Can I print any photo on a mug or a t-shirt?

Merchandising used as promotion, advertising, retail production or recognition is a unique way to deliver your message to customers, friends, family , or the general public.  Suppliers distribute merchandise as retail products for sale, free promotional gifts for brand recognition or personal presents.  Stock photography can be used on mugs or t-shirts, but under very specific circumstances and with some limitations.

All stock photography agencies specify that their stock photos cannot be used for branding, company identification, product identification or model endorsements.  This includes the perception of direct or indirect use. But there are great ways to include stock photography in the creation of business and personal products.

Promotional Merchandise and the Use Of Stock Photography

Royalty free photos cannot be used on mug or t-shirt products but can be used on greeting cards, client cards or paper products. If mugs and t-shirts are the preferred promotional product, an extended license can be purchased through the stock photography agency.  Print runs are limited for both licenses and differs from agency to agency.  Some stock photography agencies do have agency extended licenses that allow unlimited use of the Royalty Free stock photo.

Retail Merchandise and Stock Photography

Retail items are defined as merchandise for sale to the general public.  Standard licenses through all stock photography sites for Royalty Free photos do not allow the resale of item.  Good news is, if an extended license is purchased, and each stock photography agency defines which license is required to produce retail merchandise, stock photos can be used on these products.  These licenses are more expensive than standard downloads but the right to use the stock photo of your choice instead of hiring a professional photographer to create a photo, makes this option a more affordable choice.

Items On Demand and Product Downloads

There are hundreds of on demand retail outlets online where an individual or business can design various products with an image and sell their products without having to carry inventory.  Cafepress is a popular site that businesses use to avoid large inventory investments.  Templates, downloaded greeting card designs, business cards and print on demand books are all considered on demand retail products if sold to the customer.  Stock photography cannot be used in any of these retailing instances.  All licenses clearly state that this format of creating and selling merchandise is not supported in their licensing agreements.

Best Retail and Promotional Merchandise that can use Stock Photography

Here is a list of merchandising options for promotional use that will comply with basic royalty free stock photography with limited production (250,000 to 500,000 copies depending on the stock photography agency):

  • Book marks
  • Greeting cards
  • CD or DVD covers
  • Posters
  • Postcards

Creating merchandise is fun and can benefit from the use of stock photography under certain conditions and with the correct licensing agreement.  Stock photography purchased through stock photography agencies is far less expensive, provides a larger selection or photos and avoids the time and cost of hiring a photographer.

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Amos Struck
Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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