Art Licensing: 5 Essential steps to start licensing your art

Art licensing is the most passive way to earn money from your art.

Most artists don't either know about this great way to earn from their art or think it even applies to the kind of art they make.

For most artists, it’s easy to think the only way to earn money is as a freelance artist getting paid through illustration jobs, selling your art, or teaching. Art licensing is highly lucrative, but the most elusive.

While art licensing can be a great income source, a lot of artists completely ignore it or write it off as something that doesn’t apply to them.

I get it, the idea of having companies send you a residual check every quarter for an image you made a long time ago seems too good to be true. It honestly sounds completely whacky.

But it’s not as far fetched as you think it is.

I’m going to show you the simple processes and ways you can create an additional source of income from art licensing the use of your art.

Introduction: Welcome to the world of art licensing

Essentially, art licensing is where you rent the use of your copyrighted images to companies and brands. So they can use your art on their products. Products ranging from t-shirts and fabrics to greeting cards, book covers, puzzles, and calendars.

Here are a few out of this world examples of art licensing:

But these artists are the tip of the iceberg.

Alternatively, there are thousands of other artists out there who are quietly making great incomes through art licensing. Most of them are artists you and I have never heard of.

My art licensing story

art licensing

In the beginning, I accidentally got into art licensing. All because an illustration client of mine was good enough to tell me about it.

You see, I had completed a series of spot illustrations for a zoo. They paid me to create these custom illustrations on some of their products in a gift store. Then exactly a year later they contacted me asking if they could renew the usage rights of these images for an additional year and on different products.

I had no idea what they were talking about. Usage rights? They paid me to make these drawings a year ago, I just thought they were going to use those images again and again.

After doing some research, and looking up what ”usage rights” meant. I realized how LUCKY I was to have such a great client.

After doing more research, I crafted a contract and sent it along their way. Now, not only do I get a residual check every quarter from them, but I also get an additional fee for setting up my work on printable templates for them.

This was my foray into the world of art licensing.

I had always thought art licensing was something only for pattern designers and children’s illustrators. I never thought my work was art was licensable. Yet, I’ve been able to create a whole extra income source for my art business with licensing.

When artists first learn about the concept of art licensing, they are full of questions. They want to understand what it is, how it works, and if it is for them. I know you probably have these same questions, so here are the basics of art licensing to help you better understand what art licensing is.

Who licenses art?

Manufacturers and retailers use art and “properties” on products as an added mechanism to help sell to consumers. They know that if a consumer is a fan of a brand or a property (style of art, story, movie, television show, etc.), and artwork from the brand or property is on a product, the chance for purchase by that customer is greater.

So how do manufacturers and retailers get art for their products?

There are four primary ways:

  1. They use their own in-house art departments
  2. The outright purchase of art from artists (copyrights and all!)
  3. The use of stock art from studios and factories who create their products
  4. The licensing of art (either traditional royalty based Agreement, or a flat fee Agreement – both Agreements to define the term of use, products in which the art will be used, and the territory of use, where the artist retains the copyrights to the art).

Manufacturers often choose to license for the following reasons:

  • Exclusivity – by licensing art, a manufacturer can negotiate exclusive use of an artist’s design for their products; ensuring their competitors won’t bring the same thing to market.
  • Flexibility – by licensing art, manufacturers can work with artists with a wide variety of styles that they might not be able to create with a group of in-house artists.
  • Savings – when a manufacturer licenses art, they pay the artist based on how well the product sells.  So while their expense can vary, they are always directly related to the income from sales of the product.
  • Support – many artists who license their work become like a part of the manufacturer’s design team – working together to get the art just right and often setting it up to templates for production.  This saves the manufacturer the labor expense of having their own graphics team doing the work, or at least lightens the load on the in-house team.
  • Brand Recognition – manufacturers are always looking to mitigate their risks when making products.  Using art from an artist who is well known and has a great following (generally realized by social media statistics) insures some level of guaranteed sales of a product.

Why should you license your art?

As an artist, you are the one licensing your art. Otherwise known as a “licensor”. An organization licensing work from you is the “licensee”.

When you share in the “success or failure” of a product versus being paid for just your time for the creation of art. You have a greater earning potential.

Traditionally, when you license your art you are paid a royalty based on the sale price of a product and the quantity sold.

For those artists who are willing to work hard to create the necessary collections of art needed by manufacturers, crafting a contract, willing to continually market yourself and work, and are willing to work under a system that does not guarantee immediate income for the work being done, art licensing is a good way to earn additional income.

What kind of art works well with art licensing?

Art that works well for licensing is relevant and relatable to both the manufacturer and the end-use consumer who is willing to pay for products displaying that art. Essentially, the purpose of the artwork on that product is to sell the product.

Art that sells well on manufactured items is the art that both manufacturers and customers can relate to. It needs to be something that a customer would want to be displayed in their home.

Take a look around your own home and notice what products you’ve purchased with artwork on them without really thinking about it:

  • kitchen towels
  • towels
  • games
  • sports gear
  • cookie jars
  • clocks
  • packaging
  • toys
  • wall art
  • clothing
  • etc…

Art on licensed products may vary a lot. But it will have some factors in common such as being a series as well as attractive and appealing to the eye.

For this purpose, there are likely to be some perfectly valid art collections that are not a good fit for licensing:

  • overly political pieces
  • art-based around current events
  • multimedia or 3-dimensional art
  • Sculptures
  • etc…

How do you get started in art licensing?

When all is said and done, art licensing is a business. Which is mostly legal in nature. Art licensing is conducted through legal contracts between the manufacturer (Licensee) and the artist (Licensor).

An art licensing contract is structured around about what art is being licensed, for use on what products, to be sold in what territory and for what time frame (among other legal details – including how you are paid your share of the royalties/fees, duration of the agreement, what happens when a decision is made to terminate the agreement, etc.).

Artists can and should do their own marketing, and can choose to work directly with potential licensees.

How much can you earn from art licensing?

The standard question of most artists is the “How much can I make from art licensing, and how long will it take?’’  Unfortunately, this question is impossible to answer. There are so many factors that go into art licensing, including, but not limited to . . .

