5 Reasons You Should Sell Your Art Outright

We can be very attached to the designs in our art licensing portfolio — I know there’s several designs in mine that I wouldn’t want to part with forever.

But that doesn’t mean that selling our art outright to a company is always a bad idea. On the contrary, there are at least 5 reasons why considering buyouts as a surface designer can be beneficial to you (and your design income) and I want to share them with you today.

P.S. If you’re more of an auditory/visual learner, I discussed these 5 reasons on a recent Instagram Live chat and you can watch the replay video of it below.

1. Quicker Payouts than Royalties

Royalty deals in art licensing can help you generate steady income, just not right away. Usually, once a royalty contract is signed, it takes an average of 12–18 months before you’ll start seeing royalty checks for your designs (unless you receive a small advance payment upfront, in which case YAY to you, for asking for one!).

Depending on how the product is rolled out in stores, it could also take a year’s worth of royalty checks (or more) before you generate a decent amount of income which means it takes 2–5 years to earn the total income you expect from a royalty deal.

That’s a long freakin time!

And it’s why I’m always saying that building a career in surface design is a slow-build process. But that’s also why I advocate for being flexible and considering flat-fee licenses and buyouts because you get one large payment upfront when you sign the contract.

And if you have royalties, flat fees, AND buyouts that can really increase your earning potential.

2. Least Complicated Transaction

There’s a lot of contract details you need to keep track of for any licensing deal like products your designs will be used for, where it will be sold (territory), and how long the license will last (usually called duration or term) because when you receive new licensing inquiries, you need to know which designs are available to that potential client.

If you don’t keep track of all the licensing details and accidentally sign a new contract that has overlapping details with a different company, it could land you in serious legal trouble with one OR both of those companies — and they would be within their rights to sue you.

Buyouts, on the other hand, are really simple because the company is purchasing all rights to use the artwork and there’s no contract details you have to track as a result.

Related Article: Protect your income and assets by making your art business legit


When you sell your designs, make sure to remove them from your portfolio immediately AND never use the motifs in any other portfolio artwork (unless you’re reusing small, insignificant details as those are generally ok to repurpose).

So let’s say you sold a giraffe illustration. The next time you created a giraffe, you’d need to redraw it with different details so it didn’t look too similar to the one you sold (and simply recoloring the design is NOT considered different).

How to redraw artwork after you sell a design from your art licensing portfolio | sketchdesignrepeat.com

For example, I sold a dog pattern to a pet company a few years ago. Pet designs were highly sought after at the time, so I decided to create a new pattern and when I did, I completely redrew the dogs, being especially mindful when sketching out the same breeds (like the dachshund).

You can see from the image that although both patterns have the same cute vibe, the details of the two dachshunds are completely different so I was able to license the new design.

And I have! My new dog pattern can be found on fabric licensed to an Australian fabric retailer.

3. Some Companies ONLY Purchase

Just like it can be a pain for us as artists to track all the licensing information of our portfolio designs, some companies feel it’s not worth the hassle either and will only work with artists who sell designs outright as a buyout. I’ve found this particularly common with larger, multi-national companies or those who sell a wide variety of products, spanning multiple categories.

So if there’s a company on your “dream client” list and the only way to work with them is to sell your art, I think that at least deserves serious consideration — as long as they are willing to pay you a fair price for your art.

Want to hear my thoughts on what a fair buyout price is? Watch this Instagram Live video where I shared openly about surface design pricing and why it’s ok (and normal btw) that deals fall through.

And that leads me to reason #4…

4. They Command the Highest Price

Because you are handing over the copyright of your art and no longer have a say in how it gets used when a company purchases it, buyouts should always demand a very high price.

And for me, that means charging a MINIMUM of $1,000 for any design (and the more complex/# of pieces included, the higher the price should be). So if a company is interested in your design/s and you’re not emotionally attached to those pieces, selling them can add a good influx of income to your business.

5. Gives You a Starting Price Point for Licensing

I always recommend that surface designers build price ranges for art licensing. And since buyouts command the highest price, they’re always THE best place to start to build your licensing prices off of.

But I know pricing is a difficult topic to tackle for surface designers, especially because each art licensing deal will have different contract terms that can heavily influence a design’s price AND there’s so many factors that can affect an artist’s ability to negotiate confidently for themselves.

I experienced those frustrations first-hand as a newbie surface designer as have many of my students, so if you’re looking for some more advice on the subject, I have an in-depth course, Artful Pricing, that uses my experience of licensing and selling more than 75 portfolio designs to show you how to fairly price your art, learn to read contracts with confidence, and effectively negotiate deals.

If you’re interested, click here to learn more.

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