Label Design Tutorial – How To Design a Product Package Label



Fish Chile Final Label Design

A Behind The Scenes Look at a Typical Product Label Design Project

Most of the time you only see the end result of a package design project. This is fine, but it would be really great to see the process from start to finish as this is where the magic really happens. The design is just the end result.

For this case study I’m going to use Chef Shabazz’s Fish Chili. This project is a good representation of how I design a product package label from the ground up and the typical challenges that pop up as we head towards a finished, print ready design. It covers both the technical side and the philosophical side. Personally, I think the philosophical side is the most important. Technical tips and tricks are a dime a dozen, but without a design credo to guide your way, you’ll be nothing but a hack for hire – rudderless and at the mercy of fickle clients as you just try one design gimmick after another without any real understanding of why.

Most people, including both clients and young designers, tend to think of a product package design as just that – a design. But a package design is really the end result of a branding process. Without understanding the brand, you can’t create an effective package design.

So with my client’s permission, I’ve made a tutorial that takes you through initial client contact to sending finished label file to the printer. I didn’t include all of the emails and comps for every step – to do so would turn into a novel – but I made sure to highlight at least one representative sample of each development milestone.

Step One – Initial Contact

It all starts with a call or an email from a potential client. Of course, the initial contact makes it all sound so simple.

Hello Clay,

Great website.  I have a product that we need packaging design for.  It’s a 6″ x 8″ plastic retort pouch.  If you’ve ever seen a Capri Sun juice then you know what it looks like except ours is clear.

We want a front and back label that we will simply stick on to the pouch.  So we’re looking at a  design that’s 4″ x 6″.

I have an example Photoshop file of the front and back with the logo for the product we’ve come up with.  All of that is subject to change based on what you think though.  If you’re interested, please email me back and I’ll send the files over to you so you can take a look.  We have a printer so we would just need the design.

Thanks,

Jon Hathaway
Westport Enterprises, LLC.

I respond back.

Yes, please send me the PSD file.

Thanks,

Clay

 And now the plot thickens.

Hello Clay,

Here is the design.  Please be gentle. :)

Fish Chil Label Oiginal Client Concept

Yikes! The “Not Ready for Prime Time” label. However, I’ve seen worse.

Not one to pussyfoot around I give it to Jon straight.

Hmmm. Well I could definitely improve upon this. It has a pronounced shoestring budget, imported  ethnic food vibe about it. Which is fine for the adventurous like myself who regularly purchase odd and semi questionable vegetarian Asian food products in San Jose, but not so good for the general consumer.

So the first question I have is who is the target audience for this? Then we work backwards to create a label that matches the expectations for your market.

Let’s talk this weekend sometime to review your brand and your product.

Thanks.

Jon’s response makes it clear that we will have a great client/designer relation. It’s really important for both parties to be upfront with how they work and how they think. This is how both clients and designers cull the herd. If you’re completely honest as a designer you will attract clients that are best suited to your temperament and world view and will repel the ones that are ill suited. This is best for everyone in the long run.

Hello Clay,

“…odd and semi questionable vegetarian Asian food products in San Jose…” has got to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard about Fish Chili.  Man, I love your frankness.  I hope I can afford you!  I’ll email you “The Story” tomorrow.

We recently debut in the Long Beach Bayou Festival this past June.  Our target audience is 18-45 year old’s (men and women) who love the taste of mildly spicy barbecue without the dangers of Mad Cow disease.  They earn their money for a living and demand a wholesome meal for their hard earned dollar.  The single mother loves it because she can feed all the children in the time it takes to boil an egg.  At the festival the main reply was, “This doesn’t taste like fish!”

Thanks and goodnight.

Jon

Step Two – Client Consultation

Next I needed to tease out all the details and find out what is really going on. Jon agreed to my quote (not included in this tutorial) so now it’s time to figure out what the package dimensions are, what type of package this is going on, the brand story – basically the foundation onto which the package design will be built. The first thing Jon sends me is the brand story which fortunately is already well thought out.

Hello Clay,

I’ve attached the story via .pdf.  Enjoy.

Chef Shabazz's Orginal Fish Chil Story

The brand story is awesome. Turns out there really is a Chef Shabazz and my client really did encounter his locally famous fish chili by accident. Unfortunately, Shabazz closed his doors and moved to Oklahoma. Jon tracked  him down and spend five years trying to convince him to license his recipe and name to the product. So unlike Betty Crocker or Uncle Ben, there really is a Chef Shabazz.