  • How much art does an artist need to create for consideration for licensing?
  • How many “eyes” can you get to see your artwork – the relationship an artist develops with licensees?
  • How well your art will fit the market, the product, the manufacturer’s needs, etc. Are you relevant and relatable to the consumer?
  • How well the product sells, where it sells and at what price point.
  • How much you make in royalties or flat fees.

The amount you earn from art licensing varies greatly. Some artists make $500 per year and some make close to or above six figures.  This is both good and bad – the sky is the limit for potential earnings (that’s good!), but there is no formula for creating success overnight.

You have to take a long term mindset as you start licensing your art.

Essentially, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It does take work to start earning from licensing.

Integrating art licensing into your art business

After my lucky introduction to art licensing, I began integrating art licensing into all of my future illustration commissions. Negotiating “usage rights” on top of creating the actual illustrations for a client.

Oftentimes, renewing the usage rights with my clients year after year. Based on art I made a long time ago.

Essentially, “usage rights” are terms inside your contract where you clearly identify how a company can use an image. Defining for how long, where, on what, and for how much. More on this in a later lesson.

For the longest time, I only pursued licensing from this perspective. Where I was integrating it into my business AFTER getting hired for a commission.

Then I began developing collections of more and more work. Collections I could direct new possible licensees to.

Eventually, rounding out my process so I know exactly what to do, say, negotiate, and price for art licensing.

All of which I’m going to share with you inside this course.

Your art has value

Think about it, it’s hard enough to make prints and manage an inventory of original art.

Alternatively, think of the amount of time you would lose if you start making different products on your own. Products such as t-shirts, greeting cards, puzzles, etc. You’ll be spending more of your time managing inventory, shipping orders, returns, quality control, and manufacturing.

You'll be left with zero time for making art.

Art licensing lets you focus on what you do best, make art.

Letting your clients do what they do best, manufacture and sell goods.

Understand the value your art has for manufacturers and companies:

  • Your images have a lot of selling power. The only reason brands are able to manufacture and sell products because they have your awesome images on them.
  • You're the expert in making your work, coming up with ideas, and making them look great. So as long as a company or brand is profiting off of your images, so should you.
  • You determine your prices and what's required of who you're partnering with so you feel great working with them at the end of the day.

Roadmap for art licensing

I’m going to give you a birds-eye view of the art licensing process so you know what to expect as you begin to finish your portfolio to getting paid.

Here’s what the entire art licensing process looks like behind-the-scenes:

  1. Foundation. Includes getting your personal brand ready and building up an inventory of licensable collections that you established the copyrights for.
  2. Research and gathering leads. Identifying potential companies who will find value and benefit from licensing your art. Your website is a powerful sales tool.
  3. Outreach. Reaching out to these companies with a hand-crafted introductory email. The only goal of this email is to see if they’re interested in your work and licensing in general.
  4. Meeting. If they’re interested then you can start qualifying them to see if you’re a good fit for each other. In other words, do they have a budget and agree with your basic terms of working with you.
  5. Make a deal. Clearly identify how long a company can use your image and in what context.
  6. Getting paid. Negotiate design fees, advances, and royalty rates.

Essentially, manufacturers and companies know that to make sales, what they’re selling needs to look great. And no matter the task, there’s an artist out there who can make their toys, shower curtains, or calendars, anything sells.

While so many artists, designers, and illustrators want to see their work in their favorite retail stores or on their favorite products, it’s still a rather mysterious process.

Just know that many companies and manufacturers partner with independent artists and license their art for use on their products.

Remember, all the art you’ve seen on products were licensed from an independent artist.

LESSON 1: Establishing your art licensing foundation

In the first lesson we talked about what generally, art licensing is and I shared with you how I was introduced to the world of art licensing.

Essentially, I never thought my art could ever fit the mold of the art licensing industry. But I was wrong. My more fine art and messy style did actually attract brands and companies.

So how do you know if art licensing is something your art can generate revenue from.

What kind of art is a good fit for art licensing?

Art licensing works for any kind of medium. The only subject matters that don’t get traction with art licensing are political in subject matter or based around a current event.

Other than that, no matter your style or subject matter, you can license your art. From still lifes, burning skulls, flowers, fluffy paintings of cottages, abstracts, oil paint, ink drawings, graffiti, or character illustrations, they all can be licensed.

But your experiences and interests matter just as much as your style.

For example, let’s say there are two abstract artists who make the same kind of work. One has an interest in surfing while the other is 100% completely in love with New York, the city they live in.

They’re both going to be attracted to partnering with completely different brands and companies based on their individual interests.

As you set out to approach potential art licensing partners you have to keep your parallel interests in mind. This way you keep your work aligned with your personal brand as an artist and you’re working with like-minded clients.

How to establish your art licensing standards

First, set your standards. When you're licensing your art it means it's going to exist on all kinds of different products out in the world.

Someone else is going to be selling them and most of the marketing will be out of your hands. This means you’re going to have to make the extra effort, in the beginning, to make sure you’re working with ideal licensing partners.

Making sure you’re only working on licensing opportunities that will benefit and not hurt your brand.

For example, Bill Watterson is the creator of the wildly successful comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

Despite his massive success, he has always refused to license the use of his characters on anything other than the comic itself. Which is why you can only buy book collections and prints of his comics.

It’s been projected that if he were to license his character in the way say, Garfield has, it would be a $400 million success. But he feels it would ruin the relationship his readers have with his character. This is the standard he set based on his love of the art of comics.

I encourage you to really think about what brands and products align with your standards – and stick with them. Know what is and what isn’t something you would be proud to associate with your art.

For example, maybe the thought of having your art on the packaging of frozen french fries wouldn’t help your personal brand. (I don’t think it would help anyone’s personal brand). Instead, having your work on the packaging on a high-end chocolate tin might.

Even if a great financial opportunity is presented to you, you still have to take a step back and make sure it’s something that will help your brand.

You have to take a moment to think about where you draw the line and don’t.

Key points: Your art licensing roadmap

Even if a brand or company wants to work with you on a licensing deal, you’re going to have to make sure you’re both aligned for each other’s brands.

Actions steps

Take a look at your current personal brand as an artist. Look at all your work as a whole. Reflect on your things you stand for and things you don’t. Ask yourself what you would do if you were approached by a potential licensee:

  • Do they share the same values with you?
  • Is having your art on their products going to benefit people’s perception as an artist?

