A self-proclaimed “label nerd,” Masse has spent more than 20 years designing, producing, and preparing label
art for printing. She likes to say she spent the first portion of her career doing “flexo forensics” – working
to dissect and reconstruct design elements in search of a smarter, more streamlined production process.
So she really has seen it all – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. One of the most amazing things
Masse recalls is a product label on eye drops that featured dosing information in one-point type. (Read as
Art Technician Lori Richie has worked in our industry, and our company, for her entire career. She began in
Order Processing, and since then, “I’ve worked pretty much everywhere except the Manual Department.”
Now a color expert, Richie also has significant experience in spot visual work and other aspects of
“prepress” (setting up files before they go to press). So with credentials established, we’re proud to bring
you the top tips from these topnotch experts in the label field.
WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL US!
Got some art from a client in a file format you don’t recognize? Wondering whether an online banner will
work as a label (answer: not really)? Or just need help translating a client’s request? Call us! Someone
is always available to talk to you, and a short phone conversation can make all the difference.
OUTLINE THOSE FONTS!
There are hundreds of thousands of fonts, also called typefaces, out there. And while Discount Labels
has thousands of fonts in our archives (as our IT department reminds us very frequently), there’s a
chance a font may not exist in our system. Trying to find a font, or trying to find an analogous font, or
manipulating a font to make a copy change/make a label more readable: all this increases turnaround time.
The simple solution: it’s called “outlining” fonts, and it’s a feature in most graphic design software. Basically,
outlining a font converts it from a mathematical construction to a scalable series of lines and curves.
When fonts are outlined, the font file associated with its respective font (.ttf, .otf, etc.) is not needed for type
to display properly. (Richie adds that sometimes a client isn’t particularly picky about which font to use. If that’s the case, just let us know. We’ll find the perfect one for the job!)
SIZE (AND KIND) MATTERS
If a font is a “serif” font, you’ll notice little “flourishes” on it. If it’s a “sans-serif” font, it doesn’t have those
embellishments. Most block-type fonts are san-serif fonts, and VASTLY superior for readability, especially in
small print. Masse recommends using sans-serif fonts whenever possible for label work, especially for any
small print that has a lot of type. Otherwise, the type will be difficult, or even impossible, to read.
Common examples of serif fonts include Times Roman, Palatino, Book Antiqua, and New Century. Common
sans-serif fonts include Helvetica, Arial, Futura, and Franklin Gothic.
As Masse reminded us, “There’s a lot that goes into a label! Your package design is your last salesperson
contact. A typical product on a shelf has about two seconds to gain a customer’s attention.”
“So think pictures first, then big bold letters, and then tackle the fine details. What are you getting across in
those few seconds of ‘first glance’ is everything.”
“I will watch consumers shop … yes, I’m that much of a label nerd … and I see that when people go and dig and
get their reading glasses out, there’s a good chance they’ll end up choosing a product they can read. If
you don’t design a label with your audience in mind … if the label is unreadable … the most valuable sales
opportunity could be missed.”
TINY SERIF TYPE DOES NOT ‘REVERSE OUT’ WELL
Masse says, “If you do decide to use a serif font and you reverse it extremely small (i.e., “reverse” the type to make it white or light on a dark background), you’re going to lose detail. If you’re going to do it, I wouldn’t
go any smaller than a six-point font. If you have a sans-serif font … that is, a block letter … it’s a lot easier
on the eye and can get a lot smaller and read much more cleanly as a smaller, reversed-out font than a serif font.”
CMYK, ALL THE WAY
Labels are, obviously, printed. But what some people don’t realize is that printing with ink is entirely
different from displaying an image on a computer with pixels. Unlike digital or online art, which is usually
rendered in RGB (Red-Green-Blue) color, quality printed materials often rely on a color system called
“CMYK” (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black). CMYK is much more sophisticated, and thus capable of producing a
much wider range of color. Even though a CMYK color may look close to an RGB color onscreen, it translates
very differently on press. Richie says it best: “RGB colors are not going to print nicely in CMYK, which is
our world. Colors will be dull. ”If your clients can “spec” CMYK colors, they will be happier. Even better than CMYK, however, is spotcolor printing when it’s available.
