In graphic design, artwork can help with the ideation process and provide a uniquely memorable and visual perspective to the overall design. Take a look at your own marketing tools. More than likely your brochure or flier has some type of artwork in addition to the text and your logo. Why? People are visual by nature, and visuals help us remember what you want us to know and do. Think of artwork as a soft “call to action”.
Where do you find artwork? Virtually anywhere. The world is full of places and boxes of royalty-free clipart and photos you can buy and use to help you make that brochure or flier. Usually this artwork comes at a reasonable cost. However, what can you really do with it? Who actually owns it?
Royalty-free artwork does not mean you own it outright for any use you desire. It simply means you have purchased the right to use that particular artwork to be used in very defined ways, and the creator (artist or company selling the box of artwork) keeps the copyrights.
Before you purchase any royalty-free artwork, be it a box from Best Buy or an online source such as CanStockPhoto.com, read the EULA (end user license agreement). Most EULAs have very specific language as to how their artwork can and will be used. For example, a business owner can purchase a photo or clipart from an online source and use it for their own marketing materials, as long as he or she does not resell it, use it as part of a logo, or use on non-paper marketing materials. Many business owners would define “marketing materials” as anything used to promote their company, including brochures, hats, shirts — even that cup holding the morning coffee. The question: can the business owner use this artwork for any marketing material?
The answer lies in the EULA. Many EULAs do not allow their artwork to be used as part of a logo. It is possible to use the artwork on a coffee cup or embroidered / heat-transferred on a shirt, but in many cases an extended license agreement must be purchased first. Many business owners do not realize this and could be subject to fines by the art company and/or artist.
The solution? Use your own artwork as much as possible. Have a photographer take your own photos. Hire someone to draw or illustrate the icons you want. Ask colleagues, perhaps your competition, and find out who they use to create their artwork. Contact a local art school and ask about hiring a student. This serves two purposes: 1) you own the artwork (make sure both you and the student understand and agree to the licensing agreement); 2) you are giving someone studying to become a professional in the industry the opportunity for
real-life work experience. Also, by hiring someone to create the art, you now can use that art for any purpose to promote your business, including that coffee cup and shirt.
When you hire a student or designer to create your artwork, ask to see their sketches and drawings. This shows you they did actually create the artwork, and also gives the student or artist the opportunity to walk you through their process and show you how they arrived at this solution. Still not completely sure the artwork was not bought and repurposed from a boxed or online clipart source? Ask the student or artist to sign a document stating the artwork was created originally for your purposes. Professionals will keep their original drawings in case of a dispute.
Only use clipart and stock photography as a last-resort, temporary measure. Be smart with your marketing: use your own artwork.
My thanks to Top Ten Reviews and About.com for the supporting links used for this post.