Designer creating product labels.

Best Practices For Creating Product Labels

There’s more to creating product labels than meeting legal requirements. Your product labels don’t just tell consumers the product name and company name; they tell consumers what to expect from your products and encourage them to pick you over your competitors. What makes great product labels? While there are many opinions, a few practices are standard across the industry. Answering these questions when you start designing your next label will help you come up with a functional, effective design.
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Laws and Industry Practices to Comply With 

For the most part, compliance is straightforward. You need to follow the regulations for your specific product, whether it’s a food, a cosmetic, or a consumer product. That said, there are some common mistakes people make when they create new product labels.

Drugs are defined by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) as being “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease” or “intended to affect the structure of any function of the body.” Cosmetic products like sun-protecting foundation and dandruff-treating shampoos fall into this category. Some companies avoid strict drug regulations by removing health claims from product labels. However, anything that contains recognized medicine ingredients is still considered a drug.

In most cases, alcoholic beverages need a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) from the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau. You must obtain a COLA before you start using your new beer or wine label design. Minor changes to your label template, like holiday graphics, contest information, and updated UPC codes (barcodes), don’t require a new COLA.

To avoid energy drink legislation, the American Beverage Association established guidelines for marketing and labeling these beverages. While you aren’t legally required to follow ABA guidelines, customers expect to see the information required by these labels. You can read more about this in our blog “Important Requirements for Energy Drink Labels.”

What Are the Latest Trends?

While classic designs are great for heritage brands, falling behind current trends makes your new product’s label look dated. Today, people are turning their backs on the minimalist look of the 2010s in favor of more colorful designs. We’re seeing throwbacks to bright color schemes of the 60s and Y2K designs, as well as more natural tones and textures. Fonts are also becoming more experimental, with serif styles making a comeback. Take these new designs into account during your design process when creating your own product labels so you can stay ahead of the curve.

What Story Are You Telling With Your Packaging?

Look at the packaging designs around you. If you don’t read what’s on the label, can you tell just by the product packaging what the product is or who the target customers are? First impressions are key — and good design is crucial for your brand identity, especially for a small business

Colors, graphic design elements, and fonts give consumers an overall perspective of your product. Take food product labels, for example: While junk food uses bright colors, healthy snacks tend to use softer, natural colors. It’s these design details that help consumers zero in on your product. Study your competitors and consider which aspects of their labeling establish their place in the market.

How Is Your Product Stored and Where Is It Used? 

Pressure-sensitive labels are made of several layers, each affecting the label’s overall performance. When you order custom labels for the first time, make sure you discuss these parameters with your printer. Your product will determine the type of label it requires. For example, if you’re making bath products, you need high-quality label material that stands up to high humidity and direct water contact. Making food that’s kept in a freezer? You need materials that stand up to moisture and extreme temperatures (so a paper label sticker won’t do). Making a product that spends its time outdoors or next to windows? You need to consider UV bleaching.

How Many Labels Do You Need, and What Size Should They Be? 

All products have a Principal Display Panel (PDP), which faces the consumer. Most products also need a second information panel with additional product details. The rules on how these panels are applied are flexible, giving you several options for label formatting. The general rule is to cover as much of the container as possible. Maximize the space you have to explain and draw attention to the product. There are several approaches you can take to get this coverage. 

A wrap label goes around the side of a round container or multiple sides of a rectangular container. Wrap labels are simple because there is only one label size. However, these labels create some challenges. For example, long labels tend to skew when they’re wrapped around bottles. Our vertical trunnion roller system avoids this by holding the bottle in place, so it can’t rock back and forth during application.

Front and back labeling systems utilize two labelers, one on each side which simultaneously labels both the front and back sides of the product. Our 360a Series Top Bottom Split Conveyor Labeling System uses two applicators with two label rolls. The machine applies both labels at the same time, increasing speed and decreasing errors.

There are two secondary labels you may want to use on your products. Neck labels are used on bottles to add extra decoration and visual interest. Tamper-proof labels wrap around the lid and the side of the container. The only way to open the container is by tearing this label.

Do Your Labels Complement the Packaging? 

While it’s easy to focus solely on the label design, it helps to remember that it goes on a container with its own shape and color. Using contrasting colors between the label and the container helps your product stand out on the shelf.

Clear labels are a common choice when packaging translucent liquids in clear bottles. That way, customers can see the product. While these labels can be used with any pressure adhesive label applicator, you need to get a capacitive sensor. This sensor detects the label position based on the thickness of the label and backing paper. 

Are You Adjusting for the Shape of the Label and Container?

Label designs need to compensate for the containers they’re placed on. Using a wrap label on a rectangular container? The panels need to be spaced out to accommodate the folds around the corners. Labeling a round container? They have slightly angled surfaces to help them release from molds. Even if the angle is just one or two degrees, it will make a flat label skew during application.

Even the highest quality prints aren’t perfectly aligned. It’s a good idea to leave at least a 1/8-inch border along the edges of the label. That way, small changes in printing alignment won’t cut off important information.

Are You Getting Sample Prints for Color Accuracy?

Before you use your new custom labels, you need to get a sample print. Why? Printing and screens use different methods to create colors. Computer screens use RGB color mode, which is an additive process. Red, green and blue are added to a black screen to get the right color. Label printing uses CMYK color mode, which is a subtractive process. Starting with a white sheet of paper, cyan, yellow, magenta, and black ink are added to get the right color. While professional monitors and software can emulate CMYK, the colors on a screen won’t be quite the same as the label. The only way to know what your label design looks like is with a print.

Get the Speed and Accuracy You Need for Your Production System

The best product label design won’t help your business if its application causes problems. If you need new labeling equipment, contact CTM Labeling Systems. Our local distributors will assess your production needs and create a solution that gets your new product labels on your containers without interrupting production.

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