Can You Make Money With Public Domain Images On Etsy

Quick Answer: Yes (If You Are Creative!)

You can close this window now and go get busy on your Etsy Image Business.

Want proof?  I am sharing an Etsy seller who Julie and I think is profitable. Of course - we don't have accessed to what the expenses are... but if you take a look at what I'm about to share I think you will agree - How can they NOT be profitable? 

First -  here is just one of the images this Etsy seller offers:

Note - this seller does not sell the "framed" image - just the print inside the frame.

This image is about 8 x 10 and easily shipped first class mail.

Let me break this apart a bit more - The image is printed on antique book pages. This makes every image unique!

The parrot image is probably well known to you... you've seen it on my ad for my own public domain images site:

Let me give you the "Make Money" information now:

This image - as do all the images on this sellers Etsy store - Sell for $10 each.

The seller opened her store on Etsy -  Jul 2, 2011

In less than 2 months she/he has made 938 sales.

Do the math 938 x 10 = $9380.  Hmmmmm....

And this seller is not the only seller on Etsy selling this type of image.    (Say that sentence three times fast... Lordy what a tongue twister)

Okay... I know you are soooo curious - here is the link to this store:

Stop reading this Right Now! Go - Work on something for your own Etsy Images Business!

I'm just saying....

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  1. says

    hi Debra
    well thanks for sharing this little goldmine with us That really illustrates how to use public domain material
    Allso how these vintage prints really sell But i guess manageing to get a mention on the opray show helped a little .Debra thanks for a real good case study
    peter mcgrath

  2. Jillian says

    The prints are clever and beautiful, but I have to agree with the other poster that the prints sell better with just the mere mention of being on Oprah’s blog is a great seller. Think of the people on Oprah’s blog that hit that link, that is where the sales happened. Now the great question is “how do you get that kind of marketing”

  3. Shauna says

    These are great! Another way people make money with images and have been doing so for years is making collage sheets (several images on one sheet) and cd’s of images. At first these were all actual sheets mailed to you but now many of them are available as downloads or a bunch on a cd. This is what I would like to do (or something similar) but haven’t because I have yet to learn Photoshop to tweak the images. I have purchased many, many, many (in the 100’s) of these myself for mixed media art. It’s good to have a different twist on it though like these prints on the antique background pages. A couple of my favorite sites for these is and but there are many others. If you google collage sheets you’ll see what I mean! Thanks so much Deb for yet another great idea! It’s this kind of thing that can get me thinking about the image idea in a new way! But I must learn Photoshop!! :)

  4. says

    It’s the idea of printing onto antique book pages that makes their offering so unusual. I wonder how they came up with that idea. It’s a great example of thinking outside the box.

  5. Scott says

    Hi Folks,
    I’m going to be the downer on this idea. I did the same thing on Etsy for about 7 months before I gave up and realized I was wasting my time and money. As Debra pointed out she doesn’t have access to the expense, well, I do. The images can be found in many places but those are the same images 100’s of other sellers are using so you get lost in the ocean of etsy and this particular item has about 20,000 plus listings so its a very saturated catagory. The time frame for this seller is actually 3 months (not 2) so there was a little over 3000.00 per month. For me personally this was how my expenses listed:
    Books 135.00-150.00 each and only about 50 usable pages per book
    Images: some I scanned others I bought, so for purchased images and images I purchased to scan about 400.00. Etsy fees, and this is a big one!! No kidding I spent in the neighborhood of 1000.00 per month on Etsy fees becuase you have to keep renewing to stay ahead of the pack since there are so many of this type of item out there. Shipping: you lose about .90 on shipping per order becuase if you try to charge the correct amount the buyer complains so you have to stay with the average which is about 2.50 and it costs 3.40 to ship with postage and supplies. Then you have paypal fees, there goes more money. Now lets add your time. I didn’t start to add up my time until I was a month into it and after that it came up to 514 hours invested. You need a high end printer, ink jet wont work, tears up the paper. That was 890.00 and the ink for these printers is 90.00 per cartridge(you need 4) and they dont’ last long. I could go on and on. Even though you’re drooling over the figues in the article trust me and learn from my expensive mistake, its not a gold mine and the oprah thing was the key here. I went digital and I’m making less in sales but more in profit and profit is the bottom line. Debra, sorry to rain on the parade becuase I know it sure would help your images sales but I hope it helps someone and keeps them from wasting money.

  6. kite fisher says

    Interesting, very interesting. Searching Oprahdotcom, I found a link dated to Sept. 7 2011 for the above mentioned Etsy member’s website. Then looking through the list of recent sales found on Etsydotcom for this Etsy member, it appears that around 230+ sales of the now 956 sales came in on & after the 9/7 dated link on Oprah’s site. Whether or not they’re all sales from the link on Oprahdotcom… Ich weiss es nicht! Still, the other 720+ sales since early July to early September, a mere two months, speaks volumes about someone’s ability to get the word out about this particular PD derived creation. My hat’s off to that crafts-person!