LESSON 2: How to organize your art licensing portfolio and establish copyrights

Just now, we talked about how you can mentally get ready for licensing your work.

Why it’s important to understand what potential licensing opportunities and products may benefit or detract from your personal brand as an artist.

And why you need to make an added effort to guard your personal brand as an artist by not blindly taking on any licensee.

In this lesson, we’re going to talk about how to showcase your work in a profitable way. By clearly organizing your work in a way that makes sense for you and your way of making art.

Get a sense of the type of art out there

First things first, take the time to figure out what type of art manufacturers are currently interested in purchasing. Look up what type of art, colors, patterns, subjects, and designs are in style right now for the products in which you are considering licensing your art.

Art can be used on many products ranging on products like bedding, pillows, and dishes, calendars, framed art prints, clothing and shoes, books, greeting cards, puzzles, toys, games, wallpaper, fabric, or even sports equipment like skis and skateboards.

There are no limits.

Creating art licensing collections

Organizing by style, themes, subject matter, characters, and worlds – there are many different approaches for getting your work presented in a clear and logical way. Each depending on your work.

What’s important is to start thinking of your work as different collections. There’s no industry standard for collections. Just organize your work into collections that make sense for you.

Your number one goal should be to present your work in a clear and organized way.

You see, when you start reaching out to future licensing partners it may be the first time they've ever heard of you and seen your work. So do what you can to make your work make sense to them. This way they can see the connection between your work and their products.

Essentially, your art licensing portfolio is your inventory. Your inventory is made up of collections.

It’s what you’re going to be selling to brands and companies. The way you organize your work will depend on your style and way of working.

If you’re a fine artist working in one style but explore different subjects, you could organize your work by subjects.

LeRoy Niemann does a great job of this on his site.

Check out the LeRoy Niemann collections

Ultimately, when it comes to art licensing, companies are looking for themes to use across a range of products, with relevant images.

Why?

The more products they can make from a collection, the more they can sell.

I recommend creating sets of four to ten works into a collection. Which could be used on complementary products. Making it as easy as possible for potential licensees to look through and understand each collection.

How many collections should you include? “The size of your portfolio will depend greatly on how much work you have. The more inventory you have, the greater your chances are in securing licensing deals. I recommend having 20-30 collections in a variety of themes.

How to establish your image copyrights

I talked about organizing your work into collections first because it’ll make it easier to register your copyrights. So instead of registering each image separately, which would be time-consuming, you can register a whole collection at once.

The process is pretty self-explanatory. Visit https://www.copyright.gov/registration/ to register an account and begin establishing your copyrights.

Luckily, your work can be registered in batches with the US Copyright Office, so it’s a good idea to make this practice a regular part of your business – and not only when your work has been licensed.

When you’re in the midst of negotiating a licensing deal, your licensees will want to see proof that you own the copyright.

How to profitably showcase your work

1. Tailor your portfolio
Don’t feel pressured to include every single piece you have ever created. Remember that styles go in and out, and manufacturers want to see what’s on-trend.

And, if you wow them with one art licensing collection, odds are, they’ll keep coming back for more. That means you’ll need to have new work ready to show them. Consider holding on to new designs or adding old designs back in when the time is right.

Then, think about what type of product lines are sold by the manufacturers you are trying to reach.

Who is their audience and what types of design genres will they go for? Print versus a pattern, bright or subdued colors, characters, scenes, floral, holiday, beach … the list goes on.

Help them help you.

Tailor the contents of one collection to fit their design needs and it will make it much more enticing to license work from you.

Feel free to submit different collections to different clients.

2. Showcase your work on mock-ups
Use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to make mock-up images. This will help manufacturers get a picture of your artwork on actual products or in real-life spaces. It takes away some guesswork and helps them to envision the final product. Plus, mock-ups help manufacturers understand how the designs in your collection can be used together.

Another attractive thing to offer is patterns. If you are a designer or can work in design, you could make patterns and designs that would work great to complement your original art images, or to license to fabric companies.

Your website is the best place to showcase your art licensing collections.

I recommend having a page dedicated to each collection on your website. In a later lesson, I’m going to show you how to reach out to potential companies.

In that process, having a dedicated URL to link to that showcases a relevant collection that specifically appeals to a specific client.

Key points for establishing your art licensing image copyrights

Organizing your work thematically into cohesive collections is the best way to showcase your work. Essentially, these collections are your inventory. The process of registering your copyrights is easier when you register your copyright in batches – one collection at a time.

Action steps

  1. Take a step back and look at your work to understand the most logical way to organize your work. This will be different for every artist. Maybe you intentionally create collections based on different holidays. Maybe you organize your work by what medium you use. Maybe you organize your work into collections based on subjects matter. It’s up to you.
  2. Register each collection as a batch with the US Copyright Office to establish your copyright.
  3. Create a page on your website for each collection. A minimum of 4-5 images per collection. Aim to ultimately have at least 12 collections. More the better.

LESSON 3: How to connect with your art licensing leads

In the last lesson, we talked about how to organize your work into collections and establish your copyright efficiently with batches.

You’ve also created dedicated pages on your website for each collection. Each with a specific URL you can use to direct potential licensees to.

In this lesson, we’re going to begin reaching out to potential companies who will license your art.

Before you reach out to the right companies you have to first know who the right clients are. This is done with a bit of research.

Don’t worry, it’s surprisingly easy to find manufacturers and companies.

Here are some of the easiest ways to start researching who to reach out to:

Google
You can just as easily find manufacturers by searching for a type of product that you’re interested in having your art printed on. This starts with also thinking about either what possible products you would like to see your work on or what industries.

Examples of products can be anything from beach towels and greeting cards to skateboards and calendars. Honestly, there are so many random types of products art licensing is used for it would blow your mind. Even things like images on the back of bank checks to state license plates all licensed art from individual artists.

Examples of industries include homewares to sports. It’s up to your interests and your art.

So whichever is more interesting for you, searching by product or searching my industry, narrow it down and start searching for companies on Google. There isn’t anything too special or secret about it.

For example, when I searched for “skateboard manufacturer”, the first page of the results lists already created of the main skateboard brands and manufacturers.

You may have to experiment a little with search terms. But you can find companies and manufacturers pretty easily.

Make a list of the manufacturers and companies you think are a good fit and write down their main contact email.