Now making up a character to carry the brand story is fine, and there’s a rich tradition of it from Bartles and Jaymes to Spuds McKenzie, but if it’s real, it’s even better.

Then there is the question on whether Chef Shabazz should be represented as a graphical icon or only in the imaginations of the customer. After weighing several considerations such as brand flexibility, customer appeal across all demographics and available space on the label I eventually opted for textual representation only in the from of a banner. But this decision was actually finalized in the design process, which comes later in this story.

I respond back.

Nice brand story. We should condense this and use it on the package. I’ll call tomorrow.
What are the dimensions of the package again? (I’m referring to the area that could hold a label …no seams)

Jon gets right back

Hello Clay,

The area that can hold a label is 5″ x 6 1/2″.

I want to keep you updated on some recent developments which may help in the design process.  First, some possible tag lines;

No Beans.  No Beef.  Just Good!
Chili Redefined
The New Definition of Chili
No Beans.  No Beef.  Chili Redefined!

I respond back.

As for the commercial slogans:

No Beans.  No Beef.  Just Good! (fair but not great)
Chili Redefined (intriguing)
The New Definition of Chili (a bit clumsy)
No Beans.  No Beef.  Chili Redefined! ( I love the first two lines…the last one doesn’t seem to belong)

How about >>>>>>

No Beef! No Beans! No Way!

No Beef. No Beans. No Bull.

No Beef. No Beans. No Kidding.
Chili Redefined

The World’s Best Chili That Isn’t

Step Three – Setting Up Your Document and Creating the Dieline

So set up your artboard and don’t forget to make it bigger than the final dieline including bleeds and make sure the color space is CMYK. And to make your life easier, make sure under “view” you have chosen “show rulers” , “show guides”,  “snap to point” and/or “smart guides”. You can also choose “show grid” and “snap to grid” but sometimes the grid snapping can get annoying. Later you can choose “lock guides” when everything is perfect.

After your artboard is set up it’s time to make your dieline. Here’s how I created the dieline for the Fish Chili label. It’s super basic and even a newbie should have no problem following this tutorial.  Originally, I didn’t have the arch at the top, but after going though several comps it became apparent that I needed to break the border at the top to make room for my Chef Shabazz banner. It was a good choice and increased the perceived value of the product because it was so stylish.

How to Create a Simple Product Package Label Dieline

My favorite method for making dielines is to build the dieline out of shapes, then combine them and make the stroke red and the inside clear.

Step Four – Research

How much research you do depends on your familiarity with the subject and the marketing landscape. For this project I needed to get up to speed on the main ingredient which is whiting fish. Turns out whiting fish is a species and looks a lot like a cod. They are found all over the world and have a distinct fin shape though their scale patterns vary. They aren’t the most attractive fish, but I know that a product called fish chili had to have a fish on it.

But why does the label need a fish on it? Because this is a shelf stable product – meaning it doesn’t need refrigeration – it could be shelved anywhere. It could be near the canned soups or stocked next to the pasta sauce. It’s anyone’s guess because there is no such thing as a shelf stable ready to eat fish chili isle in a grocery store. So to not make it crystal clear with a simple glance, that yes, this is a fish product of some sort, would be risky.

To find guidance and inspiration for my fish mascot, I visited many sites and saved the best images. Then I reviewed the images and decided it would be best to create a composite whiting fish using the best features from all the varieties. And then taking some artistic liberties, made an idealized whiting fish.

Reasearch for Fish Chil Labels - Whiting Fish and Sustainable Fisheries

I also knew right away that the sustainable fisheries and wild caught distinctions were a key differentiator. I already knew quite a bit about the sustainable fisheries movement, but after doing research I discovered that, unlike the USDA Organic or the Kosher “U”, there really is no standard graphic to use to identify your product as a sustainable fishery product. There is also no nationally recognized body to go to to have your product certified as sustainable and wild caught. The field is still wide open and there are many small players all trying to establish some kind of standard. So that meant I would have to create my own.

Step Five – Designing the Label

Now that I know the brand story inside and out, and I have created the dieline, and I have done the necessary research, it’s time to start designing. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing all these steps first. No brand story – no design. No finalized dieline – no design. No research – no design. You have to earn the right to design. To just think you can wing it without doing your homework is pure hubris and a disservice to your client.

