It's a common question label printers hear: "Do my labels look good?", or "What do you think of my labels?".
In our experience, these questions are posed from one of two places.
- The brand owner is proud of the label design, excited to share it, and anticipating positive feedback.
- There is a great deal of uncertainty and apprehension about the label design and the brand owner is reluctant to move forward with a design they feel is not as professional or attractive as it should be.
"Do my labels look good?" is a simple enough question, and one you may assume is straightforward and easy to answer. But there are a few potential pitfalls when asking your label printer for their opinion of your label design. Depending on who you ask within your label printers organization, the question can be interpreted in a few different ways.
Ultimately, answering the question begins with another question: "What are you trying to achieve with your label design?"
Knowing who your demographic and target audience is, what your products price point will be, what your brand message is, and what products you intend to compete with will go a long way towards helping interpret the potential effectiveness of your label design.
This is not an attempt to persuade you to avoid asking for opinions on your label design, but to help you consider the benefits of effective market research during packaging development, and make the case for the overwhelming benefits of professional labels crafted by graphic design specialists with extensive experience with retail packaging, preferably in your industry. Looking for opinions on label designs heading for a printing press is like asking the barber in the next chair what he thinks of the haircut you just received... are you asking if he likes it, or are you really just wondering what it will cost to fix it?
Asking Label Order Account Managers
When you ask your account manager if your labels look good, they will start to think about suitable die size, bleed area, appropriate label material selection, FDA or TTB regulatory compliance, barcode size and placement, and text contrast and legibility. These are technical considerations, pertaining to the label printing and performance. And while these may in fact be some of the very reasons you would pose such a question in the first place, more often than not what you're really asking is "What do you think of the overall graphic design aesthetic of my label artwork?", which is another way of asking "How will my label design stack up against my competitor's product on a retail shelf?, or more simply "Will this label help me sell more product?".
Your label printing account manager wants to make sure your labels are printed accurately, affordably, and on time. Your account manager may also recommend special finishes and treatment options that will help your label "jump off the shelf" without breaking your budget. Brand owners that are working with designers that lack packaging design experience may find there are often higher costs incurred when producing labels that were designed without an understanding of the costs associated with some of the design decisions.
Of course, they may have an opinion about the overall artistic merits of your label, but they certainly do not want to influence packaging design decisions that impact your bottom line based solely on a completely subjective opinion based largely on personal preference.
When you are ready to place a label order, an account manager will champion the cause of having your completed label design printed. Put another way, your label design is the first step in the packaging of your products, and printing those labels and applying them is the final step. Decisions about the contents and general appearance of your label design (with the exception of small changes, adjustments, or modifications) should be finalized well before a label order is ready to be placed.
Asking Label Press Operators
Ask a press operator or label printer production staff how your label looks, and they will consider how difficult it is to print. Are registration, color consistency, and color matching going to be an issue? Will even the slightest shift during the press run cause a glaring distortion of the graphic elements? Are embossed areas too small or detailed to hold an emboss, or will minimally contrasting elements blend together so that an expensive special treatment will become unnoticeable? Press operators can also tell you immediately if they like a label or not, which may be why you would ask the question in the first place – but their answer may not come from a deep understanding of the retail shelf space where your printed label packages are destined to compete.
Asking Graphic Designers
If you are asking a graphic designer, they will look at the overall appearance of the label, the harmony of color, font choice, and image selection. It will be judged as a work of art. They will also look for contrast and legibility, and the effect of special treatments that may be used, such as hot stamping, embossing, or varnish treatments. They will judge it artistically, technically, and probably ruthlessly, though they may keep their strongest criticisms to themselves if you've started the conversation by explaining how much you love the design, or that you made it yourself. On the other hand, you may find that your label design is loved by designers, considered beautiful, bold, and unique. It may be visually stunning and technically impressive, lovingly crafted and impressive, and they wouldn't hesitate to tell you so. But what they cannot tell you is how it compares to, or how it will compete with, competitive offerings within your price point at retail. For example, a gorgeous label design can still be wholly inappropriate for your product segment. Your label can be stunning as a work of art and still be utterly confusing to shoppers who may not be able to tell what it is intended to sell. Your labels may look good and misrepresent the price point of your product. Your labels can be professionally designed and yet look totally out of place alongside other products within your category. And, as mentioned above, you may have a beautifully designed label that will require numerous special finishing options to produce, pushing your packaging cost beyond your product's budget.
