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We are very attached to the dog. It has been a staple on our correspondence and advertising for almost 5 years. We would also like trees and mountains on the design since we represent a mountain community. We want to give the impression that the dog is begging for a new mountain home. Maybe just the dog, mountains and our name. Your examples of mountains and trees are nice and they can be used in the design. The mountains could be black to save colors. We would like to limit the amount of green except for trees as one of our competitors has lots of green in their logo. Our old logo had 3 colors (brown, red, and blue) and black. We would like to use 3 colors and black again, but not necessarily the same colors again. Please be a creative as you can be on our new design considering the comments I have just made.

I didn’t even have to open the attachment to know this was going to be a difficult job. Please be as creative as you can… considering the comments I have just made. So you want a new logo that incorporates all of the worst elements of the old logo? Yeah, I’ll get right on that…

First Things First

The most important questions related to designing a new corporate logo revolve around the advertising budget, now and projected, and where and how the logo will be used. Answering these questions properly almost always helps to inform the design.

A retail establishment, pizzeria or plumber might be expected to do a fair amount of advertising. They will have an ad in the phone book. They may consider billboards, window displays, door hangers and newspaper inserts. Given these, potentially numerous, different formats they will need a logo that adapts itself well to any environment. It should have a contained outline, its width and height should be such that it can fit within many different spaces comfortably. It should be adaptable by way of color, if originally a full color logo, it should be easily converted to one or two colors without significant loss of character. I will discuss these in greater depth below.

There are other types of businesses though, for whom the basic stationary is the extent of their printing requirements. A law firm for example, will require business cards, letterhead and envelopes but may do no large-scale advertising. For a smaller business like this there is a little bit more wiggle room. A logo with dimensions of 1 unit by 8 units may be fine. A full color logo may also be employed more easily if they are doing most of their printing in-house. The costs are entirely in the ink cartridges and, compared to offset printing, therefore negligible.

Questions of this nature should be answered before principle design begins. Some artists may consider it ‘value added’ or ‘not my job’ to worry about the customer’s future printing budget. They may find it easier to just do whatever the customer wants at this moment. In my personal opinion this is terrible customer service and terrible design to boot. Making them happy today is important, insuring they are happy down the road is also part of the job. If my customer discovers, six months after I’ve invoiced them, that their printing costs are all sky high because everything must be done in full color, with film provided for all those nasty gradients and tight registration… I can hardly be said to have designed the best logo for their needs.

The Broad Strokes


Think about the places this logo will be used. In terms of stationary and business cards almost any outline will be fine. For stationary, the top of the letterhead and the corner of the envelope have plenty of space to accommodate any design. A square logo can be centered or placed in the corner. A rectangular logo can stretch across the top of the page just fine. For business cards as well almost any shape is fine, given that there is plenty of text to fill in around the logo.

How do you place a horizontal rectangular logo into an ad space that is vertically rectangular though? Given dimensions of 3.5” by 12” (I actually had to do this recently, which is why it makes such a great example) and a logo that measures 1 unit by 6 units the other direction you very quickly find that in order to fit the logo in that width it becomes nearly insignificant in the height dimension. Your logo, which you would prefer to stand out, to claim a fair amount of that area, is suddenly lost in all that space.

This problem most commonly occurs with rectangular logos of course. As you have probably noticed, most every major corporation can be recognized or represented by a single symbol (AT&T’s globe, Pepsi’s yin yang thing, NBC’s peacock). Many of these corporations will have longer names, will have “full logos” that can be used in a variety of formats, but, will also have a symbol to use in places where a full logo would not fit properly.

To return to the example from above, I actually had designed a horizontal rectangular logo for them before I knew this ad was coming up. Fortunately for me I had anchored their logo on the left hand side with strongly stylized letters which would stand on their own. This allowed me to place the full logo at the top of the ad without worry of it being lost or ignored as a major element of the logo was duplicated much larger in the center of the ad. Without that element it would have been a very unattractive design.


There are three things to consider when it comes to color: offset printing costs, mutability and web usage (to web snap or not to web snap). To return again to the examples provided for us by the biggest of corporations, you will be hard pressed to find many logos which use more than two colors, use gradients to blend colors or lose recognition when the colors are changed. The AT&T globe is most often seen as blue ink over a white background, like the Prudential rock however, both may be printed in simple black and white or even as knockouts without losing any of their character. Now of course these corporations could afford to use as many colors as they like but there are other good reasons for clean, simple logos. Approaching it from a cost perspective is just one easy, and customer service oriented, way of arriving at the right result.

Though costs have dropped for color printers and cartridges, to the point where many offices are able to afford color laser printers, jobs where quality is a concern or quantity is required are still outsourced to small and medium size print shops and their offset presses. For this reason mainly, though there are few others, all logos should be designed in CMYK unless utilizing a specific Pantone color. And while more and more print shops are able to offer full process printing it is still far more cost effective to have your jobs run on their two color press rather than their four or five.

