The dos and don’ts of using gradients in logo design

Rebecca Creger

The use of gradients in logos is a pretty polarizing topic: many hate it with a passion and think it looks tacky, and many simply adore it.

gradients in logo design - 1

Evolution of the Microsoft Windows and Pepsi logos

The flat design look for logos is very in these days, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that gradients are gone for good. It just means that many uses of gradients in logo design can look more dated than they used to. The technique can work when done well, but a lot of designers tend to use them as a crutch to disguise weak design concepts.

Whether you like or hate them, there are good and bad ways to use gradients. We’ve created a short list of what to embrace and what to avoid for gradient use in logos — these days, at least.

 

SOLID

Coco Star logo by TinBacicDesign™

Do: create an effective solid version of your logo before you add gradients.
Don’t: add gradients to your logo that make it difficult to reproduce or read.

Above we’ve taken designer TinBacicDesign™‘s design and translated into our own gradient interpretation, comparing it to the original. The solid version of the logo would work on non-screen mediums like embossed, letterpress paper, signs, and embroidered apparel — showing up bold and clear. Adding unnecessary gradients to the logo make it look washed out and overcomplicated, and it just doesn’t translate as well. The takeaway? Keep it simple, skippy.

 

rely

Do: use gradients in the logo in a creative way that is relevant to the brand.
Don’t: rely on gradients to create abstract imagery that’s not relevant to your brand.

The use of a gradient in the Airbnb logo is relevant to a company that facilitates travel. The gradation of dark blue to light blue looks like the clear, sunny skies most people associate with vacations. Our made-up logo on the right relies heavily on the gradients inside it to give the logo depth and contrast. But it doesn’t impart any meaning. If we took away the gradients, we would be left with an equally abstract square, and one that’s probably a lot easier to see in print.

Moral of the story: If your gradient isn’t helping your logo, it’s harming it. Find another solution.

 

INTENSE

Do: use subtle gradients to enhance your design.
Don’t: use intense gradients, particularly in the smaller and more detailed portions of your logo.

Even though Google’s new logo is leaning towards the “flat design” trend, there is still a very subtle linear gradient in it. This effect adds depth to the classic logo without having to resort to that old beveled and embossed look. However in the logo on the right, using gradients inside the smaller shapes of the logo dominates the image and makes it look much less professional. Not to mention, it will probably not print well at most sizes.

 

Amateur

Do: add gradients to your logo that are professional and well-executed.
Don’t: use gradients that look like they were created without any thought.

Your client came to you for a professional design, not something they could have made themselves. So make sure that your gradient is functioning professionally. If it’s meant to represent a light shining on your logo, determine the proper source for that light. If it’s meant to bring emphasis to a certain part of your logo, then don’t mix up a bunch of different types of gradients to make your point, where one would work. Place your gradients with intent.

 

banded2

Do: optimize your gradients for the best printing possible.
Don’t: ignore printing issues.

Gradients don’t always print well and can potentially result in an unsightly banding effect depending on the quality of your printer, so it’s important to prepare your files for the best results, starting at the design phase. There’s a couple different techniques to fix this that are described by Adobe and in this forum here.

 

The bottom line is that you choose to use gradients in your logo, use them selectively. Your client’s company might make it big one day and they might need their logo etched into the marble floor of their headquarters or even shone into the sky like the batman signal — and gradients definitely don’t come across as well in those mediums. In the end, it’s like all of the other elements in your design, it’s got to have meaning, or it’s got to go.

Any tips for using gradients properly? Share them with us!

The author

Rebecca Creger
Rebecca Creger

Rebecca was born and raised in the Bay Area, where she currently lives. She has a BFA in Design with a Visual Communications emphasis from UC Davis. Her passions include travel, design, pasta, and hanging out with her Beagle, Spud.

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