So I've read a lot about giving source files AFTER the job is finished, but I've started a project with a new client and gave them a PDF of the first draft (presentation deck). However they are asking for the source files right away - I worry that this is a bad move because I haven't been paid yet (they pay at the end) and what if they decide to take what I've done and give it to someone else? They are a marketing firm with plenty of designers on hand. Advice?

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    Don't do it. This should already be in your contract. If it's not, make sure to add it for your next client Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 2:52
  • The contract was theirs, and I believe it says they own the source files. I had read that and was OK with that for this project, but was surprised that they asked for it so early.
    – TCDesigner
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 4:02
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    FYI for next time: You can ask to change aspect of contracts before you agree to them Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 4:03
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    @TCDesigner Then insist on using their hardware and licenses. That way there is no question that the stuff is not in their hand. UNDER no circumstances lend your hardware for their work or you get into a liability problem. Anyway you can obviously not guarantee the situation that they have the sources unless they have access to the computer you are working on. Just document what you did and how much time you used on paper and on a email trail. If they refuse to pay even by a second go to small claims court.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 4:25

2 Answers 2


If you signed a work-for-hire contract, or a contract which explicitly states they own the native files. Then okay.. it's not normal, and it's something many savvy clients want. So, if you agreed to it, you agreed to it. You can't keep them from the files.

But that's not really the question here.

Business has to work on some trust. So while things may sit uneasily for you in this instance, you did agree to provide the files and if there's no stipulation on when those files are to be provided, it's a matter of negotiation.

If they want source files before work is complete.... ask them about it. Explain that you are concerned about littering communication and deliverables with preliminary, incomplete files which may or may not be in a workable state moving forward. Explain that you would rather complete the project and then forward native files with your invoice when the project is finished. This provides you the opportunity to clean up and prepare the native files so that they are more manageable at a later date should they edit them themselves. However, if they are still adamant about wanting files, give them the files. That's what you agreed to do. Any notable resistance on your part will not be favorable in terms of client relations.

Don't approach things with the mindset that "They are going to rip me off." Give them the benefit of the doubt (mostly because you already agreed to it).

Ideally you'd have a clause in the contract which implicitly states that native files are only delivered upon full payment. However, if that's not the case... you're on even terms -- they have as much right to the files as you have to payment.

Is there a chance they'll take your files and run? Yes. Can you prevent that? Probably not. If there's no contract clause about receiving payment before files are delivered, you should deliver files when asked... and learn from the experience to negotiate better next time.

This is one of those things that just makes you cringe for agreeing to something before thinking it through completely (I've done it and learned :) )... you have to put your head between your knees and hope that they are a trustworthy business and no bomb goes off.


That is the whole purpose of them hiring you. When you get paid in FULL, they get the source files. Nothing complex, nothing personal, that is how graphic arts BUSINESS works.

Simply explain to the client that the purpose of the PDF is to discuss the work and any changes that need to be made, and once you have received FULL payment, you will gladly hand over the files. If they are a marketing firm with plenty of designers on hand, they FULLY understand the situation. STICK TO YOUR GUNS, keep all files until payment. OR suggest a "pre-completion" deposit of 3 times the payment price, refundable upon full payment at the end of the project. Then, if they take the files and use them, you keep their deposit...

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    Re your first paragraph, that isn't how the business works. Simply handing over source files isn't the norm
    – Cai
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 6:50
  • @Cai Well, it depends on the job. If the end product is a logo or illustration, the client does get some kind of file which can be used. That may not be all the scratch files, or the PSD with 400 layers and sketches, but it is a file which can be edited and not a PDF. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 9:42
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    @LaurenIpsum theres a big difference between working/source files and regular deliverables. Of course they get a file (or files), but they don't get working InDesign or Illustrator documents without prior agreement and paying a release fee
    – Cai
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 9:57
  • (i.e. How to work out a publication working file release fee? and linked Q&As)
    – Cai
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 9:58
  • @Cai I'll agree with you there. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 10:36

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