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Wondering how to measure your container before you design a label for it? This should be your first step each time you add a new container size or shape to your product line. Do it before you plan out the label design and artwork! Here’s our tips for how to do it and things to watch out for.

Container Shape

If your container is a regularly-shaped round bottle or tin, or a square or rectangle, measuring is very easy. 

Round Containers

Width

If you have a flexible measuring tape (like tailors use), just wrap that around the bottle to get its circumference.

Don’t have a flexible measuring tape? You can use a piece of string or a piece of paper. Wrap it around the bottle, mark the end, then lay it flat and measure it with a ruler.

Alternately, you can measure across the bottom of the bottle, take that number, and multiply it by 3.14 (pi) to get the circumference.

If you want a gap between the two ends of the label (which we recommend), subtract 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the circumference to get the width of your label. If you want an overlap, add 1/8 to 1/4 inch.

Height

Round bottles sometimes have necks that are a different diameter, or a curve where the side of the bottle meets the bottom. Sometimes they have decorative ridges or patterns. Do not include these areas when measuring your container’s height. You may wish to subtract 1.8 of an inch from the height, as well, so that you have a bit more leeway in label placement during application.

Square or Rectangular Containers

These are really easy. Measure the height of the container, then the width of the container. If there are any decorative ridges or if the edges are rounded, measure inside those areas.

Once again, we recommend subtracting about 1/8 inch from both in order to make the label placement easier.

don't include ridges when measuring your containers

For example, this white cap has a small ridge. If you wanted a round label for the cap, we’d recommend measuring the area inside the ridge to get the right size. Based on these measurements, and allowing some leeway for label placement, a 2” round label would work well.

But Wait…

Some containers that appear to be round or rectangular may not be. And those are the ones that we worry about.

If your container or packaging has any concave (curved in) or convex (curved out) areas, or is tapered, you need to take that into consideration when you design your labels.

Labels designed for flat round or square surfaces can’t be used on these irregular containers. The labels may flag (edges come up) or wrinkle, they may tear or fail to adhere properly, the ends may overlap in an untidy fashion. They just look wrong. Not the image you want your products to present! 

Check First

How can you tell if your container is tapered or otherwise shaped in a way that will impact your labels? Once again, a ruler comes in handy. Or in the case of the convex plastic container shown in our examples below, a level. A customer sent us this container, to ask why their labels weren’t working. We put our level on the plastic container, and as you can see, the surface slopes down from the center. It may look square from above, but it’s not. Putting a square label on this surface will lead to wrinkles, as our customer discovered.

not as simple as it looks to measure your containers
Seems like a regular square or rectangular label might fit here.
Convex shapes require special measuring
But a closer look reveals that the shape is convex. It needs a more curved label to avoid creasing.

To check for tapering, stand the end of a solid ruler or straight edge on a flat surface. Place the container close to the straight edge, with its bottom on the same surface. Is the straight edge against the surface of the container all the way along the side, or is there a gap somewhere? (You can also use this method to check for concave or convex areas.)

it's easy to measure straight-sided containers
The ruler touches this bottle all the way along the side. It’s not tapered.
tapered containers need more measurements
The container has a gap at the bottom. It is tapered and will need more measurements to get a properly-fitted label.

Note: If your container is flexible (thin plastic, etc.), check for these concave, convex, or tapered areas when the container is as it will be when labeled (so, full if full, empty if empty). This may make a difference.

What If I Have an Irregular Container?

When you send us label artwork, we assume you have checked it thoroughly against your needs. We almost always create a digital proof (unless you decline that) with all the specifications you send us. Your job doesn’t go into production until after you approve that proof. We take full responsibility for printing your labels with the artwork and data you send us, on the material you ordered, with the colors you specify. Any of that stuff comes out wrong? It’s our responsibility to correct it. We take that very seriously. 

On the other hand, if we print your label to your exact specifications, but it does not work on your containers, that falls outside the range of our quality guarantee. We can’t know how you plan to use the labels or how your container is shaped. Save yourself some time and aggravation by making sure it’s right the first time.

Options

If your container is indeed an irregular shape, don’t despair. It may be more difficult to measure your container, but you can still order labels that will look amazing and draw in customers. We recommend that you do any or all of the following:

Engage a packaging designer. Make sure they are versed in print design, not just digital or graphic design. Designing for physical objects is fundamentally different than web or image design. Give them a sample of your container so they can see and measure it themselves. They should be able to prototype a label design for you. Labels designed for a tapered container need to have a bit of a curve to them; how big the curve is depends on how much the container tapers.

Once you have your label designed and you put in your order, request a print proof from us, for $65. A print proof will be identical in all ways to your final product. This will make the order process slightly longer, as we will need to print one copy and send it to you via USPS or other mail service. We won’t run the order until you have received the proof and verified that you want us to go ahead.

Ordering a print proof costs a tiny bit more than our free digital proofs, but it can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. This is especially true if you can apply the proof under the same conditions as the final labels will be applied (I.e., by hand or by machine, container full or empty, etc.).

Talk to us. Our sales and customer care team combined has more than 70 years of label design and printing experience, and can help you figure out how to label the trickiest of containers. 

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