Not only do they make your company beer koozies look sharp, but they also attract the right customers by letting people instantaneously understand who you are and what you stand for. In other words, they’re really important to building your business’ brand reputation.
Here are some of the best ways to create a logo:
- Logo maker: you can use a free website to churn out a logo in less than an hour. (Note that if you actually want to use that logo, you will have to pay for it in most cases.)
- Logo design contest: designers from all over the world pitch you multiple ideas for a logo. You give feedback and in the end select your perfect logo from the finalists.
- Work with a freelance designer: you collaborate with a single artist to create your logo.
- Hire a design agency: you work with a fully staffed design team on your logo design, often in the larger context of branding your business and conducting market research.
How do you know which is right for you? Each option has its advantages and drawbacks.
Free to use and $10-$50 to purchase
Wide range from several hundred to thousands of dollars
Packages from $200-$1300
Ten minutes to an hour for basic design
Weeks to months depending on the freelancer
One to two weeks
Usually several months depending on the agency
Basic and generic logos built with a selection of stock icons and fonts
Varies depending on the skills of the freelancer and your feedback
Expect a range. Premium packages result in more options & experienced designers.
High quality designs from a full-service team of creative strategists
Who should use it
Extremely budget- & time-conscious businesses that are OK with a basic design
Businesses that have a specific style in mind and an understanding of the design process
Businesses that are interested in seeing many design options
Well-resourced businesses that want a complete, top-to-bottom branding package
But it’s one thing for me to tell you what the pros and cons of each approach are. Instead, I am going to show you how the different ways of creating a logo compare by putting each to the test.
Where to start when creating a logo
Before you create your logo, you should have a clear vision of the brand values your logo will express. How are you different from your competitors? Who are your customers? What do you want them to feel when they hear your name? Even if your business is already established and/or you’ve done some thinking around this in the past, it is a good idea to revisit your brand strategy so that you can pass this along to designers.
When the time does come to get your logo designed, you have several options. To help you make an informed decision, I’ve come up with an imaginary business on which I will test each option myself. And I have given the brand some heart to make sure that I am critical of each logo I get. Hence, the client for this project is the hardest working lady I know: my mother.
Her love of travel, coffee, and good conversation has led me to imagine my mom as the proprietor of a cozy coffee shop in the backstreets of Paris: Café Laurier, after the French word for “laurel” which is where her name, Laura, comes from. This dream might not be a reality (yet!), but I can at least realize it in some small way with a beautiful logo.
Without further ado, let’s see how the different ways of getting a logo measure up.
>> Need help on your branding? Get inspired with our ultimate guide to branding.
Logo makers: create a logo yourself
What is a logo maker?
A logo maker is a free-to-use web application that allows you to create a logo by selecting from libraries of fonts, shapes, icons and colors. Although they’re free to play with, you have to purchase your final logo most of the time in order to use it. Purchase prices range from $10-$50, with most in the $40 range. After purchasing the final logo and a usage license, you can freely stick it on your website, packaging, signage, promotional materials and more.
How a logo maker works
Start by picking the application you want to use. These are the logo makers I chose to try out:
Each of these operates a bit differently, but they all guide you through these four basic steps:
- Enter your business’s name
- Select an icon
- Choose a typeface
- Pick a color
- Pay and download your logo
My logo builder experience
Out of all of the applications, LogoMakr was the most customizable and really captured the design-it-yourself feel. It consists of a blank canvas with some graphics tools—essentially a barebones vector program. You can either make your logo completely from scratch or choose an icon from their database—by far the most extensive of the three. While it gives you a lot of editorial freedom, you may struggle if you’ve never worked with design programs before. There is a how-it-works video that pops up when you first open the page, but this is less intuitive than the step-by-step approach of the others. If you are looking for something easy and fast, this may not be the best option, but overall, LogoMakr had the others beat in terms of customizability and quality.
designhill had a promising start—an intuitive process backed up by a nicely designed interface—but a poor follow-through. After choosing from a catalogue of logos to describe my visual style, I was prompted to pick the actual icon for my logo. These icons were nothing like the sample logos—just simple outlines of generic objects—which felt like a bait-and-switch. The sample logos may not have been the most amazing I’ve ever seen, but they were masterpieces compared with what designhill delivered.
