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Many small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups often design their branded artwork in-house, using Word, Office and other business software. The question “what logo file do I use” is a common one, so in this quick-and-dirty guide, we’ll tell you which files you should use for DIY letterheads, websites and other applications.

We’ve covered logo file formats several times before, and for those interested in a more technical treatise on the various versions you’ll need to effectively manage your brand, those are probably worth a once over. If you’re more of the “just tell me what to do” type when it comes to using your logo in various bits and pieces, this guide is probably more up your alley. As visual examples. we’re going to use a recent logo design & branding project from the shop – Vinyl Freaks Custom Apparel.
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Files you should have.

At a bare bones minimum, you should have a folder of logo formats (or “assets”) that include both vector and bitmap or raster setups. The above diagram illustrates the major differences between the two. The vector files will have file type extensions (the letters after the dot in the file name) of .EPS, .AI or .PDF (as long as the .PDF is a true vector, not a document with an embedded bitmap or image file.) Your bitmaps will have extensions of .JPG and .PNG and in a perfect world, maybe even a .BMP. If you don’t have these logo files at a minimum, you’ll need to get some.

Different kinds of usage.

It can be a little more complex for advanced uses, but in very basic DIY terms, your vector logo files are used for real world printing. Your pixel (or raster) files are for electronic use – websites, email signatures, social media avatars and what not. There are exceptions (there always are) but this basic premise will serve you well for a majority of applications.
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What logo files do I use for letterheads?

We talked about this is depth in our stationery design sizing post a while back, but there are several ways to go about getting your stationery designed and producing your company letterheads. The first, having them printed at your local print shop, will require a vector version of your logo – that’s the .EPS, .AI or .PDF version. These can be in PANTONE spot color or CMYK setup (most printers, including online vendors like VistaPrint use CMYK, so check with your designer that you have a version in this color space.) An alternative to commercial printing (and the necessary stock-piling of minimum quantities) is printing your own stationery using typical business software like Office or Word on a desktop printer. Later versions of most office software support the import of vector files like .EPS and .PDF, while earlier versions limited their support to .JPGs and .BMPs (.BMPs are a much higher quality file with zero compression so if you have one, use it.) In order to use your logo files, simply import the required file into an image box and scale to taste. Quick reminder on logos and image resolution – if you’re going to import a bitmap image into your office software, it’s likely that it will be a 72 DPI (dots per inch) and thus fairly low resolution. It MUST be used at its default size (as is) or smaller. If you enlarge a bitmap image using Office or Word past 100% of the original size, it will appear blurry and jagged when output to your desktop printer. Some office software will also allow you to import .PNGs into image boxes, but keep this in mind – they are dodgy in how they process .PNGs with transparent backgrounds and the edges of your logo may appear jagged due to the pixels being visible at the relatively low resolution output. Also keep in mind that most desktop printers require that you leave a blank border around the sheet (unless yours tells you it prints edge-to-edge) so keep all your artwork inside a “safe” zone (this also applies to sheet fed commercial printing unless you’re specifically using bleed artwork.) Something else to think about – ghosted backgrounds (see above) are very popular, but if they’re more than 8 – 10% of the original color, will interfere with the legibility of letter you’re going to type on it. Most printers don’t have sufficient resolution to handle a 10% screen, so best drop it if you’re going desktop, like we did in our example.
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What logo files do I use for business cards?

Even if they’re using DIY printing for letterheads, most small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs utilize commercial printers for their business cards, so the logo files you’re going to need to send are the .EPS, .AI or .PDF vector versions. There are some exceptions to this of course – business supply stores sell pre-cut business card templates that you can print on your personal printer, and for those the same rules we just discussed regarding letterheads would apply here.

What logo files do I use for websites?

Rule of thumb (with limited exceptions) is that if your logo is headed for a website, it needs to be in a pixel-based bitmap image, specifically .JPG or .PNG (there are some limited applications for .GIF files, but those have been rendered mostly obsolete with the complex color support of modern browsers and smartphone apps.) Here’s what to keep in mind – only .PNGs have the ability to feature full transparent backgrounds, so if your logo is to “sit” on a colored background, texture or photograph, that’s the format you need to use to let the background “show through.” .JPG files always have a background, so you only want to use them when the image is “sitting on” the same color as the background of your logo image.
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What logo files do I use for Linked In, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?

All social media platforms are, at their heart, websites so the same rules apply and you’ll need to have an avatar (or profile pic) in either .JPG or .PNG format to use your logo on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc. Here’s one key difference when using a .PNG – most social media sites do not support transparency in their avatars so you’ll need a .PNG with transparency “turned off”, if that’s the route you choose to go. Many platforms will “strip out” the transparency anyway, but for quality sake, it’s always best to do any image work at your end (or have your designer do it for you.) Keep in mind that all social media avatars are square, so you’ll either have to size your logo to “sit” inside a square frame, or develop a version that’s squared off – perhaps an icon or simplified adaption of your core design.

“Keep in mind that all social media avatars are square, so you’ll either have to size your logo to “sit” inside a square frame, or develop a version that’s squared off – perhaps an icon or simplified adaption of your core design.”

Another tip? Do not increase the size of an image to make it fit into profile sizes – it will be blurry . In fact, it’s almost always better to upload your social media profile images at 100% or “size as” and avoid any resizing or cropping all together. Some platforms will crop and/or resize your images if you require it, but their compression engines are sometimes awful and create very “lossy” versions server-side (“lossy” means the image is degraded due to file size compression.)
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What logo files do I use for WordPress?

The basic rules we just covered in terms of file formats for social media apply here, with the exception of transparency restrictions – WordPress and websites have no issue with that feature at all. WordPress themes and layouts also allow you to resize images quite handily without any “lossy” issues, as long as you’re reducing in size, not enlarging.

What logo files do I use for email signatures?

The file you’ll use for your email signature will depend on the client or platform you’re using, but all use a bitmap format. Some restrict to .JPGs while others will allow you to upload a .PNG. Once again, it’s better to use a .PNG without a transparent background, and to do any resizing before adding the image to your signature line. Another tip: many clients and email platforms hard code your image directly above/below any type you might add – a salutation, address or contact information for example – so it’s always better to give your logo a few pixels breathing room so it doesn’t appear too cramped.

What logo files do I use for T-shirt printing?

This is a little more complicated than the previous usage tips and has a few more exceptions than most. Basically, if you’re printing your logo on a T-shirt (not embroidered) it’ll largely depend on the vendor you’re using and what you’re trying to accomplish. Used to be that T-shirt printers could only silk-screen colors on shirts using inks that were matched to the artwork (similar to PANTONE spot color printing) and in some cases some still are limited to this technique. Many T-shirt shops can now print full blown 4 color CMYK artwork, so you can duplicate the original colors in your logo with no hassle at all. Both of these instances will generally require a vector version of your logo, so send your printer a .PDF, .AI or .EPS and you should be golden. A major exception to this rule would be some online POD (Print On Demand) platforms that need you to upload .JPGs to their server. Keep in mind that the artwork should be 100% (same size) as how you want it on the shirt (or whatever you’re having created – a lot of POD platforms also offer trinkets and soft goods too) otherwise you’ll run into the jagged effect we talked about earlier. Most POD services offer extensive self-help sections so avail yourself of those before hitting the “purchase” button.

And there you have it. A quick and dirty look at what file format goes where, especially if you’re a startup in bootstrap mode and creating most of your branded material in house. For more help with managing your brand digital assets, check out our Design Help Center.