Font, format, and image resolution questions in logo designs for print media
August 6, 2004 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I’m designing a logo for a friend’s small business that will be used initially just for business cards and perhaps a CD label. I know just enough about graphic design to be dangerous. I’m looking for general advice on image resolution, appropriate font suggestions, file format, etc. [more on the inside]

Right now I’m using Fireworks (although I also have Freehand and PhotoShop 7) and some low-res web images. Will these images end up printing OK at business card size? What should be the target image resolution? What image format should I use? Any general logo design advice will be much appreciated. I just don’t want it to look OK on my monitor, but print out like crap at the local print shop.
posted by Otis to Media & Arts (18 answers total)
Best answer: I'd recommend using freehand. Vector graphics from a program like freehand will print out crisper and prettier than raster graphics from photoshop.

Freehand's native .fhd format should be fine for any decent printing place. But you can export from freehand to adobe illustrator if necessary, so it shouldn't be a problem.

I'd stay away from full color photography and stuff like that. It'll be cheaper for your friend if you pick one or two colors from the pantone palettes in freehand and stick with those. Keep it clean and simple.

Font choice will depend largely on the kind of business, but again, simple and clear is good. No one ever went wrong with Helvetica (or Arial, but that's inferior to Helv for most people). As long as you're smart enough to stay away from Comic Sans or Dragonwick, you'll be fine.

Something important to keep in mind. find out how to kern in freehand. The spacing between letters is important in a logo. Don't just type it in and leave it like it is. Make the word flow.
posted by GeekAnimator at 11:24 AM on August 6, 2004

Will these images end up printing OK at business card size?

Depends on what you mean by 'low-res' and how big you want to print the image, but the likely answer is 'No.'

If you're using raster graphics you want a resolution of at least 300dpi at the largest size you might ever want to print. Assuming a rough screen resolution of around 72 or 96dpi (depending on the size of the screen, the resolution you run at, etc.) you're going to want the image on screen to be over three times the size at which it'll be printed.

Real designers please correct me if I've made any egregious errors.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2004

Best answer: A logo? Use Freehand, and get your friend to decide on Pantone colors to use with the logo. You never know how big your friend's going to want the logo eventually, so don't use raster art. Trace it from the low-res web art if you have to. The Pantone colors may save your friend grief someday. (And keep the color scheme simple.) I'd save it as an .eps once it's done.
posted by furiousthought at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2004

Post a link here when you have something, and we´ll critique your ass off.
Second the stick with vector art and pass on "web graphics" advice.
posted by signal at 12:50 PM on August 6, 2004

Also, K.I.S.O. (keep it simple, Otis)
posted by signal at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2004

Also also, Fireworks will allow you to do some vector work, though in a more limited way than Freehand, though it may be enough for a simple logo design.
Trace all the fonts before heading of to the printers, as they might not have the same ones (or versions) as you.
Stay away from gradients and photgraphy, as they will create problems down the road in some formats and sizes or if you want to print something in just one color (which makes sense for the business cards, for example, keeps down your costs), for lapel pins, etc. etc.
Again, K.I.S.O.
posted by signal at 1:02 PM on August 6, 2004

I'd forget about graphics at all, unless it's a simple element or line-drawn thing--this logo will probably be used for letterhead, packaging, hangtags, presentations, promo materials--you name it. It has to be clear and simple and hopefully convey something about the company and what it does, or if not, project an attitude they want to convey. Google for logo design--this is a look at some trends lately in logos (most of them are too busy, i think, unless they're for a media/web company, but note the simple graphic elements--the orbs, the rules, the drops, the stars, etc.)

I wouldn't use pantone colors at all, but stick to CMYK (less than 4 if possible). Test out your logo in black and white too, in case it's ever used that way. It has to work large, small, b/w, color....
posted by amberglow at 1:19 PM on August 6, 2004

Two Words : Comic Sans

Don't use it.

Follow the suggestions of keeping it simple. There are numerous books out there about the best of business card design. Look through a couple of see what a lot of these designs have in common. Follow those as guidelines and just don't over-do anything.

Use black for the initial design and if you're using Photoshop, you need 300dpi or more. Create the design without drop shadows because you're really designing for two dimentions instead of three. Also, make sure you're using your eyes....step back and just look at the design. If something doesn't look "right" it probably isn't.
posted by mkelley at 1:32 PM on August 6, 2004

Hmmmm... now that I think about it, amberglow's probably right about the Pantones. Never mind, use CMYK.
posted by furiousthought at 1:57 PM on August 6, 2004

Re Pantone vs CMYK, Freehand vs Illustrator vs pdf files, etc.: in general, work backwards first. Find out how many cards and labels are wanted, phone some printers to get prices and - while you've got a human being on the line - find out what their technical requirements are before you even start. It's much easier to build your files with that knowledge from the top than to come up with a great design that can't be printed for some reason and has to be rebuilt from scratch in some other format.
posted by zadcat at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2004

Hmmmm... now that I think about it, amberglow's probably right about the Pantones. Never mind, use CMYK.

