Flying Solo

Don’t DIY your brand, but DO learn the lingo

By Laura Haight
Originally published as the Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal

If you are a solopreneur, you are in really good company. Seventy-eight percent of all US businesses are one-person shows.

The talents of this diverse mass of freelance writers, artists, HR and business consultants, IT pros, marketers, and data analysts may be vast, but one thing they don’t have is a lot of money to spend on technology. To that end, there are a ton of applications that are either totally free or offer a limited “freemium” level to get solos hooked on higher end functionality (at a bigger price point). (

From a design standpoint, there are several good tools to help non-designers create social media elements. Canva and Adobe Spark are two of the more full featured. The key to using these tools is knowing their limitations – and yours.

While many of these apps do a great job at helping solos be more professional and competitive, there are somethings you cannot do for yourself. Designing your logo and key collateral are two of those things.


Working effectively with a designer is a partnership. That means, you’ve got to put something into it as well.

Whether it’s designing your logo, creating an ad, or a brochure, learning the lingo of the designer will help you collaborate and understand image presentation going forward.

Resolution: You can take a high quality image with your cell phone. But often resolution is lost in the transmission of that photo. When emailing a photo to a designer make sure your email software is sending at original size. If you aren’t sure how good the photo is, look at the size in your File Explorer or Finder window. If it says K (kilobyte) it’s probably too small for printing or large digital display. A good sized image taken with a smartphone should be somewhere from 2.5 MB to 6 MB, maybe larger depending on the phone’s capabilities.

Pixels: What's a pixel? Look very closely at a digital photo and you will see it is made up of millions of tiny squares. Each square is a pixel, which is the smallest unit of a picture. Step back and the pixels visually join together to create the overall image - or in the vernacular - a pix.

Color types: RGB, CYMK, HEX, Pantone, oh my! There are different color processes for different types of printing or publishing. The desired color is created by either adding or subtracting colors at certain percentages. You need higher end tools to create or output graphics and images to match the correct color process. For example, if you’re creating an ad for a newspaper, it will need to be in a four-color process known as CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black). Lower-end design tools cannot separate colors in this way. Colors on web pages are represented by hexadecimal codes created by an RGB process (Red Green Blue).

Many high end printers match colors using the Pantone Color Matching System which uses a patented process of base inks with a precise color matching to reproduce just about any color that the eye can see. Why does this matter? Because there is no such thing as RED. There are hundreds of reds. And if your logo uses Pantone 185 (232 Red/17 Green/45 Blue), it will not match up with Pantone 187 (175 Red/10 Green/45 Blue).

What you see isn’t always what you get: You’ve probably noticed a lot more billboards in the Upstate. You’ve probably also noticed that you can’t some of them. Those ads probably looked fantastic on a computer screen viewed from 18 inches away. But driving down I-85 at 65 mph, you need 5-7 BIG words and a strong image. A designer can steer you away from making a costly mistake.

Gotta have it

A designer is creating the foundation for your business’s identity. Here’s what you should expect to get:

  • A vector file (.eps). This file is not an image but a data file and can be scaled up to a billboard or down to an icon without losing any detail. It is the .eps file that you will need for any high-quality printing, for logo’d clothing, for billboards or large digital displays. You can get a feeling for the difference between a jpg and eps file by putting any jpg image into a word processing document. Now select the image and drag it until it fills the page. You will see it lose quality.

  • A transparent version of your logo or .png file for use on color backgrounds. That way you avoid seeing the white bounding box. This should be SOP for any designer.

  • A favicon is a variation of your logo designed for today's social media marketplace. These are square images ranging from 16X16 to 100X100 pixel images required by Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites where the template limitations make it impossible to run your full logo. A favicon (get a .eps) can be a reduced version of your logo or a specially designed alternative version. If you intend to have a significant online or social media presence.

  • Color palette. At minimum, you ought to know what colors are actually used in your logo and what typeface and styles are in use. A more detailed "branding book" or "identity guide" may be an option with your designer and may be worth having.