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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Giving Clients Access to PSD’s

I’ve got a question for any of you with experience in graphic design regarding client access to original artwork (in my specific case, original layered Photoshop files).

We have a client who has requested that we send them the original PSD file for the comps we’ve just produced, since they are on a tight budget and feel they can more easily experiment with the design and layout if they have the original file, as opposed to just telling us their thoughts about the design. We have a policy in place which restricts access to the original source files, unless a client has specifically requested that access, and has paid for the privilege. This policy exists because we’ve been burned in the past by “nice” clients whom we’ve trusted, who have skipped out on the remainder of a project once we let them have copies of our source files.

I’d love some opinions on the best practice for this situation. How have you dealt with it before? What was the client’s reaction?

Be kind in the comments, as our clients read this site too :-)

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Friday, October 24th, 2003.


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11 comments on “Giving Clients Access to PSD’s”

  1. Posted by Arikawa on Friday, October 24th, 2003.

    “unless a client has specifically requested that access, and has paid for the privilege.”

    If the client has paid for layered Photshop documents, then by all means provide them.

    However, if the original contract specified “concept and production” and the client wished to pull out after the concept phase, I would take issue with it.

    If you have a gut feeling that someone is trying to take advantage of you, they probably are — you know the client better than I, of course.

    But I have to wonder about a client who is unwilling to communicate ideas, revisions, etc… if they don’t need your vision and expertise, then why did they hire you? Seems fishy.

  2. Posted by Lea on Friday, October 24th, 2003.

    Well, I’ve had clients ask to be able to edit the file by themselves; I merely tell them to print it out on a b/w printer and scratch it up manually and fax it back to me. Sometimes they just feel like it’ll be easier to do it themselves instead of going through several channels.

    It might help to do damage control by asking for a 50% deposit of your project at the beginning before going forward and doing the rest. Also, if something unexpected like this comes up, you can mention that you have to get more of your quote up front, or, charge them extra. And mentioning that at the unfinished stage, your source files are still your property. Or something.

    Though, I would look further into it.

  3. Posted by Grant Hutchinson on Friday, October 24th, 2003.

    This level of access to source files and other related data pertaining to any project needs to be understood and agreed to as part of the signed agreement. I definitely agree with Arikawa that access to anything beyond comps and final deliverables should be a paid for privilege.

  4. Posted by Nick Finck on Friday, October 24th, 2003.

    Here’s the deal. While it may seem like the client should always be allowed to mess with the source files. The fact is that the design is yours until they have paid for it. What I mean by that is even if they did “cut bait” after you designed some nice layouts, they are (assuming you have a contract that details what they will pay you and what you will give them in return) required to pay you for the full amount of the project because they have possession of the original works, assuming they use the designs. And in such a case, until they pay you for the designs you own the copyright on them.

    Despite all of these fail-safes, I still have a hard time giving any client my PSDs because it’s simply asking for trouble. Why can’t they just markup a GIF with comments, or as someone said, print it out and fax it off? There are even a few software tools that allow you to draw on GIFs and layouts of web pages.

  5. Posted by benry on Saturday, October 25th, 2003.

    Without a doubt something is fishy here.

    First, they hired you to complete the work, not them. If they feel they can accomplish the work themselves, then I’d let them and tell them that you’ll happily re-evaluate your original proposal and the extra time it will likely take to implement.

    Second, keep the PSD’s. They are yours. As long as it is outlined properly in your contract — don’t release them.

  6. Posted by Moose on Saturday, October 25th, 2003.

    “This policy exists because we’ve been burned in the past by “nice” clients whom we’ve trusted, who have skipped out on the remainder of a project once we let them have copies of our source files.”

    This says it all. If they have not paid for the usage of editable PSD’s you cannot risk your time, money and creativity. You are the designer, the clients job is to guide you in your job so they get the desired results. If all they needed was a jump off point for design they can tweak at their own will, maybe that’s what you should create and bill for.

  7. Posted by damien on Saturday, October 25th, 2003.

    In my experience often the client is simply buying a finished product and in essence an exclusive license to the specific artwork provided. This is standard and should normally be covered by your terms and conditions or whatever. This does not cover ‘original (source) artwork’ like layered photoshop files.

    In a few cases – some clients do specifically purchase the original photoshop files because they like to do all the production work and have the original artwork. Most often this involves massively changing things – like new color schemes or whatever else the production artist wishes to inflict. And on our side – it requires us to prepare those files and build them accordingly, perhaps with a styleguide and so on.

    I’ve found that for clients like Microsoft you have to hand over every file, source or not, but that they also stipulate that up front.

    It is an easy distinction between original source files – which you may personally use again and again to develop new concepts for other activities – and finished concepts which can only really be used for the purpose they were intended.

    It sounds like your policy is a good thing and should be implemented here if for nothing else because the client wishes to cut short the design process and ‘experiment’ with it themselves – I guess you have to decide which will produce the best outcome for you in order to get future work, either from this particular client or others. Sorry for waffling on.

  8. Posted by James Mathias on Saturday, October 25th, 2003.

    As has been said many times already.

    The original source files are not part of a deal, unless specifically written into your contract, giving them access to these sources is asking for trouble. I have not had one client that has asked for the source files, and told no they can’t have them complain or leave.

    I have on the other hand given them to “trustworthy, nice guy” clients only to be taken for a fool. I have lost several thousands of dollars by trying to be nice. It does not work. Web dev/design is a business and the clients (some not all) don’t seem to understand that. I have clients constantly trying to barter, and get things they never originally specified, which is the reason I went to full legal contracts. You can’t go to the gas station and barter for your gas.

    Anyways, I would just explain that they were not part of the original contract and that if they would like them, they may purchase to the rights to them for a large fee (I charge $2000 for rights to source), or the other option they have is to explain to you the best they can thier needs/wants.

    Hint: They always go the communication route.

  9. Posted by Stéphane Curzi on Saturday, October 25th, 2003.

    I had problem like this before, now I don’t deal with these client anymore. Having a client ask you the files before you finish is strictly a no-no for me, I do own my work and I would never give a client the photoshop for a website/illustration or any other construction files.

    Except if you specified in the contract that you give a client FULL rights on the artwork, it’s still your property even after you finish the contract. That’s what I tell my clients when there asking for originals, they have paid for ONE job that they received, not the ability to do whatever they want with it.

    If they feel that they cant really explain what they want, then I would suggest they find another company to do the work.

    Good luck.

  10. Posted by francis on Monday, October 27th, 2003.


    i would politely tell the client that you do not hand over the PSD files until the end of the project.

    what I usually do is include everything on a CD upon completion of each project. this may or may not include, PSD files, FLA files, stock images, and usually the entire completed site.

    they never get access to these files halfway through the project.

    not sure this helps…but good luck!

  11. Posted by Lea on Monday, November 10th, 2003.

    Oh Dan, I just found this link for you:


    I just put that there because I’m not sure your comments allow HTML. But please check it out. :-)