When it comes to designing I have a distinct method to my madness. After I set up the artboard and dielines, I type out the key words of the label’s typography (usually the name, tagline, and body copy) and then cruise through my 5000 plus favorite fonts and test some out. Since I already understand the brand, I have a pretty clear idea of what types of fonts I’m looking for.

For this project it was clear that Chef Shabazz’s Fish Chili needed more organic looking fonts. Something that looked natural and homemade, but not too homemade. Something that was both contemporary, but rooted in the past. I know those sound like contradictions – and they are somewhat – but there really is such a look as contemporary classic. It’s elusive, but when you see it, you know it.

I keep applying the fonts that seem like good choices. If I like the way it looks, I save it, copy it, paste it, and then see if any other fonts work. I don’t bother with any effects at this point – just straight up black lettering. After an hour of so I have a good collection of fonts that are in the ballpark. Then I sort these into groups and see how they look. I may sort them by italic and non italic, or condensed and wide, or even fancy or plain – every project is different. But I always sort them by use which is usually name, tagline and body copy. These three groups need to play well together. So your choice of name font will effect what’s appropriate for the tagline, which then effects what will work for the body copy. Don’t think of these things as separate choices. This is a group decision.

Next I toss the clear losers and keep the winners. Sometime I also make a sub group for “maybes”. Then it’s time to start designing.

Fish Chili Product Package Label Design Process

I use Adobe Illustrator the way a painter uses their color pallet. I create my artboard and set up my guides for bleed and safe areas and then create my dieline. I use the area outside the artboard to experiment and test different ideas.

I use my artboard the way a painter uses a pallet or an illustrator uses a drafting board. I keep the dieline area clean and free of clutter but spread my stuff all over the place. I want to be able to see all my options at once. Things that I like I set side. Things that are clearly failures, I delete. All the stuff in between I keep around but put it farther off to the side.

This creates a hierarchy of choices. The best stuff is near the top and close to the artboard. The less successful options are farther down or off to the side.

I’m a chronic cut and paste guy. Anything I like I save to the side and then make a copy. I then continue to tweak the copy. This leaves a nice evolutionary trail of choices and options. Anything that will be ruined forever – like expanding the arch effect on a banner – is always copied first and set aside for later editing. I never want to create a situation where I have something that is 99% perfect but I no longer have an edible version to work with.

My client was using whiting fish that was both wild caught and from a sustainable fishery. Now this is a very important differentiator. You can’t go to a quality sushi restaurant or a upscale seafood counter without seeing signs and literature about sustainable fisheries. As our oceans continue to degrade and fisheries continue to collapse, where your fish comes from is going to become central to the decision process for both buyers and end consumers. Now as I mentioned earlier, there is no national or international certification body for identifying and labeling products from sustainable fisheries. But since this was a major differentiator, especially for Whole Foods which was our first customer, this fact needed to be integrated into the package and the brand story. I also thought that the best way to convey this differentiator was in the form  a “seal of authenticity”, which is my shorthand for describing any sort of badge, decal, or icon that carries of message of quality. Since there wasn’t a ready-made seal available, I made my own.

Fish Chili Wild Caught Sustainable Fisheries Decal

I get my first comps to the level that I think are worthy of show and tell with my client, Jon. I don’t waist my time cranking out a bunch of comps just to prove I’m busy. I only show designs that I think are serious contenders – be it one or half a dozen. Not only does this not waste anyone’s time, it also emphasizes my value position. The number of comps is irrelevant and arbitrary. Five designs of crap is of no value, while even one excellent design is priceless. The number of comps that are generated should never be a factor in judging the quality of a designer or on weather a client is getting their “money’s worth”. This is why I never promise a specific number of comps. It’s a meaningless yardstick because the number of comps you generate has nothing to do with finding the prefect solution.

For this project I settled on one layout that was a clear winner and then presented five variations on that theme.

This is typical of how I work. I try a lot of things in the beginning but I’m not going to send crap, so I wait until I’ve narrowed it down to something that I can be proud of. I also don’t sketch out concepts first. I start directly in Illustrator and comp in print ready final form. I know that’s not how you’re “supposed” to do it, but besides the quick doodles I make while I’m hashing out ideas with my client over the phone, sketching would be a waste of time.

I can design this way for two reasons. One, my visualization skills are very strong. I see completed labels in my head and once I see it in my mind it stays there. It’s like a little sketchbook of ideas that’s visible only to myself.

