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Effective product labels describe their product as well as help it to stand out from competitors on the shelf. There are no set rules to product label design, and you have many choices in the layout, size, shape, colors and more. However, adhering to certain guidelines can certainly lead to a well-designed product label and, ultimately, more sales. This post outlines the main aspects of creating an effective product label and provides tips you can use during the design process.

Label Design Software

A good first step to creating your product label is deciding which software to use in the design process. There are many good graphic design software choices available today. The best advice we can give here is to choose an application that you are comfortable using. It is important to know that whichever software you choose should have the ability to save or export your artwork as an EPS or PDF file. You may also want the ability to convert all fonts in the design file to outlines. Some printers will request that you do this; converting fonts to outlines transforms all text in your artwork into vector objects, ensuring that the appearance of the text remains as you see it on your screen when the art file is sent from your software to the printer.

We recommend vector graphics programs such as Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, or InDesign for the creation of your product label. In some cases, depending upon the resolution, graphics, and colors chosen, artwork from applications such as Photoshop will also work.

Color Choice

The colors used on your product label design are very important as they can directly influence the buyer’s purchasing decisions. Studies show that:

  • 85% of consumers identify color as the primary consideration when choosing a product.
  • 60% of the product’s first impression is based on label color.
  • 90 seconds is the average time it takes for a customer to make a decision on what product to buy.

Several factors should be considered when choosing the coloring for your product labels. You may want to consider the color of the container or, if the container is clear, the color of the product. You don’t want your product label to clash with these. In addition, you want consistent colors across your product lines.

Color Sets the Mood

Color is universal, but the meaning of colors is not. Depending on the market, you may wish to use different colors. Here’s how the basic colors are seen in North America:

Remember, you want your product to stand out on the shelves when seen next to its competitors. Before you start the design process for your product labels, do a little competitive research and analysis in some local stores.

Spot Color Versus Full Color

Directly related to the above, consider whether you want your product labels to be printed using spot or full-color (also called process or CMYK) printing. Spot colors typically limit you to one, two, or three single colors. In this type of printing, you may have just black ink on the printed piece, you may have black and blue ink, or you might choose black, red, and blue ink, and so on. The samples below are each made with two ink colors on gloss white label material, but convey very different impressions because of font and color choices. (Click on the images if you wish to see more detail.)

Hand soap label

Sample spot color product label printed on gloss white with black and PMS 7422 pink ink. Pink elements are embossed.

Wine label

Sample wine label printed on white gloss paper with black and PMS 187 red ink. Wine name is embossed.

Full-color printing is more complex and uses all four main printing colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) blended together to create the printed piece. If you want to reproduce a color photograph on your label, you’ll need full color printing. The two labels below are each CMYK, one on gloss white material and the other on brown kraft paper. (These images are clickable as well.)

Sample full color label

Sample full-color label printed on white gloss paper finished with a high-gloss laminate.

 

Soy candle label

Sample full-color label printed on brown kraft paper with a matte UV finish.

Spot color printing has traditionally been the lower cost option, but the prices for many full-color printed label items are now very comparable in price.

Fonts

Your font choices are important and deserve careful consideration and planning. Don’t settle for the typical system fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, etc. when designing your product labels. And don’t go crazy, with different fonts for every line – unless that’s the look you think your product needs.

How Do I Choose?

Fonts have personality, so pick a font that will help the product to stand out, or one that captures the “flavor” of the product. For example, if the product is a hot taco sauce, try a font that is fun or plays up to the spicy aspect of the product. If the product is in the automotive market, try a bold font or one that portrays an aspect of toughness or longevity.

Look at the fonts used in the four labels shown in the section above. See how each adds nuance to the label? The font used for Femme Fatale Merlot has a bit of intrigue to it, while the handwritten font for Grandma’s Finest harks back to homemade. The rough border on the label increases the homemade feeling.

One of the most important considerations of font choice, however, is to ensure your text is easily readable – both from a distance of several feet (for the main text on the font) and from up close. You literally only have a few seconds to attract the attention of potential buyers, so your font must be easy to read at just a quick glance.

There are many online sources where you can get fonts either at a low cost or completely free of charge. Just search for free fonts and you’ll find literally hundreds of great fonts for your label projects. Have some fun. Pick a font that goes well with the product and that is easy to read and you’ll be fine.

