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Label design and origination

Label design and origination Label Academy book

In this exclusive extract from the Label Academy book ‘Label design and origination’, John Morton and Robert Shimmin consider the steps in translating a design brief into a finished label.

The birth of a label design typically starts in a client’s marketing department. At this very early stage packaging concepts are evolved that seek to meet the marketing objectives of the brand. The translation of these concepts into a successful print job will however rely on many factors being brought together in a controlled manner, to deliver the desired result. 

Printing process considerations 
With the dramatic changes in printing technologies over the past few years, choosing the correct printing process to achieve a particular effect is becoming more difficult. The wider use of multi-process presses means that it is possible to combine the strongest attributes of each process in one machine pass to achieve a particular and maybe unique result in an economical way. Offset lithography produces a clear image and fine detail; letterpress a strong color; water-based flexography, high speed and thin ink coverage; UV flexography, controllable ink film thickness and good color coverage; screen printing, high ink film weights and dense color with no show through. 

Not to forget the now extensive use of electrophotographic and inkjet digital technologies which add another dimension to the printing possibilities – including personalization, adding sequential coding or numbering to the final job. 

Finishing processes such as hot or cold foiling, which can produce a true metallic effect, or glossy or matt varnishing, which can add dramatic effects to the end result, should not be overlooked. 

Design evolution 
As a project evolves the design visuals become more developed and can accommodate a wider range of factors including; 

• Mandatory elements e.g. warning messages, barcodes, ingredients etc. 

• Die-lines/profiles – will provide the boundary within which the design is to be created 

• Maximum number of colors – cost or manufacturing limitations may place an upper limit on the number of colors available to the designer 

• Packaging format – Choice of decoration can influence ability to reproduce a design. For example it may not be possible to include certain decorative effects on particular packaging/labeling formats 

• Substrates or materials – the choice of materials may impact on design options 

Mandatory elements 
Mandatory elements that should be factored into the artwork from the outset include barcodes, ingredients, warning messages, symbols and legal copy. 

Compulsory legislation information is the thorn in the side of the designer and can have a dramatic influence on design. More and more information is now mandatory on any type of packaging and labels and the designer is sometimes caught between two opposing requirements – the overall size of the label may be restricted by the size of the package to be labeled, yet legislation might impose a minimum size type to be used to provide certain information. A barcode for example, might have to be printed to certain minimum dimensions. Instructions must be clear and in the language (or languages) required in certain geographical consumer markets. Hazardous products must be marked very clearly and recycling information is also important. The designer may have to work within exactly defined guidelines and yet must include most or all of these requirements, not forgetting the actual brand or product information, which is the main reason for producing the label in the first place. 

Sometimes the sheer amount of information required may dictate that an additional label should be included in the final product labeling. 

Barcodes should be of high resolution requiring minimal re-scaling. It is important that the barcode printing is in a scannable color. Since most barcode scanners use infrared light, avoid using inks with red or orange pigments. For best results, barcodes should appear on a white background with a no-print area to the left and right of the code. 

If printing on filmics, the code must be positioned so that the bars run through the press in the same direction that the film runs through the press, in order to avoid potential image distortion. 

Brand images and the company logo may be protected by copyright. This is of concern to the designer and the product manufacturer, but the label printer also has to be aware. If the printer knowingly prints an image on a label that could reasonably be taken to be that of a competitive product, the printer could be held liable. 

Cutter profile or die-lines 
One of the most important considerations in the design brief for a label or pack is its unique shape. The graphics will be bounded by the outline and of course the design elements will need to be carefully placed within this boundary, for optimum visual impact. 

In the creation of any artwork for packaging design it is vital to start with an accurate template, or cutter die-line. The die-line clearly defines printable areas, as well as reflecting features such as tear strips, euro slots etc that may need to be taken into consideration when creating artwork. The orientation of text or distortion when a sleeve, for example, is shrunk onto a pack will need to be accommodated within the profile. 

Without this information the designer may spend hours laying out the perfect design only to find that it needs to be rearranged to fit a layout with completely different parameters. 

Die-lines are typically available from suppliers or can be created in programs such as Adobe Illustrator. 

The die-line may reflect existing cutter stocks available from the converter and will certainly conform to the manufacturing parameters of their equipment. The automatic application of the label will run much smoother and quicker if the label profile is kept simple. 

