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.
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 2.2 million icon mark in late 2017. 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.
The base subscription on Iconfinder, their Starter Plan, is $19 per month for 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.
In order to 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).
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 don’t believe this is typical, however. 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 the sales figures with a grain of salt.
Personally, I have about 200 icons on The Noun Project and make about $50/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.
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.
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?