When Is It Time To License Your Artwork

art business tip licensing
When is it time to license your artwork? You can overthink the heck out of this or...

Most artists think when they’ve created something worthwhile, it’s time to license their work.  There are many different reasons why someone might want to do this, but most of them have to do with the tradeoffs between sharing and getting money in return for what you create.

So let's dig in and overthink the heck out of this before we get to the real answer... what those tradeoffs are so you can decide if licensing your work is right for you.

3 Types of Licensing Options at a High-level

First, there are three main types of licenses:

  • Exclusive licenses which prevent others from using the content without permission;
  • Non-exclusive licenses which allow others to use your work with your permission;
  • And finally, No license, which is when you give up all rights to your work.

This last option might sound bad since you can’t take back a work once it’s in the public domain, but in some cases, it’s a better option than sharing or licensing a piece of work. For example, someone might give up the rights to their work by posting on Pixabay or Photos for Artists etc (check out the 17 sites for Royalty-Free Images). They just want the credit for creating it. This is usually how something goes viral on social media without any real marketing behind it, where it just resonates with people and has an organic shareability that doesn’t require money. You can’t put a dollar amount on that kind of exposure...

but then again - sometimes this will bite you in the butt!

So now that you know the three types of licensing options, how do you decide which is right for your work?

As I mentioned earlier, it depends on the tradeoffs between sharing and getting money in return for what you create. Let's look at those tradeoffs in order to make the right decision for your situation.

8 Tradeoffs on Licensing Your Artwork

The first tradeoff is between exposure and money. So sometimes giving up the rights to your work so it can be shared or licensed means giving up your best chance at getting discovered because you are allowing someone else to stand in the spotlight instead of yourself.

The second trade-off is between exclusivity and money, which is when someone wants to have the rights exclusively so that no one else can use it without permission or license their own work. This can cost about 30-50% more than just the licensing fee, which means you have to be willing to spend a lot of time negotiating and tracking how it’s being used if the licensor makes changes.

The third trade-off is between who gets credit for what you create and money, meaning that some people will want all the credit for themselves instead of allowing you to get any recognition for your work. They might also not give you information that’s necessary to market or share your work, which means it’s harder for people to find out about your content.

The fourth trade-off is between how much time you want to spend negotiating and money – something many creatives dread – which can take a lot of time and effort.

The fifth trade-off is between how much money you want to make and how much you’re willing to share, which is a pretty big decision to make. The more money you want to make, the less you can expect to share and vice versa. This is because most people who are looking for exclusive licenses or those who want to be the only ones using the content usually want to control how it’s being used and don’t want anyone else getting any credit.



The sixth trade-off is between how much you know about the person who wants to license your work and money. The more you know, the better off you are because you can get a better idea of where your work will be seen and shared. However, this comes with its own risks because you might not know the person as well as they know themselves and don’t want to share any of the credit for creating it.

The seventh trade-off is between how much time you have and money, which can be a tricky situation to be in. If you have more time then you can spend more time negotiating, but if you have less money then you might not be able to afford to do that.

The eighth and final trade-off is between how much money you want to make and how much work you’re willing to do, which is where a lot of creatives get stuck. They want to make a lot of money, but they don’t want to put in the work that’s necessary to do so.

What is the REAL Answer to When is it time to license your artwork?

 If you want to know that you're making the best choice... then follow your gut. 

Stop overthinking the heck out of it as I did above and instead ask yourself:

  1. What product would this piece look fabulous on? - this tells you that you are ready to license your artwork.
  2. Does this piece appeal to many people? - this tells you the marketability of it.
  3. Would you rather control the distribution of your art on products or let an agent do it for you? - this will tell you whether it is time to find an agent or do it yourself. 

Resources to Help You License Your Artwork

If you have a defined style and your artwork will speak to a specific audience, and this is something you want to do then get out of your head and start doing it!

Interview with Juliet Meeks "How to Be Your Own Licensing Agent"

The Positive Painters Art Business Members have access to an exclusive interview with Professional Artist Juliet Meeks where she discusses "How to Be Your Own Licensing Agent".  If you are reading this before 12/16/2021, then click here to register.  If you are reading this after 12/16/2021, then to view this interview and gain HUGE value, join the Positive Painters

"How to Review and Negotiate A Licensing Contract"

Also, when you do decide to move forward with a licensing deal, be sure to read and understand the terms and conditions.  This course by licensed attorney Kiffanie Stahle's "How to Review and Negotiate A Licensing Contract" is worth beyond the price she is asking!

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