Common logo questions a majority of business owners new to branding efforts have, go something like this: What files do I give my printer? What formats do I use on a website? Without getting into too much detail, we’re going to tell you what goes where.

Whenever designers create a logo for a client, they deliver (or should deliver) a wide range of digital image formats. Created correctly, these deliverables should serve the client well over the lifetime of the logo, and as long as you know which format to use where, you’ll be golden in the branding department with a file for every eventuality. There are exceptions and permutations, but after most logo design projects, you’ll end up with a file array that looks something like this. We’re not going to get into the whys and wherefores with long drawn out technical explanations of file formats. We’ve done that over here but we’ll still need to quickly describe each file:

Common logo formats.

EPS – this is a vector file of your logo. It can be in Pantone spot colors, CMYK full color or even black and white. Requires a vector-based application to open. It features a transparent background by default (for print.)
AI – this is an Adobe Illustrator file. It is practically the same as your EPS file, in vector, but requires Adobe
Illustrator to open. If your logo uses any special effect filters (drop shadows let’s say) or has colors in various transparency levels, those are in this file (the EPS should have those effects turned off or have transparent colors “flattened.”) If you’re working with a designer other than than the one who designed your logo, they’ll probably want to have a gander at this file.
PDF – this file is probably the same as your EPS file with one notable exception – it can be opened on most devices without needing specialized (and expensive) design software. It can substitute for the EPS in a crunch, but is mainly sent to clients so they can see what their logo is supposed to look like without shelling out for design software.

Bitmap graphics.

The remaining files in our bundle are bitmap graphics – images made up of pixels similar to images taken with your smartphone – and are used for electronic devices and monitors.PNG – PNG image files can feature transparency (your logo sitting on a blank background) but they may not. PNG files are very accurate in terms of color and are predictable across all devices.
JPG – JPG image files are similar to PNG files with a few notable exceptions. JPG files cannot feature transparency so they ALWAYS have a background of some sort (usually white in logo deliverables.) JPGs are a “lossy” format – unlike PNGs which are “lossless” – meaning they have various levels of image compression to reduce file size. The more compression applied, the less quality and color accuracy.
BMP – While the term “bitmap” is used to describe the entire family of formats that are made up from pixels (technically “raster” images) there is an actual “bitmap” format – hence the extension BMP. This is a proprietary Microsoft format so it’s no surprise these images are pretty much bullet proof for use in Office type software applications.
GIF – GIF images have been more-or-less rendered obsolete by the higher quality PNG format, but are very similar in that they can handle a transparent background, either as index (one color is turned off) or alpha channel (no color is required.) Some older applications and platforms still might use them, but I haven’t prepped a GIF file in years.

Print vs. Web.

We’re gonna break our logo file bundle into two main destinations, print and web, where print refers to the having something printed in the real world, and web means putting your logo on something that’s viewed on a browser or electronic device. There are exceptions, your personal desktop printing for instance, and some files can be both printed and viewed on your smartphone (PDFs) but we’re talking generalities for this treatise, not the unicorns.

Print files.

Generally speaking, if you’re going to get something printed you’ll need to use either your EPS or your PDF. If you remember AI files are proprietary so aren’t considered “print ready” (though many printers will still take them if you have nothing else available.) Online print services like Vistaprint prefer PDFs. Many small print shops prefer the EPS format so send them that one. Many trinket producers – coffee mugs, pens and the like – use EPS files but will accept PDFs in a crunch. There are exceptions to this – some online print on demand services will ask you for a JPG version of your artwork, but there are image resolution issues with this that go beyond the scope of this post. Desktop printers can generally handle any of the image formats we’re discussing – save AI files – so aim for what works best for your setup.

If you’re having something printed in spot colors – send your printer the EPS version of your logo.

If you’re having something printed in CMYK – send your printer either the PDF or the EPS. Most online print on demand services “gang print” business cards and the like, so they’ll need a CMYK version, most likely a PDF.

Web files.

If your logo is headed for a website you’ll use either the JPG or the PNG format. Here’s a quick run-down of what goes where with some suggestions for quality:

If your logo features flat colors and is devoid of fancy gimmicks like blends, drop shadows or glows – always use a PNG version.

If your logo features a lot of colors or complex blends, use a JPG. PNGs don’t handle complex gradients well (unless they’re at a high bit rate and thus larger file sizes, PNGs tend to “band” or show lines of color transition.)

If you want your logo to sit on a colored background and have it show through a PNG is what the doctor ordered (see here for more on transparent logos.) Always remember JPGs don’t have transparency available.

If the image size of your logo is going to be very big – no arbitrary size or anything, but let’s say over 800 pixels at its largest edge – use a JPG for its compression feature.

If your logo is going to be used at a very small image size, try to use a PNG. JPGs tend to clump colors together due to compression artifacts and they can appear dirty.

If your logo is headed towards social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and the like – you can use either a PNG or JPG with the following caveats: Your logo has to sit in an image that’s a square aspect ratio (see here for more.) Whenever you resize a logo image using the cropping tool of their uploader, it employs a compression engine that might screw up the quality of your image so try to get it as close to suggested specs as possible. Avoid using transparent PNGs as some platforms muck them royally.

Office files.

A lot of office software claims to handle PDF and EPS formats but truth to tell, earlier versions don’t while later versions are hit and miss. They tend to shift colors badly, mangle vectors from time to time and have a real hard time sorting out CMYK, RGB and spot colors. That leads to unpredictable results and we’re not about that. Bottom line, experiment with your own gear as you see fit, but for true bullet-proof import of your logo files into anything Microsoft, use the BMP format. As we mentioned earlier, this is a proprietary format for the Windows platform so there’s little surprise Office handles them with relative precision. Keep in mind that BMP files can be large file sizes and transparency isn’t available.

ICO files.

This “image” format is the most misunderstood of all so probably worthwhile running this one down a bit. ICO files are the little images that sit in the tabs of browsers whenever someone is sitting on your webpage. They show up in browser book marks, histories and the like and are pretty neat for branding purposes. Like so At its smallest size an ico image is 16 x 16 pixels square, so forget about getting your full logo in there. You (or your designer) are going to have to come up with suitable artwork that’s recognizable at that size while still giving a nod to the logo from whence it came. Another thing too – ico files aren’t technically image files at all, but little bits of code that can feature your glyph at several sizes for application at various places. Many CMS web themes create them for you (you just upload a suitably sized image and it cranks out the various bits and pieces and applies them to your theme) or you can find a ton of ICO file creators online. You may have to click through a few capchas or ad previews but they’ll certainly work in a pinch.

The exceptions.

Like every “rule of thumb” there are exceptions to everything I just wrote. JPGs can be in CMYK and suitable for real world printing, while EPS, AI and PDF versions of your logo can be in RGB format and thus not suitable at all. PDFs can feature embedded bitmaps and are no longer considered vectors. There are other formats – TIF for example – that are probably worth a looksee at some point, but the general suggestions above will keep the average small business do-it-yourselfer on the straight and narrow 98% of the time. Anything else, you’re probably going to have to hire a professional to do it for you.