Help..... I am a graphic novice and have a potentially basic question.

I manufacture in Asia and my team there always asks for AI format files to do the printing of packaging. My client fights me constantly saying I only require PDF format file.

My team wont budge until they get the AI format file, and so far my client has capitulated, but it is causing a significant friction.

Can anybody explain the reasoning on both sides in a basically 3rd grade level?

Thanks in advance for your help and explanation. I am not trying to win the argument, but rather solve the issue for both sides and I don't have enough knowledge on this topic to know how to help.

Best regards,


  • 3
    There should never be a reason for a printer to require an AI file to print from. A PDF file should be enough. AI files offer no advantages over PDF for printing purposes as far as I know. The only thing AI is really better for is copying content over to other files, which is of course a risk your clients are not interested in running. You probably need to ask your team why they’re demanding AI files. Mar 20 '18 at 22:50
  • PDFs are selfcontained if you send a AI then it will not open the embedded fonts, this is bad indeed.
    – joojaa
    Mar 21 '18 at 13:38
  • 1
    I think all this is guessing unless the Asian team can share specifics as to why they only work with AI files. There may be valid reasons....
    – Scott
    Mar 21 '18 at 16:48
  • @joojaa false. You can embed fonts just fine in ai format Mar 21 '18 at 18:48
  • Your Asian team is being stupid but there's no reason you, J Westley, can't just open the pdf and save it as an Ai file. That takes about (10 sec - 1 minute) depending on file size. Wouldn't that solve everything? Mar 21 '18 at 18:50

Obviously there could be factors at play here that you have not included, but based on the facts in your question, the simple answer is:

The client is right, and your team are being difficult for some reason

Ascertaining the reason your team are demanding the .ai files. Which they certainly do not need to print, is the key here to avoid conflict.

Start by understanding the workflow:

The client is using Adobe Illustrator to create the design. That is entirely normal. But he could be using Microsoft Paint or Gimp, he could use Word (unusually!) but the fact is he could use whatever tools he finds fit for purpose.

The people he sends his design to, your team, or other people, may well not have those tools, so for many years the standard workflow has been to save the finished work as a PDF file and send that, since anyone can use a PDF file. It's an "industry standard".

The fact that your team are insisting on receiving the .ai file is NOT standard practise, but of course they are doing it for one reason or another. Here are some guesses, least likely to most likely.

Possible reasons your team want the .ai file:

  1. (Least likely) Your team simply like upsetting people with pedantic and in-efficient behaviour. Maybe they don't like the client, or you, and they want to make life as difficult as possible.
  2. They are used to printing from .ai files, or are ill-educated about printing from PDF files (very unusal if they are professionals)
  3. (Most likely) They want to change things AFTER they receive the file... maybe colours, maybe text...maybe anything - and this is probably at the heart of what is annoying the client.

Why the client is annoyed.

  1. It is not standard to have to turn over working files (.ai files)
  2. He doesn't want people changing his design - possibly ruining it, introducing typos he'll get blamed for etc etc after he has finished
  3. He doesn't want people adapting his work to new designs for which he will not be paid.
  4. It's just plain annoying and he thinks your team are trying to upset him on purpose.
  5. His working files might be "untidy" (immaterial if the finished output is fine) so he'll have to spend much extra time making them fit for a third-person to inspect, and possibly criticise.

The way forward

Tell the client you understand and sympathise with his situation and you aim to resolve it.

Ask your team WHY they want the .ai file and deal with the answer accordingly - perhaps there really is a legitimate reason. If so you would htn have to talk with the client and explain that reason to him.


Why your client wants to send PDF instead of AI: The AI file is the client's property or the client doesn't use Adobe Illustrator.

AI is the native format of Adobe Illustrator, which many designers use for packaging designs (among many other things). The AI file is where all the work of the designer is stored. Besides the design itself it could contain custom presets, programmed styles, hidden objects, notes to self, etc.

When the design is finished a PDF is saved/exported. A PDF is a more portable format and can't as easily be manipulated. It is the proper format for printing purposes, since it only contains the information needed.

A designer is (normally) only obligated to deliver the design itself (PDF) - not the tools used in the process (AI).

Another reason to not want to send AI is that maybe the designer doesn't use Adobe Illustrator and has to use time to produce the files.

Why your team wants AI instead of PDF: It is more convenient.

Having access to the AI file makes it possible to easily make minor last minute corrections to the design. It is possible to make corrections in an ordinary PDF, but it is way easier in Adobe Illustrator, where the design was created in the first place.

Or maybe your team is just used to printing directly from Adobe Illustrator?

  • 1
    I would strongly argue with argument "AI file makes it possible to easily make minor last minute corrections". Making minor changes to PDF both with illustrator or Acrobat is easy and don't require AI files. It also signal that whoever is doing those changes know how (and also what) they are doing. Mar 21 '18 at 15:50
  • @SZCZERZOKŁY, I agree that PDF is the correct format for delivering design to a manufacturer. I wouldn't want AI files myself - I can make changes to a PDF in Acrobat if necessary. But I'm trying to guess why on earth the OP's team wants AI files. What do you think?
    – Wolff
    Mar 21 '18 at 17:32
  • As OP wrote "asia" I would assume China. And because I had my experience with Chinese manufacturers I would opt for 2 things: changing design to better suit their machines that are WAY OFF. And second, sad part, stealing design and content. Mar 22 '18 at 9:45

I will probably say the same as the other answers and comments.

Your team REALLY needs to rethink the workflow. It is NOT right.

  1. A lot of times I do not use Illustrator, I could use CorelDraw or Indesign and I can tell you I send the pdf with the exact information I want to be printed. The key word here is "printed", not changed, not adjusted, not color corrected, not modified, not anything. I will not send an AI file because it does not exist. Even if the original is in AI format, I would NEVER send an AI file.

  2. Let's assume I made a mistake. The correct workflow would be "Mr. X, your file has this problem, either you correct it or you can send us your AI originals so we can manipulate, adjusted, color corrected or change it." As I know what I am doing, I correct it, of course, there is always a possibility I slip somewhere.

Making the client aware of the mistake will potentially save you from the same issue next time. You do not need to educate your client, just inform him.

  1. Your team is probably NOT informing the necessary configuration on the website for example. An online printer I use has a very clear information. "For this product, you need to leave 3 mm of bleeding, using this color profile, no crop marks, etc."

  2. Let's assume the client is "dumb" and do not know how to correct the things you notice in your PDF... You can SIMPLY OPEN IT ON ILLUSTRATOR.

  3. If you notice that the lines and text are not vectors, or the original resolution is too low, etc. Do you think the client will have a good AI file to start with? Probably no.

The only case I can think they need an AI file is the merging of two problems, your client has no idea what he is doing + the project is complex: You need a special spot color separation, overprint, layering, etc. But in that case, see point 2. You will probably need to make an extra charge in this case anyway. Asking an AI file is just to "save you some time" but at the expense of losing the client in this case.

I think there is a syndrome in the design community... The "I will do it myself".

Instead of communicating, people want to correct things because it takes less time to do that than to make a phone call. That could probably be the case if you detect something at the last moment and you have that project scheduled. That could be the case, but probably you need to include a "file received and checked" as a first step prior to scheduling a big project.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.