Since CryptoKitties and CryptoPunks burst onto the scene in 2017 with two creative non-fungible token (NFT) collections, NFTs have received all sorts of buzz and media attention.
“Nifties,” as they’re sometimes affectionately called, have been mentioned on Late Night talk shows, referenced on Saturday Night Live, and featured in major news outlets like the New York Times and The Guardian. Recently Beeple, one of the most successful NFT artists to date, appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience — the most popular podcast in the world.
Although the NFT movement gained steam through the popularity of generative art NFTs, these days you can find all sorts of real-world and digital objects represented by NFTs, including books, music, video clips, socks, digital land, and domain names.
Even tweets have been sold as NFTs — and some for millions of dollars! In other words, NFTs are evolving at a rapid pace, and their potential for growth is immense.
But while all the hype sounds exciting especially for artists and creative people, it can also be confusing. After all, what exactly is an NFT? What makes generative NFT collections special? And how the heck can you make your own NFT collection? These are just a few of the questions that we’ll be covering in the upcoming blog.
What is an NFT?
An NFT is a tokenized digital asset that can be verified on the blockchain and is non-fungible, meaning it is unique and cannot be easily traded for a similar asset.
Unlike a fungible token like Bitcoin, which can easily be traded one for one or 20 for 20, a non-fungible token is distinct, like a Babe Ruth baseball card or the Mona Lisa.
This means an NFT can be liquidated when two parties agree upon an exchange and that it is a rare, one-of-a-kind asset. Furthermore, because NFTs live on the blockchain, a decentralized global computer network that maintains a public ledger, they cannot be forged, destroyed, hacked, or counterfeited.
Understanding the Different Types of NFTs
Now that we’re clear about the meaning of NFT, let’s look at some of the different types of NFT collections that have been created. Between 2017-2021, some of the most important and successful NFT collections were generative art NFTs. However, there are a variety of options available for artists to create their own type of NFT collection.
Listed below are a few popular types of NFTs:
- Generative art collections. This refers to when a collection is created partially or entirely using an autonomous system that algorithmically generates new ideas, shapes, forms, colors, patterns, etc. NFTs wouldn’t be what they are today without some of the early generative NFT collections such as CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club.
- Individual NFT artwork. Although large, generative NFT collections have been popular, artists can also mint individual NFTs or small collections. The most famous NFT artist who creates and sells individual NFTs of futuristic digital art is Beeple. In March 2021, Beeple sold a collage of 5,000 pieces of digital art as an NFT for $69 million at the prestigious Christie’s auction house, making waves throughout the art world.
- Promotional NFTs. As demand for virtual possessions rises, NFTs are being used in advertising and for promotional materials. Major brands and companies such as American Eagle, State Farm, Nike, McDonald’s, and Toys R Us are venturing into the NFT market, but independent artists can also use NFTs in creative ways to promote their brands or projects.
- Physical NFTs. This type of NFT is a token that represents a physical real-world artwork or object. Artists can choose to gift the actual object with the NFT or not. One project called Unisocks has had immense success creating NFTs that can be redeemed for physical socks at the cost of burning an NFT token, which creates a reduction in the supply of the token and leads to increased rarity and valuation.
- Generative + hand-drawn art. Many artists and NFT creators have experimented with mixing hand-drawn art and computer-generated art. One exemplary artist working in this genre of NFT is Zach Lieberman, who created Open Frameworks, an open source toolkit that enables artists to code “creatively.”
There are several different ways to make an NFT art collection. If you’re looking for ideas, visiting sites that evaluate old, new, and upcoming NFT collections can be helpful. The more you understand past collections and what is being done in the space today, the better chance you’ll have of creating a successful collection.
What art software do you need to create a digital art NFT?
A myriad of art software and photo editing programs can be used to create digital artwork for an NFT collection and choosing one will depend on what type of artist you are and what you intend to create.
If you’ve made digital artwork before, then you probably already have an art program or programs that you’re comfortable using, and more likely than not, it can be used to create an NFT.
One of the most popular art software programs for creating NFTs is Adobe Photoshop. Adobe has a great reputation with creatives, and Photoshop contains all the necessary tools to build a quality generative NFT collection. In fact, soon Adobe plans to add a “prepare as NFT” option to Photoshop, which will make the process of creating NFTs more seamless.
