"Original files"

So my wise, generous collegues, something that’s come up frequently is the idea of “original files”. I do 90% of my design work in InDesign. 99% of the time I send the client finished work as pdf, eps, jpg, png. I do not generally send the working InDesign file (or layered AI or PS file for that matter). Unless otherwise arranged, it seems to me I am hired to provide publishing ready files and nothing beyond.

Recently I had a client asking about sending original files. Do you generally send that along to your clients? Does it constitute an additional fee?

An example of my concern: For many years I had an ongoing job with an arts organization doing their yearly program. This included both document lay out and ad design for individual sponsors. I created the document from scratch. The programs were always very well-received.

Then one year a new board member (don’t you love new board members?) put forward a friend of his - let’s call him Bill - who agreed to do the program for a fraction of my already very modest fee. The board agreed and my long-standing annual gig was gone.

A couple weeks later Bill contacted me asking for the original files from the previous year’s program - both ad packages and the program itself. I refused. (I mean, you’re not really gonna price me out of a job and then come back and ask me to help you, are you Bill?) A couple days later the board member contacted me quite irate that I was refusing to turn over the files as a courtesy.

Long story slightly shorter: I asked for a very modest fee to turn over the files (I think it was $150) more on principle than anything else. Everybody on the board thought I was being extremely unreasonable. Ah, well…

But back to that more recent client… Original files or no?

Thanks in advance.

Unless your contract stipulates providing the source files, then you have no obligation to provide them. I don’t think you were being unreasonable in charging a reasonable fee to provide them the source files. If fonts were specifically used or purchased for the job that are licensed, that is their responsibility as well to acquire the fonts.


I agree with CraigB’s assessment – designers own the working files unless otherwise specified in the contract. Bill has some stones to undercut you then call and ask for the files. Send him the files, but convert all of the type to outlines before doing so. :smiling_imp:


Well, if you are charging him and he has paid for the source files I wouldn’t convert the text to outlines. But I do understand the temptation.

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Yeah, if they’re paying for it, then I wouldn’t. I thought the little purple devil icon would convey a tongue in check comment as a way to vent your frustration. Perhaps that’s too much for a little emoji to convey.


I very rarely get asked this but I’ll send them along sure. “Here are the files you can’t open, without the fonts because I bought the license not you.”

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As others have said, unless your contract specifies handing over the source files, you don’t need to do it. Some designers flat out refuse to do so, while other’s make a habit of it. I’m somewhere in the middle and will typically give good clients the files if they specifically ask for them.

I’ve become more agreeable about these request over the years for precisely the reason @Designia, mentioned — they typically won’t have a clue how to use them anyway. And even when they do, I’m legally prevented from handing over the fonts and, often, the photos.

I’ve found that when I hand over the source files, they’ll typically get back to me down the road with any revisions since they soon realize that it’s cheaper and better for me to handle the work than for them to try to struggle through it.


Yeah, a lot of designers tend to overlook the significance of a contract when they take on a new client. I cannot stress that enough.


Amen to that. This should be sent to every freelancer in the world. A large share of the problems I see people post on forums has to do with not having a proper contract.

A flat ‘No’ usually gets the message across. You are being unco-operative? do they really expect you to co-operate in undercutting yourself and losing the business in the process?

I have sent out original files once, with a message - ‘Take good care of these files, they are the only copies. I have deleted all our artwork for you from our system. I do not expect to hear from you again.’

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If you are an independent contractor, you own your art unless otherwise stipulated by K (= contract).
If you are an employee of the company, they own everything you make.

This happens with print companies a lot. Dishonest clients will try all sorts of ways to get you to give them originals. I Pre Press art that is obviously stolen (png’s or web based colors…). Luckily, we’ve been in the business long enough that we know most of the artists in the field (and area). The last thing a dishonest client wants to hear is my boss saying, “Now I know who you are and how you work. Thank you.” because that means everyone will know they are crooked and they will not get ANY leeway at all from anyone.

I will give them everything except for fonts and stock photos I have rented on their behalf. I also make sure it’s saved in the most up to date version of the native program. That said, I only have one exception - if they haven’t paid in full for my time. Also, I will occasionally charge a file handling fee if I don’t like them. (and that can vary, depending on circumstance and of course, my mood…)

You avoid this question by stating your policies on deliverables and copyrights in your proposals. You can find more info on this in the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical guidelines.

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It amazes me when working artists don’t have this book. It’s the foundation of the graphics business.

I bought this book, probably every other year, for years. The fees were always way in excess of what the markets I was involved in could bear. But I agree. Great overall guide. Probably time for a new copy.

Yeah. I’ve always regarded what they’ve implied are going-market rates as not being representative of the profession in general — maybe for a successful small agency in Manhattan or another downtown location in a big city, but for most anyone else, the pricing guidelines are stuff made of dreams.

I provide whatever they ask for. They are paying me to do the work, so technically it belongs to them anyways. I don’t provide fonts or stock photos unless I am purchasing them for that client and billing them for those items.

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