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How to Design the Perfect Product Label: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Design the Perfect Product Label: A Step-by-Step Guide

Product labels. They're those little stickers, tags, and wrappers that adorn every packaged product on store shelves. Most of us barely notice them as we toss items into our carts. But make no mistake – product labels are one of the most critical branding and marketing tools companies have.

A good product label attracts attention, provides critical information, conveys your brand identity, and motivates the purchase. A lousy product label does none of those things and can even turn off customers and lose sales.

Learning how to design influential product labels should be a priority for any marketer, entrepreneur, or brand manager. The label is your salesperson on the shelf. You only have a few seconds to make an impression and convince the customer to take your product home.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk through the crucial steps to create product labels that sell:

Step 1: Understand the Goals and Purpose of Your Label

Wine Branding Label Design

Before you start designing, consider what you want your label to accomplish. Every label should aim to achieve a few key goals:

Attract Attention

Your label needs to stand out on crowded store shelves. Using colours, shapes, fonts and imagery that pop will draw the consumer's eye.

Communicate Key Information

Product labels must highlight essential details like the product's name, key features or ingredients, company brand, quantity or size, and product benefits.

Reflect Brand Identity

The label should feel cohesive with your overall brand style and messaging. It's a crucial touchpoint for customers to connect with your brand.

Motivate Purchase

The ideal label triggers an emotional response or call to action that motivates the customer to buy your product.

With these goals in mind, you can design a label that looks nice and does its job selling the product.

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Step 2: Follow Labeling Rules and Regulations

You must follow specific labelling requirements to comply with regulations and ensure your product meets safety standards. Requirements may vary based on your product type, where you manufacture and sell the item, and other factors.

Some standard labelling rules include:

  • Product identification – The name of the product must be clear and conspicuous.
  • Net quantity of contents – List the product's net weight, volume, or count.
  • Ingredient list – List all ingredients in order of predominance.
  • Allergen warnings – Note if the product contains significant allergens like wheat, nuts, etc.
  • Manufacturer/distributor – Include the name and address of the company.
  • Country of origin – Note where the product was manufactured.
  • Safe use instructions – Provide directions for proper use if needed.

Consult the regulatory body overseeing your product category to learn all the required information. This may be the FDA, USDA, CPSC, TTB, or others. Following the rules isn't exciting, but it's critical to get right.

Step 3: Choose Your Label Format, Shape and Material

Custom Labelling Designs

You have lots of options when it comes to the physical label format you use. Consider aspects like:

Label Format

  • Sticker label – Printed sticker adhered right onto product packaging.
  • Hang tag – Tag hung from a string or stuck to packaging.
  • Sleeve label – Paperboard or transparent sleeve wrapped around all or part of the product.
  • Shrink sleeve – Plastic sleeve shrunk tightly around containers via heat.
  • Glue-applied label – Printed paper label affixed with glue. Often used for bottles.

Label Shape

  • Rectangle – Most common label shape.
  • Circle – Fun, eye-catching shape.
  • Oval – Classic, upscale look.
  • Square – Retro, trendy style.

Label Material

  • Paper – Classic material, cost-effective.
  • Plastic – Durable and waterproof but more expensive.
  • Transparent film – Let product details show through.
  • Foil – Reflective material feels luxurious.

Select options that suit your product type desired aesthetics, brand style and budget.

Step 4: Design an Eye-Catching Layout

Now comes the fun part – designing the visual layout for your product label! Follow these tips:

Use the Right Colour Scheme

  • Limit yourself to 2-3 colours max.
  • Make sure colours align with your brand palette.
  • Consider colours that evoke the desired mood – green and earthy tones for organic, bright colours for fun brands, etc.
  • Black, white and metallics always look sleek.

Choose Graphic Elements Strategically

  • Illustrations and mascots can make your brand pop.
  • Photographs help showcase your actual product.
  • Icons quickly symbolise key ingredients/features.
  • Border shapes and lines add polish.

Select Fonts Carefully

  • Fonts convey brand personality – playful, elegant, vintage, etc.
  • Sans serif fonts like Helvetica work well for clean, modern designs.
  • Use font variations – bold, italic, caps – to create contrast.
  • Limit to 1-2 font families max.

Structure with Visual Hierarchy

  • Make brand and product names the most significant, most prominent text.
  • Use font size, colour and placement to indicate importance.
  • Line up elements and whitespace intentionally.

