Updated June 2019. It contains important information for small business owners who are comparing logo design services and trying to manage their logo design files.
If you hire a graphic designer or are using an online logo tool to design your logo, make sure that you get the correct files once the logo is finalized.
Vector vs. Pixel Based Graphics
Generally, professional designers work in Illustrator to design your logo. Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based program, rather than a pixel-based program like Photoshop. Vector-based images can be resized both larger and smaller without diminishing the quality. On the other hand, pixel based images do not resize well. As you can see in the example below, the vector-based Illustrator file (top) is created with just a few points and a mathematical formula determines the curves and lines in between. The pixel or bitmap based Photoshop file (bottom) looks digitized and has blurry edges when resized from a low resolution file.
Additionally, vector based graphics have the benefit of allowing transparent backgrounds. Any spaces between letters and lines can be transparent, not just filled white. If you plan to place your logo on top of another photograph, you will understand why this is critical (see below).
File type: eps
An Illustrator eps file is the gold standard for your logo files. In fact, if your logo designer says they are working in Photoshop, or any other program, you are probably not going to get the highest quality files. And it will cause problems for you in the future, if not immediately.
Now it’s likely that you do not have Illustrator, so you will not be able to open the file. But that’s OK. You only need to be able to place the finished eps file within documents or provide it to printers or designers for such things as business card printing, signage, etc.
Whenever you pass along your logo to a professional, give them the eps version, unless another format is specifically requested.
The benefit of an Illustrator eps file is that it can be sized up or down without restriction and without deteriorating the image quality. It is a vector file. Professionals such as graphic designers, web designers, printers and sign makers can resize the image to whatever size they need. They can also save it into another file format from the eps.
Illustrator eps files also have a transparent background. That means that the logo can be placed in any situation without a problem. A jpeg, on the other hand, will always have a white box as the background of the logo. If your logo is not square or rectangular-shaped, you will always see white between the letters or around the edges.
Whenever you are working on something that requires your logo, always try to use the eps file first. The problem with eps files is that you may not be able to use this file type everywhere. You often cannot place an eps file in Word documents or Powerpoint files. You also cannot upload an eps file to use on websites or in social media. If the software you are using does not let you place or import an eps, then you will be forced to use an alternative format.
Note: It is possible to export an eps file from PhotoShop and it is not a true vector-based file. Make sure the eps file is created in Illustrator.
File type: ai
A file that ends with ‘.ai’ is an Adobe Illustrator file. This is the file that was used to design your logo. An Illustrator .eps file and an Illustrator .ai file function the same way for your designer. But, since you probably don’t own the Adobe software to open an .ai file it’s not that useful to you.
Generally, your designer will save the Illustrator file as an eps file so that it can be placed within other files.
File type: Jpeg
Jpegs are the most common image types that many of us are familiar with. Most photos from your camera or phone are jpeg files. You can tell their are a jpeg because they have ‘.jpg’ at the end of the file name.
Jpegs are easy to place within Word, PowerPoint and nearly any software or website when you need to place an image.
There are two common problems with jpegs files: they do not resize well, and they have a background fill (such as white).
Jpegs are pixel-based. If you zoom in on a jpeg image, every pixel square is colored in. The background color may be white, but it’s never transparent. For that reason, if you try to place a logo file (such as the VL monogram above) onto a background that is not white, it will have a white box around it.
File type: gif or png
Gifs and png files are an alternative to jpeg, but allow for a transparent background. However, they have the same limitations because they are also pixel based. You will again need to create the file with the correct size and resolution for the end usage.
With the sample above, I placed a png file with a transparent background on top of the photo. As you can see, the edges are jagged-looking. This effect gets worse the more the logo file is enlarged.
File Type: svg
Svg files are vector files meant for web-based usage. Files that end with ‘.svg’ are Scalable Vector Graphics.
As we learned above, vector files maintain their crispness when scaled. SVG files can be used on a website to allow for an image to be scaled and still look good.
