How to License Artwork

Are you an up-and-coming artist or someone who likes to draw? If so, you must’ve thought about licensing your artwork at some point. It’s a wise decision to make — you get a patent to your name and earn royalties whenever someone uses your art.

But you must be wondering, how to license artwork? First, you need to register your artwork at your country’s official Copyright Office and create official documentation. Then, find a manufacturing company that works with artists and reproduces their artwork for sale.

In this article, we’ll be going over licensing artwork and more. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Why You Should License Your Artwork

wonderful artwork on wall

Before we begin on how to license artwork, let’s take a look at why art for licensing is worth it and why you should do it.

If you license your artwork, you can keep ownership of your work while another company is using it. This comes with tons of advantages since you’ll own the work, and a company can build up a reputation for you.
Along with that, companies are required to give you a percentage of royalties whenever you license your artwork with them. With this, you’ll be getting additional income each time they make a sale on your artwork.

If the company successfully sells your work and gains popularity, you can get a better agreement with more royalty from another company.

Licensing your artwork comes with great benefits, and you can slowly get better deals as you get more exposure. If the contract isn’t working with you, you can always end the agreement if you want.

Typical Licensing Terms You Must Know About

Now that you know why you should license your artwork let’s look at all the essential terms to remember when licensing artwork.

1. Ownership Of Artwork

You should never let the company claim the ownership of your art, and you should always keep the ownership yourself. Only let the company use exclusive parts of your artwork, and make sure you specify where they can use it.

Ensure that the company won’t expect to get full ownership of the artwork in the contract and only let them use your artwork for specific and exclusive areas.

If you’re new to licensing artwork, you might consider hiring an agent for licensing artwork. In reality, you can do it all by yourself, and you don’t need an agent.

You should realize that you have a lot of control over your artwork, and you can make deals happen and create many opportunities for yourself.


When you license your work, you can keep the legal ownership of your artwork, all while a company can be duplicating and selling your artwork. But every time they make a sale, you can get a percentage of the money obtained from the sale to yourself. This rate of money you get per sale is called royalties.

Companies will usually offer artists from 4% to 30% royalty on the price of their artwork, depending on the market. You can usually negotiate your way into having higher royalties, so try giving it a shot.

Length Of Contact

The length of your licensing contract determines when the contract ends, which is usually between 1 to 3 years. It depends on the type of deal you get, and you can sometimes keep the license for much longer.

How to License Artwork

4 artwork on wall decor

Licensing artwork can be complicated or easy depending on how experienced you are with business, but the process itself isn’t difficult. So here’s a step-by-step guide on how to license artwork-

Form a Strong Pitch

If you’re trying to get a good deal, make a strong pitch for yourself. Show how much you’re worth to companies and create your opportunities.

After researching the company’s sites, please send an email or letter telling them about your interests and work. You should always send links showcasing your best work and show them how they’re the ones who profit off of the contract.

Make sure to explain how you’re one of the best fits for their company and what your artwork is worth. This step requires confidence, but you can get better deals quickly and consistently if you manage to do it correctly.

Make a Portfolio

Whenever you’re sending the email, ensure to attach a professional portfolio of your work, preferably a link to the portfolio from a website. If your portfolio is engaging and professional, companies will be more inclined to your work.

Try to Reach Them on Social Media

If the company isn’t reading your emails, try to contact them on social media. This can be Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram. However, make sure not to spam them.

Try to contact them on all their social media at least once, and enter the exact details you’d send on an email in their direct messages. If a staff team from the company responds, make sure to be friendly and get a good relationship with them.

This will increase the chances for a company to hire you, and it’ll potentially get you a better deal. You must sound professional but sound friendly at the same time.

Learn to Protect Your Rights

If you finally reached the company successfully and are ready to make the deal, make sure to learn how to protect your rights. The company can push you in a corner and fully own the copyright if you don’t defend your rights while signing the contract.

Try to get the best deal on the company while losing nothing yourself. Protecting your rights and negotiating may be difficult at first, so be ready to decline offers.

If you’ve proven yourself to be able to protect your rights, you may even get a better chance at negotiating and get a higher royalty. But make sure the company can be trusted and has a good reputation before agreeing to the deal.

Negotiating & Demand

Negotiating is the most important part of getting a deal right after defending your rights on the contract. If you don’t negotiate, you can be getting as low as 4% royalties on your artwork, by which you’ll likely lose money.

For negotiating, firstly, take a look at the gross vs. net sales of the work. Gross sales are the total amount of customer purchases, while net sales are the total amount subtracted by deductions such as taxes.

Most companies will try to set the royalty rate depending on the net sales instead of the gross rate. Gross rates are always more profitable for the artist, but it’s almost impossible to get royalties based on the gross rate.

To get the best possible deal, try to limit the deductions on net sales as much as possible. Start by deducting the tax, shipping costs, and discounts from the gross rate.

Ensure the company isn’t deducting any of your artwork out of your control, and try to deduct commissions on third-party orders. By doing these, you can potentially double your royalties.

But before getting a deal, try to have a general idea of the demand for your artwork. Don’t take the contract if the company isn’t well known, even if they offer a great deal. You likely won’t profit since the company wouldn’t get many sales if you do.

Try to get deals at lower rates for well-known companies with a good reputation. Even if you get a mid royalty rate after negotiating, you’ll profit from the number of sales the company receives over time.

License the Work Yourself

If you’re not still able to get a proper license on your artwork, you can start by licensing the work yourself and getting a better reputation with more popularity. Companies will always try to get deals with famous artists, so licensing the work yourself is a great help.

