How Much Do Greeting Card Companies Pay Artists? A Concise Guide

Greeting card companies are always in need of new designs, however, it is important to understand how much money greeting card companies pay artists for their designs so you can decide if it’s worth the effort.

Greeting card companies generally pay a flat fee which ranges between $275 and $500 in the US. In the UK the industry standard flat fee is around £150–£250 per design. Artists can expect 3% – 6% royalties with a typical minimal advance of $150 or £100.

The greetings card industry is huge, it’s a $7.5 billion business in the USA and worth £1.75 billion in the UK.

They are the best markets in the world with the average American buying 30 cards a year and the average Brit buying 33.

Sound interesting? Let’s dig a little deeper.

How Do Greeting Card Companies Pay Freelance Artists?

The most common way for designers to license their work is either on a flat-fee basis or in exchange for royalties.

A publisher will issue a contract covering the copyright/license period, terms of payment, rights of usage, and worldwide rights.

The payment options are as follows:

Flat Fee

The artist is paid a one-off fee for the ownership of a design for an unlimited period of time. When that period comes to an end the full rights revert to the artist.

Licencing Fee

Typically, greeting card publishers have the right to use a piece of artwork for an agreed fee ($150/£100+) for an agreed period of time. When the period expires, the full rights revert to the artist.

Licencing Fee + Royalty

The artist receives an agreed fee ($150/£100+) plus a royalty payment on each card sold, typically about 3+% of the trade price.

Advance Royalty Fee

A goodwill advance payment is paid to the artist in the range of £500- £1000 with another 5% royalty on top when an agreed threshold has been met.

Royalty Only

The artist receives 5+% royalties depending on the number of sales. The artist can expect to be paid quarterly and receive a sales report and a statement.

How Do You Approach a Greeting Card Company?

You will have to do some research and find out if the publisher accepts work from freelance artists. Their websites will detail their requirements for submissions.

Note the companies range, if your art is not a good fit, don’t waste your time, and theirs, by submitting unsuitable art.

When you find a potential company, select a portfolio of 10-15 designs covering a broad spectrum of your work and send the files as Jpgs or Pdfs. Multiple files are best sent as a zip file.

Lone wolf drawing as a greeting card
Lone Wolf Card Mock Up

Ring up the company and ask if they accept freelance work and then ask how they prefer to accept submissions. Find out who to talk to and their email address.

Don’t send hi-res master files at this stage and never send the originals.

Include your website address and contact details.

If the company is interested they will probably ring you back. Be patient because some companies deal with submissions in batches. It may take weeks to hear a reply.

They may want to see more examples of your work submitted in the same style. They are looking for your professionalism, creativity, and market awareness.

TOP TIP: Successful images are ‘above the fold’, and that means the top half of the card will be prominent on the card rack and must attract the eye.

You can submit your designs to as many publishers as you like but once you are accepted by one company you should never sell the same style of work to anyone else, not whilst under contract. This is considered a very bad practice and destroys your reputation.

Can You Make a Full-Time Living by Designing Greeting Cards for Companies?

It’s easier said than done. An artist can make a living designing greeting cards but they need to be prolific and have the ability to create a large number of popular designs consistently.

Realistically, it’s unlikely that most freelance workers will be able to generate enough money from their designs to make a living through publishers alone.

It’s much more practical to think of the card industry as a sideline for most artists and view it as an extra revenue stream.

The alternative way of making money is to experiment with DIY publishing. If you want to create your own greeting cards, then the internet is a great place to experiment.

There are many companies that will print and ship your designs for you if you can’t find someone who is willing to take them on as in-house work.

Many people start out by trying their luck with sites such as Etsy, Redbubble, Cafepress, Zazzle, and any number of print-on-demand companies but the margins are pitiful, and standing out in a sea of competition is a tall order.

The best place to start is with a site like Etsy. This is an online marketplace for handmade goods, including digital products that don’t require physical production.

They offer tutorials on how you can upload your designs and set up listings so that people might buy them.

Sites like Zazzle offer pre-made templates that you can customize and print, but everything is sold at a fixed price and you’ll be required to produce high volumes of cards in order to make a decent amount of money.

You could try selling digital downloads of your designs. This is a popular trend with the advent of online print on demand companies and social networks, and it lets you sell right from your own website.

If you are lucky enough to generate enough traffic to your site this could be a lucrative, inventory-free passive income. A very attractive thought.

One last option is to distribute your own range to independent shops.

I met a chap years ago selling his wildlife art this way. He chose local gift shops and sub-post offices, Zoos, and the like and became his own rep.

Giraffe head pencil drawing as a greeting card
Giraffe Portrait Card Mock Up

I didn’t follow his lead because it was too demanding. He spent the winter painting and the summer on the road as a rep.

On the face of it, it was a simple model but as he pointed out, you can’t rely on a new order even when a range has sold out. You have to reach out continually and put up with lazy late payers.

I met another guy who did the same with keyrings, magnets, and stickers and he supplied the display stands and all the stock.

He revealed that most shops want the stock on consignment but knowing the grief it caused, he never agreed to that arrangement.

Where to Find Greeting Card Companies

The first and most obvious option is to look through card racks and take notes. You’ll find plenty of companies producing your kind of work.

It’s important that you focus on your strengths and avoid companies that are looking for someone with a very specialized skill set. For example, if you’re skilled at illustrating animals for children cards but not so good drawing buildings or people then choose a card company that specifically wants an illustrator who can draw animals.

And if you are very determined you can always visit a trade fair and find out what’s trending and collect a few cards and follow up after the event.

There are numerous British Trade fairs and GCA Noted Expos seem to dominate in the US.

In Conclusion

Greeting card companies need illustrators and will pay for your work if you find the right one.

If you are a freelance artist, it’s important to build up relationships with as many clients as possible so that they’ll come back time after time.

The best way to do this is by being professional in how you approach them. Be consistent and be reliable.

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