They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we often judge products by their packaging. The perfect product label can make any product—from a jar of spices or a tub of beard balm—stand out on the shelf or on social media. For some shoppers, it might be the deciding factor when they’re making a purchase. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a product label.
The good news: If you’ve crafted a memorable logo and strong visual branding for your small business, you’ve already done a lot of the work. Here’s how to round out your branding efforts with product label design.
What is product label design?
Product label design refers to the aesthetics and layout of the graphics and information on your merchandise labels. Whether your target customer encounters your product on a store shelf or online, good product label design catches their eye while showcasing the intention and benefits of the item. In addition to complementing the product packaging, a well-designed product label operates like an informative piece of advertising.
Elements of product label design
Creativity is key when designing custom labels that will tempt consumers to pick up or click on your product. Product labels should have the following elements:
- Product name. The product name should be one of the most visible aspects of the product label.
- Brand logo. A prominently placed logo will help people immediately associate the product with your brand. If you don’t have a logo or are in the process of updating yours, consider using a free logo maker.
- Graphics and other design elements. The sum of your design parts—colors, patterns, images, fonts, and the overall layout—should align with your company’s branding.
- Product description. The product description could be a single explanatory sentence or a poetic product story, but it often includes production details and practical information. Depending on the item and local regulations, you may need to include the net weight, an ingredients list, best-by dates, and regulatory certifications.
- Tracking information. For the purposes of fulfilling warranties, returns, and tracking, you may need to leave room on your product label for a bar code and/or serial numbers.
- Instructions for use. Even the most straightforward item can benefit from a brief blurb about how to use it.
- Contact information. In addition to the manufacturing or packaging address, many products also list a website consumers can visit to learn more.
What factors should influence your product label design?
Consider these factors when designing your product label:
- Target audience. Who should buy your product and why? What do they value, and what visual style resonates with them?;
- Competitors. Studying common themes among your competitors’ product labels will help you strategize how to best stand out.
- Brand identity. Adhere to your company’s brand guidelines to signal continuity to your customers and build brand loyalty.
- Size and shape of the container. The packaging design and label size should influence the format and content of the information you put on your label. For example, a small container might require you to trim the word count of your product description so your customers can read everything on the label.
- Material. The material of your label can affect the way a customer perceives the product inside. Thick cardstock with embossed lettering might signal a luxury good, for example, whereas a sleek matte sticker might suggest a high-end tech item.
- Product purpose. When you design labels for your products, consider their everyday use. Kitchen or body products, for example, will likely get wet and benefit from waterproof labels.
How to design a good product label
A label is your product’s first impression. It communicates important information about what the product is and how to use it. It also conveys your brand values at a glance. Here’s how to design a good one.
- Do research
- Define your budget
- Gather essential product information
- Plan the layout
- Consider information hierarchy
- Balance decorative elements
- Proofread your work
- Print your labels
1. Do research
Start by researching your target audience and competitors. Host a focus group with representatives from your target market, or share an online survey with your email audience to discover what kind of product label information they find most helpful. Explore the design trends your competitors have relied on, and brainstorm how you can stand out while still adhering to your brand identity.
2. Define your budget
It’s easy to get carried away with flashy design elements and high-end materials, but the cost of a pricey label eventually gets passed on to the consumer, affecting their purchasing decisions. Depending on your budget, you may choose to hire a professional designer or use a free tool like Canva to design the product label yourself. Determine which materials will complement your product’s packaging without increasing the total price for consumers.
3. Gather essential product information
Aside from the product name, company logo, and product description, there may be other pieces of information you’ll need to make room for on your label. Gather the product’s ingredient list, special certifications, bar code, and other essential information before incorporating brand messaging.
4. Plan the layout
Once you know what information your label should convey and what materials you want to use, you can start planning a design. Whether you’re sketching your idea on a napkin or creating it using software, remember to keep your margins and the “bleed area” in mind.