Add Special Finishing Touches

  • Foil stamping with an accent colour makes a luxe impression.
  • Embossing or debossing brand names provides texture.
  • Spot gloss or matte varnish highlights critical text.
  • Die cuts in a custom shape can differentiate your product.
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Follow design principles like alignment, contrast, repetition and proximity to craft an organised, pleasing layout.

Step 5: Write Compelling Text and Copy

Product Label Design Copy

The words you choose are just as crucial as the visual design. Follow these copywriting tips:

Grab Attention with a Snappy Tagline

Summarise your crucial brand benefits or product features with a catchy slogan like Just Do It or Think Different.

State Product Name Prominently

Put the product name front and centre in big, bold font. For clarity, use descriptive names like “Strawberry Blast Fruit Strips” vs. vague phrases.

Highlight Key Features/Benefits

Briefly explain 2-3 major selling points – extra strength, organic, non-GMO, etc.

Add Engaging Product Descriptions

Bring the product to life by describing taste, texture, or usage – “Chewy oatmeal cookies packed with juicy raisins”.

Use Active, Conversational Voice

Write like you're speaking directly to the customer. “You're going to love…”

Share Instructions Clearly

If needed, provide simple prep or usage directions visually on the label.

Include Certifications Prominently

Call out organic, non-GMO, gluten-free certifications to attract buyers seeking those qualities.

Add Personality With Nuanced Word Choices

Use unique adjectives and descriptive phrases to add flair – “charmingly homespun” rather than just “homemade”.

Provide Translation

If selling internationally, include translations of critical details.

Step 6: Comply with Regulatory Requirements

As discussed earlier, you must include specific legally required details on your label. Make sure to display:

  • Full product name
  • Manufacturer name/address
  • Net quantity of contents
  • Ingredient list
  • Nutrition facts
  • Allergen warnings
  • Safe use instructions
  • Country of origin
  • Recycling/disposal details
  • Certifications if claiming organic, gluten-free, etc.

Present this info in a clean, attractive way that doesn't detract from the label design.

Step 7: Evaluate and Refine the Label

Best Wine Bottle Packaging Design Labels

Your work isn't over once you have an initial label designed. It's critical to test labels with customers and keep optimising.

Do Consumer Testing

Get unbiased input by having ordinary consumers review your labels and packaging. Identify any confusion or design issues.

Check for Errors

Carefully proofread all text, ensure accurate colours, and correct details like certifications.

Ensure Legibility

Verify labels with tiny details like nutrition facts and ingredients are easy to read.

Review Translations

If including foreign translations on your label, double-check accuracy.

Consider Enhancements

Think about any changes that could better capture attention or communicate critical information at a glance.

By continually refining your product labels, you'll maximise their impact. Even minor fixes can make a big difference.

20+ Tips for Product Label Design

Know Your Audience

The first step in designing an influential product label is understanding your target consumer. Consider demographics like age, gender, income level, location, lifestyle, values, and interests. These factors will inform typography, imagery, colour palette, messaging, and more. Conduct market research to gain insights into your audience's psychographics as well. What motivates them to purchase? What promises or claims resonate most? The label design process always begins with the end-user in mind.

Clarify Your Brand Identity

Your product label should reflect your distinct brand identity. What attributes define your brand? Is it boldness, whimsy, elegance, efficiency? Consider your brand values, personality, and positioning in the market. A consistent visual identity strengthens recognition and trust. Review your brand guide for guidelines on colour, fonts, and graphical elements to incorporate. For example, Tiffany & Co.'s robin egg blue communicates elegance and quality at a glance.

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Prioritise Key Information

The product label must communicate essential details like the product name, function or purpose, ingredients or materials, quantity, usage directions, and manufacturer. Prominently, place the most vital info, like the name and purpose, at the top or centre. Make reading the label intuitive by organising additional information. Icons and visual cues can quickly denote attributes like organic, non-GMO, or fair trade.

Design an Eye-Catching Layout

Once you've established the critical information to include, thoughtfully arrange elements on the label. Optimise white space so the design isn't cluttered. Employ contrast to make the logo and text pop. Use strategic visual hierarchy to direct the viewer's gaze. For example, varying text size is more compelling than keeping everything uniform. Consider how the label will look on the product packaging; wrap-around, front-facing, or back-label placement all inform the layout.

Choose Typography for Readability

Vintage Label Design Colours

Don't let poor font choices undermine your design. Avoid overly scripted or decorative fonts for crucial info like the product name or instructions for readability. However, stylised typography can capture attention in titles or slogans. Sans-serif fonts like Helvetica generally provide clarity on product labels. Use bolding, italics, or colour to emphasise words. Make sure the text contrasts with the background. Caps should be legible if used. The type size must be large enough to read at a glance.

