Make MORE money from old designs & illustrations

I'd like to share a great tip for illustrators who already sell or are considering selling artwork on Dreamstime. This idea has worked extremely well for me. And while this article is a little wordy, if you take the time to read it, I think you will find it very worth your effort (especially when you get to the end).

For the past 20 years I've been an illustrator & graphic designer in Chicago where I have lived my entire life. The best advise I can give ANY illustrator or graphic designer (especially if you do a lot of your creating in Photoshop) is this... NEVER, NEVER, EVER throw away ANY of your old files! Burn them to a CD or some retrievable medium, just make sure you keep them! Why? In many of the past illustrations and designs you have created over the years there is a veritable GOLD MINE to be made from the various components that make up the original image. Not just in your old illustrations, but even old ads & brochures you have created over the years contain many details that can be extracted and reused on their own as stock images! These new stock images can continue to generate money for you long after the original artwork is no longer being used by you or your client. Ideally, you are finding a way to create ADDITIONAL residual money from old projects that you have already been paid for and may have completely forgotten about! In a way, you are recycling! What could be better than that? Let me give you an example of what I am talking about...

First, a little history. In the earlier years of my career, I was lucky enough to have become a very popular illustrator creating many, many festival posters for a large number of Chicago Summer events. I've been told by clients and event planners that one reason my work got noticed was that I have a (somewhat obsessive) penchant for lots of interesting detail, texture and depth. For me, personally, I try very hard to create an image that no matter where you look, you can find something interesting that POPS off the page -- whether it be the way a bold headline seems to float above the image and appears 3-dimensional, a lush, rich fabric texture on a piece of upholstery, the gleaming finish & highlights on a framing detail, an architectural ornamentation added to a background or even just the shining metal buttons of a dress.

Hopefully, the end result is a finished poster (or whatever the project may be) that is very eye catching and really stands out when placed next to other posters (and of course, in the case of these summer events, the competitor's ads in the subsequent print ad campaigns) for similar events or businesses. OK, enough history, back to the reason behind this blog -- All of the posters for these big events were created in Photoshop & used a mixture of hand-drawn images combined with additional details illustrated within Photoshop. Believe it or not, a finished poster could conceivably end up with over 75-150 layers! So many details and so many layers. So much work for a single image that will only be used for a single event. In the end, I always put in so much more time and work into these pieces than I could ever conceivably charge the clients for.

But, dear reader, don't weep for me -- because I found a perfect solution. The smartest thing I have ever done (and you should do from this point forward if you don't already) was to ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep every hi-res. Photoshop file with every individual layer intact. The original logic I used for keeping these old layered files is both smart & simple (and feel free to use this trick yourself if it works for you)... In this business where time is always a factor, you never know when one of those layers will come in handy for use in another project or future illustration. I have gone back into older images COUNTLESS times to mine for detailed layers that could be altered in small ways in order to work well on whatever new piece I was currently designing! This practice is a good habit to cultivate. You'll be amazed at how much time and energy you save in your day to day work when you have files of elements & backgrounds you've collected from older artwork right at your fingertips!

And once I decided to sell illustrations as stock on Dreamstime, I found ANOTHER great use for all those thousands of layers. You would be AMAZED at how many of those detailed layers from one single past design or illustration can be turned into individual pieces of stock illustration. If you take the time to sift through your older files and really examine all the individual details of a piece, you will probably be VERY surprised at how many of these details will work perfectly on their own as stock art. As a graphic designer, myself, I know how much I appreciate finding a wonderful "gem" detail on a stock site that I don't have to take the time to create myself. It is definitely in your best interest to take the time to go through all your old illustrations or old print files.

I have a lot of popular stock files on Dreamstime that are simply great backgrounds that I designed for ads or collateral pieces that I had completely forgotten about! You never know what you will find until you take the time to look. Ideally, you are going to find details that can be pulled out that will work on their own as a stock image. If they are good images, each of these new stock images will continue to generate NEW income on Dreamstime. ALL from older artwork that you thought was done being profitable. You will be very glad you did it, because even if some of the details you pull out from older artwork aren't suitable for stock use, I'm sure you will find a ton of great details you can put in separate files that can & will work perfectly (even if you have to do a little alteration) for use on future projects.

