When you’re working with a graphic designer or agency, you’re probably going to have to share some digital files like logos. But which files are the right ones? Do you send them an AI? PDF? PNG? All this digital alphabet soup is confusing when you don’t speak design nerd like we do. So to help you communicate more smoothly with your designer, here’s a nerd-to-regular-person translation.

Color: RGB or CMYK

Pantone color books for design. Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

First, let’s talk about RGB vs CMYK. These are color modes. A document can be designed in either, depending on the design’s purpose. RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue, and is for web use. If something looks great on screen but the colors are off when it’s printed, it may be an RGB file. 

For printing, it has to be designed in CMYK. That stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. Yes, “black” starts with a “B.” Don’t ask. Just make sure you know the difference. 

Vector or Raster

Ok, now that we’re clear on color modes, let’s talk about vector vs raster. A vector file is infinitely scalable. What does that mean? It means that the file can be enlarged drastically, and it won’t lose any quality when printed at full size. Vectors can work equally well in small and large applications.  

But what if you have a raster image? Raster images are made up of individually colored dots, called pixels, that are laid out in a grid. Zoom way in on a photo, and you’ll see how it becomes “pixelated.” More pixels per square inch means the image has a higher resolution, and a higher resolution means the pixels are more densely packed together, which leads to more clarity. 

For most print projects, you want to have a resolution of at least 300 dpi, that stands for “dots per inch.” If it doesn’t take much zooming or enlarging before you see pixelation, graininess, or rough edges, it’s not suitable for print. 

What Files Do I Send to My Graphic Designer?

So, what type of files should you send to your designer? Since vectors can be scaled up in size without affecting their resolution, they are ideal for print projects. Check what comes after the dot in the file name to see what file type it is. Common vector file types are AI, EPS, and SVG. 

Again, raster files can be ok for printing as long as the resolution is high enough. But raster files are usually for web use. Common raster file types are JPG, PNG, PSD, and TIFF. 

One note about JPG vs PNG. The good thing about PNGs is that they can be saved with a transparent background. Let’s say you need your logo added to a webpage and it has to be placed on a color background. A PNG will do that nicely. 

A JPG on the other hand will have a white background. If you have something like that on your website, you’re not alone. But it does look unprofessional. Talk to a designer soon about getting that fixed. And keep in mind that PNGs can also be saved with white backgrounds, so make sure you’re using a transparent background version when you need it.

Logo with transparency vs logo without transparency

Honestly, as common as they are, JPGs aren’t always the best file format to use. JPGs lose some of their data when compressed, which will make them appear blurry or grainy. When you’re sending files for your website, JPGs are fine for photos as long as they’re large enough. But for logos or other computer generated graphics, send a PNG. They’ll look sharper, and they won’t have a white background. If you have SVGs however, those are great for the web.  

Why Does the White Version of My Logo Look Different?

Here’s a bonus tip that’s good to know when you’re getting a new logo. 

Of course, you want a logo that’s flexible enough to work in various locations. That’s why, in addition to the logo in your brand colors, you’ll need a white version to place on colored backgrounds. But making a white logo isn’t as simple as just recoloring the original. 

You see, there’s this weird optical illusion that happens when we see a logo changed to white. Look at the below icons. The white one in the middle is just the original recolored to white. Notice how it looks a little thicker than the original black version? That’s called the irradiation phenomenon. It’s weird, but there is a fix that designers should know. 

Irradiation phenomenon in logo design example

See the difference between the adjusted version and the one that was just turned to white? It’s slight but still important for maintaining brand consistency and giving the design some breathing room. So now if you get a white logo that looks a little too chunky, check with your designer that they adjusted for the irradiation phenomenon. You’ll get a perfect looking logo, and you’ll impress them with your design nerd vocab. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this info helps prevent you from ever again putting blurry JPGs on your company letterhead. Designers never expect clients to be experts in design. If they were, why would they hire us? But knowing some of the basics, at least knowing a little bit of the language, can save you and your designer a lot of time and ensure your brand always looks professional. 

Not sure your visual branding is hitting the mark? Contact Superkick Branding.

Interested in learning more about design? Check out more Brand Outlaw content