If you’re looking for more sophisticated special effects and 3D possibilities, Blender may be the best option. Blender is an open-source software hosted on Blender.org that gives creators access to several amazing features including:
- Drawing in 2D and 3D
- 3D painting with textured brushes and masking
- Advanced sculpting tools and brushes
- High-quality visual effects
- Real-time previews of tracked footage and 3D scenes
- Powerful camera reconstruction
- Access to high-quality animation tools currently used in films, ads, and television
Another benefit of using Blender is that because it’s free and open-source, it has thousands of tools, layouts, fonts, colors, and sizes that are continually being expanded upon and are accessible in Blender’s Python-controlled interface.
Finally, if you want to create an NFT or NFT collection quickly and easily without having to learn an art program like Photoshop or Blender, the following applications can help:
- Sketchar.io. A mobile art app that contains a suite of tools for artists that allows them to create NFTs and sell them on an internal NFT marketplace within the app. The project takes a small percentage of sales to support artists around the world.
- Pixelchain. This decentralized app enables you to create 32×32-pixel art directly on the blockchain without worrying about servers or IPFS. Pixelchain eventually plans to store other types of artworks such as voxels and music on-chain as well.
- Nifty Ink. This creative project bypasses Ethereum’s costly gas fees and provides an art platform app that allows artists to create, store, and sell their creations.
Because there are so many different art programs available to create NFTs, it’s best to choose the program you feel most competent and comfortable using. Once you’ve chosen your program, you can start thinking about what type of NFT or generative art NFT collection you’re going to release.
Key Elements to a Successful Generative Art Collection
As mentioned, some of the biggest NFT projects over the years have been generative art NFT collections, including CryptoPunks, CryptoKitties, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and Mutant Ape Yacht Club. These collections have done millions of dollars in sales and positioned themselves as major players in the CryptoArt and NFT spaces for years to come.
If you want to create a generative art NFT collection, it’s important to consider some of the key elements that make for successful projects. Listed below are some things to keep in mind when planning your NFT collection:
- The concept. A defined concept behind your NFT collection is essential. A concept should communicate your goals and objectives and be something you are passionate about. Consider the message or story you’re hoping to communicate to the community that purchases your NFTs and also if your concept is unique in relation to competitors.
- Artistic style. Perhaps you’re an experienced artist with your own defined style, or maybe you’re just starting out and want to create something new. Either way, you’ll want to pick something you’re capable of creating, that will interest other people, and that is conceptually sound. Pixel art, 3D cartoon art, futurism, and avatar profile pictures are just a few styles that are popular with NFTs.
- Community. The most successful generative digital art collections have strong, active communities that bring value to their members. CryptoPunks’ Discord channel, for example, has over 40k members who regularly discuss the collection, NFT art, and cryptocurrency in general. Make sure you give some thought to the type of community you want to build and how you’re going to do it.
- Utility. Some NFTs can be used in different Metaverses, function as pieces in a game, or earn future rewards for their owners. Offering future utility to members who support you is vital to maintaining the value and relevance of your generative NFT collection.
- Rarity through traits. Like with trading cards, some individual NFTs in generative NFT art collections are rarer than others, which makes them more valuable. For example, in the CryptoPunk NFT collection, there are only nine Aliens out of 10,000 NFTs, so owning an Alien Punk is worth a whole lot of dough.
- Roadmaps. Your NFT roadmap should present your plans for the project and give your community an idea of what you intend to do with the money you earn from your initial NFT sales. Some roadmaps boast scavenger hunts, additional NFT airdrops, and live events.
Creating your own generative NFT collection takes a lot of time and effort and should not be done without a clear plan, which is why most generative NFT collections are created by small teams or studios, rather than individual artists.
Creating Traits for a Generative NFT Collection (Without Coding Experience)
The good news is there are several ways for people to create generative NFT collections who don’t know how to code. The first step is to understand the concept of creating layers in an art software program. For this example, we will look at creating traits for your generative NFT collection using Photoshop.
When making a generative NFT collection, each layer you create in Photoshop will represent a trait of your NFT. For example, let’s say you want to build a character with five Parent Traits and five Sub-Traits. The layers you’ll need to build in Photoshop or another image-editing software might look something like this:
- Background: Brick, Sky, Green Screen, Storm, Plain Color.
