Designing Bottle Labels

With the holiday season here, it’s probably crossed your mind that homebrew makes a great gift for family, friends, co-workers and anyone else who wound up on the “nice” list this year. You are already proud of the beer you brewed, but when it comes time to give your homebrew away as a gift, you’ve got to be proud of the packaging too. You don’t want to give your brew away in a bottle with a half-peeled commercial label on the bottle. Spend a little time and make your own homebrew label. In addition to making your bottles look smooth, you can then enter those labels into contests (ahem, like BYO’s annual label contest held each spring) and win great prizes! For advice on how to design a great homebrew label, we asked the experts.

Lindsay Blasquez — GrogTag Head Designer

One thing that makes a good label is humor. This is great because you don’t have to be an expert in design to create a memorable label if there is a quality pun or joke involved. I always remember the labels that make me laugh.

Something else that I think sets certain labels above the rest is good typography. The best beer pun in the world can unfortunately be ruined if written in a font like Bleeding Cowboy. Try to stick to one or two fonts and keep in mind what info is most important hierarchically when deciding font size and weight.

Danielle Olesen — StickerYou Brand Manager

Here are some of my top tips on how to design for print. Labels often look great on the computer, but the results are less than stellar when printed.

1. Avoid using either very think or very small light colored text on dark background (ex: yellow fonts on dark blue label). While it may look great zoomed in on your screen, at small sizes or with thin typefaces the text will become much less legible once printed. 
2. Choose complementary fonts and don’t go overboard with text. It can be fun to mix a lot of different fonts, but rarely does it turn out looking as cool as you originally think. If you are mixing different fonts, do a little research to make sure the fonts complement each other. 
3. Know your material! It helps when you have a basic understanding of what material your label will be printed on. Designing for a clear label is different than designing for a white vinyl label. While you can get a very cool affect on a clear label, sometimes colors are less vibrant or less opaque than expected. We have had it happen a number of times where customers upload a great design to our label maker platform, then they realize that clear vinyl is a material option and decide on a whim to try that. Yes- clear vinyl CAN look awesome, but for best results, it helps if you know which material you want to use during the actual design process and you take that into consideration when designing. 
4. Design in CMYK- especially if your label has a lot of vibrant colors. Most computer screen will default to RGB color mode. When designing, you should switch to CMYK color mode in the design program as this is what your labels will be printed in. RGB color will show a wider gamut of vibrant colors, some of which cannot be reproduced by the printer (which uses CMYK). You run the risk of colors not coming out as vibrant or darker than expected if you design in RGB. 
5. PROOFREAD! WE see a lot of labels that have obvious, borderline embarrassing spelling errors. 
6. Design for bleed! When creating labels, make sure your background color or border color goes OVER the cut line. This accounts for small errors or shifts in the printing or cutting of your labels. If you do not add a bleed, and the cutter shifts just the tiniest bit, you may see a small border or edge to your design. This can distract from the overall appearance and gives your labels a less than professional look. 
7. If using images or graphics from the Internet, make sure they are high resolution. You can always lower the resolution to fit your design, but it is impossible to add resolution to an image. I tell people trying to add resolution to an image is like trying to make $1 into $100, it just doesn’t work. A low resolution image will print blurry or pixelated, which can take away from the design or quality of your label. 
8. Cut the clutter! Less is more! Simplicity is key! If you try to do too much with your label, you have more room for mistakes or printing problems. Not to mention a cluttered label that detracts from the main message of the label. 
9. Make sure important information is front, centered and clearly identifiable. Things like the name of the brew, type, etc. 
10. Keep consistent details. This will keep a consistent look across multiple different labels giving them all a unformed look. For example, keep the same logo, but change the color for each different brew label. 

David Noone — Noontime Labels Owner

1. Having a theme and sticking with it is critical to creating a good label design. A novel or movie might have a lot going on and still be great, (it made me laugh, it made me cry . . .), but if a label has conflicting design elements, it can be confusing for the viewer.  All the elements that make up the complete design . . . color, images, text, and final composition should all be put together in a cohesive way to tell a story and create the intended “attitude.” If the theme is light and whimsical, then bright and happy colors with a casual font would make sense. A dark, serious beer label with angular calligraphy text and a picture of a kitten probably would not make much sense. All the elements of the label should make sense together.

2. Font choice is extremely important since it helps define the style of the label. The font’s shape and “mood” should go with the theme of the label. Also limit your fonts to no more than 2 or 3. Any more than that becomes very confusing to the viewer. An easy way to get your text to “pop” is adding a shadow, outline, or glow, which can help isolate the text from the background. This helps separate it and adds dimensionality, especially if you have a very busy background.

3. Use of color can be a very powerful tool. Different colors make us think and feel different things — blue can be cold or serene, green is fresh and alive, black can be elegant or serious. You can use color to communicate what the character of the beer is or the mood of the label; reds and purples can be used to convey lusciousness, or yellows and oranges to imply citrus.

4. An easy way to make your label really pop is to use contrast. Using strikingly different colors, or darkness/lightness values can really help make your text easily seen against the background. Blue against a black background won’t be seen as well as yellow against a black background.

5. Don’t forget to think about how the label will look against the background of the bottle, which will frame the label with its own color.

Issue: December 2015