Optical sizes for logos?

nina's picture

Strange question maybe but has been bugging me for a while: Does anyone ever make different optical sizes of logos – not necessarily the type, but the mark itself? And if not, why not?

Background: I'm currently working on a logo (and I don't think I can post it at the moment, so I'd appreciate a discussion on the "theoretical" level) that needs some detail that makes it vivid at large sizes (think company car decal) but gets lost at business-card sizes (at least on my printer).

So do you think there are any cogent reasons against making a "HD" and a "lo-fi" version of the same mark, one finer, the other more sturdy?

typerror's picture



kentlew's picture


Getting the client to abide by the guidelines for use over the long haul will be an entirely different matter. (But should probably be considered before spending a lot of time of multiple versions.)

CreativeNRG's picture

The only aspect I've ever adjusted in a logo has been the size of the ™ or ® at a large or small size. One test I use during the design process is to make the logo an avatar size to see how it holds up. If you are losing important aspects something is wrong IMHO. A logo, by design, is suppose to be consistent and extremely flexible.

Note: I will sharpen low-res bitmap versions intended for use on a website and will completely recreate 16px x 16px 'fav icon' sizes.

Best of luck on your project.

.00's picture

It all depends on the details of the logo, but the short answer is yes.

nina's picture

Cool! Thanks all. Just out of curiosity (and for my client), does anyone have any good examples? I must admit I've never seen this done and/or discussed – maybe just been living under a rock…

CreativeNRG: Of course I'd agree, in principle, that logos are supposed to be scalable. BTW I would say that the logo in question works when scaled – no *crucial* detail is lost –, it just doesn't look its best at all sizes equally; and that got me wondering – if we're talking about the importance of optical scaling in type, shouldn't we accept its merits for logos as well – in terms of making the "HD" and the "lo-fi" version *optically* consistent/optimized instead of just mathematically scaled?

Kent, in this case it looks like I'll be in charge of most (if not all) of their printed materials myself, and will also be advising them on use of the logo in other media, so I can luckily have an eye on proper usage.

Don McCahill's picture

One example is the IBM logo. The number of bars changes when used very small or very large.

CreativeNRG's picture

@altaira: I completely understand your point but I've never seen a style guide specify the use of different logo files at different sizes. However, most guides restrict the use below a certain size in print. If anyone has an example of a style guide that requires different versions based on size I'd love to see it!

@Don McCahill: Interesting point about the IBM logo. Does anyone have a visual example? I've only seen it used with 8 bars and couldn't find a deviation after an image search.

.00's picture

We did a set of optically adjusted logos for Kate Spade a few years ago. The space between elements was adjusted as were the fine details.

dtw's picture

Yes. An example is Palgrave — see the 8-pointed star logo at the bottom of the sidebar. It appears on pretty much all Palgrave book and journal covers, and there are three versions of it, with less contrast in the arms for smaller sizes. In the smallest (for sub-5mm, such as spines), the little boxes at the ends of the arms are solid instead of open...
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CreativeNRG's picture

Thanks 'TerminalDesign' for proving that example. However, I'd expect most of the optical adjustments were made in the tiny versions in the third row.

I'd like to clarify my previous point... Absolutely, you need to make those optical adjustments when you convert a vector logo (for print) into a very small bitmap logo (for web). To allow Photoshop to make your bicubic downsampling decisions for you would be insane.

If the logo stays in a vector format with a minimum size I don't see the need for another version. The version used on a business card can be scaled to go on the side of a semi trailer.

dtw's picture

Jeff, it's to do with print resolution: I've seen the "large" version of the Palgrave symbol printed at about 4mm wide by mistake, and the little squares were fuzzy & indistinct. Much the same as having a display version of a font with fine lines, and then a "regular" text vesion, and maybe a "caption" version where the "thins" are chunkier so they don't get lost at small sizes. Just like you wouldn't set Big Caslon at 6pt. I'll see if I can fish out the relevant page of the branding guidelines document if you like.

