Logo file types: what to use where?

As a designer, I’m frequently challenged by clients supplying a logo that is too small, too fuzzy, the wrong color, or filled with white in the background. This isn’t to rip on my clients—I love you guys! No, I place the blame squarely on your designer (sorry folks), for failing to communicate the proper use of your logo files.

First and foremost, the preferred format of a logo file for providing to a graphic designer is a VECTOR file. This is typically in the form of an Adobe Illustrator (.ai ) or .pdf file. Vector means that there are precise mathematic equations describing the placement of every line and curve in your logo. Because of this, the art has some unique properties:

  • It’s scalable. No, not as in Mt Everest. As in: we designers can stretch the logo to any size and the cool mathematical equations will redraw the art in real time, making the logo just as crisp at 30′ as it is at .25″.
  • It’s editable. Again, since the art is still “live”, your designer has the freedom to say, change it from a color logo to an all-white logo (for seeing it against a dark background), with just a few clicks.
  • It’s transparent. Nothing’s more frustrating to a designer than placing a logo into a layout and seeing a big ugly white box surrounding it. With a vector logo, all you get is the logo art, not the container that surrounds it.
  • It’s crisp. Because the vector art is the original design file, it has ALL of its information available to print. Saving a logo file as a raster file changes the nice, crisp mathematical lines into dots called pixels. Often, those files are then RE-saved as .jpg, .tif, or .gif files, which progressively loses even more of the original file’s information. The result? Blurry logo.

Of course, the danger of sending your original vector logo file here and there is that the risk of plagiarism or tampering is quite high. Also, when it comes to uploaded a logo file to the web, vector art won’t cut it. It’ll need to be converted to a raster format (typically a .jpg or .gif).

Here’s my advice: when you commission a designer to create a logo for you, make sure you get a vector version of the file for your records, just in case your designer skips town or changes careers on you. You or your designer should use the vector art to save the logo as the right size and resolution on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule: for print, send the .pdf format and for web, send a high-resolution .jpg or .gif format. If you’re not sure: ask your designer—that’s what we’re here for!

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