Good Logo Design

Kathleen and I are currently collaborating on a post about ordering garment labels. While making notes on all the things you need to know about ordering labels, we ended up discussing several technical terms that needed explanation. I am writing this as a precursor to the label post because I feel that logo/artwork design needs to be discussed first.

Good logo design is something I am passionate about. Having gone through the logo creation process for companies and products worth millions of dollars, where the company spent tens of thousands on a graphic artist, you learn an awful lot about logo design. I’m not talking about artistic merit or quality, I’m talking about practicality.

One thing you will notice about the logos that you know well -you know, the Nike swoosh, the AT&T globe, the Coca Cola logo, etc.- is that they are all bold and simple. You won’t find fancy things like photographs, gradients, tons of colors and the like. The logos are simple, they are easily scalable and they look clean in black and white.

A while back, Danielle posted a few logo designs for her hypothetical line. Most designers would shun such a simple label because they go for flash and aesthetic appeal but considering Danielle’s strong artistic background, you can appreciate that she obviously knows something about logo design, namely the challenges of using it.

Having said that we will run down a few tips on good logo design:

1. Your logo/artwork should look good in black and white and color. It should look crisp and clean in black and white. There will often be cases where your logo will not be reproduced in color (for example on faxed letterhead) and the logo should still be distinguishable in a crisp, black and white version.

2. Your logo/artwork should retain it’s visual integrity when scaled up or down. A logo that only looks good at very large or very small sizes is a bad logo.

3. Fine lines should be kept to a minimum, simply because as the logo is scaled down, they become less visible. Also, fine lines are difficult to reproduce on woven labels (and even printed labels in many instances).

4. Keep colors to a minimum. One or two color logos are less expensive to reproduce than full color logos, whether we’re talking about professional printing or labels. If you can, try to incorporate standard Pantone colors because “color matching” special Pantone colors usually results in additional charges. If you care to know the technical reason, it’s because when printing, ink comes in standard Pantone spot and process colors, all other colors are mixed using combinations of the standard ink colors. Thus, when you have to “color match” a Pantone color, the printer has to mix the ink to obtain that color, thus the charge. Additionally, many times thread (for woven labels) has to be dyed to match special Pantone colors.

In addition, when printing your logo (with the exception of digital printing), every color requires a separate “plate” (you will often hear the term “plate charges”). Every color, including black. So if you have a three color logo, you are looking at three plates. Printing plates or screens can cost anywhere from $30-50 and up. This is one reason that if you have a logo with multiple colors, it is advisable to have a black and white or single color version. Trust me, those elaborate logos are adorable, but you will hate set up charges as they can dramatically increase the cost of your printing when you are only printing a small quantity (500-1000 pieces).

5. If your logo is complex, have an alternate version that is simple. I wish I could think of an example of a large company that does this, but nothing comes to mind off hand. Many companies that have a logo that includes both a graphic and text element, will also have a text only version of their logo.

6. Your logo should be in vector file format and if you can’t do that, you need a very high resolution pixel file (but you really, really, really should have a vector file). You can read more about vector files in this wikipedia article.

7. Your logo should be provided in an industry standard file format. This means that those of you creating your logos in Microsoft Word, or a cheap paint program, will usually not have the correct file format, nor the correct file specifications (image size, resolution, colors, etc.). When this happens the company working on your logo usually has to “fix” it and get it in the right format for printing. This usually results in high “artwork” charges. Since many companies don’t get the correct file formats, they end up incurring artwork charges every time they reproduce that logo.

Many people reading this are not learning something new, while some people are saying “oh you mean that clip art logo my friend’s son made for me won’t work?” Many people don’t end up with logo issues in the start up phase, but as they grow and move to professional reproduction (whether for printing or labels), they incur problems.

While every service company usually has an in house graphics department, person, or contracts out graphic work so they can accommodate any client, you are better off fixing your logo issues (if you have them) once, retaining copies of all the files they give you (they will usually provide different file formats upon completion) and eliminating issues associated with logo reproduction.

Now Kathleen and I can continue with the label design and ordering series…

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27 Comments on "Good Logo Design"

Linda Sherman
3 years 4 months ago

Redone, meaning redesigned to be slightly different than the clip art version to avoid copyright infringement.

Linda Sherman
3 years 4 months ago

Many people reading this are not learning something new, while some people are saying “oh you mean that clip art logo my friend’s son made for me won’t work?”

Another point about clip art–even if it’s in vector format–you may be able to use it for non-commercial purposes, but most times you don’t have the right to incorporate it into a logo. I used some poker chips in our logo from, an inexpensive photo and illustration source. When I went back and checked, there it was, the clause that says I couldn’t use it in a logo. I had the art redone by a professional illustrator.

You might think you could fly under the radar on this, but it’s not worth it. Even if you are small, you may be big one day, and vulnerable to legal action.

4 years 8 months ago

Correction- The Nike swoosh and the AT&T globe aren’t logos, they are trade marks. The word logo is derived from logotype which implies the use of a font. A trade mark can be part of a logo but a logo has to have words in the design. Also the term “graphic artist” is a bit archaic. We are mostly referred to as “graphic designers” these days.

5 years 5 months ago

I commissioned a logo designer and he came up with designs that had already been used. I checked the U.S. Patent website. Now I am designing my own logo because I lost that trust in any future logo designers.

6 years 1 month ago

A practical price for a logo? It depends. As an art director at a design company, we base our logo design pricing on the final value of the logo. Logos for large companies like Nike have more exposure/brand recognition than a mom and pop organization. Typically, we don’t charge less than $1000 for a logo. As a freelancer (working on the side for friends), I’ve charged $500 or $600.
Anything less, and you probably aren’t going to get a very good logo. Good designers value their work and price it accordingly. You can get a logo designed for $100 on the web, but it’s probably going to break every single rule listed above, and will become problematic when it comes to embroidery, size reduction etc.
Also, contrary to one of the posts above, branding IS important, and a key part of that branding is your logo.
Key mistakes I see from clients are that they want to be literal with their logo. It DOES NOT need to include 14 icons and the kitchen sink. Simple is best, a bigger logo is almost always NOT better, and trust your designer. They went to school for this. They know what they are doing.
Don’t expect them to present 5 finished logo options for you to choose from. A good designer knows what works and what doesn’t. They will narrow down the options for you to either one or maybe two solutions, because a good designer knows what works and what doesn’t. That being said, if you really hate the solution they came up with, let them know, and let them know why you don’t like it. That feedback is what we need to come up with a different direction that will work for you.