Explore stores in-person and online
Go through online marketplaces or stores in-person. Sometimes a lot of products with art on them won’t directly have the name of the manufacturer on them. If you see a puzzle with a cool design and you think your art would look just as good on a puzzle, you can look on the box for information.

No matter what information you find, you can always further search it on Google and discover more on there.

For instance, if you find a brand name but you are pretty sure that the brand doesn’t do their own manufacturing, you can search for that brand on Google and see who their suppliers are.

Directly reach out and ask
Never be afraid to ask. Email or call up a company. Simply ask them how who you need to speak with who makes the licensing decisions or if they manufacture their own products.

There’s no harm in asking. A majority of the time you’ll be helped without any questions.

Remember, art licensing is not an industry where only the most famous artists can succeed. It’s simply about sharing your work with the right companies who you know can benefit from your images on their products.

EMAIL TEMPLATE: What to say to your potential art licensing clients

When you find the right email to contact the company, you can send the following email.

The goal of this email is to simply see if they’re interested in possibly licensing your art. You’re not trying to get them to send you money right now, you’re simply seeing if they’re interested in opening up a conversation about possibly licensing your art. You’re breaking the ice.

Put simply, you want to get a YES, NO or MAYBE.

In your initial talks with them, there are simple questions you can ask to determine this. Such as, “Have you licensed art in the past?” If yes, that’s great, it shows they’ve paid someone before and are motivated in their business or role.

The easiest way to start qualifying leads is with my simple intro email. Here’s what the email script looks like below. (After you read it, I’m going to break down why it works.)

[SUBJECT LINE] Possible art licensing collaboration with you

[01 INTRO] Hi Ashley,

I recently saw your packaging of chocolates your company created. I noticed you used illustrations with a loose line and inky style.

[02 OFFER] I’ve been illustrating for 5 years and like to offer to share some of my work with you to see if it would be a fit for your products.

[03 BENEFIT] I can share some of the collections I think you would like. Also if you think we’re a good fit for each other I can offer up a few digital mockups of the art on your products to make sure it’s in line with your standards.

[04 FOOT-IN-DOOR] We can discuss the details of course, but first I wanted to see if this is something you’re interested in.

[05 CALL-TO-ACTION] If so, would it be okay if I sent you a few ideas on how I can help?

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

Notice this isn’t some long impersonal sales letter you can blast to all your leads. You have to customize each one based on real research you’ve done about them.

You’re not trying to get a sale from this email. You’re just trying to qualify them to make sure they’re worth more of your time.

The email explained

00 SUBJECT LINE
A descriptive subject line makes you stand out in their inbox. Most importantly, it’s clear. You’re not trying to trick someone into opening your email. You’re telling them exactly what the email is about. The quickest way to get your email sent to the Trash bin is by using deceiving subject lines. Just don’t do it. Clear and descriptive subject lines trump everything else.

01 INTRO
This is where you’re showing how you heard about them and are knowledgeable about them and their work. You aren’t blindly sending hundreds of cut and pasted email templates, you’re being authentic in EVERY email you send to a lead.

Also, don’t say, I randomly found you online. Always be specific and show that you’ve done research about them. So mention a project or a fact about their business. People can tell if they’re reading genuine email or not. Your intro is the place to establish your authenticity.

02 OFFER
Your offer is a simple description of the creative service you would like to offer them.

03 BENEFIT
This is where you share the benefits of your creative service. How it can appeal to their needs and help them. You already have done the research for your prospect’s target market. You understand their needs and work they use.

Why will they care? Remember, this email is about how you’re going to help them, not about you and some long list of credentials. So never talk about yourself for more than a few lines. Don’t go into a detailed history of ALL of your awards, past clients, experiences, and education trying to impress them. They don’t really care. They just care about how you’re going to help them.

04 FOOT-IN-DOOR
This puts the reader at ease. Letting them know they don’t have to make a decision right away. You’re simply looking for a smaller agreement before they agree to your next call-to-action.

05 CALL-TO-ACTION
Just give them a simple Yes or No option. Never say anything like, “Take a look at my website and let me know if you’re interested,” or “What do you think?” When you’re emailing an important VIP or creative decision-maker for the first time, you have to make it so they can only reply with either a YES, NO, or a MAYBE.

The reasons this email template works

  • It explains who you are and how you know about them in an authentic way.
  • Shows why you’re writing them and that you are offering something of value.
  • Reassures them they don’t have to commit to anything.
  • It makes it easy for them to say Yes or No.

I can’t emphasize this enough: You aren’t trying to make a sale from this first email. You’re simply seeing if they’re interested in working with you.

Once you’ve got a Yes from them, you’ll follow-up with a more detailed interaction. They’ll read it because they’ve committed to reading it by saying “Yes they’re interested in the first email.”

NOTE: It’s up to you if you decide to share a URL to your portfolio website. If you don’t have a portfolio website you can always put a PDF together of your work and send it along with your intro email. I suggest showing them work that’s directly related to what they would be interested in. Hopefully, you’ve already created collections of your work that reside on specific URLs on your art website.

Possible outcomes

They say YES
Great, you have their permission to send them a more detailed follow-up email. They’ve expressed interest, so now you can follow-up with something else. (Which we’ll cover in the next lesson.)

They say NO THANKS or you don’t get a response
If they’re not interested, no big deal, just move on.

If you don’t hear from them at all, 99% of the time it’s because they’re busy and have nothing to do with you. I suggest sending a quick reminder email attached to your original email. This quick reminder email should be along the lines of:

“Hi, I know you’re probably very busy. I just wanted to float the email I sent you last week to the top of your inbox. Just in case you didn’t see it. Thanks again.”

MAYBE LATER or NOT RIGHT NOW
This can be due to timing. They may be interested in working with you, but don’t need your services right now. Mark this in your email spreadsheet and schedule a time to email them in 1 month, 3 months, or whatever makes sense in the situation. Put them in a Maybe list. So when you have extra time you can reach out to them later.

Key points for reaching out to art licensing leads.

Research isn’t any mystery. You have to put in the time and dig down deep to find the right manufacturers and companies. Search products online or in-person at a store. Dig down to find the manufacturer or brand name.

The goal of your first contact email is to simply qualify the lead. To get a simple YES, NO, or MAYBE.