- Figures: Woman, Man, Alien, Zombie
- Eyes: Normal, Dollar Signs, Bitcoin Eyes, Cyborg Eyes, Ethereum Eyes.
- T-shirts: No T-shirt, Bitcoin T-shirt, Ethereum T-shirt, USA T-shirt.
- Necklaces: Gold Chain, Silver Chain, Platinum Chain, Bitcoin Chain, Ethereum Chain.
Notice the five Parent Traits are in italics and the Sub-Traits are in regular text. To select or create your individual traits, you can draw each layer by hand or import them from Illustrator or other programs like freepik.com, where you can download a variety of free assets and graphics to fill out your NFTs.
As you create new layers, make sure you layer them in the manner you want the traits to appear. For example, you don’t want the eyes to appear behind the background or they won’t be visible. You may also choose for some of your traits to appear less frequently in the collection, making the NFTs that possess them rarer and potentially more valuable.
Once you’ve created all of your layers, go to Photoshop Composition Composer, a software script that creates unique compositions out of different documents and saves them as PSG and PSD files into your desired location, and follow the instructions to generate your NFT collection.
What image hosting service should host your NFT collection?
Even though NFTs are often advertised as living on the blockchain “forever,” the cost and space limitations of storing data on blockchains means many NFT collections only store ownership records and metadata that links to the content of the NFT.
That means that the actual data lives outside the blockchain, and if the link goes offline in the future or is corrupted, the digital asset could be lost. This is obviously a major problem and something you want to avoid if you’re creating an NFT collection.
Fortunately, there are a few data storing software programs that can host your NFT collection and help remedy this problem. They include:
- Interplanetary File System (IPFS). Instead of locating a specific file at a specific domain, as with a URL address, IPFS addresses allow you to identify any piece of content as long as someone on the IPFS network is hosting it. This creates a decentralized method of data storage that can be used to host or backup your NFT collection.
- Arweave. This system stores potentially unlimited quantities of data on-chain, and replicates data across a global network of miners who receive rewards for storing the data. NFT creators can pay a one-time fee and be assured their NFT assets will be stored for centuries to come.
- Pinata. Branded as “your home for NFT media,” this cloud-pinning service enables NFT users to host their files on the IPFS network and uses Content Identifiers (CIDs) to retrieve data and ensure the data is valid. The system is secure and prevents malicious nodes from delivering false data and also makes transferring data when NFTs are bought and sold easy, safe, and secure.
Securing NFT data and making sure the NFT or generative NFT collection you create lasts forever (or at least a really long time) is something you want to take seriously if you’re creating an NFT digital art collection.
Creating a Smart Contract for Your NFT Collection
Smart contracts — programs that run on the blockchain, can receive and send transactions, verify ownership of digital assets, and are unalterable — are fundamental to the proper functioning of NFTs. For a smart contract to work with an NFT, the contract’s code must align with whatever blockchain the NFT is being attached to.
The Ethereum blockchain has a unified standard for NFTs that is defined by the ERC-721 token. This token enables reliable and uniform communication between the smart contract and the NFT platform or blockchain the NFT is interacting with.
To create an NFT on Ethereum, your smart contract must abide by the ERC-721 standards. Solidity is the primary smart contract programming language of Ethereum.
Here’s a brief guide to creating a smart contract with Solidity:
- Install MetaMask. MetaMask is an Ethereum browser and crypto wallet that you will need before you write your smart contract. Create a new wallet and deposit some Ether into it.
- Select a test network. A test network such as Ropsten Ethereum Faucet allows you to use fake or “dummy” Ethers to test your NFT smart contract. There are several test networks available on MetaMask.
- Nodes. To connect to the Ethereum network, you must be connected to an Ethereum node. Luckily there are services like Alchemy, BlockDaemon, and Moralis that make this easy. Create an account on one of these websites and choose Ethereum as your network.
- Host NFT art. Before creating your smart contract, choose a peer-to-peer file storing system such as Arweave or IPFS to store your NFT’s metadata.
- Write the smart contract. Solidity is a programming language for writing smart contracts on the Ethereum network. You can write Solidity code using Remix Browser IDE, which comes with useful features for writing NFT smart contracts and deploys directly to Metamask, or you can leverage existing contracts available on sites like OpenZeppelin, which offer basic smart contracts that are compliant with the ERC-721 Ethereum standard.