There are certain label shapes which can affect the economic running of the press under production conditions: acutely sharp corners, star points or any dramatic change to the direction of the cutting edge can cause die-cutting speeds to be reduced; and small or thin projections that create an uneven pull on the waste as it is eased away from the face material often tear and remain on the backing liner. 

As with any design, aesthetics must be balanced against economic and efficient running of the press. The accuracy of the die and the die-cutting method must be reflected in the complexity of the outline of a label so that penetration of the silicone coating or backing does not occur. 

With the increasing use of laser die-cutting more complex label profiles are now possible, along with more opportunities to create cut-out areas within the label design. The laser uses programs developed from the step-and-repeat function of label origination to guide the laser cutting head around each separate label profile. Laser etching offers possibilities for personalization, numbering and coding of labels whereby the images are physically etched into the surface of the material. 

Number of colors 
All designs should be kept to the maximum number of colors of the converter’s printing press that the job will be printed on, including white ink and varnishes. It is recommended that a color legend is supplied with proofs generated and colors used in a design are best labeled clearly in files. 

Cost is usually one of the most important factors to be considered in the production of a new label design. The aesthetics of the final design must be balanced against the most economic production method. 

The number of colors to be used in the final design will have a huge impact on the cost of production. Many modern label presses have up to ten color stations, which means that a 4-color process job can be run in addition to a house or corporate color, plus varnishing and finishing all in one pass. 

The printing of very fine detail with small type faces and fine screen rulings can often slow down the running speed of the press and complex cutting, punching and perforating means more units for the press operator to supervise. 

Designs incorporating accurate grips between colors or with very fine key lines will also have a negative impact on press speed. Attention to the detail mentioned here could reduce production costs and if managed correctly may not detract from the overall design. 

The term artwork is defined as the original design, drawings, pictures and text produced by the designer or artist. It comprises all elements of design from which the black-and-white origination and printing plates are made. The process involves the production of finished material suitable for reproduction by any printing method or media. This may be presented as a black and white art sheet, with color overlays, or in disk or CD format, or even transmitted electronically for computer printout. 

Once a design has been conceived and created it progresses to finished artwork and may be further amended before final approval is sought. It is also important that the artwork is subject to rigorous checks to ensure that it conforms to specification before proceeding.

Print process specifications 
At this stage the print processes to be used in the final job are specified. In some cases a combination of printing processes may be required to achieve the desired result. 

Using spot colors 
Using CMYK can have its limitations when it comes to color reproduction. If more vibrant colors or an exact color match is required (e.g. for consistent company branding) then spot colors/PMS colors should be identified in the artwork. 

Using blacks 
When printing with black color, there are two types of black that can be used. 

• Black – 100 K: can be used for body copy and barcodes. 

• Rich black – 40 C 40 M 40 Y 100 K: is recommended when printing blocks of black.

Rich black specifications may differ from printer to printer, so it is important to consult with your printer for their advice. 

Telling the difference when preparing files on a monitor screen can be difficult since PC screens show richer colors in RGB (red, green and blue). Therefore, it is recommended to get a press proof when printing blocks of black. 

Substrate specification 
At this stage the exact material to be used will be specified along with the supplier details, material grammage/caliper and the adhesive. 

Embellishment details 

Details of surface embellishments for the label or pack are required at this stage and the decoration areas should be specified within the artwork. Typical decorative effects that can be used include: 

• Embossing – The process of raising a design or image above the label surface, often through the use of a set of matched male and female dies. 

• Varnishes – A thin, clear, transparent ink that contains no coloring pigments or dyes. When printed or coated over the top of a substrate and/or printed matter, the varnish provides a protective finish that enhances appearance and increases durability. Varnishes may be glossy or matt. If a varnish is to be used, the image or text that requires varnishing should be identified in the artwork. Typically a spot color named ‘varnish/spot’ is created within the design file. 

• Lamination – A clear plastic film applied to a sheet or web of labels by heat or adhesive to provide and enhanced, glossy or matt, appearance or for protection. 

• Foil stamping – Lacquered aluminum foil placed adhesive down on substrate. A heated patterned die is pressed onto the foil to activate adhesive and transfer the image. 

If a varnish, foil or emboss is to be used, the image or text that requires the embellishment should be identified within the artwork. Typically a spot color created within the design file and labeled with the appropriate embellishment description can be used for this purpose. 

Cutter profiles 
As discussed earlier cutter profiles are typically established at the early stages of design development and provide the boundary within which the design is created. 

Parameters on fonts and text 
There are a number of factors to be considered when finalizing fonts and type.