Secondly, there’s the problem of converting hand sketches to the real world. You can pencil out all sorts of stuff that looks awesome in sketch form but falls apart when you actually have to execute it in final print ready form. This is because in a sketch you make all sorts of assumptions and use gestures to imply specific form. So a pencil sketch leaves a lot to the imagination and the dynamics of the strokes can hide some major flaws in your thinking.

Now, DON’T  interpret this to mean that you shouldn’t sketch. This is a very designer centric choice. So for me, as someone who’s been working professionally as an illustrator since high school (1984), who’s been a staff political cartoonist for three newspapers, who’s done storyboard work for the Discovery Channel, Intel and Disney, I’ve discovered that investing a lot of time in pencil sketches is not the best use of my time when designing a product package. And since I don’t have an art director hovering over me and no staff meetings I need to prepare for, I can afford that luxury. As long as I can see it my head, that’s all that matters. If you can do that as well, then good for you. Don’t be hindered by the naysayers who says that it’s wrong.

Now back to the initial comps.

I email them to Jon.

Wanted to show you these before I start on the back.

I think they’ll move product, especially in a high end environment like Whole Foods.

On a couple of these I included a “wild caught sustainable harvest” decal I made. I think that’s important for a fish product.

Clay

Chef Shabazzs Fish Chili Package Design Comps

The first comps I sent to my client. I don’t send anything that doesn’t look spectacular. I went though many versions before I settled on these. They look very similar but the subtle font changes between the designs makes a difference.

Jon gets back to me a few days later.

Hello Clay,

We’ve reviewed the comps and have come to like V1 overall.  The colors you have chosen certainly “Pop” off the page.  One concern is if they will print just as brilliantly?  The “Chef Shabazz’s” font and banner are great.  The “Original” font and presentation is great.  We like the “Fish Chili” font in this version also (Version 1).  We like the modern font you have “Chili Redefined” in with the “R” lip hanging down.

The red border around the outside edge works with the brushed, thicker inner border giving it that “fisherman on the docks” feel.  Also, everyone loved the “Wild Caught” stamp.  Is that trademarked or will we be able to use it?  The subtle sunburst in the back is always a nice touch.

Here are our changes and concerns:

Please add the swirls from the other versions that were in back of the fish to this one.

Please make the fish more “Appealing to Eat.”  This item was hotly debated so this is what specifically got me…the yellow streaks on top of the fish suggest “spoiled” or “rotten” fish.  I know they’re highlights but nobody wants “yellow” in their fish.  It’s subtle, but in our eye test we found that the eye goes to “Fish Chili” first and the actual fish second, so making the fish mouth watering is important.

We’re furiously trying to figure out that last punch line in the “No Beef, No Beans”  banner.  We’re not going to keep “No Kidding” and have a tentative replacement of “No Fishy Taste”.  So, could you place “No Fishy Taste!” in there so we can see how that works?

We’ll want to be able to change the “Net WT” amount back and forth from 8 oz to 16 oz depending on how much we put in the package.  This will effect the nutrition label as well.

Will you be providing us with all vector fonts, colors, and drawings  included in the final design so we can make a cohesive marketing statement throughout our campaign?

All in all, we’re looking forward to seeing the changes and what the back looks like.  Let me know when we can expect to see that.  Thanks.

Jon

I get right back to him.

I’ll make the changes after I eat lunch.

That red border is the dieline. That’s where the die will cut the sticker leaving everything in the middle. Consider the red line the edge of the sticker. It won’t actually be printed.

Oh, and the colors will print very close. Of course, nothing is as vivid as a monitor, but these will really pop when printed.

After lunch I send Jon the updates.

New version.

Trademark is not an issue with Wild Caught. There are several trademarks filed for “wild caught” but all are disclaiming the right to the word “wild caught” itself when not used with their specific logo.

There doesn’t seam to be any industry wide certification either. Everyone’s kind of doing their own in-house wild caught/sustainable logo.

So we’re totally clear. In fact, you may want to trademark your Wild Caught logo at some point.

Updated Fish Chili Package Design Comp

Updated version 1 with new background and no yellow highlights on fish.

Jon is pleased with the changes.

Hello Clay,

Well, that was the shortest review we’ve had in a while.  It’s funny how the simple removal of some highlights changes ones perception of a thing.

The front is approved.  We’re gonna’ have to work on that last catch line.  Oh, I don’t think you answered our last question in the “changes and concerns” in a previous email.  That will help us be able to simply change that last phrase without disturbing the design.