Product & Company Name

It should go without saying, but be sure to feature the product and/or company name prominently on the label design, so that it is easily identifiable. It is also important to stay consistent with the look of the brand so that customers can quickly find the product on the shelf next time they go shopping. The company’s contact information is also an important aspect of effective label design. Clearly listed contact information is essential in enhancing a product and encouraging communication with customers. If you want customer feedback, consider including information like an 800 number, website address, physical address, or social media accounts on the label when possible.

Label Material

Before you begin the actual design process, it’s also a good idea to choose the product label’s material, or at least narrow the field. Whatever your design, it ultimately needs to be in sync with your label material. Common label material choices are white, clear, or cream. Gold or silver foil, black paper, and brown kraft paper are also commonly available. Choosing a colored material can help your design to stand out from the packaging. Choosing a clear label material may be useful for creating custom shapes or to make the label better blend in with or display the color of the contents or container.

Sample spot color label

The Pioneer Bakery chose copper foil on a silver label material for their simple, attractive label. This is a spot color label.

Clear label sample

Taste of Eden chose a clear label so that the shower gel color would show through. The image here is CMYK.

Finishes

Adding a matte or glossy finish to your label is something that can also impact the appeal of your product label. Lamination can add longevity to the life of the label and helps to prevent smearing. In addition, a standard matte laminate lends a classic, subdued look to your product label, while a high-gloss laminate adds impact to colors and offers a shiny, almost reflective quality to the label. The apple butter label above has a high-gloss finish; the Letterpress candle has a matte one. Some finishes increase moisture or fade resistance. You can select specialty laminates that add glitter or sparkle to a label, too.

Graphics / Images

Remember the old adage that “a picture is worth 1,000 words”? Well, this is especially true on product labels. Professional graphics such as drawings or photographs can go a long way to drawing attention to your product. If you don’t have your own graphics or product photos, there are numerous sources online, including iStockphoto and Bigstock where you can find inexpensive, highly professional images. You can choose from vector illustrations or photographs and the pricing is very reasonable, often as little as just a few dollars per image. But be sure to check any licensing agreements for restrictions on usage. Or you can run a contest at someplace like 99designs.com, and have a number of designs submitted for your approval.

Bleed or No Bleed?

“Bleed” essentially means that your artwork flows off the edges of the label; the color goes past where the final, trimmed edge will be. When it is cut, there are no visible margins to your label. The label material will not show at the edges. No bleed means your label has a white (or other label material color) border around the artwork. Note: If you decide on a bleed, text or graphic elements that need to appear on the label should be within the final dimension of the cut label; background color or design is the only element that should be in the bleed area.

Label Dimensions

Size

Your label size choice will largely depend on the product’s container or packaging. You may also have the option of designing a single label, or using two labels for the front and back of the product. With front and back labels, you can separate the branding / design on the front of the label from other, text-heavy items. The back or side is a better place for things like ingredients or instructions. Purchasing two separate labels for the product may not be the most cost-effective choice, however.

Alternatively, you can also design a single “wrap-around” label. You can then design a front panel that is appealing and enticing, while leaving the smaller, more text-based items to the side or back. The “Taste of Eden” shower gel and Grandma’s Finest” apple butter labels above are examples of this option.

Shape

The shape of your label can certainly help to draw attention to the product on the shelf. Most label print shops offer many stock label shapes including rectangles, squares, ovals, circles, seals, hearts, and others. We also offer the ability to order any custom shape you may need. Ordering a custom shape label may incur a one-time die charge. Another option for the appearance of a custom-shaped label would be to choose a clear label stock and then create the shape in the design, by using a background color, for instance. The clear shower gel label above appears to have a scalloped edge, for instance, because of the wavy line at the top.

Barcode

Barcode image
The barcode is the portion of the label that tells electronic scanners about your product. First used in grocery stores, barcodes now make it easier for all kinds of sales. You can also use UPC (Universal Product Code) barcodes to help track your inventory or add security to your products.

Product UPCs must be obtained through a company called the Uniform Code Council (UCC). Manufacturers apply to the UCC for permission to enter the UPC system, which requires a small annual fee. In return for membership, the UCC issues each manufacturer a unique six-digit “manufacturer identification number.” It also provides guidelines on how to use the number. Once a manufacturer has this information, they can then pass it along to any printer capable of producing barcode labels. We can handle the job from there. (More barcode details.)

Wrap It Up

So, there you have it. That’s the basics of creating an effective product label. Do your research, and then use this information when you, or your graphic designer, start designing your new product labels. Have fun!

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