An image of a clear label being placed on a package.

Best Practices for Using Clear Labels

Whether you are looking for packaging labels, return address labels, product labels, etc., clear labels are a great alternative to opaque labels, because they offer new ways to display your products.

Clear product labels highlight what’s inside clear containers, and they can use the color of opaque containers as part of their design. Only the print is visible on these stickers, letting you get the look of a die-cut sticker or a printed container without the high cost. These features have made simplified prints with clear labels a major design trend.

However, using these labels also comes with unique issues. Making print visible and easy to read is difficult, while these crystal clear labels put package imperfections front and center. These best practices will help you solve design and application issues before you place your first transparent label order.

Choosing the Right Label Material

There are three types of face stock available for custom clear labels, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

BOPP, a type of polypropylene, is a popular choice for beverages. While it’s not the best for outdoor exposure, this plastic has great moisture and chemical resistance. It’s an excellent choice for HDPE containers, because BOPP and HDPE can be recycled together.

Polyester is a good choice for products exposed to extreme cold, as well as outdoor use. PET is recyclable, while rPET is made from recycled plastic.

Clear vinyl (PVC) is the most durable and expensive option for clear labels. Its use is mostly reserved for products subject to long term weather exposure and storage due to its durability and water resistance. Recycling, however, isn’t readily available.

All of these label types are also available as roll labels or sheet labels, giving you plenty of options on that front as well.

Contents are Part of the Design

When it comes to best practices for any labeling, it’s important to apply a label proof to a filled container, so that problems can be identified before ordering prints. This is especially true for clear stickers, because the product packaging has a major effect on the final look of the design.

The container can be used as part of the overall design. If you’re labeling an opaque container, the container’s color is the background color. For example, using labels allows craft brewers to switch from bottles to aluminum cans without the extra cost and order volumes required for container printing. By using clear labels, these brewers are able to integrate the soft reflective finish of a brite can into the design.

Colored liquids in clear bottles communicate the flavor to the customer at a glance, so it’s helpful to not overdesign in order to put the liquid front and center. This is a great way to differentiate between products while keeping the same design language across a product line.

Label printing isn’t 100% opaque, so the color of what’s in the container or the container itself can change the look of lettering and graphics. For example, yellow print will take on a green hue if it’s placed on a blue bottle. In most cases, bleeding can be fixed by printing colors on top of a layer of white ink.

Bolder is Better for Visibility

Since the printing isn’t on an opaque backing, it’s easy for design elements to fade and blend in on glossy clear labels.

Thick lines, bold print and strong colors help designs stand out. It also helps if the colors on your custom stickers contrast with the container. Dark colors are ideal on clear products, while light colors stand out on dark products, like whiskey and cola.

Likewise, contrasting colors help designs pop on opaque containers. If you want to use color on a white container, adding black outlines to decals helps elements stand out. Gradients and pastels should generally be avoided, as they will look washed out once the label is on the container.

Designing for Clear, Matte and Frosted Finishes

Labels with clear finishes are transparent. Applied correctly, the only part of these labels that should be visible at a distance is the printing. This makes it simple to get the eye-catching look of printed packaging without the high cost. Print on these labels looks exceptionally sharp and vibrant.

Matte labels aren’t glossy, and are often visible on the container with the right lighting. This slightly obscures the container, which helps hide imperfections. Printing on these labels looks softer, so it’s important to have hard edges on text and graphical elements.

Frosted labels have a softer finish than matte labels. When placed on clear containers, they make it look like frosted glass. This helps graphics stand out, and obscures imperfections. White printing might not be needed to increase the visibility of graphics. However, the printing needs to be sharp, so it doesn’t blend into the label’s surface. Increasing font sizes helps with clarity.

Avoiding Visibility Issues

Clear labels on a clear bottle with transparent or translucent contents allow any print to show through the bottle. This lets printing on the back show through the principal display panel, and it also obscures text on the information panel. This can be avoided by moving print elements around so they don’t overlap, or adding an opaque background to the conflicting areas.

This same issue can be used to your advantage. An opaque label on the back of the container will show through the bottle, letting you add large graphical elements. Graphics that need to be sharp, like text and logos, should be included on the front label. This gives a three-dimensional effect to your label design. For example, Surf City Still Works uses standard front label on their spirit bottles with unique backgrounds to differentiate between products.

Use a Clear Label as an Alternative to a Custom Die Label

Die-cut labels are increasing in popularity, especially for liquor labels. Their custom shapes help products stand out, but tooling for these labels is expensive. By using a clear label, you can create a custom shape through printing, adding opaque sections to create intricate shapes. While you can’t emboss clear labels, you can duplicate every other aspect of a die cut label.

There’s More to Clarity than Just the Label

Container imperfections will show through a clear label. On plastic containers, this means that casting seams may show up behind the label. On glass bottles, minor surface imperfections can distort the appearance of graphics.

Paper label liners can leave behind a residue that reduces clarity when using clear labels on clear containers. Matte and frosted labels cover up some of these imperfections, whether it’s from the package or backing. Likewise, residue from the permanent adhesives used are less visible on opaque containers. Switching to plastic liners eliminates residue, but this usually increases label costs.

Small labels can use negative space to draw the eye to the graphics. This helps draw the eye away from imperfections. Going for a small design also allows for more flexibility, since you can make changes to the container’s custom size and shape without needing new labels.

Use the Correct Sensor for Your Labeling Equipment

Pressure sensitive labeling systems usually have a light sensor to detect the beginning and end of each label. If the sensor detects more light shining through, it knows only the liner is passing through, marking the end of one label and the start of another. Obviously, this doesn’t work with clear labels.

Resistive sensors measure changes in an electric current send through the label and backing. Electrical resistance drops when the charge only passes through the liner. Resistive sensors work on both clear and full color labels, so a machine with this sensor can switch between these label types. Our new 360a Model Y labeler takes this a step further. It’s self-teaching, making it easy to calibrate new labels for accurate application.

Get the Look You Want for Your Products

While you could use an inkjet printer or other similar laser printers to print out your clear product or shipping labels, you are far more likely to encounter errors compared to a sophisticated labeling system. If you want to ensure your clear label printing is always high quality, check out what we have to offer at CTM.

CTM Labeling Systems offer a range of labeling equipment that is clear label compatible, covering most container shapes and sizes. Contact us, and we’ll set you up with a local distributor that can help you find a labeling solution that fits your needs.