Licensing your art can be a lucrative option for generating passive income. By entering into a licensing agreement, you can authorize others to use your artwork on various products, publications, and media.
Art licensing allows artists to monetize their work by granting usage rights to third parties for products like greeting cards or home decor. Artists retain ownership and earn royalties. Key steps include identifying suitable licensees, negotiating terms through licensing agents, and protecting artwork with copyright.
This post will dive into the basics of licensing your art, from understanding licensing agreements to finding potential licensees.
So let’s jump straight in.
Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links, I sometimes earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend trusted sites.
Understanding the Basics of Art Licensing
As an artist, let’s say a fine artist, you have the potential to monetize your artwork by licensing your art for use on different products. Things such as:
- Greeting cards,
- Phone cases,
- Wall art
- Home decor,
- Gift bags,
- Children’s books.
You get the point
When Artists license their work for use on a variety of products, they generate extra income and increase the exposure of their work.
What’s not to like?
Art licensing is the process of granting permission to use a piece of art for a specified purpose, on a specified product, for a specified time period, and in a specified location.
It’s important to understand the concept of exclusive rights. Exclusivity allows the licensee to be the only one who can use the licensed artwork for the specified purposes, while the artist still retains ownership of the work.
It’s important to fully research potential licensing agents. These individuals/organizations can provide guidance on royalty rates, wholesale pricing, and royalty payments.
They can also help you find potential licensees who may be interested in using your artwork for their products.
By understanding the basics of art licensing, you can take the first steps toward turning your art into a profitable sideline or full-time business.
If you prefer video, this discussion will give you an insight into the art licensing world
Finding Potential Licensees and Agents
Now that you understand the basics of art licensing, it’s time to start looking for potential licensees. These are companies or individuals who are interested in using your artwork on their products.
Research Through Shopping
- Visit Stores: Go to stores that sell products where your art could be featured. This could be anything from home decor to clothing.
- Identify Products: Look for products that catch your eye and check the manufacturer’s name usually found at the bottom or on the tag.
- Take Notes: Take a picture or jot down the manufacturer’s name for later research.
- Search for Manufacturers: Use the names you’ve collected to look up companies online.
- Check for Artist Submissions: Some companies have an “Artist Submissions” section on their website, indicating they’re open to licensing art.
Attend Trade Shows
- Find Relevant Shows: Attend trade shows related to art licensing or industries where your art could be featured. Entrepeneurs can exhibit their work but this is a very expensive option
- Network: Use these events to meet potential licensees and showcase your work.
Use Industry Directories
- Search Directories: Websites and publications often list companies interested in licensing art.
- Reach Out: Contact these companies, following their preferred submission guidelines.
Look for companies that produce products that align with your artwork and style.
Read this post: How Much Do Greeting Card Companies Pay Artists? A Concise Guide
These are well-known trade shows worth checking out:
AmericasMart is a large trade show that hosts 14 markets each year in Atlanta, focusing on the gift, decor, and apparel industries. The event features a wide range of products, including home décor, seasonal gifts, tabletop items, gourmet housewares, and outdoor furnishings. The campus is open year-round with over 400 permanent showrooms.
- Buyers in the gift, decor, and apparel sectors
Licensing Expo is a global event that brings together thousands of brands under one roof. The expo enables conversations that help bring popular brands to the world in new and meaningful ways. It covers a wide range of sectors, including fashion, TV, film, toys, sports, gaming, and more.
- Brand decision-makers
- Licensing professionals
Surtex is a leading marketplace for surface design and art licensing, operating for over 35 years. The event serves as a platform where designers, retailers, and manufacturers can source original art to create best-selling products. It is a hub for industry trendsetters and provides a space for artists and agency representatives to meet buyers from significant retail brands.
- Designers in surface and textile design
- Retailers looking for unique art and patterns
- Manufacturers in various sectors like home textiles, giftware, décor, and apparel
Spring Fair is the UK’s most vibrant marketplace for wholesale home, gift, and fashion products. The event is co-located with Source Home & Gift, an international sourcing show that focuses on responsible manufacturing and sustainable production. The fair also emphasizes sustainability through its Power of One campaign.
- Boutique Owners
These trade shows offer a variety of opportunities for different sectors, whether you are a buyer, a retailer, or an artist. Each has its unique focus and target audience, making them essential platforms for networking and business growth.
I also came across this website when I was researching trade shows. It’s a virtual licensing site. It might be worth checking out. I didn’t see anything about pricing.
The Art Licensing Show is a virtual platform where licensors and licensees meet to license art. The platform has over 36,000 images available for licensing from more than 300 portfolio members. They also host challenges and events to engage the art community.
