(*Justified meaning they favorably add to the identity and aesthetics; i.e. we're assuming that they make perfect sense in a structural meaning.)

I'm looking for technically specific examples pertaining to particular treatments; less theory on aesthetics.

Reason for my question is that I wish to get a better sense for what's considered 'elaborate' and not.

Again, keep in mind that we assume that these treatments makes good sense in terms of representing the identity. Question relates to the 'tipping point', where you'd say, this ain't worth it, even if it helps better present the brand identity – i.e. where do the technical/practical consequences of (which particular) treatments overshadow any advantages of a more favorable identity representation?

Please restrict the answers to Illustrator.

Examples of the treatments I'm referring to

Might be things like Inner Glow, Drop Shadow, SVG filters, miscellaneous blending modes – you name it.

Examples of consequences I'm referring to

Might be display incompabilities, software incompabilities (notorious or not), printing problems (printshops commonly rejecting certain mixtures), RIP issues and basically, what have you.


This question is not about justifying effects and 'elaborate' treatments. It's about situations where you'd find such to be favorable, but where you'll have to consider their technical implications.

Comments such as this, is what made me curious to open this question thread (this is not directed to you personally, Scott) :

"I don't use effect on logos. I design flat shapes for logos" …

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    Rather than just close this as off-topic, I'd prefer to give you a chance to rewrite it after reading "What kind of questions should I not ask here?" in the FAQ. As things stand, it's way off topic for this site. Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 0:03
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    What's wrong with this question? Is it too broad? I think it would be a good discussion. Perhaps it would be better if it was limited to the technical parts of his question, rather than design preferences (which are more a matter of opinion)
    – Tim Mackey
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 0:23
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    StackOverflow (et. al.) isn't for discussion though.. it's for problems and solutions.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 0:25
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    If you can shape this into "What are the pluses and minuses of using X effect in designing a logo?" then it will work for this StackExchange. That is, pick one of the items in your first asterisk and make THAT the question. Otherwise I have to VTC. Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 0:40
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    Alan: I now updated the whole thing; title & question. Please respond if this isn't conforming to the FAQ.
    – Henrik
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 18:18

4 Answers 4


Sooner or later, a company logo will need to be reproduced in just one solid colour/channel, where even halftoning or greyscale aren't achievable.

You'd normally use a special variant of the logo for these purposes of course, but you need to consider how the underlying design will adapt. Will it still be recognisable? Perhaps not if effects, or even gradients or complex colour are key to your logo.

Fax used to be the classic example. This isn't often a concern these days - but here are some other real life examples I've dealt with:

  • Low resolution single colour printing: till receipts, post address labels etc
  • Etching/engraving on metal: iPod backs, USB Flash drives
  • Frosting (or frosting-effect film) on glass
  • Embossing/debossing into metal tins
  • Die cut foil overlay on colour print
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    Embroidery onto shirts and hats, thermal printing, let's not overlook appearance on the web, appearance in email signatures... Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 19:30

Historically, issues would be:

  • reproducibility: Can it be faxed, photocopied, mimeographed, shown on 480TV, etc?
  • resizability: can the logo be increased/decreased in size and still look good?
  • cost: can the logo be reproduced with 4 color or spot printing without breaking the budget
  • file complexity: can the RIP software process the file to begin with?
  • can it be created easily in other mediums: chrome, molded plastic, sculpture, signage, etc.

That said...nearly all of these issues are somewhat moot today, as technology has improved and costs have gone down. The original rainbow Apple logo, for instance, was incredibly costly to reproduce back in 1982. But now any home printer can easily do it. No one really faxes anymore. RIP software can handle most any file these days.

The only exception may be the last item. You still may need a simplified form of a logo for use in the physical world.

There's also the converse: with more access to technology, many times it makes sense to have a MORE complex version of the logo...say in the form of an animated motion graphic for HD broadcasts...or a 3D flying logo for the iPhone app splash page, etc.


I recently ran into this exact issue with a client, and it took great effort to convince the client and another designer against it.

Basically, we were engaging in a brand development project for a client whom we were also building a website for. Very early on, the other designer suggested a "neon sign" look. The client loved the idea and latched onto it.

The problem with this creative direction was two-fold:

  • A logo should be flexible, as most logos need to be adapted for many different purposes (including uses you haven't considered yet). The "neon sign" effect simply isn't very portable and wouldn't work for most of their intended uses of the logo.
  • Using elaborate graphical treatments in the initial design phase can distract you from the core design. And, although a seasoned designer might not be fooled, these loud novelty effects can conceal fundamental flaws in the design from the client or less experienced designers, leading to poor design choices.

I personally have no problem with using very eye-catching effects when appropriate. And I do think a neon sign motif would look great in many situations. However, in most cases it shouldn't be considered a canonical component of the standard logo unless you're absolutely sure this is how the logo will appear 99% of the time, and these exotic effects won't limit the logo's potential uses.

But usually when you're doing the initial logo design, you need to work with the bare bone logo—the design in its purest form that'll be the basis of all potential representations of the logo. You should refrain from using texture effects (wood grain patterns, chrome, glare/reflections, etc.) and stick to solid fills and outlines. If you want the canonical logo to use gradients, that's probably alright. But you should also render a version without gradients in case the logo has to be embossed/stamped or used on other media that don't permit gradients. And only after the design has been finalized should you start playing with fancy non-standard treatments for specific media or a particular campaign.

If you look at the logos of classic brands that often make use of neon signs, such as Ford, Chevy, Budweiser, Heineken, etc. These logos all look good both in their standard vector form, as well as in neon signage. But that's because they started out with a really well designed standard logo (one able to stand on its own) that they later turned into neon signage.

Likewise, many brands will often use other specialized treatment of their standard logo for specific ad campaigns. For example, they might create a grunge version of the logo that looks like it was painted on, or they might render the logo silhouette burnt into a block of wood, or stamped into mud, or decorated with flames/snow/ice/vines/etc.

But if any of these brands had started out with one of these treatments as their standard logo, they'd basically be stuck with just that version, making their branding much less flexible for creative ad campaigns or use on different media.


To bring it down to the simplest statement: Avoid any treatment that requires transparency effects (including use of blend modes, drop shadows, etc.), gradients or textures in the basic design of the logo, wordmark or logotype. Use solid colors. Be sure it works reversed out of a dark field as well as on a light field.

Once you have that basic shape and color(s), you can to embellish it with effects appropriate for a given context (the Google logo on screen has embossing, the UPS logo on its trucks and planes has a gradient), but the logo must not depend on them to be distinctive or recognizable. These are treatments applied to the basic logo form, not basic parts of the logo itself.

Great case study that illustrates these points here.

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