Logo Files 101: Why Only Having a JPEG is Crippling
In my career as a designer and artist, I encounter so many clients who only have low-resolution JPEG versions of their logos. When I ask them where they got their logo designed, they tell me they hired some guy for $30 on Fiverr, or someone overseas to do it for 1/10 of the cost of having a professional designer create it. From there begins the always uncomfortable conversation about why that’s literally never a good idea. While an explanation of why I feel that way is for another time, one of the main reasons is the lack of proper file types delivered to you.
I’ve learned that so many of my clients are unsure what file format their logo is in or why it matters. Some of them don’t even know what a file format is, or the fact that there are different formats for different applications. When they give me a low-resolution version and ask why I can’t make it work, it leads to stress on both sides, and I hate stressing my clients out — I’m here to make their lives easier.
While it’s my job to keep track of my clients logo and all the various applications for it, it’s never a bad idea for them to have a little more knowledge. This overview will help you to understand why different file types exist, what they do, and why I can’t use your JPEG logo to print that billboard advertisement on I-95 you’re looking to run.
A JPEG simply isn’t good enough.
Standing for Joint Photographic Experts Group, JPEG is also the popular image file format for digital photos and certain digital applications of your logo. A JPEG is great for web use, including social media posting, some website applications, email signatures, and other uses where small file sizes are essential. However JPEGs have quite a few limitations, including lack of transparency, lower-quality files, horrible quality printing, and more. Therefore having a JPEG alone is not enough: you need more.
Having a PNG is also important.
Portable Network Graphics files have a larger file size than JPEGs, which means they display text, solid colors, and line art better. They can also have transparent backgrounds, which is incredibly helpful when designing for the web. If you’ve ever seen a graphic that has a small “checkerboard” graphic behind it such as this, you’re looking at a PNG file. While a JPEG cannot have transparency, a PNG can, and therefore works well when layering your logo over something else, as shown here. However, both JPEGs and PNGs are still raster-based and not ideal for print applications. For that, you need a vector file.
Wait… raster? Vector…? Huh?
The difference between raster and vector files is fairly simple. Raster graphics and rasterized image files aren’t scalable. That means that if you want to use them larger than they were originally designed or captured, you’ll start to see a decrease in quality and pixelation of the image. A great example of this is photography: ever take an awesome picture on your phone and then go to print it at a large scale and have it not look great? It may appear blurry and pixelated. The reason for this is simple: photos are taken at a fixed size, and once you try to exceed that size in either digital or print applications, you’re going to start losing quality, resulting in a pixellated appearance. So if your phone only shoots pictures at, for example, a 5x7 photo resolution, but you want to print an 8x10, you’re not going to love your results. That’s why higher megapixel cameras are so appealing to people: more megapixels means sharper images/higher resolution, which means you can make the image bigger before losing quality.
Vector graphics, on the other hand, are scalable. This allows your images to get larger with absolutely zero loss of quality. Adobe Illustrator (.ai) and some .eps files are vector-based. Any graphic designer with an ounce of training will only create your logo design in vector format so that it is scalable. From there they can also export it as a JEPG/PNG or other raster file format for applicable uses, but you CANNOT design something as raster based FIRST and then export it as vector.
See the example above comparing vector vs. raster graphics. Notice how the file on the top is crisp and clear when scaled, while the one on the bottom looks blurry when scaled? The top file is a vector graphic, and the bottom one is a vector graphic. Note that things like photos, or anything designed/edited in Photoshop, cannot be a vector file.
What file format works best for print?
Vector-based files, because of their scalability, are the right choice for print whenever possible. There are two formats to choose from:
Adobe Illustrator (.ai files): This proprietary file format by Adobe can only be viewed with their software; however, it is the software that a majority of designers will use to do your logo design, so don’t be surprised if it pops up. A good graphic designer should always send you this “source” file (meaning the original document that was created) so that you have it in the event that it ever needs to be edited by someone. You don’t really have to do anything with this file and you won’t likely use it, but it’s important to have on hand for anyone doing graphic design for your brand.
Encapsulated PostScript (.eps files): These files are transparent, scalable, and editable with the right software. They have an unlimited color capacity, but their large file size makes them a poor choice for web applications. Please note: while you CAN edit .eps files in Photoshop, once you do so and re-save it, it will now become a raster graphic and lose all of the benefits of vector file format.
Portable Document Format (.pdf files): The small file size of a PDF allows for logos to be easily sent and viewed regardless of software, hardware, or operating system. While I don’t recommend having your final logo be in this format, it does have applications that make sense, and therefore can’t hurt to have.
Are there any other file formats?
Yes, of course there are. Here are a few you might run into:
TIFF: A .tif file is a raster graphic that was originally created for scanning. They are great for maintaining the highest possible quality in a raster-based image, but often result in larger file sizes due to lack of compression.
PSD: A .psd is an Adobe Photoshop file. Depending on the file size, this could be editable but is still a raster graphic format. A designer should NEVER design your original logo in this file format.
SVG: An .svg is a vector-based web graphic format, but isn’t widely used.
BMP: A .bmp is a bitmap file. These are large and not used frequently anymore
GIF: A .gif file, standing for Graphics Interchange Format, which is pronounced as “jif” (like the peanut butter) by the inventor of the file type, is mostly used for short animated graphics online. You don’t need your logo in this format.
What do RGB and CMYK mean?
Ever notice the ink in your printer comes in 4 colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black? That’s because these 4 cartridges can make ALL of the shades that you print from just those 4 colors. And their names line up with the abbreviation of the CMYK print color mode exactly: Cyan (C), Magenta (M) Yellow (Y), and Black *tires screech* (K)… ok, ALMOST exactly. The “K” actually stands for “key”, which is a synonym for black. Don’t ask.
RGB, on the other hand, stands for Red, Green, Blue, which is the color mode used to design anything that will be displayed on a screen. These 3 colors can be “mixed” on screen to give you the 256 different colors in the RGB color space, and because they aren't being printed, what you see on screen is what you get.
Why is this important?
If you try to print a file that is using an RGB color mode, such as a JPEG, there is a very good chance that the colors you see on your print aren’t going to look quite the same as you’d hoped. In the example here, see how the RGB colors on the top look different than the CMYK versions on the bottom? While this may not make a major difference when printing things like photos from your iPhone, it matters greatly when your logo is printed on a business card using a JPEG in RGB color mode, and the blue on the card looks completely different than the company-branded blue that you’re used to seeing.
Hire a graphic designer that is going to give you all of the logo format options you’d need, to include a source file. That way you can be sure that you’ll always have what is required for different applications, or you can easily get it. As for whether the colors are RGB or CMYK, a good graphic designer should be the one to worry about that, and they’re always a great source to ask about what files to use if you ever have any questions.
Unsure what graphic format your logo is in? Want to upgrade your current logo? Have more questions? Just reach out and ask. I absolutely love logo design, and I’m always here to help.