What’s the Difference Between Licensed Art, Product Design, Surface Pattern Design, and Textile Design?

What’s the Difference Between Licensed Art, Product Design, Surface Pattern Design, and Textile Design?

Several industry terms exist that people use interchangeably to refer to the same design methods or products. Which can get pretty darn confusing!

Some companies even have their own way of communicating in-house that doesn’t always translate to those outside the company culture.

One instance of this is the term “surface pattern design” and how often it gets used in place of “licensed art” – as if the two were the same thing. But while they do overlap, the terms are still quite unique.

So, let’s dig into some of these terms and explore what they actually mean.

licensed art on ceramic dinnerware

Licensed Art 

Licensed Art usually refers to a stand-alone illustration for a specific product or application. 

For example, an artist licenses their work to a manufacturer who uses it for a dinnerware collection. In this sense, the licensed art is a single image that exists on each of the products in this collection – plates, bowls, coffee mugs, and napkins. 

On a broader scale, licensed art can also refer to a prominent brand displaying its logo or characters on products. Think of Disney, an NFL team, or even Pepsi. That company is “licensing” its logo –  or brand – to a manufacturer to use on a particular product.

licensed artwork of cactus for product design

Product Design 

Product Design is art that works in tandem with a product. As opposed to flat or digital art used for advertising, websites, or magazine illustrations. 

Product design falls under the banner of “licensed art.” But it can also be segmented into two categories:

1) Art that’s applied to a product that already exists – ie. a zodiac sign printed onto a coffee cup
    2) Art that is the actual product itself – ie. a plant-shaped felt ornament

      So, in the first example, an artist may have their work licensed to be displayed across products like dinnerware, scarves, decorative flags, trinket trays, or baby blankets. 

      Here, the art licensing company likely has the shape and design of the product already worked out, ie., the dinner plates will be round with an embossed rim. But they want to license the artist’s illustration as the main image on that plate.

      In the second example, product design refers to when a product is created from the artist’s work instead. Picture a pink ceramic rabbit figurine or a heart-shaped handbag. The shape itself is the product design here.

      licensed surface pattern design on fabric

      Surface Pattern Design 

      Surface Pattern Design is artwork that’s been created specifically as a repeat pattern.

      A repeat pattern refers to a design that’s repeated over and over to create a larger pattern that covers a greater surface area. Think fabric, wallpaper, or wrapping paper. These patterns are designed to be continuous, so the design appears seamless when repeated.

      In surface pattern design, the repeat pattern is created by taking a single design element and repeating it horizontally and vertically in a specific manner. This creates a larger, cohesive pattern that can be used to cover a surface. 

      Repeat patterns can range from simple and repetitive to complex and intricate. They may feature a variety of design elements, including graphics, illustrations, and text.

      licensed art for textile design

      Textile Design

      Textile Design is how fibers and materials are integrated into a fabric’s design – think embroidery, weaving, and appliqué techniques. 

      However, for art licensing purposes, you might hear someone talk about textile design as if it’s surface pattern design. Patterns lend themselves superbly to fabric design, especially fabric by the yard. 

      However, there are many more opportunities in textile design. First up there are kitchen textiles. Think tea towels, oven mitts, aprons, hot pads, placemats, and table runners. Then you have bathroom accessories like bath towels, hand towels, bath robes, wash rags, shower curtains, and bath mats. Then, there’s bedding, rugs, pillows, curtains, and so much more.

      In a nutshell, product design, surface pattern design, and textile design are all forms of licensed art. 

      Inevitably, when I take on a new client, they will throw words around that I’ve never heard of before. Or mix up the ones that I do. So, I’ve learned to let an agent, art director, or artist communicate what’s on their mind. And then, if I’ve no idea what they’re talking about, I simply ask them to explain further. 

      I have no problem asking people to explain themselves more precisely. If you don’t ask upfront, you risk committing to the wrong project or misinterpreting the project. 

      Please don’t be concerned about sounding like an amateur if you need to ask. As you can see, even the most seasoned of us jumble the industry terms!