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I am a freelance graphic artist. I deal with a print broker. He has clients that he needs proofs for for print projects. I set up the proofs. Is it my responsibility as a rule to send the proofs to his clients or is the broker supposed to receive my proofs and forward to his clients? The print broker is my client. His customers are his customers in my eyes, but maybe I'm mistaken. There is no written contract. I only do this in the evenings and weekends and have a full time job. If this were my full time gig, I'd definitely have contracts! Your opinions?

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  • What is your job? Are you not the graphic designer? And isn't it your clients then? Ah, perhaps you are the printer?
    – Wolff
    Oct 16 at 15:54
  • I am a freelance graphic designer. The broker is a print broker and passes info to me to put together a proof. To me, HE should be sending that proof to HIS client. HE is my client (the broker), not HIS customers. But maybe I'm mistaken...
    – Laura
    Oct 16 at 15:55
  • What does your contract say? Ultimately, it's going to be dependent on the precise deal you have struck with this broker.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 16 at 15:56
  • Laura, Please edit your question. Do not add more terms as a comment. (Wellcome :) btw)
    – Rafael
    Oct 16 at 15:57
  • We have no contract.
    – Laura
    Oct 16 at 15:57
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It's up to you to establish the relationship you want.

Best I can figure...

  • Broker contacts you to design something for his client who has no art
  • You create the design

Now you are wondering if you send the design to the broker or the broker's client for approval. As I read things, the broker is asking you to deal with his/her client and you really aren't interested in that type of relationship - preferring to only deal with the broker.

That's between you and the broker. We can't answer that effectively.

You need to have a conversation with the broker to iron out the process. There's no blanket rule when it comes to situations such as this.

  • In some instances the broker does not want you to have contact with his/her clients for fear you'll usurp them and cut the broker out of the loop.
  • In some instances the broker would prefer to you deal with his/her client direct to iron out any design issues before the broker is called upon to print anything.

Either way works, both have pitfalls and benefits.


If you only deal with the broker...

  • If you are paid by the broker: If the broker's client fails to pay the broker, does that mean the broker will fail to pay you? Or if the broker's client fails to pay the broker are you still going to get paid for the design?
  • The broker must accurately convey what his/her client want. In some cases this can be more of a mountain than a molehill, depending upon the broker's client.
  • You can be more casual in communications since you and the broker are familiar with each other.
  • If the broker's client is a difficult client and unpleasant to deal with, you won't have the stress of dealing with them.
  • If there's a design error in the final piece due to miscommunication, are you responsible?

If you deal with the broker's client...

  • If you are paid by the broker's client: you are then responsible for collecting if they fail to pay.
  • You can more accurately target a design due to the direct communication.
  • You need to be more professional overall when dealing with the broker's clients, since you would be his/her representative to a degree.

In the long run, it really depends upon who is responsible for paying you. That can be clutch. It's very difficult to demand payment from someone (broker's client) if they aren't even aware you exist. And if the broker is not going to cover your payment no matter what his/her client does, that can be problematic if you have no direct communication with the client.


For the record, I've been in both types of relationships at various times in my career... and had clients stiff the broker.. which meant I got stiffed as well. it was impossible to collect my fees because the client was completely unaware of who I was and why they owed me anything. And, since they were also stiffing the broker, the lines of communication were broken completely. It was an untenable situation that was going to cost more of my time and effort to collect than what the job actually paid. -- It's this situation you will eventually find yourself in.

I don't enter the "blind subcontractor" position any longer unless there's a written guarantee (i.e. contract) with the broker stating they are responsible for my fees regardless of whether they collect from their client or not.

I, personally, prefer to deal with the broker's client. It makes for better design in the end if I can directly interact with the client. The broker is unaware of some questions to ask and never relays any intangible communications that a designer can "pick up on" during client conversations. However, a savvy, experienced, broker can be a reliable middleman - it's just that often brokers in general are not vested in acquiring the unspoken information I need as a designer - style preferences, "attitude" of the design, target audience, etc..


I would also point out that you can have a contract regardless of how often or how much you work. Merely because this is a night/weekend thing for you and not full time, in no way means you should forego any contract. A contract merely means both parties know what to expect and what their responsibilities are.

A contract doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out, 2-4 page document full of legalese. It's simply a written agreement... I agree to do X, in turn you agree to do Y. That's all.

