As a independent graphic designer, I've developed and produced a yearly catalog of machine parts for a long term client beginning about 20 years ago! The catalog began at about 100 pages, and now is up to 500 pages. It is created in InDesign, and design of the catalog was created by me. All text was input and formatted by me; photos of the parts were supplied by the customer, sized/placed/altered by me. They give me a general idea of what they want on each page, but I am free to make my own adjustments so things fit and/or look balanced.

Every year there are extensive price changes, new products added, deleted, etc. This takes me about 3-4 months to finish, and is an expensive job. Finals have always been given to the customer as high res PDF files. These PDFs are then given to their printing company to print thousands of catalogs.

Customer is now asking for the original InDesign page layout files, as they said they want their employee to use them for other promotional pieces for their company (although I believe they simply want to make changes on their catalog themselves and stop using me to save money).

I feel the working files are my property, and I have that disclaimer on the bottom of my invoices. We have no written contract.

What are my options here? I have heard a 300% buyout for transfer of working files, but would this apply to the latest catalog I finished (which some pages have minor changes, some are completely redone)? Or for what I would charge if I had to reset all 500 pages from scratch? Since this was an ongoing project for such a long time, I'm confused as to what the buyout should be should I decide to go that route.

Any help would be appreciated!! :)

  • Not exactly a duplicate, but see questions 21324 and 78049 for different angles on this.
    – Lucian
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 22:34
  • @Lucian Thanks! Those are helpful! I'm just confused as my job has been such a long term project, and has grown tremendously in size! I have no idea what cost to put on the native files if the customer wants to buy them.
    – shydeer
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 23:29
  • Relevant and possible duplicate: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/69444/…
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 14:25
  • My 2 cents worth is that it is a legal question. Who in the contract owns the work papers? With out an ownership clause, my presumption would be the author. However, if there is a lawsuit it is sort of a crap shoot, even if you have prior case law on your side. Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 19:34

3 Answers 3


I'm in the "300% markup" group when it comes to native files.. here's why...


The cost of the original document design. This is a minimum amount of time you will save someone else by providing the file(s). If the piece had to be created from scratch... this is what it would cost. Providing native files, for me, is not an alternative to the client paying for recreating a file.

+100% -----

The ease at which the original document can be edited/updated for years to come. Every time they want to make a small adjustment, they have the files so it's a quick matter to edit. Native files offer this ease in ability. It's a commodity and has value.

+ 100% ------

Ease of repurposing -- As they put it to you "they want their employee to use them for other promotional pieces for their company" They are essentially capitalizing on my creative abilities and aesthetics. Providing files where they can easily copy/paste elements from rather than taking the time to create elements means they want to use my design sense but not pay me for that design sense. Again, this is a commodity and has value.

+ 100% ------

Utilizing my design aesthetic without my control. I can understand if some feel this 100% based on "style" may be unwarranted. To be fair, this 100% is somewhat flexible to me. I don't always calculate it. It depends on how much advertising I've done based on the design and how ingrained my own personal promotion materials are with respect to this project. However, if I've spent a fair amount of time pushing my services using phrases like "designed the XXXXXX catalog since 2015" and now.. the 2017 catalog looks horrible because I gave the client the files and they had an intern mess it up... that may be costing me business in an indirect manner. If a prospective client sees my advertising, then goes looking for the catalog..... I have to stop, edit or otherwise rethink any existing advertising and promotional materials.

In addition to the above, I often create unique, original images and illustrations for my projects. Providing these images as part of the overall delivery has extreme value. I created an illustration or illustrations for a specific use in one specific piece, not for everything they may want to use it/them in. I would essentially be giving the client unlimited usage rights to my original artwork as well by providing native files. If a piece has even one original illustration from me, this 100% is factored in. If it's loaded with original illustrations, 100% may not be enough here.

+ $???% ----

Third party items. Legally you can not provide fonts or licensed images. For third party items I tell clients I can provide links where they can purchase the items themselves, or that I will go purchase another license for their use. In some cases, these third party fonts and images can easily be several thousand dollars alone. In addition, if the client provided images you can not charge the client for those images, obviously. However, if you edited or otherwise corrected the images, there's value in returning clean, usable images to them. Images which could then be used across all their promotions because you've had your hand in making them acceptable for use.They want their business to otherwise benefit from your work outside the original agreement you had.

($X times 3) + (Third party items) = native file cost.

Ultimately each piece and client is unique though. These are just the general guidelines I base pricing on. I look at the piece in question and decide what is applicable in this instance. What benefits is the client getting by having native files? How unique are those benefits because of my abilities?

At a minimum I tend to almost always calculate the 1, 2, 3 and 5 for native files. 5 always since it's an automatic additional costs for legal reasons. For a piece that is pretty type driven and not very complex I may waive #3 as well.

I recently created a product "idea book" which was 95% client provided photos and very minimal type. They wanted native files, in this instance I actually charged 1/4 of $X. All client photos and really all they were getting was how I organized the images in the format size, not anything proprietary or unique to me beyond that. I didn't even adjust most of the images beyond converting them to CMYK from RGB (high quality professional photographs were provided).There was some of my aesthetics in the overall layout, but unlike many of my pieces, this one contained no original imagery or unique items I created just for this project.

Nothing's set in stone. I've lost track of the "but we paid for the design, don't we own the files" conversations I've had. Most clients eventually understand - some still work with me, some don't. I am always willing to negotiate with the client openly. The pricing I calculate is more an "asking price" for me. I'm open to reasonable arguments against the pricing. However, once explained logically to clients, their arguments tend to fade away. (If you hired a baker for a wedding cake, you get the cake... you do not get the recipe and a design schematic for the cake.)

