What Is Art Licensing?

One of the best ways to make money as an artist is to have your work printed on products like t-shirts, posters, cups, and other products.  These items can then be sold in retail stores or online.  Consumers enjoy buying products featuring high-quality art and selling these products will help you make a living as a professional artist.

However, before you can use your art in this way, you need to learn about art licensing.  It is an essential part of the process of using artwork on commercial products.  This guide will tell you everything you need to know.


How does art licensing work?

Art licensing is a legal arrangement between an owner or creator of a piece of art (called the licensor) and a person or business that wishes to use the artwork (called the licensee).   In this agreement, the licensor gives the licensee temporary permission to use their artwork for a specific purpose in return for compensation.

The art licensing agreement will record the details of this arrangement including aspects like:

  • Which artwork is being used
  • How the licensee is allowed to use the artwork (they might be restricted to using it to make specific objects)
  • How many times the licensee can create products featuring the artwork
  • How long can the licensee use the artwork for
  • Which territories the products featuring the artwork can be sold in
  • What types of compensation the licensor will receive (cash payments, royalties or other arrangements)
  • How the arrangement can be terminated and what happens if it is terminated

Because this is a binding legal document, it is important for both the licensor and the licensee to read it carefully.  If you are an artist who is entering into an art licensing agreement for the first time, it is advisable to have a lawyer examine the document before you sign it.

If you intend to use art licensing for your work, it is also important to think about copyright.  In the UK, copyright protection is given to artworks once they are fixed in a material form (drawn, sculptured, doodled, and so on).  There is no legal process or registration required.

However, you should keep some evidence of the artistic works that you have created.  This information will be useful if you discover that a business has been using your work without permission.  Additionally, when publishing any works in public, use the © symbol with your name and the year of publication.  This will inform others that you own the work in question.

Art licensing agreements are used to make many different products including t-shirts, wine bottle labels, coffee mugs, teapots, books, puzzles, playing cards, games, dresses, and hats.

Why do manufacturers use art licensing?

Manufacturers and retailers require unique art to differentiate their products in the marketplace.  Having an eye-catching, clever, attractive, or humorous piece of art on a product will increase sales while improving the value of their brand.

Artwork on a T-Shirt


Art licensing is often used by manufacturers and retailers who don’t have their own art department.  Other alternatives to art licensing include using stock imagery and purchasing artwork outright.  However, many businesses prefer art licensing for the following reasons:

  • Flexibility – Art licensing allows businesses to work with different artists without hiring them. They can identify specific pieces of art they wish to use for each product and avoid some significant overheads.
  • Exclusive rights to a design – In most cases, art licensing will give a business exclusive use of an artwork in a specific region. This can help them obtain a competitive edge over other businesses.
  • Affordability – It is often cheaper to license an artwork for a specific period instead of buying it outright.
  • Unique brand recognition – Using a unique piece of art is an easy way to differentiate a business’ brand in the marketplace.

Why do artists use art licensing?

There are also plenty of advantages for artists when it comes to art licensing.  These advantages include:

  • You can maintain control over your art – A licensing agreement helps you maintain tight control over how your art is used. You won’t have to agree to any inappropriate uses of your work and retain ownership.
  • Greater exposure – Having your work licensed can help you develop a reputation as a talented artist.
  • Additional income – Art licensing can be very profitable, particularly if a business uses your art for large production runs. It can be very useful for providing residual income over the course of many years, which helps you survive periods where your art is not selling well.

How do you get your art licensed?

Manufacturers around the world are constantly looking for unique artistic designs that make their products stand out.  They will use everything from illustrations and paintings through to unique patterns and motifs.

In many cases, businesses will find the art they want to use online and contact the artist directly to license it.  However, the artist can also be more proactive by seeking licensing agreements in the following ways:

Attend trade shows

There are various trade shows held throughout Europe each year for businesses and individuals who have created works they want to license.  These events aim to connect product manufacturers and creative people who have material they wish to license.  The largest event in Europe is Brand Licensing Europe, which is held every year.

Identify businesses that use a similar artistic style to you

Another clever way to identify businesses who may be interested in your art is to go on a shopping trip and look at the artistic design of various products.  If you find a brand that uses a design style similar to your work, you can approach them directly and ask them if they are interested in licensing your work.

Talk to other artists

If you know of other artists who have had their work licensed, ask them exactly how it occurred.  They may have some useful advice or be able to give you the details of a licensee they often work with.

Make a mock catalogue of products

You can make a mock catalogue full of products that feature your designs.  Either send this mock catalogue to product manufacturers directly or publish it online (with copyright information) to attract interested parties.

How much will you get paid?

The amount you will get paid will vary greatly depending on the exact nature of the license agreement.  However, you can expect a licensing agreement to pay anywhere between £/$100 for a small artwork used in a limited run through to £/$50,000+ for very large product runs featuring your design.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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