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CreativeNRG's picture

@ DTW: Dave, I think we're all on the same page but with slightly different perspectives. Please forgive my 'old school' mentality. Twenty years slugging it out in prepress and printing will do that to a guy. I could talk chocks and spreads for hours. Still miss the days when etching film was an art. ;)

I completely agree with everything you're saying but personally haven't seen a style guide that would allow you to use a logo at such a 'tiny' size. If you come across something I'd love to see how they deal with it.

I think your point about them using the wrong version of the logo goes to the initial question as to the down side of having too many versions of the logo for different situations. KISS... or someone is bound to F it up beyond belief at a big cost to someone.

Bendy's picture

Wish I'd read this thread about 3 months ago, then we could have got the design agency to make the favicon, and include the (R) from the start. ;)

Paul Cutler's picture

Agreed. I have never seen a style guide or encountered a company that had different logos for different sizes. Obviously it exists as some previous posts point out, but considering the chain of custody that happens between the logo designer and an end-user like myself I don't think it's a good idea - I'm lucky to even get vector.

"Just grab it off the web…"

When I'm designing a logo I look at it from sub 1" to very large and everything in between before I show it to anyone.


manofscience's picture

Hi Altaira,

An obvious example seems to me the current trend of 3D-ifying logos and adding subtle beveling and gradient to imply a slightly rounded look.

When used small, however, the '2D' or simply two-colour version can be used. For example, Apple's logo is this glassy blob thing writ large, but they can fall back on the simple silhouette Apple when using it small. Other examples include most car manufacturers (e.g. Ford, GM) and UPS have '3D' updated versions of their logos as well as the original '2D' versions. The extra detail does add some extra interest at large sizes. A Google images search will demonstrate any of the above examples.

Whether you agree with the trend is another matter. I heard a (possibly made-up) story that UPS commissioned Pentagram to explore possibilities for an update on their classic logo by Paul Rand. They racked up the allocated number of billable hours but eventually came back to UPS and presented them with all the reasons that their existing logo was a classic and shouldn't be fiddled with. UPS paid them but then went to FutureBrand to get their current 3D-effect shield with cliched swoosh and rounded-ish sans.

On a somewhat related note: 'How long should a logo last?' - Johnson Banks: http://www.johnsonbanks.co.uk/thoughtfortheweek/index.php?thoughtid=310
"Yellow Pages have cut the umbilical chord that held them to Futura and opted for one of those ubiquitous humanist soft sans serif solutions. Paradoxically, by opting to hit the more modern button they’ve traded long term stability for short-term refresh, but if that notches up a few better points in tracking, that may be deemed a success. There’s also a wry typographic twist there, as the typeface named after the future (Futura) is dumped for something of the present."


Henry Hadlow - Graphic Design / Art Direction

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Optical size logo’s are only feasible in an environment where there is really tight control over usage.
In other words: the concept is nice, but do not go there. Just set up some clear guidelines for usage with good/bad examples and hope for the best. There are a lot of uneducated (iow bad) socalled designers.

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

paragraph's picture

Please ignore this post if you do not want to be dragged back in time into the previous century.

The different version of logos in the past (IBM was mentioned above) had a lot to do with different scales of use, not just printing at different sizes. A (1) top-of-the-building sign visible from miles away, through (2) car/truck/plane decals down to a (3) business card or a post stamp. Then different considerations again: (1) not black, because it needs to be illuminated at night, but a black & white line (no tone) version was needed for newspaper ads in letterpress. (2) not too much detail so it can be cut from vinyl or sprayed on with a stencil on 1000 trucks reasonably cheaply, (3) business cards and stationery were mostly printed in 1–2 colours, not full colour as often happens today.

dtw's picture

Jeff, I quite agree about KISS. In any big company, almost as soon as an identity is in place, people who are not [professional] designers will need to use elements of it. Many of them will not be aware of branding guidelines, nor of official versions of the logos on specific intranet sites (or whatever), and, when they realize they need to put the logo on item x, will extract it from the first item y that they can. "Different versions, what different versions?" It's inevitable as death & taxes.