- Test. Select Ropsten Testnet on Metamask and compile and deploy the smart contract. Once the token is deployed on the Ropsten chain you can test your NFT in a live setting without using real ETH.
With smart contracts, creators can implement elements like “delayed reveal,” which means that when a buyer mints your NFT, they will receive a placeholder image, and the actual artwork will be revealed later.
Smart contracts also dictate and manage other aspects of NFT projects, such as the percentage of royalties an artist wishes to receive from secondary sales of their work.
How To Market Your NFT
Thinking about how you’re going to market your NFT or NFT collection is something that should be done well before minting. If you’re an experienced artist, you may already have an audience lined up to buy your digital art and collectibles. That said, you should also consider the following:
- Twitter campaign. Building community on social media is critical to selling digital art, and there’s no platform more important than Twitter. Interact with your fans, post pictures of your art, and do free NFT giveaways to build your audience.
- Discord channel. If you’re creating a generative digital art NFT collection, you’ll want to start a Discord channel and make sure you and any other creators involved in the project are accessible to the community.
- Updated website. To be seen as professional, keeping your website current and fresh is essential.
Just because NFTs are hot right now doesn’t mean selling them is easy. Selling art has always been difficult, and it’s best to approach NFTs the same way you’d sell any piece of art in the real world, with patience and perseverance.
Where To Sell Your NFT
There are numerous NFT marketplaces where you can sell your NFT or NFT collection. These marketplaces can generally be divided into two types: curated marketplaces and open marketplaces.
Curated platforms such as Foundation and SuperRare only allow approved creators to mint NFTs, so if this is your first NFT you’ll be better served by an open marketplace like OpenSea or Rarible. These marketplaces allow anyone to upload an NFT or NFT collection and put it up for sale.
What fees can you expect to pay when you mint an NFT?
When you “mint” an NFT, you are changing the digital files you created into digital assets on the blockchain. How much you pay to mint your NFT collection will depend on where you choose to mint it and how much the transactions fees are associated with chosen marketplace and/or blockchain.
If you decide to mint your NFT on the Ethereum network, the grandfather of blockchains for NFTs, a “gas fee” is charged to pay for the energy needed to complete the transaction.
The price of “gas” can vary widely depending on the amount of traffic on the Ethereum network at the time you choose to mint your NFT. Fortunately, you can use Gas Now to track the gas prices and choose to mint your NFT at a time when the fees are low.
Because gas fees have been rising with the increased traffic on the Ethereum network, some people wonder if they can mint a non-fungible token for free.
Fortunately, there are NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea that have adopted a “lazy-minting” strategy. Lazy minting means that you only pay “gas fees” when a buyer purchases your NFT, meaning there is no up-front cost for creators.
Why are NFTs important for artists?
Only a few years ago it was difficult to verify ownership and monetize digital art. Now, any artist can create an NFT and be the owner of a digital asset that lives on the blockchain relatively simply.
By turning a piece of artwork into an NFT that’s stored on the blockchain, you can create a rare digital asset that in theory will exist forever, or at least as long as the blockchain exists. This is exciting in itself.
But the fact that NFTs can also be created, bought, sold, and traded on NFT marketplaces by people all over the world means artists can use NFTs to reach new audiences in a rapidly growing market.
Furthermore, smart contracts allow artists to create royalty agreements where they receive a percentage of royalties on any secondary sales of their artwork, also for as long as the blockchain exists.
This is a big deal because it allows artists to generate revenue every time their work changes hands in the future, potentially creating an unprecedented passive income stream.
Although viewing the meteoric success of NFTs in 2021 might give you the impression that you’ve missed the boat, the reality is that the implications of NFTs in all sorts of art and media spaces are only just beginning to be felt, so now is a great time to learn more and get involved.
Are there risks involved with making NFTs?
As goes with creating anything and putting it out into the universe, there are risks involved in creating NFTs. One thing to be cautious of from the beginning is having expectations that are too high.
Just because NFTs have sold for millions of dollars doesn’t mean selling NFTs is easy. If you don’t already have a fan base, selling your first NFT collection can be difficult. Also, because NFTs are still new, there is a lot of speculation and volatility in the market. Be sure to do your homework and only invest time and money you can afford to lose.