Action steps

  1. Make a list of 50 companies and manufacturers along with their main contact emails.
  2. Send an inquiry email following the sample script to all of the leads.
  3. Make this a part of your weekly routine. Setting time aside on one day a week to research and send outreach emails.

LESSON 4: How to convert your art licensing leads into paying clients

In the last lesson, we started making a list of art licensing leads. Then we learned how to send an introductory email to the leads to break the ice. Simply to understand if they are interested in a new art licensing opportunity.

In this lesson, we’re going to learn what to do after you send the first introductory email, a client shows an interest in learning more about you and your work.

Then how to turn these leads into actual paying licensees.

Let’s get started.

So you’ve qualified a lead, they said YES they’re interested in your licensing your art, awesome! Now what?

Well, it really depends on the situation.

In most cases, you’ll just send a more detailed email with a quick email proposal showing specific collections that apply to them and the products they make. Then you have more conversations leading up to the moment you close the deal.

Essentially, converting your qualified leads into clients is broken up into these two parts:

  1. Discovery conversations
  2. Closing the licensing deal with a proposal

Two phases of converting your qualified art licensing leads into clients.

Discovery conversations
The root of this exploratory phase is asking good questions.

Don’t just wait for your potential client to tell you what they want. You need to ask questions that will familiarize yourself with their art licensing needs, so you can base your offer on value.

The three main types of questions to ask during a conversation are:

Informational questions

  • “What art licensing styles do you look for?”
  • “Do you prefer to see a few ideas, before you select a final?”

Aspirational

  • “What do you want to achieve with this project?”
  • “Would you like it if you could win an award with this project?”

Diagnostic

  • “What did you try in the past?”
  • “Why didn’t it work?”
  • “What really worked?”

Also, doing your homework before you converse with someone is one of the most impactful things you can do. Learn as much about their business as possible before you start talking. If you jump into a conversation with them showing you know what their business, products they have made in the past, what they’re about, and the direction they’re headed, you’ll create a powerful impression with them.

So familiarize yourself with your client’s situation and needs to the best of your ability.

The research you do prior will allow you to ask questions that will help them become comfortable with you while transitioning into more in-depth questions.

Asking questions and LISTENING is 80% of the sales process. The more a potential client knows you understand their needs, the easier it’ll be for you to craft a proposal emphasizing how you’ll address their needs and problems.

  • How are you going to help them?
  • Where are you going to take them?
  • If you had a specific range of art licensing collections that did this, what would that mean for you?

Crafting an art licensing proposal to close the deal

Now that we’ve established an actual understanding from your client about what they want, you can now work on closing the deal.

Knowing when to close the deal can be tricky especially in licensing. A lot of their needs depend on the manufacturing of physical goods which only happens once or a few times a year. So you have to align with their schedule. This means, in most cases, you’ll have to wait a little to close the deal.

It’s more likely that they won’t need art licensing immediately. This is a long game. I’ve found in most cases, companies and manufacturers will stay in touch with you as they plan next runs. But make sure you stay in touch at least every month until they’re ready to work with you.

There aren’t any rules. But generally, after you’ve talked with your client you can simply say, “Would you like me to send you a proposal of what I plan on doing for you?”

If they say yes, then say, “Great, I’ll work on a quick proposal and send it to you by Friday. After that, I’ll let you review it and we can figure out the next steps. How does that sound?”

If they agree, then send them a simple email proposal.

Remember 80% of your marketing work is done before you send over a proposal.

Don’t make the proposal too technical or you risk scaring them away. Just write an email with the project details, delivery dates, your rates and ask the client if they agree.

When you mention your price always give them two options. Two options will make them compare your art licensing prices against each other, rather than against other artists.

Offering two ways of working with you.

When you offer two solutions in your proposal at different price points you’re accomplishing a few things:

You’re getting the client to compare your prices against each other, rather than with someone else’s prices. In essence, you’re competing with yourself.

You’re maximizing your profit without asking for their budget. By offering a low and high tier price option, you’re breaking down any earning limitations.

For licensing, the easiest way to do this is by offering to do either custom illustrations or design set-up work.

Design set-up work is where you prepare your art on digital templates to get them ready for being manufactured.

In the next lesson, we’ll get into the details of a licensing contract. Where we can learn about the different ways to make your offers unique.

But one of the key terms you need to understand now in this process is USAGE RIGHTS. Usage rights are simply the terms you iron out about how they can use your art. This is defined by things like time, location, type of product, etc.

Remember, with art licensing you’re renting out the use of your copyright ownership over specific images. This proposal simply communicates how your client is to use your work and for how long.

Here’s a sample proposal email:

Hi *NAME,

It was nice chatting with you. I put this proposal together for you based on our recent conversation.

As you know, the loose inky illustration style is what I love to create.

I understand getting the illustrations in 6 weeks is your goal, but I can confidently say I can get the first versions of them to you within 3 weeks. Also, to make sure your ideas are visually communicated the way you envision them, I’ll provide digital mockups and multiple versions of each to make sure we nail down what you’re looking for.

I know you’re busy so I can easily deliver the first version of everything in a well-labeled PDF.

Here are the following options I put together for you:

OPTION 1 –

Design Template Rate

2 wildlife illustration collections for $1,000 each

Usage Rights

$1,500 per collection – 1 year of exclusive, non-transferable and non-assignable use of the artwork for the purpose of application in print and digital media.

Total: $5,000

OPTION 2 –

Design Template Rate

5 wildlife illustration collections for $750 each

Usage Rights

$3,000 per collection – 2 years of exclusive, non-transferable and non-assignable use of the artwork for the purpose of application in print and digital media.

Total: $18,750

Please take your time to look everything over. if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

In the first part of your art licensing proposal, email reinforces the benefits associated with their needs. You learned about these during your exploratory conversations.

The benefits included in the email above:

Clarity by reinforcing the style of art licensing images they’re looking for.

Instilling reliability and confidence in me because I’m taking the initiative to deliver the collections 3 weeks before their proposed deadline – to make sure they’re happy.

Also, avoiding disaster because I’m not going to deliver the project a day before the deadline.

