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The Pros and Cons of Art Licensing vs. POD Sites

The Pros and Cons of Art Licensing vs. POD Sites

Oooh, today's topic is a good one! It might be a bit polarizing for some, because I have some strong opinions about POD sites (Print on Demand) like Zazzle, Society6, and Redbubble. 

For the record, I'm not 100% against them in all cases. But here I wanted to explain the difference of what true licensing is vs. these types of sites.

I see a lot of newer artists adding their art to these sites (myself included when I first started out), so let's set the record straight on what the differences are between POD sites and licensing, and when it could be worth it to add your art to sites like these. 

Print on Demand Sites

Print on Demand sites allow you to upload your art onto various product types at no financial cost to you. Customers can purchase from the sites directly, and the company takes care of manufacturing and shipping out the products for you. You, as the artist, get a small percentage or flat fee of sales (usually ~a few dollars per sale). 

• You just get to make and upload the art. You save time and the financial risk of producing your own products.
• You get to see your art on all kinds of products, which is fun. 
• Involves very little upkeep, besides uploading new art. 
 • You make very little income in return. It takes promotion and marketing to your audience on your end to make more sales, and even then it's not guaranteed. Sales volume is important. 
• You don't get to quality check each and every order that goes out. This may reflect badly on your brand if the products are damaged or low-quality. 
• The artwork you upload on these sites may not be able to be licensed elsewhere, which has the potential for you to earn much more. 

Art Licensing

Art Licensing means you are working directly with brands or art directors who are paying you a flat fee or royalties to use your artwork on their products for a certain period of time (usually at least a few hundred dollars per artwork). You also don't have to produce the products or ship them yourself - they do that on their behalf to their customers. 

• You can earn significantly more than POD sites in pretty much all cases. 
• You can grow your brand by exposing your art to the licensee's audience, especially if your name is associated.
• You mostly just make the art (see cons below) and get to see your art produced on fun products. 
• You have more control over the quality of the products by choosing who you work with and approving samples. 
 • It can be difficult to get art licensing clients, especially when you are first starting out.
• You have to learn how to negotiate when it comes to pricing and contracts. 
• You can't set it and forget it. Licensing takes followup and regular effort. 

How Licensing and POD sites Can Work Together

You may see the merits of using both of these options. If so, I think they can work together nicely. But it's important to be strategic about it. You don't want to throw your entire portfolio or best work onto a POD site, and have a licensing client come calling who no longer wants to use it because it's already been made available to customers. 

If you want to do both, I suggest having a separate licensing portfolio vs. artwork you upload to the sites so things don't get muddled. It's up to you how you want to separate it.

Maybe the art you upload to the sites isn't the type of art you are typically known for, but you know it's marketable. For example, I usually paint florals and that's what I'm known for. But if I had some cute digital patterns I may upload them to a POD site separately because I know I wouldn't want to license them elsewhere.

You could even use a separate brand name on the POD site than your own name to differentiate them further. 

The most important thing is to give it thoughtful consideration, because your art deserves it! 

How do you feel about POD sites? Have you found success with them? Share below with us in the comments! 

Feb 24, 2021

Hello Juliet 👋 I have Redbubble and Society6 and have done really well but my dream is to get my artwork licensed and into stores. The part about keeping separate portfolios is one I have to work on. I also sell on Spoonflower but I don’t have a clue about getting my designs licensed. Eager to follow you and learn! Thanks again, wishing you much success! 🙌🏼

Tina Salazar ( LatinaTina )
Jan 15, 2021

Hello Juliet. I hope you’re fine.
Thanks for posting this article!
It is helpful in making decisions.
So – Happy New Year, happy Creativity – stay healthy!

Gisela Schall
Jan 14, 2021

I did use Red Bubble for a little while. I sold some very small things which added up to less than a few dollars. I finally removed my account when I started seeing my images on things I had not included in my “collection”. Thank you for bringing this up.

Jan 13, 2021

Sorry ignore previous question you’ve already answered it above.

Sarah louise Doyle
Jan 13, 2021

Hi this may be a silly question but I’m a beginner at all this and not sold yet, however what do you mean when you say licenced art that you dont want to put on these sites? Is it your best art that you maybe want on your own website? Thanks in advance

Sarah louise Doyle
Jan 13, 2021

I’ve done the POD during the pandemic and the passive income from the POD sites has been very helpful. I do commissions of fine art and found this pandemic holiday season that some patrons who had commissioned my art via my commercial galleries enjoyed having their commissioned
art image put onto objects they could give as holiday gifts.

sue clancy
Jan 13, 2021

Thanks for the post Juliet, I always take interest in your professional opinion! I have spent some time uploading to both RedBubble and Society6, never had any luck with Society6, but have sold several shower curtains on RedBubble, the same pattern for every sale. I’ve ordered sample products, and I think the art prints from both sites are low quality, cheap paper and the printing is dull. POD – alot of effort but not much reward, but maybe a good start to get your designs out there for the first time!

Jan 13, 2021

Great post, and information that needs to get out there. A few years back, LinkedIn asked me to publish an article, and I addressed this very issue. My advice then was that it makes more sense to work through a publisher or manufacturer because you’ll obviously get more money from printing/making 10,000 of something than selling maybe 5 of them on a POD site, not to mention that there are artists who make each item individually. To me, mass production is the way to go.

Back then, though, I used to kind of think that if you were on Etsy it meant you couldn’t get a contract haha. I don’t think that anymore, now that I see established artists on there, artists whose work I know and admire. Now I see it as a way to pivot and change with the times in our changing industry. I still won’t do it since it seems like too much work, but that’s just me.

But the points you raise are important, and they ‘re aspects I hadn’t even thought of, such as the possibility that POD work might not be licensable in all cases. Keeping separate portfolios for these is a good idea. I do this, for instance, with my stock illustrations vs my licensed art.

Thanks for this great info!

Leslie Moak Murray
Jan 13, 2021

I am tempted every now and then to list my art on a POD site but I stop myself bc I don’t know the quality, don’t want to lose focus, you can only do so much right? and other reasons. I’m really want to license my art this year even if it’s only one.

pixie yates

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