The Benefits and Challenges of Image and Design Licensing

Author: Kristen Dettoni,

When it comes to licensing your original designs, there are three basic ways to go about it. Each presents different and unique opportunities, as well as challenges. You can physically show your licensable work through client meetings or tradeshows, offer to license directly on your website, or work through a third party. In some cases, you can use a combination of all three! It just depends on your end goal.

Patterns Samples on Decor by Design Pools


We may all be connected, all day long, through our computers and smartphones, but there is still a lot to be gained by making in-person connections through client meetings and at trade shows. Once you have a body of work complete, get those designs into a portfolio case, and start reaching out to your contacts. If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have any contacts yet, tradeshows are the best way to start making connections. There are several tradeshows for licensing designs such as Surtex, Blueprint, Licensing Expo, and Printsource New York are just a few.


  • You control your content.
  • You control your price.
  • You maintain all of your revenue.
  • You get good exposure and build your network through personal connections.
  • You control the type of license you would like to sell.
Design Pool Bedding


  • You need a substantial volume of work to get started.
  • You have to make a significant financial investment.
  • Tradeshows are expensive when you factor in the cost of the booth, booth design, airfare, accommodations, food, and possibly a second person to help you.
Photo by Tania Miron on Unsplash


It is so easy to create a website with tools such as SquareSpace, Wix, WordPress, and Shopify. The layouts are beautiful and lend themselves nicely to showing artwork for licensing. Each platform is relatively easy to use, even if you have no web design experience. They all offer ready-made templates with easy drop and drag functions and don’t involve coding. Websites can be created in a matter of hours, and you can easily integrate payment options. However, building the site is the easy part; getting it noticed is another challenge altogether. It is an ongoing challenge of free and paid marketing to get your website to stand out. It’s easy to underestimate how much time is required to promote your website through SEO tools, social media, paid advertisements, and so much more.


  • You can create it easily.
  • You have total control over your content.
  • You set the price.
  • You control the type of license you would like to sell.


  • You need to work hard to get exposure.
  • You will spend a percentage of your sales for your online payment service.
Stacked Fabric Samples by Design Pools


There are different options for working with a third party. One option is to work with an art representative or person that will represent you as a designer. You will sign a contract, which agrees on the time period you will work together and the percentage of sales the representative will get. They will be doing the hard work of pounding the pavement for you. A good rep has a long list of contacts they visit and relationships they’ve garnered over the years. They will be the ones marketing you at trade shows, at meetings, and online. Before signing a contract, check their references to see if they deliver results and are competent. Also, make sure your aesthetic is a good fit for their client base and that your work is different enough from other artists they carry. It is not uncommon for a rep to visit a customer carrying a portfolio of work by several designers; you don’t want to be competing with others in the same portfolio.


  • You don’t have to leave your studio!
  • You don’t have to work on your selling skills or spend time looking for clients.
  • You can only do marketing if you want to as extra supplemental marketing. (As long as your contract doesn’t restrict it.)
color ideas1
Chair Pattern by Design Pools


  • You give up a large portion of revenue, often up to 50% of each sale.
  • You can’t take on any work from a client without the rep taking a percentage, even if the client contacted you directly.
  • You could be locked into a contract for several years.
  • You could end up with a rep you don’t click with.
  • You are more likely to license a design to a customer that may be exclusive to a specific market or product. That’s great if it sells like crazy, but not so much if it doesn’t.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


Another option is to license your designs through an Internet company such as iStock or Shutterstock. This is a quick and easy way to start making some money and to get the ball rolling. These sites make it very easy to submit your work, and they offer a standard rate of payment for everyone. In most cases, the more you sell or refer new contributors or customers, the more you make. It is not set up to earn a lot per design, but there is the possibility to make up for that with a lot of volume. This presents a similar issue to having your own website: how do you stand out? To be successful, you will likely spend a lot of time doing your own marketing to direct clients to your images. Yet, that time would be for less money than if you were directing them to your site.


  • You are aligned with a company that has worldwide brand recognition.
  • You don’t spend a lot of time uploading designs or maintaining a website.
  • You have the potential for custom images at higher payouts.
  • You potentially can get higher payouts through referrals.
  • You can (usually) put the same image on several sites for a better chance at a sale.


  • Your images are a few out of a million making it hard to get noticed.
  • You will need to have hundreds of images uploaded to make it worthwhile.
  • Your marketing time will earn money for another business, rather than just your own.
  • You are at a disadvantage due to the high saturation of the site.

Whatever avenue you find to help get your work out there, one thing is for sure. With so many options, it is an exciting time to license your designs!

Related Posts