There are a few possible outcomes:

  • They say YES
    Great, then you should send over a simple licensing contract which we’ll talk about in the next lesson. Once it’s signed, get started on the project.
  • They say LATER
    This is just how licensing is, especially with physical products. Products or only made a few times a year. So if you get a LATER response, it’s simply a scheduling thing.
  • They say NO THANKS
    The same as before. They say NO THANKS or you don’t get a response. If they’re not interested, no big deal, just move on. But you’ll find this rarely happens if you’ve made it this far into the process.
  • They DISAPPEAR
    For whatever reasons, if you don’t hear from them. It usually means you were out of their budget. Or they don’t align with your requirements.

This email script works to reignite the art licensing conversation and bring you closer to closing the deal with your lead and turning them into your client.

“I hope everything is great with you. I just wanted to check in with you about creating the illustrations for your website we talked about. I wanted to send you some additional thoughts and ideas I had based on our previous conversations. Are you still interested in moving forward on this project?”

If you still don’t hear from them, then move on. Chances are they didn’t have the minimum budget requirements to work with you.

You won't get every art licensing client

But if you did the earlier steps well (asked the right questions, showing what you can do, getting them interested) then you’ll actually find you won’t get too many rejections this late in the process.

Just don’t feel bad if you don’t get every sale.

What you might get is “Maybe” or “I’ll think about it”. If this happens, push the interaction one step further by asking for a time commitment.

EXAMPLE

Client: “This sounds interesting, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it.”

You: “Sure, I understand you need some time to consider everything we discussed. Let’s come back to this later. When would be a good time to speak again?”

If they don’t know, then you probably don’t have the sale. Send them a follow-up email a few days later, if you still don’t hear from them, then move on. At some point down the line, send in a check-in every other month. You don’t need to get every one right away.

As far as giving rates, there’s a reason why we’re only bringing it up at the very end of the sales process. It’s because when you perform all the earlier steps correctly, oftentimes the price doesn’t even really matter.

If you’re offering something that potential licensees need – and you can expertly solve their creative problems with your work, your price is merely a technicality.

When things go perfectly, the client sees the price as simply an investment in getting what they want.

Many clients will ask you for your rate right away. This can result in the client saying “no” before your discussions start.

We are all about value and establishing a long term relationship.

EXAMPLE

Client: “How much will this cost?”

You: “I’d be happy to talk about my rates, but right now I’d just like to learn more about your needs. As every project is a little different. Once I’m more familiar with your needs, we can definitely work out a rate that we can both agree on”.

Key points for converting leads into art licensing clients

  • There are two phases of turning a qualified lead into a paying client. An exploratory conversation and sending a proposal.
  • 80% of selling is listening to their specific needs and wants.
  • Send a proposal with two options at different price points. This way your prices are competing with you and not anyone else.

Action steps

Create and practice one-liners to say for each of the following:

  1. Deferring the discussion about your rate.
  2. Give your rate confidently, then transition back to the value discussion. Never feel ashamed for your rate, you’ve done a lot of hard work to get to where you are today.
  3. Standing firm on your rate. “Based on your needs and my skills, I feel like this is a fair rate.”

Go make sales. You’ve completed the sales funnel. Generate leads, qualify, pitch them, and close the deal.

LESSON 5: What should be in your art licensing contract

In the last art licensing lesson, we talked about converting your leads to paying licensees.

From how to learn about their needs through inquisitive conversations and how to send a proposal outlining your base terms. In essence, qualifying them to move forward with an art licensing project.

In this lesson, we’re going to talk about art licensing contracts. We’re going to go over the key things to watch out for in contracts and better understand the core concepts to make sure you protect your time, money, and ideas along the way.

Everything about art licensing contracts

The appeal of art licensing is that you can actually license the same piece of art for usage by multiple companies on different products, maximizing your earning potential.

Contracts are part of this business. And you do need to understand them. The beautiful thing is you don’t always have to have an attorney.

Understand that while hiring a lawyer can be really advantageous for clarifying the legalese in large contracts for large accounts, hiring a lawyer may also cost you more than you ever make from the deal.

Depending on how big of an art licensing deal is, some things may or may not be important. I have worked with art licensing contracts that are one page long to 60 pages long.

Never complain, “I’m an artist, I can’t understand contract!”. They’re essential to your art licensing business.

Contracts can vary wildly from artist to artists. They can also seem intimidating, but when you know the few essential terms and clauses to look out for, they’re pretty easy to understand.

The appeal of art licensing is that you can actually license the same piece of art for usage by multiple companies on different products, maximizing your earning potential. This is what’s so great about art licensing.

With a detailed contract, you can still be free to take the same, say, bird illustrations that you’re putting on a puzzle for one company and license it to a different company who will put it on a t-shirt, and to somebody else to put on gift wrap in a pattern, and to somebody else to put on a skateboard, and to somebody else to put on wall art, and somebody else to put on hats. The potential is endless.

A great contract also defines and determines how you get paid.

Let’s get started.

First, let’s go over a few key processes and terms you need to understand when it comes to an art licensing contract. Bottom line, the purpose of a contract is to protect your time, money, and ideas (copyright).

QUICK DISCLAIMER: I’m not an attorney. If you need legal advice, you should hire an attorney. This contract template and information I’m sharing with you does not create an Attorney-Client relationship with me.

Essential terms and clauses for your art licensing contract

Essentially, contracts are broken up into a few sections.

The first section identifies who the contract is between. Clearly stating the business names, contact information, and relationship.