  7. says

    I was looking at the cost in this and wondering how it would breakdown;
    I basing these costs on the current listing for this shop 531 items for sale and 958 sales to date.
    Listing fee 531 * $0.20 = $106.20 for up to 3 months
    Sales fee 958 * $10.00 * 3.5% = $335.30 over about 3 months
    Total Etse fees = $441.50 for 3 months or about $150.00 a month.
    Books, I doubt they paid more than $20.00 per book and I’d be suprised if they used more than 5 books (I just checked and I can buy lots of old books for under $10.00 each, with 100+ pages in each) Total – $50.00
    Printing cost, I’m working it out at about $0.10 – $0.20 each, but this is hard to work out without more precise figures so say $0.50 each, (531 + 958)*$0.50 = $744.50
    Postal costs – No idea what this would be in the USA but lets say $0.90 – $862.20
    Paypal Cost – again I’m not sure what it is in the USA, here it is at most 3.5% + $0.30 (approx) and maybe as low as 1.5% – $613.12

    Total cost = $2761.32
    Total Turnover = $9580.00
    Total Profit = $6818.68

    Now I’m saying profit, but you do have to take out other costs such as overheads, equipment costs, your time, marketing, etc but I think this is a pretty good figure to be working with, allowing for the fact that I am based in the UK and some of these numbers might be different in the USA.

    Good Luck
    Printed Balloons´s last blog post ..Royal Wedding Balloons

  8. Shauna says

    Here is another option instead of Etsy try Artfire. It’s an excellent site and there are NO FEES!! You pay a flat amount a month and that’s it! It’s growing exponentially. I got in on an early sale and secured a site for the future for $7.00/month period! I don’t know how much it is regularly but I don’t think it’s very much especially when you consider no fees. In referencing cost you put into this kind of thing I know that can vary greatly. For instance I already have many images that I have collected over the years so I wouldn’t have to spend a great deal of money on books. Also, you can find some of these books that would be in PD at garage sales, GoodWill and Flea Markets for a song! You just have to look and look often. What Julie is doing- the images without backgrounds etc. can be very lucrative because mixed media artists eat this stuff up! I think Julie will make it work! I’m going to buy some of her images myself!

  9. Shauna says

    Sorry, but I forgot to mention something. Another item to add in to this type of thing and takes almost no effort is selling random groups of book/magazine pages that you literally just tear out of the publication! These are great for collage and mixed media artists. For instance you can group a bunch of dictionary pages together, maps, old ads in pd, music, etc. These are popular. You can also sell individual pages of the above and pages from cookbooks, yearbooks etc. If you want to see an idea of what I’m talking about you can check out and I think on skybluepink she calls hers collage packs but I’m not sure. Other sites have them too but those are a couple for reference. Just so you know, any sites I mention I have no affiliation with other than as a satisfied customer and they aren’t even aware I’m mentioning them. I want to sell these things too, but as I mentioned before I also want to have an item that has a more unique twist as a draw so when I think of what that is and learn some Photoshop I’ll be good to go! In the meantime I’m absorbing so much knowledge from Deb and the input from all of you here. Thank you!!!

  10. says

    Lots of interesting reading here!

    Many thanks for the heads up about Artfire, Shauna! The shop name I use for my own website, my Etsy shop and my new blog was available at Artfire (yay!) so I secured it with a membership! I hope to look through the site details and begin uploading some of my things this weekend.

    There are many other Etsy success stories but I agree that a mention on Oprah’s blog would be a HUGE bonus! ;-)

    Regardless of any business venture, I think the initial start up requires an investment of money, time, a lot of hard work and perseverance before you begin to see the fruits of your labor. I’m willing to invest all of those things to try to build a successful business. If things are not working out as well as I had hoped after an extended period of time – perhaps a couple of years, I can always sell my stockpile of vintage ephemera and the physical pages of my PD books on ebay, one by one, and then…find something else to try! :-)


  11. Annie says

    Hello everyone! I happen to be one of the sellers of Vintage Book and Dictionary Art Prints on Etsy. I have been a professional in the craft industry for many years, not just on Etsy. Trust me when I tell you that it is far from easy and not as profitable as it appears. The books that are used are not just any book you find off an old shelf. They are rare antique books with selling prices starting at $50 and can go as high as $900 for the same book. They are rare and extremely hard to find. One must use a book agent to find them. In addition, the printers used are not inkjet printers, but high-end professional digital printers. I value my customers and work my butt off to make my business profitable. What I do not appreciate is those of you who think that something is a get rich quick scheme. It’s not. If you only knew how hard it is, how much of a financial investment it is, how long it takes to build a relationship with customers, then most of you would take back your words. People don’t just flock to your Etsy/Ebay store and give you money. These are real businesses, with real marketing, real expenses and real WORK. Don’t make a mockery of it by saying how easy or profitable it is. It’s not easy and it’s not always as profitable as you think you see it based on sales. I would say that most of you who think it’s so profitable, are not experienced in the business world and are seeing only one side of the equation. That’s why there are PROFIT & LOSS statements etc. Not just PROFIT statements! I am an experienced business owner with very successful career experience. It’s one of the hardest things I have done in my career. So be careful before you jump on the bandwagon. By the way, it’s not quite as easy to find the images as the author of the article makes out. In fact, it’s quite difficult, and unless you are all graphic artists, entrepreneurs, investors, business people, marketers, printing press operators and CPA’s then good luck. Because that’s the hats you will be wearing.

  12. says

    I just had to let you know that I made my first sale on etsy today!
    I bought your pdth guide a while back and then prints make profit .
    Anyway, I sold 3 prints.
    Thanks so much!!


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