HERE IS THE PAYOFF TO READING THIS BLOG! All the images in this article are examples of details that were once part of some larger piece created in the past. Take a minute to look at my portfolio. There are over 1,100 images in it. Make sure you set the page so that the image order is "downloads descending". Except for one piece, the first 50 images (and my BEST selling images) are ALL images or details that have been pulled from old artwork I had created previously. They all represent bits and pieces (big or small) of old poster art, ads, brochures, direct mail postcards, event invitations, signage, etc. As you can see for yourself, this is a valuable practice for an illustrator who wants to make as much money as possible from every piece they create. I can honestly say that AT LEAST HALF (if not more) of my portfolio is made up of these bits and pieces. SO IT WORKS! And take the time to create separate detail art files that keep all these images at your fingertips that you can browse through when working on new pieces. As I said, you'll be so glad you did every time you pull a great detail from a file that saves you an hour or two because you don't have to recreate something you had done previously and had forgotten about. A little alteration, a change of color, minor tweaks and "TA-DA" it works perfectly to enhance your new piece!

I really hope this helped you and you can use this idea to enhance your own portfolios on Dreamstime. I welcome any questions that you may have. Please feel free to contact me and I'll be glad to help you. Good luck and happy hunting!

Photo credits: James Nemec.

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December 08, 2011


Interesting article that clearly indicates the benefit of saving files under good structure and organization. Allow me to refer to this article Image Lifecycle which - hopefully - many people can use as inspiration for your organization of files :)

November 13, 2011


LOL I guess that as long you're only sharing your files with yourself you don't need to worry to much about finding the perfect organisation then :-)

November 12, 2011


thank you for all the great words... REALLY appreciate it.

November 11, 2011


It is amazing, what a talent. The blog is brilliant, thanks. It is a shame I am not a graphic designer nor an illustrator and that Lightroom 3 does not have layers :-) but i find your illustrations really inspiring. Really beautiful. Ewapix

November 11, 2011


Great tip and those old bits and pieces don't even take up room in the garage.

November 11, 2011


Thanks for sharing, very interesting point of view

November 11, 2011


I have much to learn from you! Great blog and beautiful portfolio! I am a poor self I'm trying to improve my work by myself hope that in time become as good as you!

November 11, 2011


Hey Rosedarc... Thanks for that, but believe me, my father would be HYPERVENTILATING with laughter if he read your assertion of my organizational skills! In fact, I may just send him a link to this page -- it's been too long since I've gotten a really good, heartfelt eye-roll. Seriously, in answer to your question, any past work I've done remains in the original client's files. However, as an illustrator as well as a graphic designer, the kind of images I create that involve illustration are time-consuming - because not only am I creating an original piece of art, I also have to design the advertising print piece(s) into which the artwork will be placed. So I work on one particular image much longer than a photographer would spend on a single photo. When you live with a single piece and have to alter it several times to fit all manner of media for two months, then it's easy (for me, at least) to remember which past project it was where I created a really cool metallic Art Deco background if I needed to. After awhile it was just easier (and smarter) to just start going through old projects in my spare time that were illustration heavy and copy elements I could use again into individual generic art files. For example, I have a large file of "backgrounds" and another file that is labelled, "clouds, skies, rainbows, lightning" and one labelled, "suns, stars, bursts, moons" and best yet, "people, body parts". LOL. Aren't you glad you asked? I hope that answers your question.

November 11, 2011


Great background illustrations! Thanks for sharing!

November 11, 2011


Great idea !

November 10, 2011



November 10, 2011


Apart from great graphic skills you must have excellent organisational skills. How do you keep track of all your layers and remember where to look for them?

November 10, 2011


Your illustration are amazing... Thanks for this blog.

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