FWIW, here's the relevant branding guidelines page:

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nina's picture

Wow great. Thanks for the input and examples.
Interesting, the elements in question in my logo are also thin-armed "stars", so structurally somewhat similar to the "spikes" in the Palgrave symbol.

Thanks Henry (zrenneh), good food for thought (being processed :-).

"the concept is nice, but do not go there"
Wouldn't you say that depends on the situation though? I wouldn't usually consider this, but like I said in this case it looks like I might have pretty good control over how the logo will be used, at least initially.

I'll see the client today so will ask him if it might be okay for me to put the thing up for critique after all…

Tim Ahrens's picture

Another example would be the logo for the German bank Sparkasse, (re)designed by Otl Aicher.
See http://www.guidosworld.de/logos/Logos/Sparkasse/sparkasse.htm

Paul Cutler's picture

>Wouldn’t you say that depends on the situation though? I wouldn’t usually consider this, but like I said in this case it looks like I might have pretty good control over how the logo will be used, at least initially.

Initially is the key word here. I don't know how the company you are designing for works, but usually the logos/style sheets I get are requested by a marketer and sent to them from another marketer. Have you ever dealt with marketers? A lot of times they cannot understand the difference between vector and "grab it off the web", especially now that the internet is such a focus. Yesterday I was sent a .png at 6.2K to "pop" in an InDesign presentation.

Then you have to consider the designer at the other end, are they going to read the style guide? And when they don't are the people at your company going to be sharp enough to recognize a violation?


CreativeNRG's picture

@DTW: Thanks much for providing the Palgrave example. Even at the 20 mm size it would present issues and I'd hate to see the results after it was printed in grayscale or color on newsprint at 85 or 100 lpi. Add in a touch of misregistration on press and you've got a major mess on your hands.

Do you know why they allow the logo to be printed that small? The majority of style guides prohibit scaling the logo anywhere near that size.

In a flash of brilliance I just figured out how to print the Palgrave mark at 7 pt.

Here it is ---> *

Bert Vanderveen's picture

I wouldn’t usually consider this, but like I said in this case it looks like I might have pretty good control over how the logo will be used, at least initially.

Ahh, I have had some clients for years, some for over a decade, but none forever. So, that’s why I recommend to KISS.
But if *you* can, by all means go for specific files for specific usage.

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

satya's picture

Yes, No - depends on the logo. If the logo has lot of details in it, one must optimize it for the small sizes. But then one should always avoid too many elements (details) in a logo, and have only one version so that it reduces the chances of its misuse in the future.

We (at Dalton Maag) made two versions for this logo* to make sure it works well also in the small sizes. You can see that all the thin strokes has been expanded a little in the second version so that they look same (optically) even at the different sizes.

*This is just for the example purpose - not the final artwork.

jabez's picture

Here's another example:

A major drawback of the original logo was that its fine details made it hard to reproduce in smaller sizes. In an effort to remedy this problem, Hayman devised three marks: a highly detailed version for larger uses, a simplified version for smaller print pieces, and a logotype-only version for especially small applications such as book and CD spines.


dtw's picture

@Jeff: re "Do you know why they allow the logo to be printed that small?"

Most publishers will want some version of their logo to go on spines. The big version's OK for an inch-thick textbook, but Palgrave publish journals too. Consider the thickness of a 64-page issue. (About 4mm, as it happens.)

LOL re that tiny version you typed. Find a font with an 8-pointed asterisk (I know I've seen a few) and that might be good idea!