5. Consider information hierarchy
Next, consider your information hierarchy. A great label doesn’t just look nice, it also relays key product information, so the name of the product and your company logo should stand out. You’ll also need to include ample space for ingredient or product information, a bar code, and the price, if necessary. Generally, six-point font is the smallest size that ensures readability; a 10-point font is usually good for more important information.
6. Balance decorative elements
By keeping a few graphic design ideas in mind, you can plan an eye-catching label. At least one decorative element will enhance your design, and white space will help balance it. Try pairing two complementary fonts to differentiate information and give your design more visual interest. At the same time, you don’t want a label that’s too busy or hard to read. Stay with two to three colors and avoid complicated patterns.
Once you’re done, step away from your design and consider how it looks from a distance. Does it jump out at the casual passerby? Would they be able to read it? If not, consider what you can delete from your design. You may be surprised at how much it can improve the result.
7. Proofread your work
Enlist the help of a copyeditor or detail-oriented friend to check that all of the text is spelled correctly, makes sense, and is legible. Having a second set of eyes on the final design can also help you spot misleading punctuation or confusing phrasing you may have overlooked.
8. Print your labels
The number of labels you’ll need will likely determine the most cost-effective way to print them. You can print small batches on a home printer, but a larger order will likely require the use of a printing service.
Tips for making your product label stand out
A label that attracts attention in a sea of competitors often follows some basic tenets of great graphic design:
- Make it readable. The most important role of a label is to tell customers about the product, so the name and product description should be clear and easy to find.
- Be smart about white space. A cluttered design can be overwhelming to look at; the right amount of white space makes for a pleasant viewing experience.
- Mix fonts. Instead of using one font on your label, try using a combination of two or three fonts to add visual interest. Font pairing, or using two contrasting looks in tandem, can add depth and keep a viewer engaged.
Best product label design websites
You can design your label yourself or commission one from a professional designer with the help of one of various design software options:
- Adobe Express: Adobe Express is a web app and a straightforward solution that allows you to create custom designs with stock design assets or your own images. It includes drag-and-drop tools, three template shapes, and up to six sizes.
- Canva: Canva, another online drag-and-drop tool, has an extensive collection of templates, stickers, vectors, and icons to enhance your label.
- 99designs: 99designs is a great option for those who would prefer to work with professional designers to create a custom label design. You can review portfolios and request quotes from many designers on the site. You can launch a design contest in which you draw up a creative brief describing what you’re looking for and pick a winning label design from the entrants.
- Designhill: Designhill offers a digital logo maker with an assortment of templates. It also helps you connect to professional designers through portfolio reviews or by launching a design contest.
Product label design FAQ
Are there any current design trends in product label design?
You might notice bold, contrasting colors and big geometric shapes on product labels these days. Sustainability continues to attract consumers, so labels and containers made with natural or zero-waste products are en vogue, too. Additionally, more brands are using die cuts to give customers a peek at the product inside the package.
What are some legal requirements to keep in mind for product label design?
Depending on the product, you may be required to include a list of ingredients, special certifications or compliance marks, weight information, a serial number, and more.
How can I ensure that the information on my product label is legible and easy to read?
As a general rule, readable information should be sized in at least a six-point font; however, even large fonts can get lost on a label with too many design elements. A label with two or three colors, a few design elements, and plenty of white space is likely to be the most legible.
Can I incorporate technology into my product label design?
Technology has been an important part of label design since barcodes first became popular in the 1970s. Today, QR codes have become commonplace and help people access more information about a product by scanning the code on their phones. While it’s not yet widespread, a few new label designs incorporate AR, allowing consumers to interact with product labels in a new way, either by appearing to animate parts of a label when viewed through the AR app or by turning the view into a game.
What is the best way to test and refine my product label design?
The easiest way to test a product label design is to show it to friends and family. You can also test it in a focus group. Once you release your label into the world, keep gathering data on how it’s performing, and remember that it’s OK to rework and relaunch a label every once in a while.