For label printers that have art departments offering graphic design services, design reviews are available for an additional fee when placing an order. Label converters offer print services, with graphic design as an optional service. Soliciting label printers for design services that are not attached to a label order is not the best use of your time or theirs, as it is disruptive to effective printing press scheduling – which the design team is an integral part of.
Informal Design Surveys
If you are confident in the market research and the label design process that has led to your final design, maybe you're simply looking for opinions out of curiosity. This makes the question a sort of informal survey, and there is really no reason not to ask. Be sure your intentions are known, a lot of forethought has gone into the design, and you're confident in the design and marketing decisions that went into the development of your labels.
This approach may influence the response of those asked for an opinion on your label design, but it will free them up to offer an opinion based solely on their personal preference. Informal surveys can be helpful even during label design and development, especially if the people you ask do not feel pressured to respond in a certain way. If you appear extremely attached to a design option, people will often feel compelled to agree with you to avoid seeming insensitive or confrontational.
Paid Professional Label Design Reviews
Whether you've designed them yourself or paid another designer to create your labels, you may still have lingering doubts about the appearance of your packaging and how it may affect your sales. While informal surveys may alleviate (or heighten) your fears, few steps you can take will cut to the chase as effectively as a paid design review by the experienced packaging designer you probably wish you had hired in the first place. Some designers may have a price plan for design reviews and revisions, while others may simply quote a ground up redesign. Many designers are loathe to inherit another designer's project, or salvage poorly designed label artwork that usually includes poor file structure and asset organization. It's not uncommon for the cost or rescuing of a bad design to exceed what you would pay to start over from scratch.
Ultimately, you may end up paying more at the end of this process than you would have if you'd contracted with a professional designer from the very beginning. Cutting corners on packaging, arguably the most critical component of your product outside the product itself, is a decision that can haunt you long after your products are on the shelf. Effective and attractive label packaging can be foundational to your brand's success and the profits of your business. Packaging design is a primary consideration for your products and a process that should begin months before you are looking for printing quotes, in order to save you a lot of time and money, and the headache of fixing a disappointing label design or going back to the drawing board and starting over again.
A Better Way
It's never too soon to start thinking about your product packaging. It's likely you have taken early steps to arrange for containers, such as bottles, as part of your production schedule. If you know the type of container you are using, its size, and where it’s coming from, you can begin to plan for your labels.
If your organization includes a graphic designer with packaging and label design experience, market research is still key. Understanding the state of the marketplace, packaging trends, and competitive product's packaging appearance will go a long way towards giving your labeled products a competitive edge in the marketplace.
The goal of most packaging is to simultaneously fit within the category, and perhaps paradoxically stand out and be unique at the same time. To represent the price point of your product, catch the eye of busy and distracted shoppers, and be truly memorable. The colors need to be consistent across the entire print run, and indeed multiple print runs. Your packaging needs to work hard to sell your products. Your labels need to effectively represent your brand, and they need to perform well in the various environmental conditions they may be exposed to, like warm or cool temperatures, moisture, and rubbing and abrasion that can occur during shipping and storage – you don't want them peeling, tearing, scuffing, or falling off. The design needs to be professional, attractive, appropriate, and unique.
In addition to everything mentioned above, your labels should support and strengthen your brand message, in harmony with all of your marketing and advertising efforts.
In other words, your label packaging needs to do a great many important things, things that are essential to your brand image and company profits. Label design should never be an afterthought, or a last minute consideration, rushed through with little or no planning in order to meet a production deadline. Label design and label printing need to be prioritized milestones in your production schedule, and planned for well ahead of any deadlines. Market research and design reviews should precede printing.
For these reasons and many more industry-specific reasons unique to your products, Advanced Labels always recommends hiring the most experienced and capable packaging designers available to you. Your labels are an investment, one that can truly make or break a product offering. Of course, no one can precisely predict how consumers will respond to your products. There's an element of risk in putting your products out there and competing for sales. But as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind."
There is great comfort in knowing you've planned and prepared your product launch thoroughly, so you can confidently ask everyone you meet:
"Don't my labels look good?"