Art Licensing for Greeting Cards
An introduction to the world of creating art for products
Have you ever wondered what it takes to get your art onto greeting cards?
How do you even start getting that kind of work, and how much should you charge for it? What kind of things should you include in your contract to make sure you’re getting a fair deal as an artist? What do buyers in that industry expect you to know?
When I first started looking into designing for greeting cards, I was asking all these questions too.
WHAT IS ART LICENSING?
I come from a more “traditional” freelance lettering background and, while I had some idea of how to approach things like branding or editorial projects, I had no idea what industry standards were around making art for products.
I googled the heck out of all my questions, and eventually discovered that greeting card design falls into the strange and magical world of something called art licensing.
Art licensing basically means to “rent” your art to someone. Basically, a buyer (like a greeting card company) pays an artist (you) for the rights to use your art on a product.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN…“RENTING” MY ART?
As the artist who makes your art, you’re the rightful owner of all the rights to your images. That means you have the power to negotiate what specific parts of those rights you’re willing to loan to your clients, and for how long. You even have the power to turn over all the rights and ownership to someone else entirely if you so choose. In the land of greeting cards, rights are King!
IS CREATING ART FOR PRODUCT LICENSING LIKE MY OTHER FREELANCE WORK?
Actually, it’s a bit of a different ballgame.
With “traditional” freelancing (think branding, editorial, advertising, etc…), we’re used to a client coming to us with a very specific request for custom work. While custom requests can definitely come up with art licensing, more often you’ll license art that you’ve already created. While you may have to create art from scratch in the beginning because you don’t have a portfolio ready to go, serious art licensing artists have portfolios full of art that’s ready to be licensed.
Many greeting card companies look for art created for specific occasions at specific times throughout the year. Sometimes they will even put out open briefs explaining what kind of art they’re looking for in a bit more detail. It’s your job to be aware of the buyers’ needs and to base your portfolio around those things.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT ART LICENSING?
Even though you may never have even heard of art licensing, it really is a GIGANTIC industry. Go to a big box store and take a look around at all the products you see. Bedding, wall art, clothing, gift wrap, greeting cards—those are just a few of the items you’ll see that feature art licensed by artists like you.
There are art licensing agents (I have one of those). There are art licensing trade shows. There are art licensing books and conferences. It’s a whole thing, guys.
Because there are so many people making and licensing art, it only makes sense that there are some unique industry practices and standards to learn about. This stuff can get really complicated, but I’m going to do my best to give you a digestible introduction to some things you’ll run into in this biz….
Fee structures: Buyers pay either with flat fees, royalties (a % of sales), advances, or some combination of those things.
Pricing: Very often, in my experience, buyers have some standard fees in place. I haven’t usually been asked for my pricing up front unless it’s a custom job. Rather, the client will share their typical arrangement or give me some options of what they typically pay for cards, and I’ll negotiate from there. Industry standard licensing fees may sound low compared to what you can get from, say, a national ad campaign. However, the great things about licensing are that: 1) you can license the same art multiple times, 2) a single buyer usually wants to license a few pieces at once, and 3) when you have many licenses going, they can really build up and create a more consistent income.
Greeting card designs usually go for a flat fee of around $300–$500. If you’re being paid in royalties, you can potentially earn more (or less) than that flat fee amount, depending on how the product sells. There are a lot of variables involved that can effect the price you can negotiate for, including things like the value of your own brand, the kind of rights the company is asking for, the size of the company, etc… (For example, if you’re allowing a company to use your design on several products, or offering a full buyout of all the rights, that should cost them more.)
Contracts: You want to be really clear about what rights the buyer has and what rights you have pertaining to your art. You’ll consider things like exclusive vs. non-exclusive rights, the specific products the buyer can put the art on, the part of the world the license is limited to, the length of the contract and renewal options, whether you’ll receive samples of the final product, how much you’ll get paid and when, etc…
Designing for the unknown: While you may have a general idea that your lettering piece will end up on a card, you never quite know for sure what someone might want to license it for (and the more ways you can license one design, the better!). You don’t know who will buy it, or what printing and production techniques they’ll have available to them. Maybe you’ll license your design as an e-card, and it won’t be printed at all? All those unknowns mean you have to make your art as versatile and flexible as possible, from the actual layout to the file type and build.
Finding clients: You can go the DIY route of reaching out to various greeting card companies on your own, or you can find an agent to do a lot of that work for you. The DIY scenario involves a lot of research and time spent emailing and submitting your work. However, you get to keep 100% of your profits. With an agent, they’ll handle the client side of things, but you’ll have to give up a considerable chunk of the money you make.
There’s an awful lot to think about, and a ton to learn about the way the art licensing industry works. But if you’re an artist looking to diversify revenue streams and make some more consistent income, it’s an avenue I’d highly encourage you to look into.
It’s so difficult to try to wrap this subject up into just a blog post.
Which is why I’m excited to say I’ve released a full online course called Art Licensing for Letterers!
I’ve teamed up with artist Ilana Griffo to cover the topics I touched on in this blog post in WAY more detail, plus things like how to make a portfolio that appeals to buyers, how specifically to find and contact buyers, how to find and work with an art licensing agent, and a lot more.
To learn more and see the full course curriculum…