Capitalise on Colour Psychology

The strategic use of colour is instrumental in product label design. Colour conveys meaning and triggers emotional responses. Warm tones like red and orange spark excitement, yellow cheers, green promotes natural or organic, blue instils trust, and purple speak to luxury. Conduct colour experiments to see what fits your brand identity. Contrast the hue against packaging colours for maximum impact. Employ colour coding to highlight different product varieties or info.

Tell a Story with Imagery

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Photographs, illustrations, icons, symbols, and other images enrich your product label. Imagery introduces personality and forges emotional connections. Photographs emphasise realism and help consumers visualise using the product. Illustrations and graphic icons better enable creativity and visual impact. Align imagery with branding – don't just grab any stock photo. Ensure it complements typography and colours. Integrate images purposefully, not just as decoration.

Adopt Innovative Label Materials

Companies are embracing innovative label materials from paper to plastic, fabric to wood. Natural kraft paper exudes organic appeal. Metallic labels indicate luxury. Clear plastic labels enable the visibility of contents. Textured fabric labels evoke quality craftsmanship. Sleek acrylic labels convey a modern edge. Even magnetised and reusable labels create novelty. If your product has unique characteristics, let the label material reflect that.

Consider Specialty Printing and Effects

Modern printing capabilities allow for speciality label treatments that grab attention. Foil stamping, embossing, letterpress, textured varnish, dimensional elements, or metallic ink provide visual intrigue. Die-cutting labels into unique shapes align with branding, too. Experiment with lenticular printing for a 3D motion effect. Other options include glow-in-the-dark, scratch-off, or scented label effects. Just don't go overboard with gimmicky elements unrelated to the product.

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Maintain Legibility and Clarity

Prodct Label Design Tips

In pursuing an eye-catching appeal, maintain clarity and legibility as priorities. Avoid label designs that are overly busy, cluttered, or confusing. Stick with complementary colour palettes versus jarring clashes. Ensure important info is sufficiently prominent, and the text is large enough to read quickly. White space fosters organisation—group-related graphical elements. Ensure any intricate backgrounds don't interfere with text. Clean, straightforward designs facilitate comprehension.

Adhere to Legal Requirements

In addition to marketing best practices, product labels must adhere to legal requirements for mandatory information based on the product type and country of sale. For example, FDA nutrition labelling rules govern food and beverage labelling in the United States. The EU and UK also mandate specific label content. Other regulated label elements include safety warnings, allergen disclosures, and ingredient lists. Conduct thorough due diligence to ensure your label meets applicable compliance standards.

Design for Different Packaging Types

The product packaging format dictates specific label considerations, too. For example, wraps around bottles demand elasticity, while small jewel boxes need petite adhesive labels. Paperboard boxes accommodate full-panel wraps. If products will be displayed upright, position primary info centred and horizontally. Ornate glassware may call for simple, transparent labels. Leave sufficient space between text and packaging edges so information isn't obscured. Think through user experience – a reusable water bottle label, for instance, must withstand washing.

Reflect Unique Product Attributes

Does your product offer distinct benefits, use unconventional ingredients, or have a specific personality? The label presents the perfect platform to express unique attributes or competitive differentiators. For example, paraben-free beauty products often feature “no harsh chemicals” prominently on the label. Or an eco-friendly cleaning brand may show leafy backgrounds. Give consumers an apparent reason to choose your product over competitors through strategic label messaging and design.

Maintain Brand and Design Consistency

While allowing for individual SKU expression, strive for consistent brand identity across your overall product line. Uniform fonts, logo treatment, graphical motifs, colour palettes, and messaging strategies strengthen cohesion. Format standard label sections like company, product name, and ingredients consistently. Consumers will recognise the relationship at a glance. Yet leave room to highlight speciality flavours, ingredients, or functions per item. Consistency and customisation can work together.

Focus on Typography and Colour for Cost-Effectiveness

Wine Label Design

For new or budget-conscious brands, labels don't need overly complex designs with multiple colours, speciality printing, and photographic images to convey brand identity effectively. Strategic typography, including stylised fonts and sizing, provides a massive impact with minimal cost. Colour psychology also lets brands signal premium, energetic, eco-friendly, or other attributes cost-efficiently. Clean, text-driven labels can still communicate branding and product details.

Design Digital Comps First

Modern design software equips you to experiment digitally before printing costly label prototypes and revisions. Start by mapping out label content and structure. Use templates to quickly create initial digital mock-ups exploring typography, colour, and layout. Refine designs iteratively based on internal feedback and consumer testing. Digital proofs also easily facilitate legal compliance review. Only invest in printing finalised label designs that have undergone sufficient iterative improvement and optimisation.