AND PANTONE, PLEASE
As for how to “spec” that color, Richie says, “We use the Solid-Coated Pantone Color Matching
(PMS) system. Textile colors or cloth colors or even PMS Uncoated colors aren’t in our standard color
processing. (FYI: PMS Uncoated colors are lighter than PMS Coated colors.) It’s wise to look up the Pantone
Colors using their official online color picker to choose the Solid-Coated PMS color that best matches your
VECTOR SPELLS “VICTORY” FOR LINE ART
There are many kinds of art, but we’ll deal with the two most common: “Raster” images and “Vector”
images. For many label-art purposes, vector images are by far the best way to go. Raster images, which
are often used to render photographs on a computer, have a set number of pixels in an image. So trying to
enlarge a raster image will often result in a blurry result … all you’re doing is making the pixels bigger, until
eventually they just look like squares of color. Vector images, which have been drawn or converted
to mathematical calculations between each point in an image, are completely scalable. Simply put, vector
images are much easier to enlarge, shrink, or edit than raster images, and will produce a sharp, “non-jaggy”
result every time.
GOT LOGOS? GET VECTOR VERSIONS HERE
Why suffer through the disappointment of fuzzy, blurry, rasterized screen images of brand logos when
they’re easily accessible online? If your client’s artwork includes a brand logo, especially one from a major
brand like McDonald’s or Pepsi, Richie suggests a quick trip to BrandsOfTheWorld.com to make your client’s
major brand association look appropriately major-league.
MAKE SURE ARTWORK ALLOWS FOR A 1/8” MARGIN
Richie says, “Here, we have a 1/8” printing area, meaning we have to leave 1/16” on all sides of your
artwork … any imprint has to be inside that 1/16” margin” Bottom line: plan your design to allow for a sixteenth of an inch around all edges.
RESOLUTION: AT LEAST 300 DPI
Masse and Richie both say that the digital revolution has completely blurred peoples’ understanding of
resolution. Plain and simple, there’s a huge difference between how something looks onscreen and how it
looks printed on label stock. While online materials are rendered at resolutions of 72-150 dpi (dots per inch)
for fast uploading and display, print materials suffer terribly at 150 dpi. If you want crisp, clear art, text
that’s easy to read, and images that truly pop, check your supplied art’s document settings to make sure its
resolution is at least 300 dpi at actual print size. If the art is enlarged, the dpi reduces. Example: if a customer
sends a 1”x1” art file at 300 dpi and enlarges it to 3 x3” the dpi plummets with the enlargement.
SOFTWARE AND FILE FORMATS
Discount Labels primarily works with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop software, which are incredibly powerful
image editing tools. However, even these can only do so much. And we understand that customers create
artwork in all kinds of programs, even Microsoft Word. Still, your best-case scenario for label art is an Adobe
Illustrator (.ai) file. Masse and Richie say they can also work with JPEG or PNG file formats, but an Illustrator
file is by far the fastest, smoothest, and best. PDF images can also work – but only sometimes.
Richie says, “We advise caution when saving out of programs that aren’t compatible with Illustrator. If a
file is saved as a PDF file that is not compatible with Illustrator it will sometimes convert images to “nonnative” elements in the file when opened in Illustrator.
We suggest if you have a link or placed image in your art, and have saved out of a different program (not
Illustrator or PhotoShop), send the image with your PDF file. We can relink the file.”
MORE IS BETTER! (A.K.A., WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN FRANKENSTEIN.)
Yes, “Frankensteining” is a professional graphics term. And you’d be surprised at how often it happens. So if
you have artwork in several file formats, send all the files! We can often assemble a beautiful thing from various pieces and parts.
Make sure your customer has purchased any stock art or images that have been downloaded from the Internet. You’d be surprised at how many lowresolution images we receive complete with a stock image company’s watermark. Those watermarks exist to protect copyrighted material, and we cannot legally (let alone neatly) remove them. Remember: Rights and royalties matter!