  • Description
    This is where you introduce who is involved in the project. Identifying who is the licensor and who is the licensee.
  • Licensor
    You hold the copyright for the images and are essentially renting out the use of your copyright on specific images for an extremely specific use. You, therefore, are a LICENSOR.
  • Licensee
    The company you are renting the specific use of your copyrights to are called the LICENSEE.
  • Project overview
    Simply write a summary of the overall project. Identify what images are being licensed and how they can be used. This is where you’ll clearly identify your exact deliverables for the final projects. Explaining exactly what the client will receive at the end of this project. Think about the exact dimensions, medium, delivery details, and format.
  • Scope of work
    Define the services and steps involved you will be providing.
  • Timeline
    Simply list the project deadline.
  • Timeline notes
    The Licensee should be aware that failure to submit required information or materials may cause subsequent delays in the production and finished work.
  • Deliverables
    List the specific image collections, files, and formats the client will receive from you.
  • Delivery method
    Simply list how you will be sending the files. I typically write via email.
  • Single point of contact
    Often overlooked, when you work with a company there will likely be multiple people on their team, you want to clearly identify a single point of contact. For example, if one person told you to make a revision and the rest of their team approved. You shouldn’t have to spend more time on revisions because of their lack of communication on their end. So clearly identify ONE person you’ll be communicating with. This way you’ll avoid communication assumptions
  • Project requires the following assets provided by the licensee
    List the specific things you need, such as print template dimensions, you will need to complete the project.
  • Asset delivery notes
    This is where you establish that failure to submit the required assets. May cause subsequent delays in the delivery of finished work. You don’t want to get the required assets from the licensee 2 days before the project deadline.
  • Usage rights overview
    When you're licensing your work, you’re renting out the use of the copyright of a specific image. For your image to be used in a specific way for a specific amount of time. And this needs to be worded clearly in your contract.
  • Rights transferred
    State which rights the licensee will have. This includes the category of use, the medium of use (what kind of product), geographic area, time period, and the number of uses.
  • All rights granted will expire on
    The clearest way you can establish when they can renew this agreement.
  • Compensation
    Establish what the design fee, advance, and royalty rate is.
  • Design Fee
    This identifies the work you will do to prep the images for the company to use for manufacturing. Such as making any adjustments to your art, creating patterns, and inserting your art onto digital print templates. This is a non-refundable fee paid 100% up-front.
  • Advance
    This is a sum of money given to you to use your art but is recouped by the licensee through royalties. For example, let’s say you received an advance of $3,000 to license an image for a book cover. The company (licensee) can recoup this $3,000 from your royalties before you begin receiving your royalties. In other words, they don’t have to pay you any royalties until they make back this $3,000. Essentially, an advance is a good-faith payment of future royalties. This is also non-refundable.
  • Royalty Rate
    Your royalty rate is how much you earn from sales of the product. As long as a company is profiting from your image on their product, so should you.

You should always try to negotiate the largest percentage you can, based on the knowledge you have of the distribution of the product to retail. l (where are the products going?), the type of product being licensed (some products inherently yield smaller royalties) and your “status” in the field of art licensing (have you earned the right to ask for higher percentages based on years of good sales and a name brand?). You should be aware, though, that if you are just starting your career in licensing, do not expect to get industry maximums.

The Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA) recently released the average royalty rates for the vast number of industries currently doing licensing.

LIMA reports that the average royalty for art licensing agreements is between 3 – 6 %.

What you’ll discover is that manufacturers that sell to mass retailers (Walmart, Target, etc.) are pressed pretty hard by the retailers to keep their costs down low. This means they cannot afford to pay large royalties, with the assumption being that the Licensor (you the artist) will make up the difference in volume. As such, you will see those royalty rates in the 3 – 6% range.)

Based on these averages, you should expect a good deal to be in the 5% range.

There are so many factors to consider when licensing your art. With royalties being one of the most important. 3-5% can give you a general framework from which to make your recommendations when doing a deal.

  • Payment schedule
    State when payments are due.
  • Payment notes
    Explain that if the licensee should change the scope of the project, you reserve the right to adjust the billing accordingly with written approval from them. The grant of any rights is conditioned on receipt of full, on-time payment. This also includes late royalty payments months from now. If they don’t pay you on time, they risk losing the usage rights.
  • Expenses
    Unless otherwise stated, this estimate does not include things like printing, shipping, or travel-related costs. These will be billed separately.
  • Original work
    This is where you ensure that you own the copyrights to your work.
  • Preliminary work
    Sometimes on a licensing project, you’ll send the licensee some sketches for, maybe a custom illustration they’re requesting. This section simply establishes that you own the copyright for these sketches. Which they can not use.
  • Ownership
    A simple sentence to reaffirm you, as the licensor, own the copyright to the work.
  • Non-transferable
    An often overlooked part of art licensing contracts. This establishes that the licensee can NOT sublease their usage rights of your images to another company.
  • Work alteration
    This prevents a licensee from altering your art. For example, let’s say they had their designers re-color or merge your art with the work of another artist. This is something that may hurt your personal brand. Once you license your art, you don’t want it changing in any creative way that’s out of your control.
  • Confidentiality
    This clause reassured the licensee that you won’t reveal or talk about any confidential information disclosed to you. For example, maybe they are waiting to launch a specific product and don’t want their competition to know about it.
  • Grant of rights
    This establishes that you are the owner of the copyright of the images and may still license the work in a way that doesn’t conflict with this license.
  • Credit line
    Apart from getting paid. The next most important thing is getting credit for your work. Credit is how you spread awareness of you and your work. In turn, getting additional work.
  • Creative vision
    If you’re making custom art to go along in a collection or altering your art to fit a template or you’re making a pattern. This creative vision clause establishes that you will do everything in your creative vision. This avoids the annoying request of “can you do this in a different style”. Or just flat out making creative alterations to your work that go against your expertise.
  • Indemnification
    What if your client gets sued over a product that you had a hand in helping them create. This section is so important as it clearly states you’ll not be held liable for any claims and/or damages as a result of any accusations or cases of infringement. You will be held harmless against any claims brought against you based upon allegations brought against your client.
  • Revisions
    Clearly state how many revisions you’ll allow during the initial stages of the project. This can be if you’re setting up print files with your work on it or creating custom illustrations for your licensing client. You’re establishing that revisions not due to the fault of the artist shall be billed separately.
  • Scope of work changes
    When your licensee requests additions, alterations, changes in content, layout, and/or process, you’ll have to alter the timeline and cost of the project. If there are any changes in the requirements of this project, you reserve the right to adjust your deadline and invoicing accordingly.
  • Cancellation
    If the project is canceled or postponed any time prior to completion, do you get paid for the services you’ve rendered? You bet!

Here’s how this art licensing contract template worded about the cancellation:

“If this contract is terminated prior to acceptance of the work, the following percentages of the compensation will be payable: The following percentages of the Compensation:

  • 25% before delivery of roughs
  • 33% after delivery of roughs
  • 50% after delivery of color visual
  • 75% after delivery of any subsequent revised illustration rough
  • 100% on delivery of the finished artwork”

When you are setting up files for the licensee you are using your valuable time. If you turn down work because you’ve allotted your time for a particular client and this client goes away, you’re out a lot of money! This clause protects you from this scenario.