LogoMaker had me worried from the beginning. It went through similar step-by-step choices but in a much less appealing menu of drop down boxes and text fields. Everything worked fine, but the design of the interface didn’t inspire much confidence, considering design was what I came to this platform looking for. Sure enough, the logos I ended up with looked very dated (think Microsoft Word clipart from 1997). I also ran the same query a second time, and the same icons showed up with different font styles, meaning the fonts were paired at random.
Logo maker conclusion
All in all, was the process easy? Absolutely. I never felt lost in any of the applications. Was it inexpensive? Yep. Everything was free-to-use and I only paid for what I needed. Was it fast? Yessir. Each program I used only took a few minutes. Did I get Mom-worthy results? Definitely not. There is nothing about any of them that stands out. So, are the logos usable? Yes, in a pinch. Do they say anything about how unique and awesome my mom’s cafe will be? Not so much.
Logo makers work best for clients who…
- have a budget under $100
- need a logo fast
- are not concerned about trademarking
- need a temporary logo
Logo maker pros
- They’re inexpensive. Basic logo packages start at $10.
- They’re really fast. If you’re not too picky and don’t tweak your design, you’ll be done in minutes.
- They cut out the middleman. You do the work yourself.
Logo maker cons
- Your results will be generic. You only have a small library of templates, images, fonts and colors to choose from. Plus, there will likely be many other logos that look similar to (if not the same as) yours.
- You can’t customize. Unless you know how to use external graphic editing programs, what you see is what you get.
- You’re at the mercy of your own skill set. Along with the limitations of the web application, how your logo looks is determined by your personal knowledge of color, typography and design.
>> Logo maker your top choice? Check our list of the best logo makers.
Logo design contests: working with multiple designers
What is a design contest?
A logo design contest is a crowdsourced competition in which an international community of designers submit multiple logo proposals based on your creative brief. Throughout the contest, you’re able to interact with designers and give feedback on different versions. You get lots of unique ideas created specifically for your business and get to choose one (or more) as a favorite to purchase.
Design contests differ from logo makers in that your logo is created by real designers (so is totally bespoke), and you receive the exclusive copyright to the design at the end of the process.
How a design contest works
All you need to do is make an account on the platform’s website, follow their instructions to launch a contest, and designers registered to the site will compete to win your prize.
For my logo contest, I went with 99designs.
(Full disclosure: this article is being published on the 99designs blog, and I work for 99designs. That said, I have done my best to give a fair depiction of my experience.)
99designs provides a few pricing options which affect the prize amount, and by extension the number of designers who will be interested in the contest. In addition, higher tier contests restrict the designers allowed access based on their quality level (as assessed by 99designs’ quality experts). I chose a Gold contest, which is open only to designers ranked Mid and Top level.
From there, the process goes as follows:
- Choose examples of designs that appeal to your vision.
- Select several qualities that exemplify you business
- Select color preference
- Write in the details of your brief
- Add external documents such as a mood board or a wireframe
- Pay and launch
Once your contest is up and running, all you have to do is wait for the designs to roll in.
My logo contest experience
The brief process was more robust than any that I experienced with logo makers while still managing to feel straightforward. Every step, from choosing words that describe my business to designs that describe my visual style, gave me multiple, diverse options. My answers felt like they had real weight given that designers would be interpreting them, not a computer algorithm. Also, the images showcased were actual designs that have been produced on the platform, so I knew I had a chance at getting something similar in quality, if not better.
Writing freeform about my business, competitors and audience was the most time-consuming part, probably more so than it would be for any other design brief. Because I knew that designers would be choosing to enter my contest, I had to treat the brief like an advertisement. This meant that I was as descriptive as possible in the hopes that designers would really care about the brand before entering.