- Art Directors
- Licensors and Licensees
Consider an Agent
If you’re not comfortable doing the business side of things, you can hire an agent to find licensees for you.
It’s important to understand the role of a licensing agent. These professionals can help you negotiate favorable royalty rates, wholesale prices, and royalty payments. They can also take care of administrative tasks such as tracking contract terms and following up on payments.
Before you choose a licensing agent, do your homework. and make sure they have the right experience in your industry and a track record of success. It’s also important to establish clear lines of communication and ensure that their commission structure is transparent.
Ensure you have a clear understanding of your royalty rates.
The royalty rate is the percentage of sales revenue that you’ll receive for each product sold. That can be a percentage of the retail or wholesale price.
Before agreeing to a licensing deal, make sure the terms of the agreement are clearly stated, including the royalty rate, payment schedule, and any other fees applied.
I signed up with DACS a British-based not-for-profit visual artists licensing agency and it has a wealth of info for artists. I looked at their terms for licensing merchandise.
This is what they say:
” The price of a license to use copyrighted artworks on merchandising is worked out according to an agreed percentage of the retail or wholesale price, multiplied by the number of items being produced. A minimum fee may apply.DACS
Percentage rates are usually 5 – 10% of the retail price or 15 – 20% of the wholesale price but are subject to agreement by the artist. “
Interesting. Couldn’t be clearer.
They go on to say that it’s impractical to agree to terms under £5000 and require a 25% advance payment. Also interesting.
You can see how working with licensing agents can be a key part of monetizing your artwork, can’t you?
DACS can represent overseas artists licensing their art in the UK but for homegrown agencies it has a list of sister organizations in 32 different countries including:
The Advantages of a Licensing Agency
An art licensing company brings years of expertise in collaborating with global manufacturers to the table. They have built strong connections with key decision-makers in major companies, who turn to them for artwork for upcoming products.
This enables them to negotiate the best possible licensing deals, ensuring that artists are compensated fairly. This arrangement allows artists to focus more on creating new works rather than navigating the complexities of licensing agreements.
Moreover, these companies have a deep understanding of art and the ability to identify creative skills and talents that align with current industry trends. This expertise makes them invaluable in a highly competitive market.
Creating a Style Guide for Art Licensing
If you want to license your art, it’s useful to create a style guide. This guide helps maintain consistency in licensing agreements and ensures that your artwork is presented in a way that reflects your brand.
Here are some tips to help you create a style guide:
- Define your brand: Before you create a style guide, it’s important to define your brand. What is the message you want to convey? What are your brand values? What are your brand colors?
- Decide on the type of artwork: Consider the type of artwork you want to license. Do you want to focus on illustrations or paintings? Do you want to create artwork for greeting cards or home decor products?
- Choose your color palette: Determine your color palette for your licensed artwork. Choose a palette that reflects your brand values and message. Keep in mind that your color palette should be consistent across all products.
- Set guidelines for typography: Typography plays a role in presenting your artwork. You can set guidelines for typography, including font styles and sizes, and make sure they align with your brand message.
- Include sample designs: Include sample designs to provide a clear idea of how your artwork should look. Sample designs can help ensure that the artwork is presented in a way that reflects your brand and message.
Creating a style guide can help you maintain consistency in your licensed artwork, making it easier for potential licensees to visualize your style and use your artwork on products.
These posts are related to style:
What Type of Art Can Be Licensed?
The subjective nature of art makes this a very difficult question to answer. There are however common themes that will help.
Art That Resonates
- Consumer Appeal: The art should be something that consumers can relate to and would want to have displayed in their homes.
- Market Trends: Being aware of what’s popular can help. For example, if chalkboard designs are trending, incorporating that style could make your art more appealing.
- Open to Feedback: You should be willing to collaborate and make changes based on feedback from the licensee or manufacturer.
- Adaptability: The art might need to be modified to fit different types of products, from kitchen towels to wall art.
- Series Over Singles: Manufacturers often prefer art that comes in a series or collection rather than standalone pieces.
- Theme Consistency: The art in a series should be coherent and complement each other.
- Broad Appeal: Art that appeals to a wide audience is generally more commercially viable.
- Non-Controversial: Overly political or controversial pieces are usually not ideal for licensing.
I remember reading an article, many years ago, written by Jack Appleman at Art Licensing International who described the requirements for successful art licensing.
I recall his advice about submitting artwork in color and with a 4:3 ratio and backgrounds that can be trimmed to fit different products.
I can’t find the original article anymore, but I have found the later version on the Art Lisencing FAQ page that covers the subject very well.
Art Style Preferences at Art Licensing International
Art Licensing International is interested in a broad range of art styles, focusing on two-dimensional formats. They value art that aligns with current market trends, including popular themes and colors.
