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What You Need To Know About Custom Label Graphics

Oval label on a jar


When start-up and small businesses start labeling their products, they often need to opt for cheap label printing and even less expensive designers–even trying to design a label without any experience. However, there are many ways to cut these corners and still have a quality custom label for products. Here are a few things to know that just might save you some time and frustration on your next custom labeling project.


Ask for Help


First of all, you have help. Many label printing companies have discounted design support and detailed art specifications to help you start your label. By picking up a few designer friendly terms and methods of communication, you’d be surprised how effective your next conversation can be with a designer or printing company.


JPEGs are Not Your Friend


The JPEG remains a popular image format, but in most cases JPEGs used in design and layout print badly. Since these kinds of images are compressed, they lack the full quality of the original image, such as the crisp details many printing applications require. 300 dots-per-inch (dpi) is the minimum standard for high quality printing, but JPEG files are saved at 72 dpi by default. It’s no wonder they produce less than ideal printed images.


Bleed Matters


No need to be concerned about injury here. For printers, a “bleed" refers to the colors and graphics at the extreme outer edges of your design.

Is there really a need to include this extra area when printing?

The short answer: Yes. A typical 1/8 inch bleed on all sides provides the printer with some room for minor trimming variations. It’s very difficult (and time-consuming) to perfectly cut out a design that stops just short of the actual edge of the printed material, so the standard practice of including a bleed ensures that designs that go right to the edge end up visually satisfying.

Keep in mind that reputable, professional printers require art files with a bleed, and the “preflight” process conducted by the prepress department is on the lookout for errors and inconsistencies.

Tip: Forgetting to include a bleed (or neglecting this practice altogether) could actually cost you time and money, so make sure your files are set up correctly, you’re following industry best practices, and talk with your graphic designer to make sure you’re on the same page about printing requirements and design file needs.


Dieline basics


So now you know what a bleed is. But how do you know where to start it?

Simple. But you need to know what a dieline is first.

A dieline is your label’s trim size, a cue for the designer to know where the trim edge is. This is critical to any professional printing application because important information and/or design elements can be easily lost if they’re too close to the edge. The 1/8 inch bleed gets added to this line.

It’s a good practice to always include a dieline with the art files you provide to your label printer. Printers can create the dieline for you, but you may end up having to pay for this additional service while also increasing the time it takes for final delivery.


Screen vs. Print Colors


Ever seen the acronyms RGB and CMYK in relation to color?

RGB is a color language for screen displays, and CMYK is a standard language for color printing.

Modern screen displays can produce millions of colors using a simple method: mix Red, Green, Blue (RGB) light together. This is the color language used on everything from the latest iPhone to the TV in your living room.

In printing contexts, we talk about color using Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (hence, CMYK).

Just because something looks good in RGB doesn't mean you’ll see the same color values in CMYK. That’s why it’s always important to speak the same language with your designer and the printer.


Use the Right Tools for Your Label Designs


Instead of getting into the benefits and nuances of every graphic design tool, we’ll cut to the chase: Adobe Creative Suite (CS) is the industry standard. Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign work well together, helping designers gain much needed efficiencies, and most (if not all) professional designers will rely on these tools to create and augment digital design work.

Adobe CS files are always preferred by reputable printers. In fact, the best way to submit your art files to a printer is to send the files in their native Adobe Illustrator format. Also, make sure your designer includes any linked images or fonts he or she used during design and subsequent layouts.

Providing designs to a printer that were created entirely in Adobe Photoshop is not a good practice. The resulting files are big and lack the clarity of Adobe Illustrator’s vector-based layouts, which are ideal for label design.


Send Everything


We’ve established that label designs should be sent as Illustrator files, but what else should you be on the lookout for as you get closer to printing your labels?

  • Avoid embedding your images in the design as this will increase file sizes and adversely affect your label company's ability to edit and correct the colors in your images.
  • Include all fonts. Period. Even if you think they may already have the font you’re using, or it’s a standard font, avoid the possibility of error.
  • Avoid submitting "flattened" image files (e.g., a TIFF file). The printed version may look okay, but if any changes need to occur, the printing company will have way to edit the file you submitted.


We’re Here to Help


Your products should always be presented in their best light. Professional, reputable printers should always guide you toward your best solution. Relying entirely on the print provider's art department to deliver the majority of the design work is one way to get the job done, but understanding some common design conventions and terminology can help you better communicate your goals with in-house designers and help your business succeed in the future.


Want more information on submitting a great design package? Check out our Label Art Submission Guidelines and let us know how we can help.

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