For starters, you can take a look at websites such as ImageKind, ArtRising, and iStockPhoto. These are great to get started and can give you cheap deals.

Common Mistakes While Licensing Artwork

flower artwork with decor

Now that you’re done and ready to license artwork, let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes when licensing artwork-

1. Being Unspecific

Being unspecific about your work is one of the most common and worst mistakes you could make when licensing artwork. If you’re not specific about where the company can use your artwork, they can quickly sell or duplicate it without you ever knowing.

While signing the contract, make sure you’re specific, and you write exclusively where the company can use your artwork.

Letting Go Off Of Your Copyright

Having copyright is one of the most critical steps when making a contract for licensing your artwork. It’s commonly seen that sly companies take full copyright of your work by tricking you into the contract.

To be safe, read and understand every part of the contract before signing it. That’ll make sure you’re not losing out on royalties or copyright.

Not Taking Advance

Taking advance from a company means to take a sum of money directly after signing the contract. Always make sure to ask for an advance, since this way you won’t lose money starting out on the contract.

Never take offers from companies unwilling to give you an advance since it’ll usually lead to you getting scammed or losing your copyright. However, make sure not to ask for an advance too high, as it’ll make the company lose interest in your work.

Selling Pictures With Imperfections

You should make sure your picture isn’t technically imperfect when you’re selling art. If you’re doing photography for wildlife and such in real life, make sure your pictures aren’t out-of-focus shots, low in brightness, or too blurry.

If you do digital art, make sure it isn’t blurry, pixelated, or of the wrong resolution. Always check your artwork before trying to license your artwork; artwork with the smallest mistakes has next to no value.

Over-processed pictures

If you’re selling over processed shots with a high dynamic range, it’ll usually end up looking like a painting. These pictures don’t have much demand, and they aren’t commercially desirable.

You should refrain from adding a strong vignette, filters, or high dynamic range whenever you’re taking your photos. Make sure it’s not too bright or too dark, and ensure it doesn’t have unnecessary effects.

2. Tips And Tricks For Licensing Artwork

Now that you know all the essential steps and details about licensing artwork let’s take a look at some helpful tips and tricks when licensing artwork-

Understand The Consumer market

If you’re an artist, make sure to study the consumer market and make sure your art has demand. Try out different types of art, and sell the suitable art to the company.

If illustrations are popular at the time, try to get a deal with companies selling illustrations. Understanding what art has demand can lead to better deals, higher royalties, and ultimately more profit.

You can always check the news or different websites to see if your art has value. Some types of art always have value, such as sculptures, paintings, photography, and more.

Start With Humble Royalties

You’ll get a higher chance of success and popularity if you start with a modest royalty percentage from the company licensing your artwork.

Slowly, you can try to go for a higher royalty after you get more popular, and your art starts getting more demand after the deal ends. It’s best to start with a 4-7% royalty and then go for another contract with 8-10%.

Don’t try to go for a contract with high royalties off the bat if you’re new to licensing. Instead, get higher royalties from different companies over time.

License The Contract Yourself

Usually, getting an artwork licensing agent will require you to split half of the money with the agent. Over a long period of time, this can accumulate up to a large amount of money.

You should always license your artwork contracts yourself; that way, you get the most money from royalties and have experience for deals in the future.

Look for Trade Shows

If you’re waiting to get into a deal with a company, you should go and check out the national trade shows in your country. That way, you can showcase your artwork and potentially get more money than a company by selling the art.

If you gain popularity from the trade show, you’re likely to get into better and more trade shows or get good deals with popular companies to sell your art piece or display it for a lot of profit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • What does i Mean to License Artwork?

Licensing artwork means passing off your work to be used by a company over a specific period of time for different purposes. Most of the time, the artwork is licensed to be duplicated and sold by companies.

  • How Much Money Can I Make Licensing Artwork?

The amount of money you get from licensing artwork depends on the deal with the company and your royalty rate. Royalty rates are usually between 3-10% of revenues from each sale so that you can get more money from a better deal.

The total amount of money you get depends on how long the license is since most licenses only last a maximum of 3-5 years.

  • What Does an Artwork Licensing Agent Do?

Artwork licensing agents are professionals with years of experience with business, and they can help you with licensing artwork. These agents are known for being able to negotiate their way into giving you much higher royalties and better contracts.

Having an artwork licensing expert may sound great if you’re new to licensing artwork, but it costs a lot of money. It’s always recommended to try and license your artwork with different companies yourself; this way, you’ll be profiting much more.

  • What are Alternatives to Artwork Licensing?

The most common alternative to artwork licensing is to directly sell your images as stock images or any other type of image on the internet. Websites such as Shopify can help you build a business or sell your artwork to other companies.

However, always try to license your artwork instead of directly selling them. By licensing, you can get up to 500% of the original price of your artwork through royalties. It’ll usually get you more popular as well, leading to better deals in the future.


Hopefully, by reading this article, you learned all about how to license artwork. Licensing artwork is the most profitable way of selling your artwork, and it’s not too complex to do either.

After sending an email to the company, contacting them again after a few weeks or months might be a good idea, as companies are usually too busy to check emails.

As a final tip, we highly recommend you to read books or documentation on business and artwork licenses. This can give you a much better idea of licensing and more experience in negotiation.

In my opinion, the “Art Licensing 101” book by Michael Woodward is the best book on artwork licensing. But with all that being said, good luck on artistic licensing; cheers!

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