However, they also appreciate traditional art that have stood the test of time.
While black and white mediums like pencil, charcoal, pen, and ink are generally less successful, they do acknowledge that trends can shift and fashions change. They recommend checking their trends page for the latest insights.
They are open to a variety of styles and subjects, including but not limited to the following:
- Traditional Painting
- Country/Primitive Art
- Contemporary and Urban Art
- Poster Design
- Illustrative Graphics
- Photography (Both Black & White and Color)
- Collage or Mixed Medium
They go on to say that oils and acrylics with ‘dense color’ with minimal canvas or paper surface showing will reproduce the best. Digital artwork is accepted in high resolution.
They also state that watercolors are gaining popularity.
This post will interest you: What Kind of Art Sells Best? The Popular Subjects Revealed
They do not want:
- Images that are not your own
- Images in the public domain
- Icons and logos that are not your own
- Images that have been published elsewhere
This post is related: Is Drawing From Reference Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?
Art Size Guidelines at Art Licensing International
Art Licensing International prefers large digital files for greater flexibility in licensing across various products. The ideal file size ranges from a minimum of 9×12 inches at 300 dpi to a maximum of 35×45 inches at 300 dpi.
Even if your original artwork is smaller, it can be professionally scanned or photographed to create a larger digital image without losing quality.
However, it’s important to note that small digital files should not be simply enlarged at home, as this can compromise quality.
If you’re unsure about the size, it’s better to create larger pieces. A good starting size to consider is 16×20 inches. The emphasis is on the quality of the digital file, so it’s crucial to maintain high standards when preparing your art for submission.
Read this about art sizes: What Size Art Sells Best? Prints and Frame Sizes
How to Protect Your Copyright
Good news! Your work is automatically copyrighted as soon as it’s fixed in a tangible form.
This means you don’t have to go through any legal processes or registrations to establish copyright, but it’s still a good idea to take some additional steps.
Mark Your Work
Place the copyright symbol ©, followed by your name and the year of publication, somewhere visible on your work. While this isn’t definitive proof of ownership, it can help in case of legal disputes.
Maintain detailed records of your work, including drafts and correspondence related to it. You might also consider sending yourself a copy of your work via special delivery, keeping the envelope sealed as a form of date stamp.
In the world of art licensing, it’s important to protect your intellectual property rights. You may wish to consider copyrighting your art officially. It is not, however, a requirement.
The Copyright Office is responsible for registering and protecting copyrighted materials, including visual art, in the US
The UK has no official copyright registration scheme. (source)
Once you’ve officially registered your artwork with the Copyright Office, you can feel more confident in licensing your work to third-party retailers, such as retail stores and manufacturers.
This registration provides legal proof of your ownership of the work and can help prevent copyright infringement.
Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses your work without your permission, and it can happen even when the other party may not have known they were violating your rights.
If someone uses your work without permission, you have the right to take legal action. This could result in damages being awarded to you or an injunction against the infringer.
Legal proceedings, however, can be costly and time-consuming, so consider resolving the issue amicably first.
Check out this course on intellectual property.
Hear from an expert on Domestika
Maximizing Your Art Licensing Potential
Expanding your licensing portfolio to include a variety of products is an excellent strategy for maximizing your art licensing potential.
When deciding which products to include in your licensing agreement, think about what would complement your artwork and appeal to your target market.
For example, if your art has a whimsical or playful theme, it may work well on products like children’s backpacks or lunch boxes.
You only have to scroll through print-on-demand marketplaces for product ideas that sell.
These are 3 of the most popular POD sites:
These posts are related:
- Is Print on Demand Worth it? The Pros and Cons of a POD Business
- Is Redbubble Worth it? Pros and Cons For Artists (2023)
- Is Printful Worth it? Print on Demand Review (2023)
- How to Sell Art on Society6 in 2023: Is it Still Worth it?
Remember that expanding your licensing portfolio involves more than just adding new products. You should also consider whether these products will fit into your overall branding strategy.
As a small business owner, it’s important to stay up-to-date with industry trends and always be on the lookout for new opportunities.
By diversifying your portfolio and staying on top of emerging trends, you can maximize your art licensing potential and build a successful creative business
If you need some help with licensing and what it’s all about, this is a popular course by Alison Cole on Domestika
Licensing Your Art and Designs in Marketplaces
I cant write an article without mentioning online marketplaces. They are probably the first place many artists will look to license their work. I had a look through Creative Market, one of the largest marketplaces and this is what I learned.
You can buy art mockups on Creative Market or sell them!
Creative Market Licensing Model
Creative Market offers three main types of licenses for their digital assets and this is what they say:
1. Personal License
- Usage: The licensed asset can be used in non-commercial projects.
- Can be used for:
- End products that are not for sale
- One personal social media account with no business intent
- Cannot be used for:
- End products that are for sale
- Social media accounts that are for Business
- Paid ad’s
- Apps or games
2. Commercial License
- Usage: The licensed asset can be used in up to 5,000 end products offered for sale.
- Can be used for:
- Up to 5,000 physical or digital end products offered for sale
- One social media business account that is owned and managed by the licensee
- Unlimited number of physical advertisements for local markets
- Digital paid advertisements with an unlimited number of impressions
- Broadcast and streaming for up to 500,000 lifetime viewers
- Cannot be used for:
- Apps or games
3. Extended Commercial License
- Usage: The licensed asset can be used in up to 250,000 end products offered for sale.
- Can be used for:
- Up to 250,000 physical or digital end products offered for sale
- Unlimited social media business accounts owned and managed by the licensee
- Unlimited number of physical advertisements for local, national, and global markets
- Digital paid advertisements with an unlimited number of impressions
- Broadcast and streaming for unlimited lifetime viewers
- One native app, web app, or game downloaded or sold up to 250,000 times
- End Product: A product you create from the asset(s) you purchased on Creative Market.
- Commercial Use: Any use that involves an exchange of money, promotes a business, or where financial gain is sought.
- Personal Use: Use that is only for personal purposes and does not meet any of the “commercial” criteria.
This is an easy entry into the world of art licensing but in no way is it guaranteed to succeed. Like all marketplaces, some creators do very well and the rest do poorly or next to nothing.
Negotiating and Agreeing on License Terms
Once you’ve found a potential licensee who is interested in using your work of art, the next step is to negotiate and agree on the terms of the licensing agreement.
This is a critical step that requires careful consideration to ensure that you are protecting your licensed artwork and receiving fair compensation for its use.
The scope of the license should be clearly defined to specify the ways in which your work of art can be used.
This includes the duration of the license, the territories and markets where the licensed artwork will be distributed, and any restrictions on the types of products or uses.
You should also determine the royalty rate, which is the percentage of sales revenue that you will receive as compensation for the use of your licensed artwork.
In addition, you should also consider a one-time license fee. This fee is a lump sum payment that is typically paid upfront for the right to use your artwork.
It’s important to negotiate a fair and reasonable fee that reflects the value of your artwork and compensates you for the time and effort you put into creating it.
Finally, make sure that the terms of the licensing agreement fully protects your work of art and your rights as the creator.
This includes provisions for how the licensed artwork will be credited, how any third-party infringement will be handled, and how disputes between the parties will be resolved.
Risks of Licensing Your Art Yourself
- Limited Network: Without established relationships in the industry, you may find it challenging to connect with the right manufacturers or retailers interested in licensing your art.
- Negotiation Skills: If you’re not experienced in contract negotiations, you might end up with a less favorable deal, affecting your earnings and rights.
- Legal Complexities: Licensing involves intricate legal agreements. Without proper knowledge, you risk entering contracts that could exploit your work or infringe on your rights.
- Time-Consuming: Managing licenses, tracking royalties, and ensuring contract compliance can be time-consuming, taking away from the time you could spend creating new art.
- Market Trends: Without industry insights, you may not be aware of what’s trending, potentially making your art less marketable.
- Quality Control: When you license your art, you give up some control over how it’s used. Without the expertise to manage this, your art could be used in a way that doesn’t align with your brand or quality standards.
- Financial Risk: Without a licensing company’s backing, you bear all the financial risks, including the costs of legal advice, marketing, and potentially unsold stock.
- Reputation Risk: A bad licensing deal or poor product quality can harm your reputation, making it harder to secure future opportunities.
- Global Reach: Licensing companies often have international connections that you might not have, limiting your art’s global exposure.
- Resource Intensive: From maintaining relationships to handling administrative tasks, self-licensing can be a drain on your resources.
By understanding these risks, you can make a more informed decision about whether to go it alone or seek professional assistance in licensing your art.
How to Licence Your Art: Final Thoughts
Many artists choose to by-pass agencies and negotiate their own license agreements. There are inherent risks when representing yourself as I have outlined, but it is commonplace.
I have spoken to other artists who license their art from their own websites and most licensees are honest. Only you can decide if it’s something for you.
One way to completely circumvent the hassles of dealing with clients is to go promote your designs online via an online marketplace. No deadlines, no admin, no pressure. It works for some.
And finally you can art agencies to represent you. If your art has a clear commercial appeal this is probably going to suit you better.
Now you have a better idea of what to expect from art licensing. Is it for you?
Congrats you got this far! Now scroll to the end in case you miss something
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Hi, my name’s Kevin and I’m a real person!
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy