A company’s logo is the face of its identity to the public. There is a vast variety of logos; however, most of us are familiar with pictorial logos such as the logo for Target or the Twitter bird and may not have considered other ways of creating a logo or other sorts of logo designs. Some logos are designed entirely from scratch by graphic designers, using different symbols that could represent the company or the name of the company. Yet, some are made from pictures and then edited to suit the needs of the brand.
But, can a photo be used as a logo? Yes, a photo can be used as a logo. But, it is more efficient to first run the picture through an image editing software and apply changes to it, depending on what a company is looking for. Usually, a graphic designer may use a photo as a base in the design of a logo and then alter it to fit the ideas that a company wants to convey through their logo.
Whether a photo is good to use or not depends on several factors, namely: the ownership rights of the picture (where is it sourced from), the appearance of the photo, the photo’s file type, the ease of using it, what kind of message the photo conveys, the individualism of the picture, and the suitability of the photo to the company’s underlying message.
Peak ahead: Consider using a Logo Maker to create your own logo. This will be far more practical and keep you, and your business, out of potential legal issues in the future.
7 Pros and Cons to Using a Picture as a Logo
The pros and cons of both using a photo outright or using a photo as a part of your logo design are explained through these categories in greater detail below:
1. Ownership (Where the Picture is Sourced From)
If the photo you are using in creating your logo is one that is privately sourced, chances are you already own the rights to use and alter that picture as you please. This situation comes with several advantages. Firstly, no conflict occurs in copyrighting the logo after it is completed; this applies to both using a picture outright or editing the image a little before using it in a logo design.
Secondly, the image, even if it is an image of a public place, will likely not be available to other companies to use, ensuring that your logo design will be specific to your company and tailored to your needs.
The same is not true for most publicly sourced photos. As a company, you cannot trademark or copyright your logo in the long run if you use a publicly sourced photo because whether you have paid for the image or not, you do not have ownership rights on the image to prevent anyone else from using it. Another company can even use it in the same manner that it was used for your company’s logo and make small changes to it.
Often you will find out that you were not the first to think that a picture you found online was suitable to set your company apart. Copy-pasting the image’s URL into a Google search will reveal that several other companies out there have used the same image, altering it to fit their needs.
When a photo is used in a logo, it has a professional and aesthetically pleasing undertone that will become a first impression for the customer. Photos can be processed in many different file formats so that editing does not affect the integrity of the photo.
But logos must be reproduced to very small sizes at times. If it’s at a tiny size, people cannot make your logo out, and then it is not serving its purpose correctly; this can happen with many photos and make it undesirable to use them as logos.
Sometimes also, a logo must be blown up to a very large size. In this case, a photo again could end up losing its resolution, color, or even structure because it is raster-based. The term raster-based here is simply referring to the nature of photos to have a limit for being resized that when bypassed, ends up with pixelated looking pictures.
You also need to be able to reproduce your logo in different color variations such as grayscale, full color, or monotone to fit a certain mood. So, if an image does not have the right contrast and exposure, the end product will not be pleasing to the eye.
3. Conveying a Message
The phrase “a picture tells a thousand words” applies well here. When the right picture is used, the logo of a company tells a whole story about the company. In this sense, using an image for a logo can help make the logo design more personal to the business, and its message to consumers or its ideals can be expressed better.
Maybe, you aim at saying something about the location where your product is produced and sourced from, for example. It is possible to convey this feeling to an audience of the place in reference by creating a logo that features a picture of that landscape. Werther’s Original, for example, a brand of European caramel candies, features a drawing of a farmhouse’s barn and the open field in front of it to convey the message that their candies originated in a small, quaint European village of the name “Werther.”
But the pendulum swings in the other direction for a picture that is poorly chosen. Let us say, for example, you decide to use a stock photo of a campsite for a brand of vegan camping snacks. Even though the picture may be conveying the message that your product has something to do with camping and snacking, it is not able to fully home in on the emotional response and the message you are trying to give your consumers.
The right photo can really show the individualism of a company to the world. A famous example is the bust of Colonel Sanders that is superimposed in the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) logo. The Colonel was a notable and boisterous character, but beyond this, he also played a strong role in developing his brand, and so his appearance is tied to the brand and the brand name.
Using a portrait picture of an individual of significance, maybe the owner of the company, is feasible. This type of logo is called a “mascot logo,” and it features the face of an individual or a character that holds significance to the company.
A logo is meant to represent an idea and not necessarily a person. So, to put a person on a logo means that the person is the embodiment of the idea; this can be problematic in the sense that a good company is supposed to outlive its owner.
Sometimes, this legacy is not lived out because the company is unable to move beyond the face of a notable individual. It could have been problematic, for example, if instead of its iconic apple with a bite in it, the company Apple had used Steve Jobs’ portrait as its logo. After he passed away, the company may have struggled to pivot with the idea that it could maintain its competitiveness in the absence of Mr. Jobs.
