“Why Won’t Our Graphic Designer Give Me Source Files?”

Graphic Design: Files, Permissions, and Licenses

Graphic design is a profession that includes branding, package design, web design, and all kinds of other creative fields.

Designers work with clients to create things that never existed before. We help our clients take their ideas from inception to fully realized development.

Graphic design, especially web design, is a collaborative process that requires the use of materials that we can gather from many different sources.

Each source may contain their own set of rules and licenses required for their use.

This is not always obvious or clear so we wrote this post to help shine a light on some of the details.

What are Source Files?

You pay a designer or design company to develop something for you – brochure, website, poster… something awesome – and they do a great job. Everyone’s happy, you got what you needed.

You get digital copies of press files, or a folder full of final files… all good… easy-peasy 🙂

And you may even make a request for the design files (or source files) only to find out quickly that designers don’t share them.

“Why won’t our graphic designer give me source files? We paid for them, right?”

The short answer is no, and here’s why:

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You’re paying for the final product, not the tools to create that product.

When you hire a professional designer or web developer to create and deliver an end product, that’s what you will receive: a fully completed asset – like a brochure or website or advertisement.

You are not paying for the history, tools or layers used to create that asset.

Think of it this way: if you went to the hardware store to buy a drill, you pay the cashier for the drill to take home and use as-is, not for the manufacturing trade secrets, right to the mechanicals and mechanisms or for the rights to take that drill, remove the brand sticker, replace it with your brand sticker and sell it for profit.

Or you get your house painted and pay the bill for the service of making your house look amazing again. You don’t get the scaffolding, brushes and equipment used to get the job done. You get the painted house… but you don’t retain the painter, the skills and the tools.

There are third parties involved that you may be unaware of.

Designers uses licensed items that they pay fees for.

The most common are fonts, but they could also include items like icons, graphics, plug-ins or web scripts that are often the works of someone else. Designers spend a good amount of money (font licenses can cost anywhere from $25 to $600) purchasing licenses to multiple typefaces in order to offer you options that maybe you don’t already have and to create the perfect overall look for your collateral.

These tools are not our property but are the property of their respective creators, we have simply secured the right to use it to provide you with awesome designs.

Legally, designers are not permitted to release those tools as they are not the copyright holders.

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What options are there to acquire or access source files?

You can always work with the supplied press file.

At Eggbeater Creative, we don’t lock our PDF press files, so edits might be available to clients simply by using their own software.

There are usually limitations to the amount of overall editing that can take place, but clients can always explore that option to see if that solution works.

If you are working with a designer and would like to obtain rights to their layered/master files, just ask.

Most designers won’t have an issue negotiating a price for the transfer of full copyright including layered files and are more than willing to help you secure the various image and font licenses to protect yourself from violating a third-party’s copyright. The industry standard for copyright transfer is 300% of the total bill so if you’ve used your designer for an item that totalled $200 in design fees, be prepared to offer about $600 for the source files.

This will cover the loss of future income for the designer as well as the time it will take to collect and prepare the documents for sale and aid you in securing licenses.

If you are working with a designer who flat out refuses to release copyright without one of the above valid reasons, find a new designer.