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Test with Consumer Focus Groups

While you aim to match target consumer expectations, also glean direct feedback through focus groups and surveys. What impressions do preliminary designs convey? Does anything feel confusing or disjointed? See if test groups can quickly identify product differentiators you want to be highlighted. Ask for gut reactions on typography, colours, imagery, shape, size, etc. Refine based on constructive critiques before total production. Ongoing consumer input sharpens designs.

Plan for Shelf Differentiation

You can have a fantastic product inside, but the packaging must stand out on shelves flooded with competition. Analyse comparable products – what cues do their labels use to catch your eye? How will your shape, material, colour scheme, or messaging contrast? Optimise label dimensions and visuals to pop in your typical display context. Consider generic bottle shapes and labelling areas if designing your packaging: mock-up prototypes and shelf configurations. Refine any elements lacking shelf differentiation.

Align with Your Product Story

What product story are you telling consumers through branding and marketing content? Pull through those themes into the label. If messaging touts your soap as handmade in small batches using homegrown lavender, the label can include words like “artisanal” and “locally sourced” alongside flowers and tranquil imagery. Or, if promoting an energy drink as fuel for extreme athletes, the label may feature vibrant neon colours and active lifestyle photos. Cohesive storytelling resonates.

Convey Quality Through Design

Target Private Label Brand

From the label material to typography, colours, imagery, and shapes, thoughtful design choices signal premium quality, while haphazard labels undermine perceptions. Metallic, textured, or heavyweight paper instantly elevates. Clean black or white colour palettes communicate elegance. Prominent badges like “crafted in Italy” denote prestige. Crisp, stylised fonts beat generic ones. Artisanal illustrations convey meticulous craftsmanship. Details like embossed seals ensure high-end impressions.

Balance Creativity with Practicality

Effective product label design certainly demands creativity. You want to capture consumer attention amid fierce competition. However, it also filters creative concepts through the lens of practicality. Will intricate label shapes complicate application? Are exotic fonts too hard to read at small sizes? Do unconventional materials drive up costs without significant benefit? Prioritise creative solutions that align with branding while remaining functional, legible, applicable, accessible, and on budget.

Learn from Leader Examples

When designing your product labels, look to category leaders for inspiration on what resonates with their loyal customers. What branding cues keep shoppers returning to KIND bars, Duke's Mayo, RXBAR, or Chobani yoghurt? Assess how cohesive alignment is created by colour, wording, material, shape, imagery, and texture. Dissect why specific labels compel you to pick them up—gauge consumer reactions in your focus groups. See how you can apply successful elements to your context and products.

Conclusion

Well-designed product labels are essential for sharing your brand story and getting products into customer's hands. While the process takes effort and iteration, thoughtfully crafted labels provide significant payoff through increased sales and brand loyalty.

Follow this step-by-step guide when creating your next product label. Focus on setting goals, abiding by regulations, crafting appealing designs, writing compelling copy, and continually optimising. Keep your target audience in mind and design a label that speaks directly to them.

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With smart strategy and standout creativity, your product labels can capture attention on any shelf. So unleash those eye-catching designs, motivate purchases, and watch your sales soar.

Frequently Asked Questions About Product Label Design

What elements make a product label effective?

Critical elements of an influential label include an eye-catching layout with strategic use of colour, fonts and graphics, concise and engaging copywriting, and clear communication of product features, ingredients and other vital details.

How do I balance creativity with regulatory requirements on labels?

Get creative with visual design elements like colour schemes, graphics and fonts. Present mandatory information like ingredients, certifications and directions clearly and concisely in a clean layout.

What's most important for a food label – packaging design or nutritional info?

While visually appealing packaging is vital for grabbing attention, health-conscious consumers also make purchasing decisions based on nutritional content. Ensure information like calories, carbohydrates, ingredients, etc., is easy to find and read.

Should I hire a graphic designer to create my product labels?

Professional designers can be beneficial, especially if you need strong visual design skills. Please provide them with clear direction on label goals, target audiences and desired brand aesthetics. Be prepared to go through multiple design rounds to achieve the perfect label.

What are the most important elements to test with consumers when designing a label?

Key elements to test are the overall impression of packaging, whether it communicates the intended brand image, clarity of product details like ingredients and directions, noticeability of certifications, and motivation to purchase the product. Consumer feedback will help refine the label design.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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