become a seller or talk to other sellers and make your own conclusions. I do know that iStock has, at least in the past, paid very handsomely to designers who are dedicated and patient to enough to build up a very large library of images.
What I do like, very much, about iStock is their submission tools: DeepMeta, a desktop app for uploading and managing icons, and qHero, a web-based submission tool. Both tools work very well and make the process less painful. DeepMeta, especially, makes the process easier than any of the other markets because you can manage your assets, meta data, and view reports and sales data from your desktop. You can also replace existing images without having to re-upload the entire submission.
I only recently started selling on Shutterstock and do not have any sales data from which to draw a conclusion. However, my experience with Shutterstock has been mostly positive so far. I made my first sale within 24 hours of having the first icons approved. Sales have been slow for the single month I have had content on the site but that is to be expected. The search features on all of these sites use algorithms that promote top-selling items so I would expect sales to improve with age and with sales. That isn’t being circular. The more you sell, the greater your odds of selling more since you are likely to rank higher in search results.
I found the submission and approval process at Shutterstock to be very pleasant and easy-to-use. The UI is well-done and uploading over 300 individual avatars was not difficult or even very time-consuming. They allow you to select multiple items at once to apply tags in batch which is a very nice feature that saves a lot of time.
The only negative I have found with Shutterstock is that their customer service is, in my opinion, the worst among all of the marketplaces on which I currently sell. In this series I am trying to be as objective as I can be with personal reviews and to provide useful information so I won’t go into a lot of details. I will say that this opinion is based on a recent experience that required no fewer than EIGHT emails over a span of a month to resolve a single question about why about 15 images were rejected.
I will also point out that their submission process, while easy-to-use, is frustrating because if an image is rejected you cannot simply correct it and resubmit but you have to start the process over from the beginning. I can tell you as a career web developer there is absolutely no technical basis for this. It would be extremely trivial to allow uploads to be edited. In my opinion, this is a clear example of a large company simply not caring that their process is inconvenient for contributors. They don’t fix it because they don’t have to. Contributors, including me, will continue to tolerate it because they have an extremely large customer base and we will jump through whatever hoops they require in order to access those customers.
Quite humorously, yesterday I got an email from them – a full month after my last message – saying, “We value your input and are always trying to improve”. Um, that’s rich.
So, I have an overall very positive view of Shutterstock and I am optimistic about my sales potential, especially when I get all 7,500 avatars uploaded, but I really hope to never have to use customer service again.
Others that I will list without explanation:
- Yellow images – https://yellowimages.com
- Alamy – https://alamy.com
- GraphicRiver (another Envato site) – https://graphicriver.net
- IconScount – https://iconscout.com
- Shutter Stock – https://shutterstock.com
A Word of Caution
A word of caution about selling copyrights: it seems like a good idea when you are in need of quick cash, but many designers who sell their copyrights later regret it. There is nothing wrong with selling your copyrights but make sure you have thought it through and that it makes sense for you.
$50–$200 for an icon set is robbery, in my opinion. The going rate for high-quality icons, selling the copyright, is about $3 per icon and varies by style. Outline icons sell for about $2–3 per icon. Color icons sell for $3–4 per icon.
It is important to keep in mind that when you own something that you created, you own a money-producing asset. Think of it like an investment or perhaps an egg-producing chicken. As long as you keep the chicken healthy, the chicken will continue to produce eggs which you can sell. So the value of the chicken is greater than just the price you can get for the chicken. If you sell the chicken you get only the value of the chicken. If you keep the chicken, you get the value of each dozen eggs you sell. I know, this is a goofy analogy but it fits.
There are other sites for selling icons but these are the main ones of which I am aware. Have I overlooked any sites to sell icons? What are your favorite places to sell (or to buy) vector icons?