Unfortunately, although .svg files are vector graphics, many printers have trouble with files when an .svg file type is provided or embedded in the document. Generally, .svg files are used online while .eps files are used in print. You may also be able to place an .svg file in PowerPoint or Word to be able to scale your logo within your presentation.
Note: if you want to be able to see what a .svg file looks like, try opening it in a web browser.
File type: PDF
PDF files might be vector files. You may also be offered a PDF version of your logo from your logo designer. The benefit of a PDF file is that it can be generated from Illustrator and then be viewed by you or someone else who does not have the Illustrator program.
Unfortunately, you can convert nearly any file or image into a PDF. So, someone could have created your logo in PowerPoint or PhotoShop and then just saved it as as PDF. Not all PDF files are inherently vector-based.
Also, there are some limitations and issues that frequently arise when you rely on your logo files coming in PDF format. PDFs, like jpegs, have a background color to them. They can also have a background size that is larger than the image itself.
Finally, I have often received logo files saved as PDFs that have strange issues with them such as the insides of open letters such ‘o’s ‘e’s and ‘b’s filling in, or having background boxes that I could not separate and unlock from other parts of the logo design. While these are issues that a designer well-versed in Illustrator can probably work around, they would difficult for someone without professional editing tools to deal with.
Source files for your logo design
Source files refer to the raw files that were used to create your logo design. There is no universal definition of a what format source files should be in, so it may not be clear what you’ll get with these files.
As mentioned above, Adobe Illustrator is the gold standard for creating vector logo design files, so the source file should be an Illustrator file. It will likely be saved with ‘.ai’ extension but it could be saved as an eps or even PDF file format. Any of these should be able to be opened up and edited by someone who has the Adobe Illustrator software. Remember, if for some reason your designer used another tool like PhotoShop, InDesign or Canva, the source file would be related to that piece of software.
There are a few benefits of getting source files. Sometimes, source files still have the fonts active meaning you could edit the type within the logo design. This might be helpful if your company name is not quite finalized and you want to change the the business name but keep the same icon. Additionally, a source file may have elements still layered or in pieces. This may be helpful if you wanted to adjust something about the logo such as the color or the positioning of overlapping elements. While it sounds good to get the source files, remember that you probably shouldn’t be changing your logo frequently and that you would need Adobe Illustrator (or hire someone who uses the tool) to make the changes.
Some designers will allow you to purchase the source files for your logo design. I have found this term is a bit more common with low-cost designers like on services like Fiverr. Generally, our clients are looking for us to create a level of polish to their logo design that make have the source files irrelevant. For example, we rarely just typeset the font straight out of the box. It’s more likely that we’ve done custom kerning or manipulation of the characters in the word mark portion of the logo. Sometimes we even draw the letters from scratch, so having access to the original file that was the source of inspiration would be far removed from the final format.
Developing a library of files
To summarize: jpegs, gifs and png files are easy to use, but don’t scale well. The edges become bitmapped when resized. Therefore you’ll need to create different sizes of your logo with the end use in mind.
Here are some examples. If you are creating a pop-up banner for your tradeshow booth a jpeg would need to be very large and have a high dpi, if not, it will look low-quality. On the other hand, a web graphic can be very small. In fact, it’s better not to put a large graphic file on a website because it will slow down your site. Therefore, the size should be close or exactly what it will be in it’s final usage.
As you can see, it’s easy to end up with a large library of these images because you need one for every specific usage. And, you may not have the tools to make all these variations. You’ll need to start with the eps file to create the jpegs in these various formats, and your designer may need to be the one to do that for you. When you use an online logo making tool, you may not get the right file formats, or you only get a few sizes and types.
Whenever we design a logo for a client, we provide a large library of final electronic files. The key files are the Illustrator eps files, and we usually provide them in Pantone (PMS) color, four color, grayscale, black, and white versions. That handful of eps files are the most critical.
Then, we build a whole library of jpeg and gif files. We create a wide range of files in different sizes and resolutions to span most of our clients needs. As you can imagine, this is a large library of files. It is not uncommon for us to provide up to 100 different variations for them.
What kind of files did your logo designer provide you? Were they sufficient?