Thinking About Licensing Your Creative Work? Read This First
If you’ve been in the lettering or illustration community on IG for a while, you’re probably familiar with the idea of licensing by now. Either way, Let’s get into the what’s and the why’s (and why not’s) of considering to licensing your work.
What is licensing?
The simplest answer is that licensing is when you “rent” your art to someone for them to use. As artists, we own the rights to all of our work once it's made and put out into the world, but if a company sees something you created and wanted to put it on their packaging, product, T shirt, etc - they can license it from you for an agreed-upon fee. There are two different types of licensing that you should know about:
1. Royalties: You know, like when a child actor is still receiving checks for a Christmas movie they did 15 years ago every time it airs on TV! When it comes to art, the process is similar. You will receive a percentage of profits the company receives from products that use your design.
2. Advance Contracts: In this agreement, you and the company you’re working with will determine a set price that they will pay you to use your art for a certain length of time. An average agreement can be about 1-3 years, but there’s always a room for negotiation. After the contract is complete, you can discuss whether or not you'd like to renew that contract, depending on how the partnership is working out for both sides.
An important thing to remember when licensing your work is that the company should never claim ownership or take ownership of your work. This should only occur if you are creating work exclusively for them to use. Also, note that while in your contract you can specify that you are able to continue to license work to other vendors, it’s likely that your agreement will include that those specific designs may not be exclusive to that brand during the contract period.
Why should I license my work?
You may wonder why you’d want to license your artwork at all if you're already making the big bucks by selling your work directly. Short answer is, paid exposure is dope. While you’re trying to grow your client base and recognition, you’ll gain more exposure through licensing with larger brand deals.
If a customer goes to Minted and likes your stationery design, they might go ahead and check out your work on Instagram, and buy directly from you next time. Licensing your work can also be an excellent source of a passive income.
You’ve decided you want to license your work. Great! Now what?
When it comes to how you license your work you can either do the legwork yourself or you can use an agency. There are pros and cons to both options. If you use an agency, they will do all of the work for you because they already have a long list of manufacturers that will license your work, but they will take a percentage which can be upwards of 50%. If you do decide to go with an agency, ArtLicensingInfo has compiled a helpful list of agencies to get you started. Note: always do your own research and make sure you’re working with the agency that best suits you, your needs and your values.
If you don’t want to work with an agency, you can still find companies to work with on your own! You’ll be able to keep all of the profits, but will definitely take a chunk of time to do some research and send out your proposals.
But, whether you’re looking to have your art licensed and sold as wall art, packaging, or greeting cards, there’s a market for you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a master list of companies that will license your work, but there are ways you can find them if you do a little digging. The most fun way way is to go shopping. While in stores, take the time to look at packaging, puzzles, or any product with art that catches your eye and see what information you can gather from there. Many times the artist’s name won’t be on the product, but you’ll be able to visit the manufacturer site and start your research. And of course, Google is always a great place to start.
After doing my own searches, I recommend being as specific as possible! Do you want to license your work for greeting cards? Search for that and you’ll find websites like UseJuno and Minted. What about puzzles? Check out Outset Media. Arts and crafts are more your style? Plaid wants to hear your ideas! Maybe you just want to sell prints. Well, that’s an option too! Check out sites like ImageKind.
If you still haven’t found someone you want to work with, many companies use social media platforms (IG and Pinterest) to find art that fits their brand. Continue to take inventory of your hashtags, descriptions and tags to make sure you're attracting the type of companie you want your work associated and aligned with.
Manage your expectations.
Everyone dreams big! You want your design to be in every card section in your country and on a mug in every household!
I get it, me too - but don't sleep on the small business that might be interested in working with you! Yes, they may be pay a little less, but they’ll be an excellent place for you to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and likely will be willing to work with you on pricing that makes both of you happy and feel appreciated.
How do you know what to charge for licensing your art?
There's no real licensing calculator out there (that I know of) that can make that decision for you, but there are some starting points.
Firstly, consider the art. How long did it take you to create?
Second, consider the company. Is this a small one person biz just getting off the ground or a multinational company? Your pricing should reflect that as well.
You want to be sure you’re getting paid what you feel you and your art are worth. Some artists may charge $100 per image, while others charge a flat rate of $1,000+. If you’re going to go with a royalties agreement, keep in mind that the higher the volume, the lower the royalties. For example, if you’re selling to a small business, you will want to charge higher as they’ll sell less units; whereas a chain of stores will sell more units, so you can charge less but still make a pretty decent profit.
This can all be fun, exciting, and profitable - but before anything else: Protect yourself. Under US law you have rights to almost anything you create that falls under “forms of expression,” but you should not rely on this protection because it is not a catchall. Thanks to the internet, plagiarism is extremely common. All somebody has to do is take a screenshot and post your work somewhere else to get credit. While it's likely not be necessary to go through the process of obtaining a copyright for every piece of your work, you may want to look into having a clause in your contract before licensing, so that the company you work with can never claim it as their own. Please note that I am by no means a copyright expert so always do your own research before taking any next steps.