Printing fan art: What can you legally do?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could design your very own T-shirts based on your favourite movie, book, and television characters? There are some people out there who do a great job of making fan art and selling and sharing it online. However, the tricky thing with fan art is that there are always some limits — but they aren’t always very clear!

That’s why we’ve done the research and figured out exactly what you can and can’t do when it comes to fan art. We’ve also included some examples so you can get inspired, too! Fan art is really popular, and for good reason.

What can you legally do when it comes to fan art?

The basic law is that whoever holds the copyright to a certain thing has the sole right to make and sell “derivative works” , including sequels, based on the original concept. Even characters in a book or plot elements can have copyright protection. Fan fiction can definitely be considered a “derivative work”.

So does that mean that no fan art is allowed ever? Not necessarily.

Generally, you don’t want to do anything that would cause confusion as to whether or not a product is official. One thing that is usually fair game is a parody or a criticism, or something that is highly transformative. The more different it is from the original, the stronger your case is that your fan art falls under fair use laws.

Still, even when that line is crossed, there aren’t a huge number of trademark disputes over fan creations — but they do happen from time to time.

If you’re planning on making money off of your fan art, then they are more likely to happen. Still, fan art usually doesn’t harm the original creation, so copyright holders aren’t as likely to go after fans. It also isn’t typically a popular move with fans of the work, and can lead to backlash (famous Interview with the Vampire writer Anne Rice is a famous example of this). Avoid logos or trademarked names, as those are also more likely to lead to trouble.

 

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You should be very clear that your product is not official and is not a replacement for the original thing — in other words, not taking money away from the original. A lot of fan stuff just encourages people to go out and spend more, making it a sort of free promotion that helps a brand get more well-known at no cost or time to the creator.

If you do get a request from the copyright holder to stop, then you should definitely listen.

Some creators are OK with fan art as long as the person making it doesn’t profit off of it; others may not mind as long as it’s clear it’s fan art. Check out what people generally do for the thing you’re a fan of. Disney, for instance, is pretty tough on people using its characters in unlicensed ways — although it seems like they have lightened up in recent years.

Do you have your very own T-shirt brand? Would you like to delegate the production and inventory stuff – for free? ? That’s right, Printsome’s Print on Demand services are free for a limited time. Join now!

In conclusion

It boils down to this — if you are making fan art for profit, then know that you could be asked to stop or be sued for copyright or trademark infringement. But, each case is different, so there are no hard and fast rules.

In the US, there have been cases where one court ruled that the item in question did not fall under fair use…and another court ruled that it did.

Decide for yourself if this is the right move for you and your business.

And now, on to the fun stuff!

Really Great Fan Art Design Examples

These artists all managed to strike the right balance while paying homage to their favourite characters. Let’s take a look at some of the very best ones!

Darth Joker
This mashup of movie villains is creepily on point. If you click on the link to go to the artists’ page, you’ll see the evolution of just how he created the sketch, too.

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Disney pin-ups
These sensual versions of Disney princesses were a huge hit online – and we can see why!

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Doctor Who
Artist AliceXZ did a fantastic job on these portraits of all the actors who have played Doctor Who, didn’t she? She also sells prints of some of her drawings.

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Vintage Posters of Fantasy Locations
These posters for locations in the Harry Potter series done in the style of vintage travel ads are definitely a win in our book.

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Hipster Batman
Artist Phillip Sevy turned Batman characters into a slouchy-cool hipster gang — and we love the result!

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Game of Thrones
This one reimagines your favourite characters from the series — whether that’s book or television! — as modern-day people. The Arya one might be our favourite!

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Little Friends
These adorable takes on superheroes is definitely creative, and we don’t think anyone will be mixing them up with official characters anytime soon.

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Mr. Hipp
This guy has so much great fan art on his blog, we couldn’t pick just one! The Stranger Things poster is excellent, as are his takes on Mario.

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Realistic Ninja Turtles
Let’s be honest, the official Ninja Turtles don’t really look very much like turtles at all. This piece of fan art reimagines that.

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Star Wars meets Little Miss Sunshine
This bright yellow fake movie poster is a fun way to mix together two films that don’t really have much to do with each other at all.

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Print on Demand

Here at Printsome, we’ve always supported creative endeavours which is why we’re proud to announce our brand new ‘print on demand’ service.

Thanks to our five years of experience in the apparel-printing industry, we were able to design a platform catered towards the needs of artists and designers who want to start their own T-shirt line. Printsome’s ‘Print on demand’ service has no minimum orders and can print any design with no colour limitations.

From the moment you connect your online shop (like Shopify) with our platform, anyone can buy one of your designs. We deliver all over the UK and Europe. Drop shipping has never been this easy.

Why worry about inventory or logistics when we can take care of that? We deal with the boring stuff so you have more time to do what you love. To find out more, simply visit our brand new website.

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