Mable Tan


The Art Licensing Game Plan

Okay, buckle up people, I’m going to spill the beans on my art licensing workflow. This method will include both licensing your work to companies, as well as, print-on-demand (POD). That way, you make money regardless. Go on and grab a cup of Joe… I’ll wait right here. Okay, ready? Let’s dive right in.

I always start with:

  1. Determining which industry my portfolio is for.

Do I want to see my designs on textile, or home decor? What should the scale of my artwork be? Do I want it to be a standalone artwork (stationery, greeting cards) or a repeat pattern?

  1. Then I start brainstorming my collection.

I don’t know if it’s from my journalistic background, but I like to build a story around a theme. There’s always two heroes, four supporting characters and (optional) background casts. I’d scroll through Pinterest for inspiration and take note of the type of story I want to tell. Do I want it to be a romance, or a comedy? Is it for kids or for mums? Knowing who this collection is for can be pretty handy and it does determine the style of the collection.

  1. It’s time to MAKE ART!

This is where the fun begins. By now I’d have an idea what motifs I want in the collection. I do sketches straight into my iPad Pro and then I refine it in Adobe Illustrator. I always make two different colorways of each collection so the art director has options. Trust me, it makes a difference.


  1. Once I’ve finished three collections, I wrap it all up in a portfolio.

This is when I play with mock-ups on Photoshop. Then I lay it all out on Adobe Illustrator. My goal for the year is to learn how to use Adobe InDesign, I hear it’s a lot more portfolio-friendly.

  1. Now that my portfolio is done…

I browse the Internet, scroll through Instagram, and look at my master list for companies I think my portfolio is best suited for.

  1. Pitch like a badass.

Then, follow-up like a badass. Want to know what I say to art directors? Download my swipe file here.

  1. and 8. I give it about two months before deciding if I should re-purpose my portfolio for another industry. I re-do the mockups and replace the former so it’s more industry-specific.

  1. Re-pitch like a badass. Then, follow-up like a badass.

  1. and 11. If the collection is still not licensed

(cue chocolate and Netflix bingeing), the first thing I do is to ask myself if I should re-work the collection. Maybe the style, scale, colours could be improved.

Second, I post/ re-post it up on social media and Pinterest because, we never know who is looking right? An art director could be scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration and bing, finds my art.

Finally, my third option, if I decide not to re-work my collections and move on to my next collection, I put it up on a print-on-demand site. 

What happens if an art director absolutely love a collection and wants to proceed onto the next stage? First of all, POP the champers!

(B) We start discussing prices, exclusivities or none; sometimes we discuss quantity of production,  duration of licensing, where the artwork is used geographically. It can be straight-forward or complex. It really depends on the company and industry. 

(C) When all terms have been agreed upon, there’s usually a contract to be signed. To be honest, sometimes there aren’t. I’ve done on licensing deals where it’s all agreed upon on email. However, a contract is definitely preferable.

(D) I send the client an invoice, wait for the payment to go through.

(E) Once the payment is received, I prep the file according to the specifications and transfer the files via Dropbox.

If you got to the END of this post, congratulations! You. Are. A. Trooper! (But, I’m sure you already knew that). If you have dizzy eyes (@_@) and a little mind-blown, don’t be shy and feel free to ask me questions in the comment form. Till next time… let’s make this the year your art gets out in the world!

comments +

  1. Kate Frances says:

    Brilliant article, full of lots of great info. I’m with you on the Netflix and chocolate binges! The illustration is super helpful too- great for reminding myself to get back on it when designs are licensed

  2. Amanda says:

    This is so helpful, thank you for sharing so generously. I’m working on my business plan and grappling with how to approach licensing vs print on demand… This is a great starting point!

  3. Heidi Palladino says:

    Thank you so much Mable! This is extremely helpful information. I have a question about collections and home decor. How many patterns would you general present for a home decor pattern. The same as a textile collection or less?

  4. Asha says:

    Hello Mable,
    Thank you for your generosity in sharing your process. My questions on the licensing part of the work:
    1. Can you sign a contract/agreement where you sell the design at one time for a one time fee, for a particular product as stated on the agreement (if even needed), and then license the same design in another product? I wonder if art directors allow this. If so, what are the market prices for the heroes, supporting characters and background casts?
    2. What is the standard royalty percentage given in most surface pattern industries? What is the highest an artist can make?
    Thank you.

  5. Teresa says:

    I agree, your generous soul will be rewarded one day. Helping starting artist succeed, is such nice way to give back to your community of followers. I hope I can see the results of all my efforts one day.
    I must say, you are such an inspiration!

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Hi, I'm Mable! I'm a surface pattern designer. I'm passionate about creating designs that adds prettiness to every day life.

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