If you are creative, are good with color, excel at drawing, love fonts, or exhibit other characteristics of a graphic designer (funky glasses anyone?), friends, relatives, and neighbors will very likely ask you to design a logo for their business. Ironically, the single most complex, vital, long-lasting business necessity is what many small businesses spend the least amount of time on—their logo. Nine times out of ten, the owner sketches the logo on the back of a paper napkin or asks his nephew to create it. Conversely, a professional designer who is well versed in publication work printed in run lengths of millions on gravure presses, may be asked to design a logo and not know anything about the sheetfed paper market or reproduction standards.
A company’s logo and identity system (the letterhead, business cards, etc., used to identify a brand) establish the company’s brand for as long as the company is using that identity. Unlike a brochure or invitation, which might never be reprinted, an identity system will dictate the cost of stationery again, and again, and again, year in and year out. You control the cost through your design, so it is important to know how much your client expects to spend each year on stationery. Is the company dependent on business cards that stand out and make a statement, or are they going to be stuffed into mailboxes by the millions? Designing an identity system that is not compatible with your client’s budget for years two through fifteen can send a message that you are not managing costs, and that could lead to the loss of work on future projects, such as marketing collateral or web development.
I have seen too many logos that were “designed” by the aforementioned category of untrained folk and made to work in Excel (yes, I know, SMH) and printed on a home inkjet printer on “letterhead” for a few months while the startup was getting underway, that later cost a FORTUNE when it was time to print the real deal. Oftentimes the logo owner is reluctant to change their “baby” which is already in the marketplace. Or, an inexperienced business person may see an exorbitant cost as simply “the cost of looking professional”.
A logo, no matter where it appears, needs to look great under any of the following conditions:
- It is reproduced in black and white.
- It is embroidered.
- It is silk-screened.
- It is reproduced in one color without the use of screens.
Here are some examples of different iterations of a well-designed logo.
It is easy to reproduce, easy to implement in various color scenarios and consistent.
It is the logo for Mohawk Paper, a paper mill. When it comes to advertising budgets and
spare-no-printing-expense businesses, paper companies have the nth of budgets.
When you are designing a logo for your uncle’s donut shop, it may seem impossible that some of the above conditions would ever arise, but they undoubtedly will. Here are some scenarios:
- The logo is reproduced in black and white in the church bulletin.
- The logo is embroidered on golf shirts when the donut shop sponsors a tournament.
- The logo is silk-screened on t-shirts for the employee uniforms.
- The logo is reproduced in one color without the use of screens, a requirement for some types of printing (such as on pink bakery boxes).
Following are some tips and pointers when designing logos. They are divided up by the kind of element that can make a logo difficult or expensive, colors that complicate logos and design decisions that absolutely raise reproduction costs.
The following elements make logos difficult to reproduce and should be avoided:
- Very small type, process color type
- Hairline rules
- Tight registration on tiny elements
- Design elements that are tiny in relation to the whole.
This is a photograph of two rows of “environmental” certifications, each from a different publication. The top row uses color logos and the bottom uses black and white versions. The only logo common to both is the FSC logo. Note how the tiny elements are lost. Note how big type reads so much clearer than the tiny type in the biodiesel logo, what is that tagline? In all fairness, these color logos probably have black and white line art versions that would read just as well as the ones above. But, if they have those other versions it is because the designers went through an exercise like this, checking the readability.
Color choices that do not work well for logos include the following:
- Any Pantone* mixture that has more than one part of opaque white. We will go into more detail in another post about ink formulas and the downside of inks that contain high amounts of opaque white.
- Reflex Blue and Pantone formulas that have large amounts of Reflex Blue take longer to dry (a couple of days) than other inks. Other inks take a few hours or will dry overnight, depending on whether or not the press has an IR (Infra Red) dryer (more on IR presses in another post). Therefore, using Reflex Blue on business cards or any rush job is going to be impossible for a client who is always in a hurry. Many ink companies have an imitation Reflex Blue that dries more quickly, but the color is simply not as rich as the real thing. There will be a post on reflex blue and other colors that require imitation pigments due to a host of problems.
- A process color logo adds cost to a large company, but for a small or home-based business, it is a fine choice. Do specify CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color for tiny businesses. Digital printing has made it more affordable than Pantone Matching System* (PMS) in some cases. For those instances where digital printing will not work, such as for letterhead and envelopes, more to come on that topic, gang run printing offers a cost-effective alternative.
- Custom color is difficult to keep consistent. If your client can live with inconsistency, then this option is acceptable. With computerized ink mixing, inconsistency is becoming less of a problem. But if you have only one print shop in town, and employees are mixing ink by hand, discuss this before specifying a custom color for a logo.
Sometimes extra expense is justifiable due to the nature of the business. Ask your client, and make sure to explain these costs are not one-time but will continue whenever that logo is reproduced. The following elements look beautiful but add cost:
- Multiple colors in tight registration.
- Foil stamping.
- Reverses out of large solids.
- Embossing or debossing.
The small presses used to print most business cards often have limitations for reproduction quality. That is not to say they are incapable of high-end work, they certainly are. But the type of high-end work may be in question. And the unhappy truth is that going onto a larger press costs a lot more. If we address the bullets above, multiple colors in tight registration and reverses out of large solids, those items add expense because if the tolerances are too tight, a small printing press with a common blanket may not be able to print the design. Small presses with a separate blanket for each unit exist and for them, the most precise printing is not a problem. How are you as a designer supposed to know the difference? Trust your printer. And for something as common as a business card, that has such a giant impact, keep it simple and you and your client will be ahead of the game.
Stay tuned, next up, designing business cards!