Lasering Logos: What You Need to Know

Most clients understand that a simple logo is the best option

Working with customers’ graphics can often be a major challenge and, in some cases, the biggest hurdle to completing a project in a timely manner with good results.

Large companies understand branding & logo use

Have you ever noticed that most major corporations and nonprofits have simple logos? The shapes are simple and few, and there are only two or three colors used. A few that come to mind are Nike (one shape and one color), McDonald’s (two shapes and two colors), and the TV networks all have simple logos. Why is that? Their marketing departments and thus graphic artists know that logo simplicity provides quick and easy recognition. It allows a viewer to quickly know who is communicating. Most advertising is about brand recognition wanting to gain the trust of the viewer. So, companies only have a second or two to assure viewers recognize their brand.
The second thing that great graphic designers understand is that the logo or brand will need to appear in many places, on many materials with a variety of reproduction or printing methods. Some of these methods will need to be very economical — screen printing one or two colors, for example. Some projects may be done with more sophisticated processes. So, companies produce their logos in black and white versions, grayscale versions, and perhaps several color versions. These color versions may range from a few solid colors, web-safe colors, Pantone colors for paper printing, and even versions with colors that fade.

A very simple one solid-color logo with black text. (Image courtesy Bob Hagel)

In addition, companies will create logos that they make available in several file formats for the highest-quality reproduction with various printing methods. They may have available JPG files, either highly compressed or moderately compressed in various sizes or resolutions. They may create PNG files they use for the web and EPS files or perhaps PDF files containing vector images for the highest quality reproduction. Working with a large corporation or a smaller firm that has all these choices available is ideal for your shop.

Local & regional organizations

Most shops that have local and regional customers have customers that represent businesses of all sizes and marketing sophistication. In addition, you may have individual customers that create graphics they want laser engraved or reproduced with another method.

Embroidery, sandcarving, screen printing, and full-color prints on metal or wood are also common for small businesses to include in their marketing efforts. Your smaller businesses, military personnel, and individuals may only have full-color graphics or a logo in a very modest resolution JPG file. Some of these graphics will include color fades, photos, and stacked shapes, one on top of another. Many will be very busy, such as many military unit logos made by unit members over the years. Your challenge will be to reproduce these images with a satisfactory quality result or one that you are proud of.

The reproduction process

Two solid-color logos with both black and white text. It’s laserable as a grayscale image and works fine with most production processes. (Image courtesy Bob Hagel)

Transforming a color graphic or logo into a grayscale image may not provide good lasering results. And if you need a pure solid black and white image from a color graphic, you won’t get one that will work well. A true black and white image provides total contrast between those shapes that are in black from those shapes that are white. Grayscale images can provide high contrast between the original colors but often don’t. When there is little contrast between shapes or letters in text, they are hard to differentiate and read. Here’s where one of your challenges may lie. If you can’t differentiate shapes or letters from each other, the graphic will appear messy and perhaps unrecognizable.
The second issue you may encounter is graphic files with very low resolution. When bitmap files must be enlarged for the space they will fill, poor results are likely to be encountered. I often encounter JPG files that are created for web use, some under 100 KB in file size.
Other resolution issues may also be present in the file you have been given as well. We’ll discuss these challenges in the second part of this series.

Logo design services & advice to customers

Should your shop consider offering logo design services, these issues are something you should keep in mind and perhaps use as the centerpiece of your marketing efforts. Most local graphic artists will not have the experience to consider these issues and understand the many ways the logo or event graphic will be used and the issues that come along with it. I provided each logo design customer a series of files, including black and white, grayscale, and appropriate full-color logos in several file formats. I also included a tip sheet on when and how to use the various files.

This shows how you can convert this four-color graphic to a black and white using a black outline. A better grayscale would be made from the black and white version rather than the full-color version. (Image courtesy Bob Hagel)

When considering a production project for a customer, you will want to have a discussion regarding the graphics to be reproduced and what forms they have the graphic in. If it is laser engraved, the resulting graphic will either be in black and white (the colors of the foreground and background materials) or a grayscale image. If it’s for sandcarving, black and white graphics are the only reasonable images to consider with a quality result that is generally acceptable. For screen printing and embroidery, you can use solid color graphics where the colors can be separated. Vector graphics without overlapping shapes make these projects much easier with more reliable results. Even full-color printing processes will generate poor results if the file resolution is not high enough for the size it will be printed.

The full-color graphic barely works with the star being so light it blends into the white background. (Image courtesy Bob Hagel)
A grayscale version does not work at all as the red and blue are so similar in tone that they are too much alike. The beige star has no outline and completely blends into the background. An outline would make the star work. (Image courtesy Bob Hagel)

With clients you work with continuously, take the time to explain to them how they need to work with their logo designers. They can create brand logos and event logos in a way that produces great results without extra cost. You may even go as far as creating a graphic tip sheet to give clients to hand to their graphic artists. Even if they already have a logo in use, they are likely to make changes to the logo in the future, update it, or have other changes that would provide an opportunity to alter the logo to meet your needs better.
Organizations, especially nonprofits, create event logos at least once, and in many cases, multiple times a year. A tip sheet can be put to use sooner than you might think.

The logo tip sheet

You want to include these tips:
1. Always design logos with vector art. Changes can be made much quicker than bitmap design work. Vector art allows for the creation of file resolutions and sizes for every need, including a billboard.
2. Design a black and white version first. It will assure easy and quick identity and that the logo can be reproduced with the simplest reproduction process.
3. Design a grayscale version next.
4. Design a color version with solid colors only and no overlapping shapes.
5. Lastly, design the most complex version the customer may want to use. If fades and shading and overlapping shapes are desired, this version can include them with the understanding that not every reproduction process can use this logo version.
There may be other tips you want to offer; however, these are the basics that should ensure you will have what is needed without much additional work and allow you to provide results that please the customer and yourself.
In Part 2 of this series, I will cover turning color graphics into grayscale images and black and white versions, how to create a vector file from a bitmap (JPG) image, the tools vector and bitmap editor software have to offer to assist with these conversions, and how your laser’s print driver works with color and grayscale images.

Bob Hagel

Bob Hagel and his wife Dana offered a full line of personalized products using laser engraving, sandcarving, and full-color UV direct print on products for nearly 20 years. The pair sold their 17-year-business Eagle’s Mark Awards & Signs in September 2020. Bob remains an expert in the awards, recognition, and signage industries while he enjoys retirement.

View all articles by Bob Hagel  

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