I'm curious about your reasoning behind this. Why would cmyk be better? it'd automatically make the printing a 4 color job, most likely, instead of probably a cheaper 1 or 2.
posted by GeekAnimator at 2:40 PM on August 6, 2004

Why would cmyk be better? it'd automatically make the printing a 4 color job, most likely, instead of probably a cheaper 1 or 2.

Short runs of cards now are often done on laser printers, making full-color work cheaper than offset. But it really depends what look you want - whether it's an accountant or a piercing studio you're designing for.
posted by zadcat at 2:48 PM on August 6, 2004

Pantone ink is more expensive too. It's easier to do a 2-, 3- or 4-color CMYK job, since those inks are always around, and never need to be special-ordered. You can design it in Pantone if you want, then convert to CMYK. Mom-and-Pop print places/short-run places/Sir Speedy type places (which do tons of business card/letterhead work) usually only do CMYK jobs. You want them to be able to change the color too, in the future, easily. And whether it's laserprinted or offset, CMYK is the standard.

Also, be sure to give the client and the printer the exact fonts you used to create it. An Adobe Times is different from a Linotype Times is different from another fonthouse's Times.
posted by amberglow at 3:22 PM on August 6, 2004

I usually design logos in Freehand in black and white first, then experiment with different colors. Depending on the project, I might use Pantone colors or CMYK... zadcat's right, though. I do an inordinate amount of full color business cards just because you can get them dirt cheap nowadays (sub-$100 for 1000); I set them up in Photoshop at 400 dpi and save them out as TIFFs type and all because that's what the printer asks for.

I would recommend a trip to a bookstore with a good graphic arts section to look at books on color. I like the Color Harmony series because it has nice examples of matching color in various "moods," plus swatches in the back so you can see what you'll get in print. It's a bonus that they're relatively inexpensive.

One thing to keep in mind: in my experience, the onscreen representations of CMYK colors have been dark when I'm using Freehand. Maybe it's my monitor, but I have better luck test-driving colors in Photoshop; they tend to be closer to the finished product that way.

Don't copy from Freehand and paste into Photoshop and expect the colors to come out the same. I often end up setting up the logo in black in Freehand, copying each separate element into Photoshop, putting them into position, then setting up each color as a different layer and copying the elements into layer masks on the appropriate layers. It's complicated, but if you just select your element with a magic wand and fill it, the edges will get screwed up because of the anti-aliasing. (Either you'll see some of the old color peeking through at the edges, or the edge will bleed over a pixel or two.) The nice thing about doing it this way is you never have to worry about making a selection since the mask is there... you can change colors by selecting all on the layer and filling it.

Also, don't copy and paste gradations into Photoshop from Freehand, or they'll band (you'll see bands of color instead of a continuous shift from one color to the next).

My biggest suggestion, echoing everyone else, is to keep it simple for the greatest impact.

My comedy suggestion is to avoid cute misspellings whenever possible, especially if you are substituting K for C. "Klassy" just isn't.
posted by MegoSteve at 3:27 PM on August 6, 2004

Pantone ink is more expensive too. It's easier to do a 2-, 3- or 4-color CMYK job, since those inks are always around, and never need to be special-ordered.

Right, I was thinking there wasn't much point in using a Pantone if you're just going to print something in straight CMYK or digitally, which happens basically always for small companies and really quite often for larger ones too. It is handy to have a client pick colors from a Pantone swatch book, though, if they are picky about colors.

Also I seem to recall that the spec sheets I've seen for Big Company Official Logos specify CMYK percentages. So moo.
posted by furiousthought at 4:19 PM on August 6, 2004

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks for all the great advice everyone. I've switched to working in Freehand now, as it seems vector is the way to go. I've narrowed it down to a text element (name of the co.) and one simple graphic element (traced from the raster art I was using), and am experimenting with different fonts and colors.

Post a link here when you have something, and we´ll critique your ass off.

No Kidding!
posted by Otis at 4:48 PM on August 6, 2004

Design a logo
posted by bonaldi at 8:49 PM on August 6, 2004

inspired by this i just made myself a logo in postscript (ie hand-wrote an encapsulated posctript file). if you're into programming rather than using guis, you might give it a go - turns out it's quite a neat little language (not sure how i'd use colour, and i'm wondering just how portable it is, but it's vector based and popular). i'm sure no real designer in the world, ever, would recommend this, but it does work...
posted by andrew cooke at 7:32 AM on August 7, 2004

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