  • Force majeure event/ “Act of God” clause
    Sometimes causes beyond your control, including but not limited to acts of God, war, strikes or labor disputes, embargoes, government orders or any other force majeure events, may cause you from not delivering by the agreed-upon deadline. This protects you from having to work while your house is being consumed by a tornado.
  • Governing law
    If worse comes to worst and someone ends up taking the other to court, what will be the governing area? What if you’re on one side of a country and your client is on the other? Do you have to take any legal matters to a court near them? Or a court near you? Clarify this in this section of your contract.
  • Independent contractor
    Your relationship with a company should never be called a WORK FOR HIRE. Never sign a contract that has those three words on it. A work for hire means you are an employee for the company and you surrender all of your copyrights to them. You want to make sure you are identified as an independent contractor. By taking on an “independent contractor” arrangement your copyright can only be used as you define in the contract.
  • Acceptance of terms
    The signature of both parties shall be evidence acceptance of these terms. Probably the most important part of an agreement is where you and your client sign the contract. This means you both agree to the terms.

Key points about your art licensing contract

Your art licensing contract is the most important part of any art licensing deal. It’s what art licensing is.

Never sign a contract that says WORK FOR HIRE.

Get detailed in your USAGE RIGHTS.

I encourage you to go over each part of the contract with your clients. Every licensee you work with may have different needs and wants. Be willing to make adjustments but make sure at least each of these clauses is acknowledged in your contract or a contract your licensee provides you with.

LESSON 6: How to get art licensing referrals

In the last few lessons, we learned about finding leads, qualifying them, and negotiating a licensing contract.

In this lesson, we’re going to talk about the future of the art licensing branch of your art business.

In essence, we’re going to learn about the best way to efficiently grow your list of licensees without having to do cold outreach like we’ve been learning in the past lessons.

But first, remember why we’re pursuing art licensing.

Think about it, it’s hard enough to make prints and manage an inventory of original art.

Alternatively, think of the amount of time you would lose if you start making different products on your own. Products such as t-shirts, greeting cards, puzzles, etc. You’ll be spending more of your time managing inventory, shipping orders, returns, quality control, and manufacturing.

You'll be left with zero time for making art.

Art licensing lets you focus on what you do best, make art.

While it lets your clients do what they do best, manufacture and sell goods.

Remember, your art is valuable to manufacturers and companies:

  • Your images have a lot of selling power. The only reason brands are able to manufacture and sell products because they have your awesome images on them.
  • You're the expert in making your work, coming up with ideas, and making them look great. So as long as a company or brand is profiting off of your images, so should you.
  • You determine your prices and what's required of who you're partnering with so you feel great working with them at the end of the day.

Now let’s talk about how to further grow your art licensing list of licensees with referrals.

First step to getting art licensing referrals

With referrals, you can exponentially grow your licensee list by having your existing art licensing clients open their professional networks to you.

Your best source of new licensees is from referrals from your existing happy clients.

You cannot receive a better lead than one that has been sent your way with a strong referral.

But how exactly how do you get your existing clients to refer you to their trusted colleagues and open up their professional network to you?

The answer is simple, you just ask.

Having already completed a licensing project with a paying licensee, who better to recommend you and your creative services than your happy client.

Too many creatives simply don’t ask for referrals. They’ll finish a project and once they hand over the work and get paid, they never interact with their client again. This is a big mistake.

What if you could get 3 additional licensees or even just one from each of your existing clients? You would exponentially grow your clientele. Literally snowballing your business.

The best time to ask for referrals is right after you finish a project with them. After having delivered excellent service, and made a great impression.

You can’t afford to be shy or be afraid to ask for referrals either. You aren’t going to appear desperate or diminish your value in your licensee’s eyes.

I’m going to show you two email scripts you can customize and send to your clients once you wrap up a project–effectively cloning them into additional clients.

Here’s the first email you can send a recent client:

EMAIL TEMPLATE: How to ask recent clients for a referral

SUBJECT: Other great clients like you?

Hello [NAME],

I hope all is well with you.

I’m glad you were happy with the illustrations I created for your project. Thanks again for choosing to work with me!

I’m always looking for similar art licensing types of projects. Which is why I’d love it if you could recommend other companies or art directors you think my work would be a good fit for. So if anyone comes to mind, I’d appreciate it if you could reply to this email with their name and email.

My experience working with you was great and thought it would be great if you could recommend other people like you.

If not, no problem — I just wanted to touch base with you. Thanks again for having chosen to work with me.

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

This email is pretty straightforward and doesn’t come off as pushing in any way. Once they reply here is an email script you can customize and send to the person your recent client referred:

EMAIL TEMPLATE: How to introduce yourself to new art licensing referrals

SUBJECT: [NAME OF REFERRER] suggested we get in touch – Art Licensing

Hi [REFERRAL NAME],

[NAME OF REFERRER] recommended I reach out to you. My name is [YOUR NAME] and I’m an illustrator based in [YOUR LOCATION].

A few months ago I illustrated [DESCRIPTION OF REFERRER’S PROJECT].

Afterward, they gave me your email because they thought you could use similar illustrations on your next project.

I’ve been illustrating for 5 years and would like to offer art to license on any projects you may have coming up.

We can discuss the details of course, but first I wanted to see if this is something you’re interested in.

If so, would it be okay if I sent you a few ideas on how I can help?

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

This email has the same approach as the email we used to qualify new leads in a previous lesson. However, because someone in their professional network recommended you, it guarantees they’ll open, read, and reply to your email.

Key points about getting art licensing referrals

  • Your best referrals will come from existing happy clients.
  • The hard work of researching and chasing cold leads is only in the beginning. After you break the ice with your art licensing clients will it become easier to grow your art licensing clients.

Action step

  1. Send art licensing referral request email to all of your past happy licensees. Immediately after receiving a referral, send an introductory email to them.

Conclusion: Final thoughts on getting started in art licensing

There you have it! An 11,000+ word guide on how to get started in art licensing!

This is something I wish I had when I was getting started. While there are a handful of ways to earn from your art such as working as a freelance artist, art licensing is probably the least understood branch of running an art business. Art licensing is also a natural extension of working as an illustrator.

Just remember, everything can be broken down into just a few simple steps. While these steps do take a log of work, perhaps seeing them laid out like this will help you get started in art licensing.

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