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  • most likely the correspondence is by email, if yes then allmost certainly theres a sort of written contract in the mail account.
    – joojaa
    Oct 18 at 14:20
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As someone who has worked for both print and packaging brokers, if the broker contracts with you for design, then all proofs including mockups and printing proofs, go to the broker. You don't ever come from behind the curtain unless you're expressly told/asked by the broker who hired you to send proofs directly to the client. The client belongs to the broker - not to you. There is a reason for this - the broker has to protect his accounts. If you contact the broker's client directly, the broker can now lose that client to you in future work. You have broken confidentiality. In which case you have now also lost the broker as a potential client for future work. In one particular instance I remember,the client contacted the vendor (mailing house) to a particular job going around me and my company. That put the project at risk. We fired both the client and the vendor.

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If I am understanding your situation then this is what I think-

It seems you are a sub contractor that the printer has hired to do layout. Your relationship is with the "printer" and they deal with their "client". The printer is supplying you with the artwork (images, text, intent, etc.) and you are doing the design layout. This seems clear and not so unusual. It is as if you are an "in house" designer that would be doing the same thing- except that they have out-sourced this task to you. This sounds great for both you and them.

Where the ambiguity comes in is that it seems that they want you to send your finished design to their client. What is unclear is whether you are to deal directly with the client for any revision requests. Or, does any communication like that go back to the printer and then they communicate that to you ? Then the question of your payment comes into play. Are you being paid by the hour or by the job ? This needs to be very clear.

If you do not want to deal directly with the client then tell the printer that and make it their responsibility. If you are willing to deal directly with the client then have an arrangement to make sure you are properly paid for your time- as would be the case for the printer's own in house designer.

If the printer merely wants you to send your finished work to the client (as well as themself) then I do not see it as a big issue.

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So ..

  • There is no contract.
  • This print broker is definitely your client.
  • You wish to extract yourself from one part of a non-written arrangement, and tell your client that you can only partially do the job. You probably don't have time and wish to avoid client servicing his clients for the creative part.

The problem is, there's no right or wrong here.

This literally needs to be agreed upon between you and your client (the broker).

He probably needs that part included, and you probably need that part excluded.

Overall sounds like a misunderstanding and, as with any business relationship, this can only work if the parties settle on the terms.

Ideally in writing.


(later edit)

Don't know why you keep using the term "proof". What is a "proof" ? Sounds to me like you are designing items.

Personally, if I design multiple items for multiple clients of a single client, I would also indeed tend to avoid being in contact with his clients. I do work with "agency type" clients, and they bring the work and they handle the clients and feedback and contracts and everything. But in your case, this needs to be discussed.

It is very likely this particular client you have, may need to delegate the creative part in full, feedback included.

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This is probably a subjective answer because it is a subjective affair.


But first, probably we need an additional definition. What is "A proof"?

A proof can "only" be made with calibrated equipment. A proof is not just a printed test, but it is one which given the conditions of a file will render the same colors as the final product within a defined range.

So a proof, IMHO, can only be made by the printer itself or by the prepress department in charge of preparing the plates to be printed, not a freelance designer.

Of course, if a freelance designer has, not only enough knowledge of color workflow, but also available equipment can prepare prepress color tests, aka proof.

Normally, what a freelance designer provides are print samples, tests, physical dummies, or even color references that can be used as a guide for future steps of the process. But avoid the term "proof".


Back to the question. The usual disclaimer is important: This is no legal advice in any way.

As a freelancer, I only contact my client's client, if there is a very specific technical issue we need to solve and the middle man is "only a salesman" with no technical background.

For any administrative issues, I refer them back to my client.

A contract is important, especially for your client. There could be the case that the client's client will be tempted to contact the provider directly for future projects. And this can potentially disrupt the business relations. But if there is no contract, there is no obligation.

This is something you need to talk about with your client. If it is not an important technical aspect, they should serve their clients directly.

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  • 1
    "Proof" in this case is a DIGITAL proof for printing purposes. Say the broker's client wants a postcard. They have no art. The broker sends me photos and text etc. and I put it together. That "proof" goes to the client so they can approve or request changes. Now, should I be sending that proof to HIS client (his client is not MY client - he deals with them on all other levels - printing, estimates, payments, etc.) or should I be sending that proof to HIM to send to HIS client? So you're saying I should send proofs to the BROKER and he forwards? That's what I'm thinking too.
    – Laura
    Oct 16 at 16:36
  • Yes, and the responsibility if the color does not match is his. Again, the postcard is not a proof, it is a sample, a test, a dummy. A proof is for color matching in the final process.
    – Rafael
    Oct 16 at 16:50

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