5. File Type and Size
JPEGs (file extension .jpg) is the most used type of file format for images. Most photos are in the JPEG file format from the offset. This file format is ideal for compressing and sharing your logo and is easy to use across websites and in emails and printing.
But a disadvantage of the JPEG is that quality is compromised if the logo size is too far compressed or too much enlarged, and the image will end up distorted. The standard size of a logo depends on the platform that it will be uploaded to so it could be resized a frequent number of times.
Usually, a logo will be uploaded to numerous different platforms and will need to be resized for each of these platforms. For example, there may be an ideal dimension for uploading your logo to Facebook, but a completely different dimension needed for YouTube.
The best type of file to use as a master file for a logo is a Vector file ( with the file extension .svg). Vector files can be resized without the image becoming pixelated. PNG files are also useful because they have “lossless compression,” meaning they can also be resized without the picture, or the logo losing its quality. With these two file types, your logo will display seamlessly across websites.
As mentioned earlier, attempting to do this on a JPEG could cause you to lose the integrity of the image. Hence, JPEGs are not very versatile for a logo. Luckily, JPEGS can be converted into vector files
But, before the image can be converted to a vector image, it must be “traced” inside of editing software such as Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop; this can quickly become a cumbersome process. You need one understanding to edit the photo and a different understanding of a different process to convert the picture to a vector image.
Otherwise, if you choose to keep the image as a JPEG, you must deal with the problem of rasterization, resizing, and the possibility of your image distorting.
We could avoid all the file conversion issues if the logo were created as a vector image from the onset, which is possible if a picture is not the base of the logo design, and it was formed from scratch.
6. Editing and Graphic Design
Starting with a picture as your base for a logo can make creating the logo design easier than starting from scratch for an amateur. With a basic knowledge of certain editing software, it is easy to tweak a picture to the style you want for the overall logo. But a beginner can even do something after watching a couple of tutorials on YouTube.
This can also go both ways, without the proper editing software, a photo can be frustrating to work with. Even with the right software, if you do not have a basic understanding of how to use the software, you may end up on YouTube for hours trying to figure out where to start in the first place. You may need to remove the background or alter the colors in a certain place to match the color theme you have picked out. You could end up spending hours editing a photo just to end up not using it because putting some basic shapes, and a well-planned out typography was easier at the end of the day.
7. Stock Images
Many new businesses may temporarily choose to rely on the use of stock photos to create their logos because stock images are free. However, they cannot be used beyond a temporary basis.
The public commonly sees most stock images. This makes it such that, when a stock image is used for a logo, a person can easily identify what a company is about; this is also good for new businesses because customers will be attracted to your business based on the product that it offers, and there is a higher chance of catching folks who are scrolling through the net looking for new options to give your company a try.
In the long term, stock images end up harming your business in diverse ways.
A company puts itself in the vulnerable position of being liable to copyright infringement laws, or fines for the misuse of a stock photo. Most companies that sell stock photos state contractually in their user agreements that these photos are not to be used for a logo or a trademark, and it is easy to run into copyright infringement technicalities when going this route.
The owner of the stock photo could take legal action against the individual who uses their picture as a part of their logo if it goes contrary to their user licensing agreement. (This does not discount, however, that some publicly sourced images may be usable in the design of a company’s logo.)
Many royalty-free stock photos have huge watermarks across the middle of them that can require hours of editing to remove. Even after removing these watermarks, pictures may be negatively altered and difficult to use.
As a company you also cannot trademark or copyright your logo in the long run. Whether you have paid for the image or not, you do not have ownership rights on the image to prevent anyone else from using it and another company can use it in the same manner that it was used for your company’s logo.
Notes on Editing Photos for Logos
There are a variety of different types of photos that can be used in the making of a logo for a company. We briefly looked at portrait photos and pictures of landscapes in the examples above. An image of an object can also be altered and used in creating a logo.
The object could be anything, even an animal. After capturing the object, the picture can be converted into a vector image, which will then be used for the logo. If you are familiar with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), then you have seen their logo before: a black and white panda on all fours staring straight ahead; this is a good example of a kind of logo that can be made from a picture.
Also mentioned above, JPEGS are a raster-based image file format; resizing them can become a problem that leads to pixilation or an indiscernible image. However, it is possible to resize a JPEG in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom Classic to either huge proportions or tiny ones without losing the integrity of the photo.
This same applies to contrast and exposure. If the coloration of an image needs to be edited to suit a certain look for a printout or faded to adjust the logo as a watermark, this can also be done in Photoshop. You only need to select the image you are working with, click on the “image” tab, and select the “adjustments” option.
To conclude, it is possible to use a photo as a logo for your company, but it is more efficient if the picture is rather incorporated into a logo design.
Consider using a Logo Maker to create your own logo. This will be far more practical and keep you, and your business, out of potential legal issues in the future.
The pros and cons of using a photo in logos were broken down categorically into these categories: the ownership rights of the photo (where is it sourced from), the appearance of the picture, the photo’s file type, the ease of using it, what kind of message the photo conveys, the individualism of the photo, and the suitability of the picture to the company’s underlying message.