I won't sugar-coat this and claim it's always an easy task to get paid for native files. In fact, just the opposite. It's often a challenge but the more you do it the more you learn how to combat the "we get everything don't we" mindset of some clients. I state on my contracts that native files are not part of deliverables and that seems to assist with this a great deal. After the fact, it's a negotiation in almost every instance.

The folly of new designers is providing anything and everything free of charge just because the client asks. Easy to do when you are starting out or working freelance in your off-hours from your 9-5 job. But it becomes very difficult to maintain that mindset once your livelihood depends upon your files. I make a concerted effort to get all new clients to understand that I never provide native files free of charge.

IMPORTANT: I should also add... never, ever, provide files until payment has been received. I don't care how good a client is. You should have a blanket policy that payment must be received prior to files being delivered.

  • Scott, much thanks for taking the time to help educate me! Taking a guess it would take 1000 hours to recreate. I'm guessing an employee there who I know is somewhat versed in InDesign would recreate it. Do I figure a cost for the working files for what I charge for 1000 hours of my time? Or what I think they would pay an employee for 1000 hours? (which would be less than what I charge, of course...plus he has the last catalog I completed to "match". Plus he can pull the text from the PDF files they were supplied from the last catalog)
    – shydeer
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 5:19
  • @shydeer I would start the base fee as what I charged to set up the project originally. So, if the first catalog you created was 4 years ago and you charged $xxxx for it, that would be my starting point. Don't use anything "he could do" as an influence on your pricing. All the "he could do" doesn't matter. If they wanted to do that, they'd do that. They are asking for your files so what "could be done" is somewhat irrelevant. Just because some can pull text and images from a PDF, that doesn't mean they can recreate your aesthetic easily. Style has value :)
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 5:47
  • It was 20 years ago I did the first catalog and it was only 100 pages! Gradually grew through the years to 500 pages. I'd have to really dig to find out what I charged! Plus 20 years ago, my rates were a LOT less! And to be honest? It's a parts price catalog with 95% text and not a whole lot of creativity going on!
    – shydeer
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 6:10
  • 1
    Then factor in what you'd charge today and cut it by something like 25%. Or calculate a fair per-page price... 30 minutes per pages at $x/hour = cost today. I honestly try and not be greedy here. But I also do not want to "give away the store" either. I never look to gouge anyone so be fair and calculate what you'd charge for the catalog today, based on what the client originally provided (word file and a bunch of jpgs. Given that you are most likely much faster today than you were 20 years ago, and your rates are higher today than they were 20 years ago. it's probably comperable.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 6:13
  • If it's mostly text.. and pricing... and not a great deal of design.. I'd lean more towards charging $x... and then third party costs (fonts). I have a hard time charging more just because I picked a font I like and set tabs/size for a bunch of type the client provided.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 6:16

Probably owner's grandson, daughter or other relative needs a job. This is an ideal place to start. Everything has a great model to follow.

Because you have several years brought what they wanted and got the payment without a hitch, they cannot claim that something is still missing. If they now want the full InD files, you can ask the price you want.

You should not get stroppy, because they see this as business and the situation there is changed. You have the right to ask the price you want. Calculate how long a it would take to recreate the InD file when one has a model to copy. This is the absolute minimum that you have no reason to undercut. Onto that add some money for the design itself and some for having an usable structure for the used material.

Offer them 3 things to buy separately or together

  • a right to use your design
  • editable InDesign file that contain your design applied to the newest catalog
  • ordering the linked material as ready to use with the InD file. Beware to offer their material. Offer only the ordering!

Do only a written offer that has a number, want a written answer and politely decline all other talks about the thing,

In your offer state clearly that the design is yours. If they accapt or reject they admit that true.

It's very possible that they have their graphic material in chaotic state. You are the only person that has it well ordered, adjusted into good shape and in printable resolution. Remember: You cannot sell their material, only the adjustments & structure.

ADDENDUM: You did not mention their online catalog. If it exists, they may want to combine your job and the maintenance of the online catalog. If they have not it, they may want it. Your work is a good starting point that need to be fully exploited.

About the value of the PDF: A print ready PDF is well possible to construct to be unusable as a reusable source. The text can be as images (=outlined).The photos, if not in rectangular constant size columns, are splintered to non-copyable jumble. This happens also to texts if the PDF is made to minimum sized.

  • Could you explain what you mean by this?: • ordering the linked material as ready to use with the InD file. Beware to offer their material. Offer only the ordering!
    – shydeer
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 23:08
  • @shydeer The linked material is their. You are a criminal if you try to sell it. Do not give them that advantage. Note that *.indd file does not hold images, only links. Probably you have a folder where their material is in good order , well grouped as subfolders. Its needed also for campaign bulletins, leaflets etc.. Offer creating that folder.
    – user82991
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 23:42
  • @shydeer added some data
    – user82991
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 7:06

Scott's answer is great. I will add something to it. Not sure if its a good option but worth considering at least. You should know the client well enough to judge if this could work.

If their intention is correct and just need to pick up pieces from your INDD for other items internally, this could be a chance for you to get a large downpayment for future work. Never having a contract allows you to play this card.

Decide on a price (X) for letting the files go as explained by Scott. Present them with this X amount and mention you are charging this assuming they want to switch to another provider/employee and cancel you services for good. Inform them that the INDD source is a software you built and improved over the years, and they are asking for a free-of-charge exclusive licence. You provided, and they paid for, derivatives in the past (PDF files), but never the software (native files). Possibly let them know it would take 1000 hours to re-build the "software" internally, so you can add arguments and they can understand the scale of the job.

If they truly intend to come back to you for the same regular job you did for many years, you will then discount the "normal" price you used to invoice every year from X. So X could cover 3-4-5 (?) years of "the usual work" in advance, if they intend to keep you in charge of the main catalogue.

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