Why You Should Offer Licensing Options for Your Lettering Designs
I wanted to write an article about licensing options for lettering artists like myself. I wanted to educate new artists and more seasoned artists, but also the consumer.
In the past I avoided offering commercial use licensing for my SVG designs that I sell on Etsy because I didn’t want to deal with the admin time it would take. I want to be creating.
However, in light of learning more about trademarking and copyright laws, it became clear to me that I had to do my job of protecting myself and my buyers. It’s really our job as artists to be aware of these laws and look out for the people that use our work.
Yes, I know that by charging a licensing fee some people will stop buying from me. But that’s only because they are stingy (yes, I said that) and not consumers that value your creativity. Remember, cheap shoppers are NOT your target audience. Let them move along and be cheap with fonts and clip art that offer no creativity.
If you are a true creative lettering artist or illustrator, your work is valuable. It’s valuable to you and to your serious buyer.
Value Your Work as a Lettering Artist
“If you think of yourself as a commodity, clients and buyers will treat you like a commodity” Tom Fishburne
Now, because I have had a shop open for a few years selling SVG designs at one price with no licensing option, I am met with resistance in my now requiring licensing options. That’s because those people treated me like a commodity. I didn’t respect myself as an artist to offer more.
Never price yourself off of what someone else is charging. You should charge based on the value you are bringing to your buyer. Think about it. If you’re only charging $3.50 and the buyer can then make t-shirts or signs and sell them for $30 and $50 and they are doing well, your lettering is something that they rely on to make a profit. They need you.
If someone can’t letter something themselves because they don’t possess the talent, they need you. You are of value to them. You are bringing them value because they aren’t using the standard fonts that their competitors are using.
What Should I Charge for Licensing?
If someone is going to use your designs for personal use, there is no profit to be made by them. I have no problem selling my designs to them without a licensing fee. But if someone needs my talents to make money I need to charge them a licensing fee.
The licensing fee covers your administrative time and helps you to build a legal fund as well as get something out of the fact that they are making a profit from your talents.
Licensing means that you still own the copyright to the work. However you are going to license or rent out the design to someone either for a one-time use or multiple use depending on the agreement. They are just renting the design from you.
You can license your lettering for greeting cards, t-shirt designs, Etsy artisans, etc.
There are three types of licensing options that are common:
- Royalty – meaning the person pays you a percentage of their gross sales.
- Royalty with Advance Up Front – meaning they can pay you a large fee up front and you are deducted the royalties as they come in from sales.
- Flat Fee – a one time fee for use.
I now offer a flat fee for my SVG designs, and it’s the easiest for me. As someone that works mostly with Etsy artisans, I’d prefer to do it this way. Not everyone on Etsy is honest. To track down sales from them to get what you are owed would probably be impossible. If you work with well known businesses a royalty might be the best option. There is no one size fits all here.
Here’s a great article from Maria Brophy that goes into all of this in more detail.
My Licensing Options
Because my designs are used by hundreds of different Etsy artisans, I don’t feel like there is a lot of uniqueness to the design in this way. 10 people can be selling the same t-shirt with my design so there is a lot of competition.
For me, my licensing option is to simply help me get the buyer to commit to protecting me. A flat fee of $15 minimum per design for 100 uses is really fair. Considering the person is profiting from my creativity they getting a huge bargain. If they charge $50 for a wooden sign and their supply costs (including my SVG price) is $15, they are making $35 profit. If they sell 100 of these they are making roughly $3500. $15 to pay for a licensing fee for the lettering design is an expense that they can afford.
I do offer options for licensing multiple designs at one time at a discounted rate. This is because I can bulk my time for administrative purposes and help them out at the same time. It also encourages them to keep using my designs.
Since changing my policies and offering licenses for commercial use I have had people complain. I don’t mind because they are people that are only in what they do for money and not for the love of their product. It speaks volumes about someone that isn’t okay with a $15 licensing fee when they are making hundreds and thousands of dollars off my creative design.
This all goes back to you are not a commodity! Value your skills!
But What If People Don’t Buy A License and Use Your Designs Anyway?
This is going to happen. What these people don’t know is that I have eyes everywhere! I will not hesitate to take legal action against someone using my designs illegally.
Ultimately I am busy and I cannot police people. There are dishonest people out there and they have to go to bed knowing that. My designs are registered with the US Copyright Office so if someone is using it without a license they will most likely be receiving a letter from my attorney which can cost them much more than $15 to license that design.
The honest people out there they deserve all the success in the world and it usually benefits them later.
Register Your Designs
You can register your designs with the US Copyright Office. Take the time each quarter to register a group of designs on one sheet at a time. It may be time-consuming to register your work, but batching your designs every quarter will save you a little money and protect you.
Need Resources To Stop Selling Yourself Short?
If you’re a lettering artist that differs from me, as an SVG designer, you may want to purchase the Graphic Artist Guild’s Handbook called Pricing and Ethical Guidelines*. This book helps you have a better understanding on your legal rights and issues as well as professional topics like sales tax, deductibility of artwork, fees and more.
I purchased this book years ago and have the latest version (a new version releases on April 3). It’s helped me to decide what I should charge for freelance projects and helped me to develop contracts.
If you aren’t sure what you should be charging this book is for you! On April 3, a new version will be released and you can get it on Amazon for just $28.32.
In the End I’m Rooting For You
In the end you are what’s important, the artist. Your customers have gone too long without the education. With sites like Etsy and Amazon Handmade, people think about how they can make a quick buck.
They don’t educate themselves when it comes to the legalities of running their businesses. We can do that for them! If you’re just starting out and haven’t set up shop, you can do things right from the beginning.
I know it might be hard at first to win people over, but give it time. Keep plugging along and don’t give up!
Affiliate Links Disclosure
Holly McCaig is a 20 year veteran of the design world. With her mark being made in scrapbooking and photography, Holly now educates eager artists how to do lettering in procreate on the iPad Pro. She resides in Denver, Colorado with her two dogs, Lola and Daisy.