Please proceed to the back design sir.  Thank you.

Jon

So now that the front is approved it’s time to do the back. I rewrote his brand story (to make it fit in such a limited space) and I also came up with a clever alternative to the usual “contact us” stuff on the back that capitalized on “the truth” theme in the brand story.

I send his my first attempt.

Here you go.

Version One Back Label of Chef Shabazz's Fish Chili

Jon gets right back to me.

Hello Clay,

I got my team moving at light speed this morning ahead of schedule. Here’s the revisions.  Please…

Change the banner to “What is the Story of”
Change the story to what is below.  I applaud you on your attempt, but to play on our theme here…That’s not the Truth.  :)

No Beef.  No Beans.  The Truth.

The problem with regular chili is that it contains animal meat from who knows where and beans that give you gas leaving you feeling uncomfortable.  Who wants that?

What’s amazing about Chef Shabazz’s Original Fish Chili is that there is no chicken, beef or beans.  This redefines the definition of what you thought Chili was.  We took everything out of Chili that was bad and replaced it with Wild Caught Whiting Fish, garden fresh vegetables, herbs and spices…Oh My God!

Never heard of Fish Chili before you say?  Neither did I until I walked into Chef Shabazz’s restaurant and decided to try his praised Fish Chili.  The only words that came from my mouth were, “The Truth!”  Chef Shabazz has closed his doors since that day but the “Truth” still remains.

I couldn’t believe that there was actually fish in there!  And that’s what the truth does…It redefines the false definitions you have in life.  Redefine your definition of chili today!

       3.  Play with the “No Beef.  No Beans. The Truth” in different fonts than the base text to see how that looks.  We’re also   considering how that will look if just placed in front of the first paragraph and design the first letter to look fancy, so let us see that as well.

      4.  Make the “Nutrition Facts” vertical on the left hand side and place the text for the story on the right so we can see how that layout looks.  We want to get a feel of both types of layouts.  Keep the fish but place it where you think it should go on the vertical layout.

      5.  We have two ways in which we will package this.  One way is as a “Shelf Stable” product and another is as a “Keep Refrigerated” product.  Make a spot on the label where we can place these and change them from one to another.

      6.  We have instructions we wish to include which will allow the customer to boil the product in the package itself.  Please make the instructions below fit in with the other text designs as you see fit.

             Boil in bag

     1.     Bring water to boil

     2.     Place bag in water for 5 minutes

     3.     Tear off top and Enjoy!

7.  Please fade out the background swirls to where they do not compete with the message.

8.  Also, I hope the calories from fat on the nutrition label isn’t “850” or we will not be living long as a product. :)

9.  We like the “Can’t Find The Truth?” and contact info you placed.

 In conclusion, we like this version but would like to see the changes so we can compare this version to the new version and make a decision.  Thanks.

Jon

I send him the comp with the new updates. I wrestled with the vertical format for a while before I figured out how to make it work.

First version updated plus side panel version. Worked some magic to get it to work.

Ignore the actual grams on the label. Just a quick placeholder.

I don’t hate this vertical version anymore. I think the other one is better though.

Version One Updated Back Label of Chef Shabazz's Fish Chili

The updated horizontal version.

Version Two Back Label of Chef Shabazz's Fish Chili Vertical Nutritional Panel

And the new vertical format option.

Jon gets back to me.

Hello Clay,

Man I like the way you design.  Revision V2 looks much better.  Version 3 looks good as well.  We debated about the question mark before and I just forgot to tell you not to put it there.  The reasoning is that we don’t want a question mark next to Fish Chili because it subtly puts doubts in the customer’s head.  We agree with you that it makes it look weak.

Adjustments to V3:

Bump the whole right title banner up to break the top border like you did on V2.  This will give an asymmetrical feel to the label which will cause the eye to go there first instead of the nutrition facts.

Once that’s done, you should have enough room to place the fish in the bottom right similar to the way you did on V2 replacing the wild caught stamp.  Everybody loves that fish and were quite distraught over it leaving V3.

The bolding of the word “Problem” has been hotly debated too.  This type of marketing has a “problem-solution” based theme.  People are more attracted to problems than solutions, so I think bolding it works.  When we raise the problem before the customer we can control and guide them to the solution…which is…buy Fish Chili.  So we’ll keep it for now.