The contest definitely delivered in terms of volume. I launched it at night and woke to twenty or so designs awaiting review, many of them I was already excited about. While this was great, clients new to design might find it overwhelming. I learned quickly that there is a lot of management involved in a design contest if you are (and should be) committed to giving feedback. I had to think about each design that had potential, articulate my opinion of it, assign a rating, and work with multiple designers simultaneously to develop their concept.
That said, the platform provides you with several handy communication tools. You can draw and comment on specific parts of the design, choose from a list of standard feedback responses if you get stuck and organize polls to have your friends weigh in.
In terms of quality, the designs got off to a great start and got better and better. This is likely because I chose the higher tier contest, and I submitted a detailed brief, which designers seemed to appreciate. I was also surprised at how the designers managed to create substantial variety while still adhering to my specific stylistic directions in the brief. There were a few designs that went after generic coffee shop imagery (coffee cups, beans, croissants, etc.), but even those were infinitely better than anything I saw in the logo makers, many of them illustrated by hand.
Here are a few of my favorite entries into my design contest:
By far the hardest part of the entire process was choosing one winner out of the many talented designers I worked with. But it was an incredible experience to work with so many designers I may not have found on my own.
Design contest conclusion
All in all, was the process easy? Yes and no. I was never lost at any point in the process, and much of the work I put into managing the contest was self-inflicted. I could have sat back and hoped for the ideal logo to come in. But I know that explaining my vision in a clear and compelling way is how you ensure that happens. In the end, I’d say the work I put in was a small investment for the excellent results that I got.
Was it inexpensive? Compared to other ways of getting a design (more on that later), yes, and I could have chosen a lower price point if I’d wanted to. Was it fast? At seven days for a logo that will embody my mom’s amazing business, yes. Did I get Mom-worthy results? I’m mocking up business cards as we speak.
Design contests work best for clients who…
- have a budget between $299-$1299
- can wait one to two weeks for a logo
- are unsure of the exact stylistic direction of their brand
- are looking to make contacts with many designers for future projects
- are newer to design
Design contest pros
- You get multiple options to choose from.
- The design options you get are created specifically for your business. Designers find you, not the other way around. You’re not looking at a profile and guessing/hoping the designer’s style will work for you.
- They offer professional quality at affordable prices. With prices on different sites running from $150-$1300, design contests are accessible to both small businesses and larger companies.
- They’re pretty fast. If you make getting a logo your priority and provide timely feedback to designers, you can get a professional logo in a week.
Design contest cons
- They do require your time. You’ll need to put together an informative brief and give regular feedback in order to get the perfect design; otherwise, you might end with something off-the-mark.
- You will get entries that vary in quality. Most design contests are open to both beginner and experienced designers. Good communication and a higher price point can help you attract more experienced designers to your contest.
- You will see work in draft form. Most designers will enter a rough concept to gauge your interest before spending their time and energy perfecting it.
>> Design contest your top choice? Learn about what makes a successful contest.
Freelance designers: working one-to-one to create a logo
What is a freelancer designer?
A freelancer is an independent designer who works on a project-by-project basis. Because freelancers are self-employed, they set their own rates and schedule. For logo design, rates typically range from several hundred to many thousands of dollars, and can be charged on either an hourly or per-project basis. In terms of skill level and talent, freelancers can vary tremendously. If you’re looking to hire a freelancer, you’ll do so by vetting their portfolio of past work, analyzing their style and trusting that they’ll be able to give you a similar quality and style of work for your project.
How to work with a freelance designer
Freelancers can come from anywhere. Many people like to find them through word-of-mouth referrals and personal connections. These are often your best option because the designer will have been vetted by a friend or colleague, and you’ll be able to ask honest questions about skill, quality, schedule and cost. If you don’t have connections, you can find a local freelancer through Google and Yelp, or through an online freelance design platform.
