You want a new digital label. Seems pretty simple: you call up your printer, give them an idea of what you want, they have their art department put something together, and a week or so later, you’ve got a new label. There might be a little back and forth about how much time was spent to get to the finished product, but chances are you’ll get a custom label that works without too much hassle. But that’s not always the end of the story, there is one important question you forgot to address, whose digital label is it?
You paid for it, so you’re probably assuming it’s yours, well…it depends. Unless you specifically asked for the rights to all the ‘master files’ (layered Illustrator and InDesign files, Photoshop files, fonts, etc.) the printer, or designer, probably doesn’t have to give them to you. What you are buying most of the time when you buy design are the ‘final deliverables’ not the ‘master files’ that produced the file. This is kind of an abstract point, so here’s an example.
You want a new custom label for your new line of beef jerky. The digital label you envision has a wood textured background, with your logo, the name of the jerky, and the nutritional information over top of it. Seems pretty simple? It is, but there are a couple of different things going on here. The wood textured background was probably processed in Photoshop, and then taken into Illustrator where the logo and text were placed over it. In order to edit or print this image, a printer would need access to both the Photoshop and Illustrator files. What you’ve seen, as a client, is likely a PDF of the finished design. The PDF gives you a preview of what it looks like, but cannot be edited or manipulated for printing. In this case, the master files are the Photoshop image of the wood texture and the Illustrator image with all of the necessary layers. The final deliverables are the custom printed labels themselves; the only actual ‘files’ you are entitled to are the PDFs that are intended to show you the end result, not be used for anything in and of themselves (some printers will even send a low resolution JPEG of the artwork to ensure you don’t use it for printing purposes).
So why should you care about all of this? Because some day you might want to switch to a new digital label printer. And that’s when you’ll wish you’d paid more attention. Technically, your old printer doesn’t have to give you the master files, which are necessary to print your custom label. So even though the label has been associated with your product, you don’t have the ability to reproduce it yourself. This problem can be solved by having a new artist try to recreate the digital label from scratch, but that’s an expensive and time-consuming project. And what’s more, the new label is not exactly the same as the old one, which creates an inconsistent look.
So how do you avoid this?
- Do the heavy lifting up front. Ask your designer who owns own the master files at the beginning of the process, before you need them. Make sure you are getting what you pay for. Most digital label designers will gladly give you the master files if you state that you want them up front, don’t wait until the relationship is stressed before asking.
- Work with people you trust, and that have good reputations. Holding on to a client’s files in an attempt to keep their business is, unfortunately, a common practice. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s right. A good digital label printer, or designer for that matter, knows that you can’t force clients to stay with you by holding them captive. If a customer is asking for their files, the relationship is not going so hot. The last thing they should be doing is trying to bully the client into staying with them.
As the owner of the brand, you’re the one paying for your artwork, and you’re the one whose brand it represents. Make sure you have control of all your artwork, including master files. This ensures you can consistently deliver the same package to your customer, regardless of who’s printing it.
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