So, let us see those quick changes to V3 and we should have our decision after comparing V2 against it.  Thanks

Jon

I send Jon some more updates.

How about this?

Heading out now to spend the day with my daughter.

Version two Back Label of Chef Shabazz's Fish Chili Vertical Nutrionals

Jon gets right back to me.

Hello Clay,

We’re going to go with Version 2 for the back.  Here are the final revisions:

1. Delete the question mark next to Fish Chili
2. Delete the word “animal” from the first paragraph
3. Bold “Redefine your definition of fish chili today!” in the last paragraph
4. Replace the Shelf Stable section with the words, “Keep Refrigerated”, for now
5. Add bubbles to fish please.  Everybody loves those bubbles!
6. Fade the swirls in the background so we can see the “800” number and website better
7. Please place in the proper Nutrition Facts

Additionally, we would like to add those terrific bubbles to the front design and change the “No Fishy Taste” to “The Truth.”  We’re getting the 800 number and barcode number this week so please start pricing the printing.  We need a label capable of withstanding boiling temperatures (some kind of thermographic film I think).  See if you can get quotes for a run of 2000, 5000, and 10,000.

Thanks.

I send him another version with the changes.

Here you go. The nutritionals were already accurate. It was only the vertical panel that was a placeholder.

I think I’m only missing the real UPC.

On Saturday a guy lost control of his longboard and the wave picked it up and threw it full force into my hip while I was riding past him. We all thought it was broken. But X-rays show NO fracture. Yeah!

I had to be towed in by a group of surfers and then they carried me up the cliff. They had to cut me out of my wetsuit and then the paramedics took me to the emergency room in an ambulance. Anyway, I’m going to be ok eventually and I can stand up, shuffle a bit right now. Sitting or laying down is easy.

So I’ll be bit less productive for a while but not out of commission.

I’m 20 feet from my computer but I only work on it in short spurts. Best to call if you need my attention right away.

Version One Back Label of Chef Shabazz's Fish Chili Final Update

The accident was really bad. But here’s the deal- as long as you keep your client in the loop they are usually fine with whatever problems pop up. They just need to know what’s going on.

I know he’s a pretty relaxed guy, and we have a very casual client/designer relationship, so I send him my bruise timeline (not for the squeamish). Ouch.

Step Six-  Final Proofing, Printing Quotes and Choosing the Best Label Materials

So as you read earlier, my client decided to make the product a ready to eat boiler pouch. This meant we needed a label that could withstand boiling temperatures for five minutes without falling apart. So I called up a few film manufactures and soon discovered that they either didn’t have a material that would work, or they don’t sell their material to printing houses. So then I called a few of my favorite digital printers (Collotype and Labeltronix) and presented them the with the problem. Both of them had several films that they tought would work as they were rated for temperatures that were close to the boiling point. They also both had printed samples on hand from a previous client. So I had them send a sample packet to my client so we could test them out.

My client then attached them to some sample bags and boiled them. They all did fairly well but one cracked and another peeled a little bit. However, there was one standout that didn’t crack or peel at all. And much to our surprise it was a matte finish label. So we went with that.

Hello Clay,

We received the sample labels. After 5 minutes… 
Labeltronix Glossy: kept its glossy look but the adhesvie peeled a little bit at the corners.
Collotype Whte BOPP-S2001 Adhesvie-Gloss Varnish: cracked throughout the design but kept its adhesive back.
Collotype Whte BOPP-S2001 Adhesvie-Matte Varnish: kept the design and adhesive back.
Conclusion: We’re going to go with the Collotype Matte. Please provide a quote for 1,000 Front and 1,000 Back 4’x6′ labels. Thank you.
Jon

After a couple weeks of acting as an intermediary between Jon and the printers we get a final quote from Collotype. I’ll always shepherd my client’s projects as far as they need me to, but at this point it made no sense for me to stay in between Jon and Collotype while they work out payments.

So I send Jon and email.

You should just work with Collotype directly now that you’ve been introduced. I’ll handle all the file prep, but it’s much more efficient if you work directly with them on quotes.

So Jon handled payment, shipping and proofing and I just made sure the files were perfect. And yes, they did “pop” as I promised.

Chef Shabazzs Fish Chil Printed labels on a Roll

These labels were going to be hand applied so one continuous roll with alternating fronts and backs would be just fine.

If you need an experienced product package designer to make sure your product grabs the consumers attention with eye-popping graphics, call me at 831-566-3046 or try email.