To find a freelancer for my logo project, I’ve chosen—you guessed it—99designs. Besides working with multiple designers in a design contest scenario, you can also contact individual designers and work with them directly using 99designs’ Designer Search feature. Here’s how it works:
- Select your parameters (the designer’s specialty, industry experience, activeness on the site and much more)
- Browse the list that populates. This includes a preview of each designer’s profile and average client ratings
- Click on designers you are interested in to view their full portfolio. Here, you can check out their bio, client reviews in detail and other important stats (responsiveness score, number of contests won, number of repeat clients, etc).
- When you’ve found the one, click the “Invite to work” button
- Follow the instructions to describe what you need, upload your references and specify your budget
- Wait for the designer to accept or reject the offer. The project will either begin or you’ll go back to step one
Because I got a lot of great, vintage-looking designs in my contest, I decided to go in a different stylistic direction for this project. This led me to Lucadia and their colorful, modern illustrations. Once I had sent the brief, Lucadia and I negotiated the timeframe and budget for the project, settling on one week and $600USD.
My experience with a freelance designer
While there was a lot less management that went into the project than the contest, I spent most of my time sifting through designer profiles at the start of the process. This was not because the designers were poor in quality. Rather, I was looking for someone who matched my stylistic vision, price range and availability requirements.
Once the project had started, the workflow was much more relaxed. I’d decided what I was looking for ahead of time, and this cut down on the back and forth. Most of the time, I waited for Lucadia to provide a concept, I provided feedback and the cycle repeated.
It is a good idea to discuss how many revisions and concepts the invoice price includes. In my case, we went through a total of three concepts before settling on The One, and that was mostly just to make sure the vibe of the logo felt right. Even with these early drafts, it was clear I was in good hands with Lucadia.
Some of our communications were several hours apart due time zone differences (Lucadia is in Europe, and I am in the US), but the designer’s location is shown on their profile if this is a consideration for you. Being the busy writer that I am, this was the perfect pace for me.
I found the project space to be a lot more secure than other collaboration environments like email or skype. It consists of a message log (allowing you to reference past conversations and agreed upon terms), the same feedback tools from the contest (see previous section), and file storage and organization. You are also prompted to secure the invoice ahead of time (i.e., to hold the funds on 99designs until you approve the designs). This definitely beats an over-email scenario in which the client might pay too early and receive unfinished designs or a freelancer might work on faith that the client won’t run off.
In terms of design quality, you could say there were no surprises here. I’d researched Lucadia’s portfolio beforehand, so I had an idea of what to expect. Even so, the final interpretation of Cafe Laurier’s logo took my breath away. Lucadia gets most of the credit here, but I don’t think I would have ended up with a logo half as good if I hadn’t spent the time settling on a direction and vetting designers’ portfolios and reviews. And yet, I still consider myself lucky that I ended up with a designer who was professional, open to feedback, and an awesome artist.
Freelance designer conclusion
All in all, was the process easy? The hardest part was settling on a designer. Because you choose a freelancer for their portfolio, you also have to know what you want ahead of time. After all that, the process is straightforward.
Was it inexpensive? With freelancers, that is relative. But on the upside, it was easier to find a designer that matched both my budget and stylistic needs within the large pool that a site like 99designs provides. Was it fast? For me, the process took about a week, and you can specify your desired turnaround time at the start of the project.
Did I get Mom-worthy results? Absolutely, yes. This logo looks like a world I want to live in.
Freelance designers work best for clients who….
- have a mid-range budget. 99designs has calculated the average range for logo projects as between $249 – $1,199, depending on the freelancer’s experience and quality
- have a clear vision of what style of design they want
- prefer a leisurely workflow
- want to be involved in the design process from start to finish
- They’re collaborative. You get to work one-on-one with a designer who can take your ideas, brand personality and style, and transforms them into a logo.
- They’re usually experienced. Freelancers have likely built up a portfolio of work from a variety of clients, and understand how to translate your ideas into graphics.
