Vector based images SHOULD be the starting point of any professional logo design process. These file formats are created by high-end drawing software such as Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia Freehand (now defunct) and Corel Draw and are the industry standard for any graphic design project. What are vector based images? Simply put, they’re incredibly small, scalable and editable images that allow designers unlimited freedom when it comes to logo design and illustration. Vector files usually feature the file extensions .EPS, .AI .CDR .SVG and .SWF (used in Flash animations).
In absolute terms, a vector graphics file is your logo, broken down into a series of geometric shapes, consisting of outlines that are curved and joined at X Y coordinates or points. These coordinates and shape outlines are stored as mathematical equations, creating small and portable file sizes that are infinitely editable. In the simplest terms, you can imagine a vector shape as a rubber band, wrapped around nails that have been pushed into a pegboard (see above). The vector shapes work pretty well the same way. Move the nail and the ‘rubber band’ shape will change. In terms of logo typography, that’s converted to vector shapes as well and referred to as outline fonts.
We now have a feel for what vector shapes and images can be formed. But what about inside the vectors? What about colors? Easy. Every vector shape can be filled with a different color. That’ s pretty well it. Of course, there are different kinds of colors that we can add – solid, screen and gradient – but the principle is always the same. What’s the advantage of this? Because vector shapes are based on mathematical equations, even colors are stored this way. Once this information is converted to numerical amounts of color your .eps file becomes exceptionally reliable when color matching and accuracy is a must. Because of this shape and color accuracy – vector files are also used as your ‘source files’ – that is, the original artwork from which all other file formats can be created, including your electronic pixel based images.
When it comes to stationery design, the most common form of printing for business cards and letterheads is spot color reproduction. Spot color printing uses per-mixed inks that are combined during the printing process to form the complete image. The is much more economical than full color, also known as 4 color process, printing but can, generally speaking, only be achieved when your logo is in vector format. Let’s take a look at a spot color setup using our imaginary Logo Design Factory.
Once our Factory logo is setup with two colors, it is ready to print as a two spot color logo. This is the method you’ll use when printing letterheads, business cards and other standard stationery design items. Using PREMIXED ink swatches (such as the Pantone Matching System), a designer or printer is able to select the exact color tones desired in a particular logo. This is very similar to selecting swatches of premixed paint to go on your wall at home. Your printer will take the file, and output a metal plate for each color. For instance, our Factory logo uses 2 Pantone spot colors, so our printer would make 2 plates – one for color 1 (PMS 185 RED), the other for color 2 (PMS BLACK). The plates are applied to the press, inked up with the appropriate color, and then the paper is run though the press, with one impression for each color. What comes out at the other side is your completed image.
That’s not to say that you MUST use spot colors if using a vector version of your logo. You can use as many colors as you’d like, and the same basic premise applies. Above left is a version of our example Factory logo, this time using red, black AND Orange. Just like our spot version it is adaptable and scalable (but would require four color process printing for traditional offset reproduction).
Editing your logo isn’t a major issue – as long as your designer has access to a vector based image. As vector images are made up from groups of shapes, each can be edited as an individual piece (locally) or the entire logo can be changed all at once (globally). To illustrate how this works, we took our nifty Factory logo and ‘exploded’ it into the various bits and pieces that make it work.
Each one of these ‘bits and pieces’ can be edited – color, size, key line, etc – individually and without affecting the rest of the artwork. Such changes are ‘non volatile’ (they can edited independently of each other and can be changed back to the original version). This means that you, or your designer, can change type, colors and layout without having to worry about degradation of the image. Keep in mind that editing of any vector image requires access to professional drawing software (ie: Adobe Illustrator) and a fairly decent understanding of same. Visit the design help center for a quick reference guide for all logo formats.
Logo design formats explained. Video graphically illustrates the advantages of vector-based artwork over its pixel-based (raster) based counterpart and illustrates why you should (almost) never design a logo in Photoshop.