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The last thing you need when working on a design project is for something to get “lost in the translation”. Designers have their own set of terms and phrases to describe their work, and to the uninitiated it can feel very confusing. The success of your logo depends on your ability to effectively communicate your needs, and communication means knowing your terms. Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know.

Color

When designers start talking about color, they usually mention ‘modes’. The different color modes are just like different transportation modes; they are different ways of getting the image from its source to your eye. The two modes are RGB and CMYK. Depending which is used, each color will appear slightly different, which can cause problems when you want your designer to use a very specific shade of red. Everyone’s screen displays colors a little differently, and most office printers can’t match commercially printed colors. This section explains why and how to get around it.

RGB
Red. Green. Blue. It’s that simple. Those three basic colors, when turned into beams of light, can combine to make all the other colors. This color mode is what your computer monitor uses. Most images are RGB by default, since it’s optimized for display on your screen. However, each screen is slightly different, so colors will vary from display to display. Images meant for commercial printing, which aren’t made with beams of light but layers of ink, require a different color mode to achieve the richest, brightest colors possible.
Red, green and blue colors combine to make pure white light.
CMYK
The CMYK mode (which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) is the professional printer’s solution to full color prints. Because most images on your computer are already in RGB mode, office printers are calibrated to work with RGB color profiles. Commercial printers convert their images to CMYK so that they can get richer, more professional looking color schemes. Your designer will probably provide you with RGB formats (like gif or jpg) but will be working in CMYK. The process of converting back and forth between formats may result in imprecise color matching.
Cyan, magenta and yellow inks combine to make black.
Pantone Color

Strictly speaking, Pantone color isn’t a mode at all. The Pantone matching system is a solution to the difficulties presented by converting between color modes, and viewing proofs on different monitors and printers. The colors are standardized, premixed inks, so if a designer says she’s using Pantone Global Blue, you can just look at a set of paint chips to know exactly what she’s talking about. You need not be limited to this system though. Just send your designer an image that contains the color you want her to use. She’ll be able to take a sample from it, and you can be sure that swatch you sent will match the color that appears in your logo!

Output

Your final files will probably be destined for one of two destinations: web or print. On many occasions you made need files for both applications. The web may be driving the design world these days, but that hasn’t made printing obsolete. Even internet business want printed business cards and stationery. When taking on any design project, whether large or small, print or web, you need to have a very clear idea of what you want the final product to look like, as this will determine how your designer treats the design.

Resolution

Resolution is what makes pictures look sharp. In general, images are composed of tiny squares called pixels, which combine to make a large, smooth looking picture. The more pixels you have, the smoother the resulting image. Web images always use pixels, but printed images often use DPI or “dots per square inch”. Whichever way you choose to use your images, you should consider how much resolution you actually need. Web projects can be relatively low (72 pixels per inch) while print projects will require much higher numbers of pixels. Your designer should always provide you with high resolution large, since you can always get rid of ‘extra’ pixels when you reduce the size. If you are uncertain about the resolution you need ask your printer or designer; they can usually recommend the best resolution for your project.

Printing

When printing, you essentially have two choices- print it yourself, or send the job to a professional print shop. Desktop printers will never produce the same high quality as a professional printer, and for a very good reason. The professional machines use high quality inks and CMYK separation that gives rich hues and tones. A desktop printer works from RGB files and uses three-color cartridges that mix the colors together as they go. If you plan on printing yourself, ask your designer for RGB files; otherwise, they’ll provide you with the professional CMYK versions.

File Formats

Most people are familiar with the basic image file formats (or ‘’extensions’’): .jpg, .gif, and .bmp. A designer will provide you with many different formats, and it is important to know which format serves what purpose, so that you can apply each as needed. Here the files types are broken down into two categories, and then summarized at the end in an easy to follow table.

Raster
“Raster file” is an unfamiliar term for a format that is probably very familiar to you. Most picture files that you use (.jpg, .gif, .bmp, etc.) are raster files. These files are composed of many small squares of color called pixels. The more pixels you have, the better the resolution (see ‘Resolution’). Most raster files hare small and web friendly, and all photos are rasters. They become a problem when you want to scale an image up or down. Because you are limited to the number of pixels you start with, making a raster files very large will give it a “jagged” appearance. For applications like signs and business cards, you’re best off using a vector format.
Images are made of small squares of color called ‘pixels’.
Vector

Vectors images use the same vectors from high school math: mathematical formulas that define a curve. There aren’t any pixels involved until the file is converted, so images can be scaled to any size with no loss of quality. You’ll rarely use these files yourself, because only certain programs will open them. Vectors (which include .ai and .eps types) are often requested by printers, sign makers, and other designers, so you should keep them saved in a safe place until you need them. If your designer doesn’t provide you with them, ask.

Extension Type Color Mode Best for…
JPG Raster RGB Web, desktop printing
GIF Raster RGB Web, desktop printing
AI Vector CMYK Commercial printing
EPS Either CMYK Commercial printing
TIF Raster CMYK Commercial printing
PDF Either Either Printing, high resolution viewing

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