These considerations lead naturally into mutability. When designing a logo for a small business without much of a printing budget it is best to limit the design to two colors or a full color logo that can easily be printed in two colors without losing any character. Avoid two color gradients for the same reason. It defeats the purpose to limit yourself to two colors and then to design something which requires film, plates and constant attention on the press. The costs will go right back up.

The last element is not nearly as important but does deserve a mention. For a company that will have a significant web presence it worth considering using only colors from the 216 color web palette. While very few browsers will actually mangle a logo many will still display it improperly if you use colors outside of that palette. It is usually a small consideration but some do take the integrity of their logo seriously. It might not be a bad idea to have a Pantone book and a web palette open at the same time. You can look for colors that are barely altered from one to the next in order to guarantee some consistency between onscreen appearance and print appearance.

The Details

We’ve determined how and where the logo is likely to be used. We know what generic outline we are going for and have a good idea of the colors we want to use. Now we are ready to actually design the logo incorporating nifty fonts, clipart, and personally stylized design elements. Keeping in mind all of these elements we have also to pick the right software with which to build this logo.

It seems sometimes as if picking the right font for the logo suggests the rest of the design on its own. In many cases this is literally true as the text in the logo is more than 75% of the logo. A good artist is going to have quite a library of fonts to choose from. Knowing your way around this library is very important, to keep from using the same few fonts over and over and to be able to find just the right font for the right customer. It would be unusual for a law firm to choose Comic Sans or for a day care center to request Edwardian Script.

If you do not already understand the difference between vector artwork and bitmap artwork you would do well to not mislead people into believing you are a graphic artist. It would be fair to say that 100% of the elements within 98% of the logos in the world should be vector artwork. This leads us directly out of fonts and into clipart and design elements. When you or your customer have agreed on the font and fixed the logo the last thing you will do before saving your original file is convert the fonts to outlines, vector art. This is not just a compatibility issue but a scalability issue as well. It is unfortunately one of the last things people learn when they are learning on the job.

Briefly, vector artwork can be thought of us geometric relationships while bitmap artwork is best characterized by photos. Imagine a green equilateral triangle measuring one inch on a side. This image in vector format would be three points defined by a few coordinates, three lines connecting those points and a color tag applied to the enclosed area. The file size for this would be tiny. A bitmap file of the same triangle would be a list of coordinates for every green dot within the triangle. This is a much larger file. If you were to then stretch these triangles out to be a foot on a side instead of an inch you would notice the difference between them immediately. The vector artwork would appear completely unchanged, it would still be three perfectly straight lines with a solid green interior. The bitmap triangle on the other hand would suddenly look like a ziggurat, it would have chunky, blocky edges instead of crisp lines. You can zoom in on a photo of someone until all you see is various fleshy colored squares. If you zoom in on a piece of vector artwork though, it will never lose definition.

Clipart libraries can be a graphic artist’s best friend. When shopping for these however pay very close attention to the formats the files are in. Is there plenty of vector artwork included or is it all bitmap? Do you have to pay extra to get the vector artwork converted into a standard format? There is nothing necessarily wrong with using bitmap clipart in certain logos, as long as you clarify with the customer that it will never be printed larger than a certain size. In most cases however, the bitmap clipart you will only use as a guide. You will end up free drawing it or converting it to vector using another program.

All of which brings us to the last bit of discussion here, programs. Adobe is arguably the leader in graphic design right now. Their programs, Photoshop (bitmap) and Illustrator (vector), are the standard against which all others measure themselves. Even the wary open source crowd call their Gimp program the freeware Photoshop. Other good design tools include Corel Freehand and for Internet design Macromedia’s Fireworks is awfully powerful.

The most important features in a program like Illustrator are often the least obtrusive. One that you’ll notice as soon as you save a file is the PC/Mac compatibility. Adobe programs are nearly unchanged between platforms but more importantly the artwork is never changed. This can be very important when your printer uses Macs and you are on a PC. Other features include the one mentioned above, converting fonts to outlines, as well as tools to work with trapping, color palettes, layers and precise placement of pieces. A detailed discussion of these programs and tools would be considerably longer than this article. Suffice it to say, if you considered Microsoft Publisher or WordArt adequate design tools it would be worth doing the research before going too much further with them. Chances are, anything you design with these will have to be recreated from scratch before professional printers will touch them.

I wrote this article based on my own experience in this industry. It is meant to be more of a guide on how to think about design than a guide on how to actually design. For that article you can be sure I'd have cited quite a few more sources. To learn more on these topics though, aside from using the E2 database, check out http://www.adobe.com. Starting there will lead you to almost everything else, they really are that nifty.

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