[edit: Unicode 2733 ... ✳]
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dberlow's picture

>“the concept is nice, but do not go there”

Ooops.;) we do it all the time, have for several decades. Size masters for a logo depends on the logo and the user, and their concern for clarity. We've done versions for size, for color, for resolution and for device.


nina's picture

"I don’t know how the company you are designing for works"
I'm beginning to realize how lucky I am with my client in this case:
1) They're a very small company (less than ten people).
2) They're in a design/media related field, so they have (a) good eyes and (b) respect for design (and (c) are well aware of cross-media/resolution issues & such).
3) They love the logo.
That said, I can see how in most/many cases the optical sizing thing wouldn't be very practicable. I've gotten enough 72k GIFs as logos to print on posters myself…

nina's picture

David, interesting! What does "for device" entail, assuming that it's separate from the resolution question?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The Typecon logo (system) reduse the number of lines at small sizes.

blank's picture

For the last logo I did I provided two optical sizes and a special version for use in long, tight spaces (with DVD and CD spines in mind). The logo was done for a small business, so I felt pretty safe thinking that the owner would keep the variations in mind, and he has.

hbeier's picture

The best case I know is the Lloyd's logo. They've got 3 versions of their symbol for different sizes/production processes. You can take a look at their brand guidelines on their website and clicking on the first PDF link. To be even more specific, the different versions are described on page 20.

I hope it helps.


CreativeNRG's picture

@hbeler: Thanks for the excellent example.

Out of curiosity I animated the small-size version of their 'Arms' logo with the standard-size version. It illustrates pretty well why optimizing certain logos has it merit and my once hard line perspective has forever been changed.

dberlow's picture

Frode is correct, and we also have encountered problems with complexity of contours that will not work on some devices.


dinazina's picture

The poplular Elliott Bay Brewery Pub in Seattle has an elaborate sign:

Which is somewhat simplified for print purposes:

And further simplified as a small mark for use on napkins, website, etc.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Back in the 90s when Novell first began they had a logo with optical sizes. I'm having déjà vu, I swear I wrote this already.

They had a logo with prongs on it. And the number of prongs was dependent upon the size of the logo. Building size had more prongs that back of package address size.

russellm's picture

@ Don, One example is the IBM logo. The number of bars changes when used very small or very large.

Can you point to some examples of this?



Bendy's picture

Here's one more I just came across:
Investors in People UK

Following this thread, I've actually got our design agency to provide two versions of our company logo:

The small size versions (right side) have INTERNATIONAL in a heavier weight, no (R) mark, and the monochrome version has less detail in the flower element. Thanks Nina for the useful thread! :D

Maxim Zhukov's picture

The logo for the ATypI conference of 2008 was created in three scale-optimised versions:

Tomi from Suomi's picture

I've tried to make logos to work in all sizes. More work making it, but less in implementing.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

There is no way the same artwork can do for a 5-metre-high sign perched on top of a building, silk-screened on fabric, posted on a Web site, used as a favicon on the browser navigation bar, or printed on a business card. It’s obvious that you have to optimize the design—among other things, for size.

Bendy's picture

>I've tried to make logos to work in all sizes. More work making it, but less in implementing.

If you can do that, great. But I think especially with a logotype the characters need beefing up for tiny sizes. And isn't it more work to create different versions of the logo rather than less?

.00's picture

We recently redrew the Barneys New York logo and provided them with two versions.

ill sans's picture

One example that immediately comes to mind is the Fortis logo. There are two different versions (one with 23 shapes & one with 32 shapes; if I remember correctly, I didn't bother to count).

Getting your client to follow the guidelines might be a bit tricky though. I didn't even realise there were 2 different versions of this logo untill after working with it regularly for a couple of years, I finally got the guideline from one of their banks.

serpt99's picture

There is no way the same artwork can do for a 5-metre-high sign perched on top of a building, silk-screened on fabric, posted on a Web site, used as a favicon on the browser navigation bar, or printed on a business card. It’s obvious that you have to optimize the design—among other things, for size.

Nick Shinn's picture

If it is not already possible, we are on the cusp of being able to put a colored logo into a font, and specify versions for rendering at specific sizes. This will be great for zooming on devices.

JamesM's picture

Most corporations I've done design work for don't have different versions for different sizes.

Multiple versions sounds good in theory, but it complicates things and creates the possibility that vendors or employees will use the wrong version.

Most employees can't even select the right fonts or colors, let alone pick the right logo version. And when working with an outside vendor they may send them the wrong logo version.

I'd agree there are occasional instances where it makes sense, but most professional logos are designed to look good large or small, and are scalable vector files.

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