60 Seconds Exploring Design & Technology since 1988

Graphic Design: Who owns the files?


I wandered into a discussion the other day on one of those social networks where Graphic designers were discussing if the designer was obligated to give raw working files to the client upon request. I was astounded at some of the things people were saying. In all my 40 years in the graphic design biz, I never heard anything like this.

Before computers…

It never was an issue before computers. You delivered the work the client ordered, whether it was printing, garment printing, signage, vehicle markings or any/all of those. If you were lucky, the client ordered it all from you, so ownership of a piece of paper with their logo just wasn’t an issue.

Then came computers and the DYI mentality

With the advent of the personal computer, and graphic software, emboldened clients began asking for the files. A lot of people online think you are obligated to provide the files to the client.

This is a gray area, and could become a court issue — which boils down to who has the better attorney. It should never come to that. You’ve got too many more important things to do.

Agree on the product you are delivering to the client

The smart thing to do is agree with your client before any work is done, that you are providing a product, which you manufacture, for which he pays a price. This agreement takes the work out of “work for hire” classification. The client is purchasing a product. You get paid, deliver the finished logo (or graphic or whatever) in an acceptable form, and that’s it. You do not deliver tools or materials used in the manufacture of that finished product. A printer does not have to provide you with the negatives and plates for a print job, unless it’s agreed upon and signed off on at the onset of the job. Those are materials used in the “manufacture” of the product. The carpenter does not have to give you the drill or saw he used. Those, like computer files, are tools used in the manufacture of the end product.

For the hundred or so logos I designed for clients after the Mac was invented I established a set policy. Setting a policy takes the impact off your plate, and ‘blames’ it on the business, so you don’t have to shrink away from explaining policy. When the client askes, the answer is :

“Yes indeed. Our policy is to provide you with the appropriate EPS vector file, a gif, a jpeg and a bmp file, for each of two application versions of your logo.”

From floppies to the Internet

The jpg and bmp files are 300ppi. I delivered many files on 3.5″ floppies. After the internet came into common use, I posted the logo files to a password-protected web page for that client. That always did the trick. It also solved the problem of his calling “needing another copy” after losing the file — which happens almost always! In the old days, we delivered a stat, or would forward a stat to size to his vendor or media for further operations. We’d charge a small fee for the stat. Clients were always invited to refer vendors to us, or to the web page to download the file format for that project. Everybody’s happy.

My policy was to provide the finished logo, to fit a letter-size sheet of paper, in an Adobe Illustrator vector file. I would also save that file out as a gif, jpg and bmp for what ever vendor he used for further work. I also provided a REVERSE version in all the same file formats. This is important because many logos or graphics cannot just be reversed — they turn out looking like a negative as opposed to the logo on a dark background. If the file requires separations, then those are provided in the vector file.

If you establish a clear, understandable policy of what the customer will receive upon payment then the issue of files should never come up.

And, that’s the bottom line. Good day!

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60 Seconds Exploring Design & Technology since 1988
Fred Showker explores design, graphics, computing, social media, marketing, and the online world with an eye to entertaining, amazing information that will possibly make you think!

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