A brilliant logo concept is nothing if it’s just a sketch lost in the pile of to-do’s and to-done’s (boy do I need to clean this desk). You’ve seen “proper” logos. They’re silky smooth, crisp and more refined than 00 flour.
Of course, magic doesn’t make this happen.
Only time, patience and a process will turn your drawing into a digital logo you can use anywhere and everywhere. You’ll be able to duplicate and iterate your logo to your heart’s content without ever destroying an original. Plus, playing with colour on a whim is a breeze. That’s the beauty of a vector file.
There is a huge difference between vector and raster graphics. Logos should always fall in the category of vector. You want these babies to shrink and grow with no loss in quality. They may end up on a 30ft banner or a 3½in business card—best to cover all your bases the first go around.
The good news for you is that at this point you’ve done the hardest part. Coming up with a stellar concept that is going to knock socks off and attract customers like bears to honey is at least 75% of the work.
So how are we going to do it—turn a sketch into a defacto logo, that is?
One method you’re likely to come across is the quick and dirty one. Illustrator has a function that is called Image Trace. It is an amazing bit of technology that will take any graphic, sketch, or a photo of your dog’s eye and turn it into the true blue vector format.
Sounds pretty grand, doesn’t it? If only it were that easy. The problem with Image Trace is how your final vector file comes out. The result is often over-complicated in terms of the way it is built. Even if you start with the cleanest of sketches you’re going to end up with some tidying work to do. Your lines will be more crimped than an 80's perm.
Is it doable? Definitely. I won’t poo-poo the method for the sake of poo-pooing. For me it takes away the intention of the creator (that’s you!) and leaves the overall design up to chance. On top of it, for the quick process of Image Trace you still need to spend time catching extra nodes and niggles that are out of place. To do that you need to know or learn a bunch of tools in Illustrator.
As I mentioned, this method is basically the definition of quick and dirty.
The method professional designers use is a little more time consuming initially but the result is consistent and more polished. Also, you can get away with learning a single tool in Illustrator for the entire thing.
Enough with the preamble, let’s get on with it already.
Your logo is a sketch at this point. It might look a little like a terrible sketch I initially did for our wedding logo (yep, of course we had one). This first step is about making sure it is refined as can be on paper. It doesn’t have to be perfect but certainly give your sketches a couple rounds to work out spacing and your ideas.
This one was a lettering piece so I started out with a skeleton of my text I ended up brush lettering afterwards many many times. You can see that had I scanned the initial pencil version and tried to use it that the edges would be tough to identify. Even Image Trace in this case wouldn’t be able to save me.
By using a nice fine marker or pen you can really define your edges and shapes. This will make your life loads easier once your sketch arrives in your computer. About that…
With your fairly polished sketch that has been inked, you are ready to scan your logo. You can use your camera to accomplish the same thing but there are caveats.
First, you want to make sure you are using the highest resolution output of your camera—basically the highest quality setting on your phone or camera.
Second, make sure that your camera is completely square to the sketch you are taking a picture of. If you are on any sort of angle you will introduce perspective into the photo. If you don’t correct the perspective in Photoshop you will introduce it into your final design.
We recommend using a scanner to avoid perspective distortion. Any scanner will do these days. Again, you just need to ensure you are scanning with a high quality setting—around 600dpi is the setting you will need but you can get away with as low as 300dpi.
These settings determine the amount of detail captured and also image dimensions on your computer. Larger images are better so you can zoom in without too much blur or pixelation.
Every setup is different so it will depend on your scanner and scanner software that came with it. You don’t need anything fancy for software (whatever you have will work). We just need a nice flat scan that is clear and useable.
You are ready to bring your freshly scanned or photographed sketch into Adobe Illustrator. Start a new document, File→New. For simplicity’s sake, set your document size to Letter. It can be changed later if you need to.
Use File→Place and locate your .JPG, .TIFF, or .PDF that was scanned in in Step 2. Drop it on your art board roughly centered. Again, it’s not all that important where it is right now. We are using it to trace and after that it won’t be of any more use.
Now, this is important because it can cause all sorts of annoyances later. Make sure you lock this image in place. If it isn’t you might accidentally select and move it while you are working. It’s actually pretty easy and frustrating for that to happen. Select the image and up top go to Object→Lock→Selection.
This one tool you will either love or hate but ultimately need to tame. Select the pen tool from the toolbar.
Once selected, set your stroke width (found at the top of your screen) to 0.25pt. Normally the default will be 1pt and it’s a bit thick and cumbersome. We’re setting this nice and thin so we can see it but it isn’t hiding the edge we are trying to trace. I also find it helpful to set the stroke colour to something nice and bright so that I can see it against the black inked sketch.
Before we start, think about the individual shapes in your logo. Treat each separately so that you can later manipulate the colours of them on their own. If they are created as one shape you will need to break them up somehow after the fact.
Begin by placing one point on the edge of your graphic. You’ll quickly discover that when you place your next point it will be a straight line. Your logo might not be made entirely of straight lines. By clicking and holding and moving your cursor you will see your path bend.
The extra handles on each curve can further be manipulated afterwards to really tweak the shape of the curve. We go over the pen tool and others in Illustrator in “Logo Execution: The Right Tools for the Job”. In that post we also talk about the subtract tool. That tool can be useful if your logo has “holes” in it.
By that I mean, think of an “O”. First we would trace the outside of the “O” and then we would trace inside. That would result in two separate shapes on top of one another. Using subtract we can remove one shape from another and leave the rest.
The pen tool may be frustrating at first. It just is when you start out. With a little practice it will come easier and become your best friend. Basically it’s an after school special.
Now that you’ve traced all of the pieces of your logo and subtracted out any “holes” that need to be knocked out, you are ready to fill it back in and make it look like a shape. Right now you just have outlines. Quick fix. Hit this little icon on your toolbar to switch from stroked to filled.
Select your new logo and copy and paste it somewhere else on your page. This way you always have your original (and you should be saving often just in case too…speaking from bad experiences). With this copy you can start selecting your different shapes and playing with different colours. The recommended reading from our blog on colour is “Get More Bites Using Colour”.
Lastly, and this isn’t really much of a step, you want to take your final logo that you’ve played with and iterated and tweaked to perfection and put it into its own file. Copy the entire finished logo.
Start another new document in Illustrator and set your size to something like 3in x 3in. Paste your logo nice and centered on the document. Save this Illustrator file as something “_FINAL” so that you know this is the be all and end all logo. You want to use the same one for everything.
Then do another save as and in the format drop down, select EPS. EPS files are fairly universal in the vector World. Best to have it and use it to send out for signage and marketing from the get go.
Don’t worry about the next screen that comes up for EPS options. You can leave it as is and hit “OK”.
And that’s the basics of it. If you can nail the tracing with the pen tool you’ve got it made. Your brilliant logo will be gracing your social media, website and storefront in no time!