Your Logo – Vector vs Raster

Yeah, you have a logo on your website – but is it good enough to put on a business card? Let’s discuss!

Vector vs Raster - Files for Logo Designs“Yeah – I’ve got a logo. You can just grab it off our website.”

That’s not something any designer wants to hear.

The problem is that the logo on your website is a RASTER based file.* It’s usually very small – and when you’re talking about your logo, size really does matter. You need a VECTOR version of your logo – especially if you plan on using it anywhere but the web.

What does that really mean, and how can you get there? You didn’t think I’d raise a question and not give an (absolutely correct and overly folksy) answer. Come on, I’m not THAT guy.

Raster images are images that are made up of pixels (grids of colored boxes) – and they’re really mostly used for photographs and for web-based applications. Vector images are made up of math. Math rules.

On the web, no matter how big of a monitor you have, images are right around 72dpi at 100%. For printing, you really need to have images that are at LEAST 300dpi at 100%. What this means is that if you have a logo that is 2 inches, or 400 pixels wide (pretty typical on a lot of websites,) you’re going to have to blow that logo up at least 4 times to make it look good in print. The biggest problem is that raster images just don’t enlarge well. You’re lucky to blow one up 10% – and that’s only if you don’t have hard edges or text. If you’re going to use raster images anywhere outside the monitor, you really need to make sure they’re very, very large. But, you can avoid that worry completely if your logo is vector-based.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re printing a 5 foot wide banner. For your logo (or whatever you’re printing) to come out crisp, you’re going to need a raster image around 21,600 pixels wide. Now, if you grab the 400 pixel wide logo off your site, you’re going to have to enlarge that image 5400%. It’s gonna look like shit. Go vector – you’ll never go back…

In the sections below, I mention “DPI” which stands for dots per inch. That term, in some ways, is compatible with PPI, which is pixels per inch. A printer, typically, will print using a machine that prints 300 dots of color per inch. A computer monitor is usually 72 pixels per inch – so what you see on a screen is around 4 times lower-resolution than a printed piece. So, DPI=PPI in a weird way. You need a high dot per inch image, or you need an image that is independent of dots. Actually, that’s a good band name, Independent of Dots. Anyway…

Vector images are built using mathematics – and things called beziers. Mathematics scale very well. If we design a logo with a curve in it, using these mathematics, all we have to do is tell the computer to enlarge the curve by 200%, and it will draw the curve perfectly in proportion – only 200% bigger. Same smoothness, same math – just bigger. This works especially well for things with hard edges – type, logos, lines, etc. This isn’t to say you can’t have a vector photo – we’ve seen some unbelievably complex vector illustrations,) but the typical usage for vectors is simpler, more graphic applications.

Raster images are made up of grids of colored boxes. They can look great on the screen, and if there are enough of those colored boxes, they can print very well. Most modern printers can work with a 200dpi image – but your text won’t be very crisp. 300dpi is the minimum we recommend, and – really – if you’ve got text in a raster image, 600dpi is preferred. Raster images have a really, really big problem – you can’t enlarge them more than 10% without things starting to get really janky. When you enlarge a raster image, the computer kind of guesses at how it should represent things – and computers are bad guessers. Things will get blocky and blurry – and they’ll print terribly.

How do I know if my logo is vector? First place to look is at the file type. PDFs, AI and EPS files are generally vector files. JPG, PNG, GIF and TIFF are generally raster files. But, just to make sure, open the file and zoom in REAL close on the edge of a letter – especially the corners. If it’s super-crisp and clean, it’s more than likely a vector file – or at least a big ass raster file. If the edges are blurry or pixelated, you have a raster file – even if it’s in a PDF, AI or EPS. That won’t work. You need LEGIT vector files. If you’re having a hard time, hit us up – we’ll check your file for free. Takes 2 seconds.

What do you do if all you have is a raster image of your logo? Well, we can help. We can vectorize damned near anything – and we’re masters of recreating logos and font treatments. Give us a holler – we’ll hook you up. But, the first place to look is to the person who designed your logo. In the majority of cases, logo designers do their work in a vector-using program. Ask your designer for (actually, demand of your designer) vector versions of all your files. Try to get at least a good, clean PDF. If they refuse, find another designer to work with. That’s just lame – you paid for it, the least they can do is give you complete work.

Can’t you just enlarge what I have? We get emails promising to do that almost every day – but I don’t think they’re talking about raster logos. You can enlarge raster images by around 10%. A 400 pixel wide raster image MIGHT work at 440 pixels, but a 440 pixel wide image is only going to look good in print at around 1 1/2″ wide. So, no – not really. If you only have a tiny raster logo – it’s just not going to work for much besides web use.

Raster vs Vector ArtIf all I have is a raster file, how big does it have to be? Sometimes, all you have is a raster file – NOT the end of the world. If it’s big enough, you’ll be fine. How big? Depends on how big you’re printing it. Remember, most JPGs and raster files are 72dpi, but you need 300dpi to print effectively. There’s a little bit of math involved, so stick with me. You need an image that is 4.17 times larger than it appears on the screen. If you want to print something at 3″ wide (a typical width for a business card logo,) you’ll have to have a 12 1/2″ wide 72 dpi image. A good rule of thumb, though, is to go 5 times larger – remember, you can’t scale UP, but scaling down is much easier. The photo here kind of shows you what you need. That’s an 8.5×11 page – the white part shows how big a 300dpi image is compared to a 72dpi image. Same “size,” but very different pixel dimensions. If you try to scale the 72dpi image up to the 300dpi size, it’s gonna get as funky as James Brown on sherm. UNLESS it’s a vector image. A vector image scales – a raster image just looks like crap.

Well, we hope you’re enlightened. If at all possible, go for vector. It’s going to serve you a lot better than a raster logo. Having just a raster version of your logo creates a lot of problems and kind of boxes you in. Vector logos have some limitations, but from a flexibility and printing standpoint, they’re the bees knees.

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