Minimum type size for positive text is generally 4 point. Type below this point size may not be legible when printed. For best results, small text should be created from one solid color. Screened text can be difficult to read, and slight mis-register on press can affect the legibility of text that is created using more than one color. 

Minimum type sizes for particular applications (food or drug labels) are commonly found in the relevant labeling regulations. 

Minimum type size for light-colored text that reverses out of a dark-colored background is 6 point. Type below this point size may fill in and not be legible when printed. Light-style fonts or serifed fonts for reversed-out text are not recommended, as the thinner elements of the letters will have a tendency to fill in. 

Type should never reverse out of more than one color and it is recommended that a solid, single-color keyline is used to outline light-colored text. 

Printing reversed out text should be avoided below 6 point and the text should be printed directly onto the color (ie not reversed out). 

The use of drop shadows, particularly on small reverse text, is not recommended. 

The use of a drop shadow introduces an extra color to the background which would have to be printed in perfect register in order to replicate the shape of the letters. 

Text should always be created in a vector format in design packages. Text created in Adobe Photoshop for example, or any other raster-based program, will have jagged, rastered edges, making smaller text particularly difficult to read. Vector based graphics and text will have smooth edges and create a more pleasing result.

Like a photograph raster images are made up of pixels with each piece of visual information represented as a small dot that is set in a specific color. 

Vector images on the other hand are not made up of dots at all - they are drawings of lines that are represented in the file as mathematical descriptions. 

Common file formats for raster images are TIFF, JPG, or GIF. 

Common vector file formats are EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), PNG (portable network graphic) and WMF (Windows Meta File). 

Approval process 
Throughout the development of a pack or label design there are a number of reasons why changes to artwork may take place. 

Potential factors resulting in artwork changes can be summarized as follows: 

• Change to product specification – re-definitions to the product specification. 

• Formulation changes – changes to the product formulation or ingredients. 

• Language interpretation – translation errors or clarifications. 

• Non-adherence to approval process – issues and errors caused when agreed procedures are bypassed. 

• QC checks to artwork content that uncover earlier errors. 

• Checks against artwork checklists that identify elements that are missing or incorrect. 

• Outstanding information not considered earlier may need to be added now. 

Artwork approval by technical, legal, marketing departments or perhaps by the supplier may result in further amendments being required. After changes to artwork are made, the artwork approval process will need to be conducted again. 

At the artwork approval stage a soft proof or hard copy digital proof is sufficient to allow interested parties to visualize and make alterations to artwork. 

Both these types of proof are termed off-press proofs and are a cost-effective way of providing a visual copy without the expense of creating an actual press proof. 

Approved and signed off artwork is now ready to proceed to repro. 

Prototyping is important to the packaging market as it allows for the visualization of products in 3D. 

Prototypes are invaluable for retail visualization and they permit limited-scale test marketing prior to full-scale production. 

In the packaging sector short-run prototypes have typically been produced using the same equipment that is used for full-scale production. This, however, is an expensive process and it cannot accommodate multiple versions or last minute design changes. 

There are a number of prototyping formats on offer. 

A number of suppliers from the pre-press environment have launched systems and services that use digital technology that permits the 3D visualization of packaging in a virtual retail environment. 

There are many instances where physical examples of a pack are required, perhaps for test marketing. The main requirement for a physical prototype is that it should look and feel like a professionally produced pack. 

The emergence of digital printing has delivered significant benefits to the prototyping process as it eliminates the up-front plate production and make-ready costs. 

Color management systems are now available that enable color accurate mock-ups on production substrates to be created. 

Inkjet technology is commonly used for the printing of prototypes allowing a finished mock-up to be created within a few hours, without stopping a press. 

The term rapid prototyping (RP) refers to a class of technologies that can automatically construct physical models from Computer-Aided Design (CAD) data. 

Systems that use modelling software linked to a CNC (computer numerical control) milling machine is a method often used to create physical prototypes. The process is called subtractive, in that material is removed (subtracted) from a block to create the final model.

A CAD model is simply exported to drive the milling machine. 

The introduction of 3D printing, perhaps more correctly called ‘additive’ printing, is the latest technology that is enabling packaging designers to take 2D designs and extend them to a three-dimensional format. This method of prototyping is called additive in that material is added to construct the 3D model. 

The 'Label design and origination' book by John Morton and Robert Shimmin can be purchased from the Label Academy bookstore.


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