NFT Marketplaces: A Beginner’s Guide

Non-fungible token (NTF) marketplaces allow digital collectors to buy, sell and create their own tokens that represent ownership of unique, tangible and intangible items.

AccessTimeIconAug 7, 2021 at 6:52 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 29, 2023 at 11:25 a.m. UTC

Do you keep hearing about people buying digital cats, NBA moments and profile pics of cartoon apes, but have no idea where they’re getting these Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) from? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

NFTs are unique tokens that represent ownership of something inherently distinct and scarce, whether it be a physical or digital item, such as artwork, a soundtrack, a collectible, an in-game item or real estate. Unlike regular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or fiat money like the U.S dollar, these special types of digital assets cannot be mutually exchanged for one another because each token has a specific value based on its unique traits and attributes.

To get started, you'll have to familiarize yourself with the specialized marketplaces where NFTs are generally listed and traded, which differ from what you may be used to with crypto exchanges.

What are NFT marketplaces?

NFT marketplaces are platforms where NFTs can be stored, displayed, traded and in some cases minted (created). These marketplaces are to NFTs what Amazon or eBay are to goods.

In order to access and use these types of marketplaces, you will want to set up the following:

  • A crypto wallet: You’ll need to choose a wallet that is compatible with the blockchain network that supports the NFTs you wish to buy (below). For example, if you plan to buy or sell NFTs based on the Ethereum blockchain platform, you will need to use a compatible Ethereum wallet such as MetaMask.
  • An amount of coins in the wallet: You will need to pre-fund your wallet before buying, listing or minting an NFT. Again, you will need to find out which cryptocurrencies are supported by the marketplace you intend to use.
  • A user account: You will need to set up an account on the particular marketplace you wish to purchase NFTs from.

It’s worth noting that, for the most part, listing and creating NFTs on a marketplace platform incurs a blockchain network fee. The fee varies depending on which blockchain-based system you decide to use. For example, Ethereum boasts the largest ecosystem of NFT dapps (decentralized applications). But it has the most expensive fees.

NFT blockchain options

Ethereum is by far the most popular system for buying, selling and creating unique, digital items. There is, however, a growing list of competitors that have also entered the market, including the following:

  • Binance Smart Chain
  • Flow (by Dapper Labs)
  • Tron
  • Solana
  • Polkadot
  • Tezos
  • Algorand
  • Cosmos
  • WAX

Some of these blockchain systems are interoperable. For example, you can buy Ethereum-based non-fungible tokens with Ethereum-based tokens (called ERC-20 tokens, which include USDT, USDC, BNB, DAI, etc).

How do these marketplaces work?

Signing up

Signing up to an NFT marketplace can differ slightly from site to site, but the main steps to follow involve creating an account or connecting a supported digital wallet, or doing both. The button for this is typically located in the top right-hand corner of the NFT marketplace homepage. When connecting your wallet, you will be asked to enter your wallet password to complete the process.

Buying an NFT

NFTs are usually purchased directly for a fixed price or through an auction. In some cases, prospective buyers can submit offers to the owner and attempt to negotiate a better price.

Selling an NFT

Selling unique digital assets can be a more technically complicated process than buying them, particularly if the user is attempting to sell something they have created themselves (artwork, a soundtrack, a tweet, etc.).

  • You will need to upload the chosen digital asset onto the marketplace and enter a fixed price or opt to sell the NFT via an auction.
  • Next, the platform will verify the asset. If approved, it will be listed for sale.
  • When the seller accepts a bid, the marketplace conducts the transfer from buyer to seller.

Minting an NFT

If you want to create an NFT, you may consider starting with Ethereum, because it’s the largest system for these types of assets. You will need to have an Ethereum wallet that supports ERC-721 (Ethereum’s token standard for NFTs), such as MetaMask, Trust Wallet or Coinbase Wallet. Also, you will have to top up your wallet with about $50-$100 worth of ether to cover transaction fees (depending on how congested the network is).

Once you have completed those steps, you will be able to access and use platforms such as OpenSea or Rarible. Most platforms have a “Create” button in the top right corner that will take you to the page where you can begin minting your NFTs.

Types of NFT marketplaces

While there are many types of marketplaces, universal and art-oriented platforms are the most popular ones. There are also niche NFT marketplaces that list specific kinds of non-fungible assets such as in-game items, digital collectible cards and virtual real estate.

Here are some popular universal and digital art-oriented NFT marketplaces currently available:

  • OpenSea: This is one of the most established universal NFT marketplaces. You can find non-fungible tokens representing ownership of a wide variety of things, including artwork, sports collectibles, virtual worlds, trading cards and domain names.
OpenSea NFT marketplace
OpenSea NFT marketplace
  • Rarible: This is an NFT marketplace that allows any member to create their own NFT on one of three blockchains: Ethereum, Tezos and Flow.
Rarible NFT marketplace
Rarible NFT marketplace
  • SuperRare: Another marketplace focused on digital art is SuperRare, which works with a select handful of leading concept artists and only allows one-of-one NFTs.
SuperRare NFT marketplace
SuperRare NFT marketplace
  • Nifty Gateway – Nifty is one of the largest marketplaces for NFTs. Here you can buy artworks from well-known artists, including Beeple (who holds the record for the most expensive NFT sold for $69 million), Steve Aoki and deadmau5.
Nifty Gateway NFT marketplace
Nifty Gateway NFT marketplace

For niche digital items like virtual world avatars or digital fantasy football cards, while there is an ever-increasing number of platforms emerging in this corner of the market, there are five main platforms where a majority of NFT sales are made:

  • NBA Top Shot: An NFT marketplace built on Flow where people buy and sell digital collectible cards featuring videos of memorable NBA “moments.”
  • Axie Infinity: This platform hosts cartoon characters for the Axie Infinity game, where players breed, battle and trade digital pets called Axies. Some people even play it professionally for a living.
  • Sorare: Here you can buy virtual cards representing football players and use them for Sorare, which is a global fantasy football game.
  • Decentraland: This platform has its own in-house marketplace where users buy and sell virtual land or in-game items such as wearables.
  • Valuables: This is a site where users can tokenize tweets and sell them as NFTs. The Twitter CEO himself, Jack Dorsey, sold his first-ever tweet for $2.9 million.
This article was originally published on Aug 7, 2021 at 6:52 p.m. UTC


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Read more about