If you’ve ever thought about licensing your artwork, you probably feel one of two ways about it. Either it seems like an impossibly complex process and you can’t imagine getting started…or it seems like easy money, where royalty checks show up in your mailbox while
As with most creative careers, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Licensing your artwork takes a ton of work (building a portfolio, finding clients, managing contracts) and big returns aren’t always guaranteed–but it’s also not as complicated as you might think. And while it’s no get-rich-quick scheme, it’s a fantastic way to make money through something you enjoy doing.
There are a ton of online resources that go into the nitty-gritty of licensing your artwork, and some of them are linked at the bottom of this post. But to whet your appetite, here’s a quick guide to licensing your artwork.
Licensing your artwork is different from copyrighting your artwork
Let’s start off with the basics. Copyrighting your artwork (or rather, registering the copyrights on your original artwork) is a step you need to take well before you can license your artwork. Why? Because if a company steals your design, you need to be legally protected.
When you license your artwork, you keep the copyright. You’re giving another company the license to, essentially, borrow your artwork for a specific product of theirs–greeting cards, a mug, a shirt, a poster–and in return, you’ll get a cut of the sales.
Finally, to make sure you and your artwork are always protected from theft or liability, have someone on hand to help you review your art licensing contracts.
How to find clients
Like many other creative careers, one solid way to find clients is via cold-pitching. If you already have some dream companies you’d like to work with, research them to see if they license artwork, double-check to make sure your art style fits in with their products, and start reaching out.
If you have no companies in mind and you’re not sure how to get started:
- Do in-person research. Go to a store that sells mugs/shirts/posters/journals that you really love, find the information about the manufacturer, and take a photo. (Manufacturing info is usually, but not always, on the bottom/back of an object.)
- Do social media research. If you’re looking for an excuse to take an hour and scroll through Instagram, here’s your airtight alibi! Search a hashtag like #artlicensing, and you’ll immediately find a ton of artists who license their work–as well as the companies they work with. Poke around until you find people who match your style, and add the companies they worked with to your master list.
- Set up shop at a trade show. If you have artwork to show and the budget for it, trade shows are consistently cited as the main place artists meet licensing clients. Surtex in New York City is one of the most popular, but some others include Printsource and the Licensing Expo.
Licensing your artwork: Next steps
If you’re a visual artist seriously thinking about licensing your artwork, here are your immediate next steps to take:
Step 1: Make a website.
You need a professional portfolio site that shows off all your best angles, and is basically a giant flashing neon sign that says “Take me seriously!” to all potential clients. Your website should be clean, well-designed, easy to navigate, and highlight your accomplishments.
Step 2: Research trade shows near you.
Get an idea, ASAP, of what your deadlines would be to set up at a trade show. Once you know the dates and location, you can start budget-planning and portfolio-planning. How much time do you have to save up for travel/participation costs? What portfolio pieces do you need to create between now and then? Make sure your deadlines are realistic.
Step 3: Conduct some potential client research.
Start building your dream client list with a mix of online and in-person research. Once you have a list of 15 potential companies that would mesh well with your style, begin bulking out your portfolio with pieces to impress them.
Looking to dig deeper into the world of licensing your artwork? Start with the resources listed below: