Which logo files do what and which file to use when

If you’re attempting some do-it-yourself marketing with a new logo, you probably have a whole bunch of files with different names. Using which file for what can be confusing for anyone without design experience, so let’s break things down in layperson terms and language.

Need to know basis.

As it’s their bread and butter, designers are expected to know about logo file formats, their properties and which file does what. As a client, buyer or end user of a logo, it may be outside your realm of expertise, and the array of logo files you receive from a designer may seem terribly confusing. We’ve written several file format guides before, but they’ve been somewhat technical in nature, probably too complex and detailed for the average do-it-yourself business person. You don’t care about the whys and wherefores, fancy terms and explanations. You simply want to get stuff done with your new logo. Hopefully, this guide will help.

Forget about formats. Let’s just call them files.

When you get your new logo in digital, you should have some assets that look like this:
Right off the bat, clients often wonder about the difference between files and file formats. That’s our fault really – designers and related service vendors tend to use both terms as being synonymous. The format is simply the type of file so let’s call them files. Just like files for Office, Excel and any other software you use. The format OF the file IS important for any vendor that you’ll send your logo art to, but other than knowing which file goes where, not terribly important for you to understand completely in your day-to-day.

Quick Tip: If any vendor ever asks you for a specific format, they’re looking for a type of file, and its format is usually indicated by a file extension.

Which brings us to:

File extensions

A file extension is added to the name of your logo file and indicates what type of format it is. This extension is usually three letters long and is prefaced by a dot. Thus a file called YOUR-LOGO will have an extension like so: YOUR-LOGO.EPS. The most common extensions you’ll run into will look like these: .PDF, .EPS, .PNG, .JPG and .GIF. There are a few exceptions to the three letter extension rule and you may receive files with just two, .AI and .PS being the most common. All these extensions not only tell you what kind of file it is, but they also allow your computer to figure out (as best it can) what software is needed to open the file if you double-click on its icon.

Quick Tip: Changing the extension in a file name by typing in another will NOT change the file format OF the file. You should never do this anyway.

Vector and Pixel based images

The logo artwork that is in your files can be one of two image types. One is known as vector based, the other bitmap, pixel based or raster. If you want a fairly in-depth technical explanation, you can click on the links, but that’s probably more information than you actually need. Here’s the short and skinny.
Vector based files usually require professional design software to open, so while VERY important, you won’t be doing too much with them day-to-day. They are unlimited resolution (can be used really big, and really small) and are primarily print and source files. Bitmap (raster or pixel) files are the ones you’ll generally be using – on your website or in email signatures for example – but are limited in what you can do. You can’t, for example, enlarge the image size of a pixel-based file without it becoming blurry as the individual pixels become noticeable. You can usually reduce it fairly safely. Generally speaking, a raster file is for use anytime your is to be viewed on a monitor or TV screen. A vector file is for anytime your logo is going to be printed on something.

Key Points: Vector images can be reduced in size and enlarged. They are primarily files for printing and to create other formats from. Can be edited by your designer without too much trouble. You can make bitmap or pixel images from a vector file, but usually not vice versa.

Key Points: Raster (pixel-based) images can only be used size as or reduced. They are primarily files for viewing on electronic screens like monitors and TVs. Difficult to edit, if it’s even possible at all.

What the file extensions mean. When the files are used.

Keep in mind there are exceptions to almost everything we’re about to discuss, but such exceptions require a lot of explanation and probably too much information than you actually need. What follows also presupposes that your logo artwork is setup correctly to begin with.

EPS file (vector)

The EPS (pronounced ee-pee-ess) of your logo is what’s known as a source file – a file from which ALL other types and formats can be made. This is a vector-based file, which in the simplest terms means that it features unlimited resolution – it can be reproduced at any size without any degradation of sharpness or quality. The artwork in this file can be edited with little difficulty (but it DOES require specific software and someone who knows what they’re doing to do so.) This is the file that you will send to almost anybody who is going to print something for you, be it T-shirts, brochures or mugs. Can be imported into many other design applications. You probably won’t use this file too much (unless you have access to design software like Adobe Illustrator or if the software you’re using requests an EPS file) but keep it safe and make backups. As long as you have this file you can start over if disaster – a hard drive failure for example – strikes.

Key Points: An EPS file of your logo can be imported into other design software. It is unlimited resolution and can be enlarged without image degradation. Can be edited (with appropriate software and technical knowledge) and used as a source file for other file types. Primarily a print file and NOT for use on web. Keep this file safe.

PDF file (vector)

The main advantage of a PDF (pee-dee-eff) file is that you can view a high-resolution vector-based version of your logo without having access to professional design software. Most internet browsers have built-in features that open PDF files, as do most smart phones and tablets. A designer can, in a crunch, also use this as a source file for your logo (but requires professional design software.) In fact, many designers will forgo both EPS and AI files completely, delivering only a PDF to clients. Like EPS and AI files, it is generally vector based and likewise features unlimited resolution.

Key Points: Can be VIEWED without use of professional design software. Can be viewed on most web browsers, smart phones and tablets but NOT for use “as is” in web site design or as an embedded image. Can be edited (with appropriate software and technical knowledge.)

.AI file (vector)

If you have an AI (eh-eye) file of your logo, best to keep it, but you probably won’t use it at all. AI stands for Adobe Illustrator and is proprietary to that software application. For all intents and purposes, an AI file contains the same information as an EPS or PDF file but requires at least the same version of Illustrator to open as created it, so it’s not as flexible. Overall, these files are redundant, but many designers still ship them to clients as a matter of course.

Key Points: Requires Adobe Illustrator (or similar) to open or use. NOT for web use. Generally cannot be imported into other design software. Largely redundant in light of EPS and PDF files.

.JPG file (pixel)

A JPG (jay-peg) file is made up from pixels as it’s main function is use on electronic screens such as part of a website, social media avatar, email signature and the like. It is generally fairly color accurate (some colors like red and orange can tend to clump up due to image compression.) The main thing to note about a JPG file is that transparency is NOT an option and it ALWAYS has a background bounding box. IF you want an image with a transparent background (you can see through it) use a PNG instead. Universally supported by every browser and social media platform, so as long as you don’t want that transparent background, a JPG will suffice for electronic use. Usually in an RGB (Red, Green & Blue) color system for TVs and monitors, so colors may shift badly if used in print. As this is a pixel based format, original size cannot be enlarged without image pixelation and can only be used at 100% size or less.

Key Points: JPG files are primarily for use on monitors and TVs. Used extensively on most web based platforms and applications. Can be compressed to lower file size (and speed up download over the internet) but some image degradation may be apparent. Cannot be used larger than 100% of original image size. ALWAYS features a background color. Difficult, if not possible, to edit.

.PNG file (pixel)

A PNG (pee-en-gee) file is also pixel based and used where the end goal is to be viewed on a monitor – on a website, email signature or the like. While a PNG can be a larger file size to a JPG (thus slower to download) It has several main advantages, the most notable is that it can feature a transparent (clear) background. Depending on the “bit” level of your PNG file, this format is “lossless” – there is no image degradation (gradients or blended colors may show banding with lower bit rates.) Also supports opacity (when your logo appears ghosted with some details below it showing through.) While there are still a few applications and platforms that don’t fully support PNGs’ transparency function, this is practically the universal standard for high-quality logo images.

Key Points: Can feature a transparent (clear) background. Great color accuracy (though blends or gradients may “band” with lower bit rate files.) Cannot be used larger than 100% of original image size though reduces well. Considered universal standard for pristine logo presentation on websites and electronic media, though not fully supported by some platforms (those that don’t usually convert PNGs to JPGs.) Difficult, or not possible, to edit.

.GIF file (pixel)

Generally mispronounced as Giff (as opposed to the accurate JIFF) GIF files are a holdover from the early days of the visual internet, when color palettes were limited, bandwidth was slow and expensive. GIF images are extraordinarily small file sizes, but are extremely “lossy” – to reduce file sizes the image limits colors to a 256 color palette and the resultant image can be heavily degraded. Does feature a transparency function, but unlike the alpha channel transparency of a PNG file, the GIF simply turns a color off. If that color is also featured in your logo it will also be turned off. Can appear jagged and heavily pixelated at edges due to the lack of colors to use in smoothing. Like all pixel or bitmap images, GIFs cannot be used larger than original size (and color resampling for smaller sizes may increase image degradation as well.) Largely out of favor due to the higher quality of PNG and JPG files, but still used on websites when download time is a major concern.

Key Points: Can feature transparency, but requires the image to “turn off” a color. Due to reduced color palette not great for exact color matching. Heavy image degradation, especially when used to create smaller files. Not suitable for logos with blends or gradients but can be useful for those with large solid color areas. Still applicable for website and email signature use, but falling popularity due to superior quality of JPGs and PNGs. Editing generally not possible.

.PS files (pixel)

Like the AI file for Adobe Illustrator, PS (said as pee-ess) is the proprietary file for Adobe Photoshop. It’s not a file you actually use per se, but it’s a source file for pixel based images. It requires Photoshop (or similar) to open and use. May be in high-resolution (monitors are 72 PPI while print is usally around 300 DPI.) May be layered (each part of your logo sits on a layer above the others) and as such, limited editing may be possible. This is the file you’ll need to add special effects (lens flares, drop shadows) to. As a PS file can always be created from an AI or EPS by a capable designer, not having one available isn’t a deal-breaker.

Key Points: Not an image per se but a source file. Can be high resolution so creating images of various resolutions and sizes may be possible. Can be created from .EPS or .AI files so not necessary to always have on hand.

Other files

What we’ve covered so far is about all you’ll really need to manage your brand marketing, and whether you work with a freelance designer or a studio like The Logo Factory, likely be the various types delivered once a new logo design project is finished. There may be some other files kicking around, so it’s probably best we give them a brief mention.

.SVG file (pixel/vector hybrid)

This is the newest way of presenting logo files on the web and represents a kind of hybrid between vector and pixel images. Known as a Scalable Vector Graphic format, it will undoubtedly be the standard for web based logos in the next few years. The format features the scalability and lossless features of vector files while still being viewable on websites and other monitor-based applications. As it’s actually created using the XML programming language, file sizes are small, but it does have some problems with blended colors and what not (flat logos work best.) We don’t ship these files unless requested, but will probably start in a few months. Adoption so far is spotty, but many sites – especially responsive ones – are starting to incorporate SVGs into their designs. If you have this file keep it – you’ll probably want it eventually. If you don’t, you should probably talk to your designer about getting one in the not too distant future. Personal note here: SVG files are the most reliable for cutting art using the Silhouette Cameo desktop plotter.

Key Points: Probably the web image format for logos of the future. Limited adoption and application though increasing rapidly. Scalable and small file size. Most accurate presentation of flat logos (blends, drop shadows not well supported.) Nothing to panic about if you don’t have one. Yet.

.TIF & .BMP file (pixel)

The TIF and BMP files are pixel based images, and may be in high resolution. Both are very high quality files, and despite their proprietary origins, can now be used on both Apple and Windows operating systems (TIF was originally a Mac image type and known as TIFF – the Mac environment allowed four character extensions.) Bitmaps are a Windows format for high-quality screen presentation. TIF files can also feature a CMYK color palette so they can be printed in brochures and the like. Think of these as raw image files of your logo – while all other pixel based files feature some level of degradation, TIF and BMP files are usually 100% of original (though compression is available, file size can be large.) These are also the image formats used by many scanners and cameras. You’ll never use any of these files “as is” on a website, and only the TIF is applicable for print. Neither has a transparency feature, always sit on a colored background and aren’t really practical for (only) logo images whenever other file formats are available.

Key Points: If you have lots of hard drive space feel free to keep these. If you’re running short – and have other formats available – get rid of them if you like. If you don’t have them to begin with, don’t worry about it.