Secret world of Art Licensing

I call it the secret world of art licensing because 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 from your work is by either selling your art or getting paid to create ( i.e. commissions and freelancing).

But there’s another way to earn from your art. Where you’re earning money from your existing work without selling an original or a print of it.


With art licensing.

If you aren’t too familiar with licensing, it’s where you let companies and brands use images of your work on their products. The types of products are limitless. From t-shirts and fabrics to greeting cards and puzzles.

In essence, art licensing is where you rent out the use of your copyright of a specific image.

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

But these artist’s are the tip of the iceberg. They’re the 1%.

There are thousands of other artists out there who are quietly making 6 figures in art licensing. And they’re people we’ve never heard of.

At first, I started integrating licensing into all of my illustration commissions. Where I would negotiate “usage rights” on top of creating a commission. Clearly identifying how the company who hired me can use the image I created for them, for how long, and the cost of these specific usage rights.

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.

But over the past few years, I’ve been investing more time into licensing my existing work. Transitioning my business away from one off art sales.

Art licensing works for any kind of art. From landscape painting to drawings of skulls to more abstract work to character based illustration. There are no restrictions with art licensing.

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

  1. Research. You research and keep an eye out for companies and brands you would like to license your work with.
  2. Contact. Contact these brands 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.
  3. 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 the basic terms of working with you.
  4. Make a deal. Clearly identify how long a company can use your image and in what context.
  5. Getting paid. As a baseline here’s what I recommend when it comes to money and licensing to start. Always get an advance ($4K – 6K) up front plus a royalty of sales (3-15%). This royalty depends on the size of the company and how many products your work is going to be on. Usually the more products the less your percentage.

NOTE: The advance fee covers your cost of preparing your artwork to meet the needs of the company. Such as putting your art into a digital print template that’s ready to use for printing on a specific product. This is non-refundable. For most advances, as product sales start happening, the company repays itself to recoup the advance they paid you. Afterwards you retain 100% of your agreed royalties, which come in the form of a monthly or quarterly check in the mail.

Interested in art licensing?

This is just a quick overview about art licensing to get you thinking about how you can inject art licensing into your business.

Think about it, it’s hard enough to make prints and manage an inventory of originals. If you start making a ton of different products on your own like t-shirts, greeting cards, puzzles, etc… you’ll be spending more of your time managing inventory, shipping orders, returns, quality control, manufacturing. etc…

…you’ll be left with zero time to make your art.

Art licensing lets you focus on what you do best (make art) and let’s your clients do what they do best (manufacture and sell goods).