- They’re flexible. Freelancers can customize a project to make sure it fits your needs, though often you choose them specifically for their style.
- Their quality varies—a lot. Freelancers range from newbies to experts.
- The vetting process can be time-consuming, especially if you don’t have a background in design.
- It’s easy to accidentally go over-budget. Per-project freelancers will typically set a rate that includes a certain number of design revisions. If you don’t get exactly what you want in within those parameters, you can expect to pay more. Hourly freelancers can typically give you an estimate, but at the end of the day you can’t be 100% sure how long something will take. Clients should also remember to ask in advance how long revisions will take.
>> Freelancer your top choice? Check our tips on how to find and hire a freelance designer
Design agencies: commissioning a holistic brand
What is a design agency?
An agency is a company that specializes in design (and usually bigger picture branding). Their professionally-trained teams work with clients of all kinds to build their brands. Again, rates and schedules are set by the agency itself, but logo designs typically start above $10,000 and have a creative development process that could take months. However, this logo creation process will also likely include time spent on market research and competitive analysis to make sure your brand fits in (or stands out) with current marketing and design trends in your industry.
How to work with a design agency
The size and scope of design agencies varies widely. Many are multinational firms with experts all over the world that can bring a range of skills and cultural insight to the brand-development process. Others are local and prefer to work with businesses in their immediate community. Some agencies have a singular focus—either on a particular industry or a specific design style. If you’re looking into a design agency, explore all of your options and consider what’s important to you before you make a decision.
The branding agency logo creation experience
As much as I’d like to spend thousands of dollars to give Cafe Laurier the agency treatment, we’re going to settle for examples from a similar project. Meet Bond—a multi-disciplinary studio with a global scope based in Helsinki. They create smart, comprehensive identities for clients that range from startups to high value corporations.
In the coffee realm, they developed the brand for Coffee & Co., a cruise-liner cafe aimed at passengers from all walks of life. Far beyond just a logo, Bond developed the entire look and sound of the brand—from the logo to packaging items to a custom script lettering.
This is the power of agencies: to see design and branding from all angles. Agencies can dig into every single nitty-gritty detail of design to create a comprehensive package of brand guidelines that will make your business stand out with its own style, voice and personality. Need an expert in vintage cafe signage? Or a copywriter that can craft a perfect slogan? That’s where an agency comes in.
Design agencies work best for clients who…
- have a budget in the quintuple digits
- are looking for full-service branding
- have months to perfect their logo design and brand identity
- want to be involved in the design and branding process from start to finish
- They are the experts. You’ll be getting the best of the best.
- They offer more than just design; logo makers and design contests are fun, but it can be stressful (especially if you have more than one good option) not being sure if you’re picking the logo that best communicates your brand values. Agencies are able to guide you through the process (and back up their opinions with data).
- They are very expensive. Typically in the tens-of-thousands of dollars range.
- They take their time. The creative process isn’t usually fast (unless you’re willing to pay even more).
>> Agency your top choice? Check our our list of famous agencies from around the globe
What is the best way to get a logo designed?
Fair question. No easy answer. And that’s OK. Every business has a different set of needs and that’s exactly why these different options exist. It boils down to determining what’s important for you at this stage of your business.
Are time and/or money insurmountable issues right now? Consider a temporary, generic logo from a logo maker.
Looking for a variety of options and a balance between affordability and design expertise? Launch a logo design contest.
Did you find a trusted freelancer that can match your style and work within your budget? Work with them.
Seeking a comprehensive, world-class branding package? Get with an agency.
Whichever method you choose, come prepared with a clear idea of who your brand is and how you want to present it to the world. Remember: your logo is your brand’s first impression. Make it a good one.
Ready to get a professional logo for your business?
A logo design contest can get you dozens of ideas from professional designers around the world.
This article was originally published in 2016 and written by Samual Lundquist. It has been updated with new information and examples.