48 comments


  • renju b pillai

    helped….!!helped….!!

    May 28, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      You’re Welcome! You’re Welcome!

      May 28, 2012
  • Clay, really enjoyed the article. Thanks for the insights into your design process. I have got to know, what is that font you used for “Fish Chili” I love it! I recognize some of the others from Letterhead fonts. You have a great sense of style with regard to font style use.

    Keep up the good work!

    May 30, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      You’re right, there are quite a few Letterhead Fonts in the screenshot. The Fish Chili type is LHF Hertford REG.

      May 30, 2012
  • Chris Day

    Mr. Butler, I have been swimming in the details and wealth of knowledge you have posted on your site. It is just incredible and so straight forward. Completely invaluable from my side. Thank you. Will be contacting you with some questions about what you offer.
    Chris

    June 1, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      Thanks! And a big thanks to my client for agreeing to this much exposure. I was stoked that he was cool with it. This tutorial is a bit over the top length wise, but I figured the folks that would benefit the most will have no problem with the length and detail.

      June 1, 2012
  • Paul

    Amazing tutorial Clay.

    June 19, 2012
  • Great tutorial! This is a great boost of inspiration and knowledge for new designers like me. Thank you.

    June 21, 2012
  • Mélanie

    I find it easy to understand why you are such a great designer just by the way you enthralled me with your story (because that’s what it is to me, a story!, not a tutorial).
    As many of us out here on the Web, I rarely have or take time to read a whole blog post but I just couldn’t put my reading down until I reached the end.
    Even though I find your design amazing it’s Clay the communicator/storyteller that caught my eye. But after all, isn’t branding about storytelling?
    I think you’ve got it all, Sir! ;)

    July 5, 2012
  • too good! I will email this to my friend who is a package designer.

    August 6, 2012
  • Claudia

    I am in Santa Cruz as well. That hematoma looked awful. Can’t believe it was just bruising.

    Curious if you ever take part in showcasing your work via Open Studios?

    September 1, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      Open studio’s not really for me. I don’t have anything to sell in the traditional sense.

      October 4, 2012
  • Hi Clay,

    I want to reiterate the appreciation for you sharing your process. I’m more of a generalist designer with a few simple packaging projects in my book, but your site is giving me confidence to try to take on more.

    Thanks!
    Eric

    October 3, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      Thanks. Glad I could be of some encouragement.

      October 4, 2012
  • lukmon

    (sorry for bad English)
    I will like to say big thank you for showing your work process, i am new to design and it make working with client less harder than i thought.

    How long did this project take you to finish.

    October 10, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      Probably six weeks. But it’s not like I was actually working on it straight for six weeks. There’s a couple days in the beginning where you create the foundation and initial comps and then it’s weeks of back and forth with a five minute tweak here and a 20 minute tweak there – until its done.

      October 11, 2012
  • Suzy

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. It gives me a lot more confidence about how I have been going about my work and how to move forward. I appreciate getting a peak into your method and flow as well as the relationship building part of the process. I have been doing this in the framework of working for someone else on other types of projects and hopefully I can take that forward with my own designs more and more. I like packaging design a lot and am just beginning to learn about it this year through class work.
    Cheers! Hope that nasty bruise has healed!

    October 26, 2012
  • Clay,

    What a GREAT article! I appreciate your generosity in walking me through your creative and design process. I sometimes do some flyer creation, copywriting, label design and such for a couple of different organizations but lately I have been stymied in my personal efforts to build and populate my personal website/blog. Nothing feels good enough (isn’t that an insidious word? “enough”?).

    Reading through your process was helpful and inspiring. The quality of your work on this site is inspiring and worthy of emulation (seriously, emulation!).

    God’s best in all your business and personal efforts. Seriously.

    October 26, 2012
  • rasmy

    i really was looking for this kind of tutorial which gives the u the inside story , and i believe that`s the only one on the web cover the whole package form A – Z including dealing with clients demands extra…… thank u very much for making ur experience available for every one.
    can u do more plz

    March 15, 2013
  • Hello Clay, It was a pleasure discussing business with you earlier. And thank you for the tutorials. Regards, Carline

    March 28, 2013
  • Excellent “How It’s Made” on packaging design.

    Also, it’s a really nice glimpse into the intangibles/indelibles of branding when it comes to adding life to a product with it’s packaging.

    May 20, 2013
  • Kim Sanders

    Thanks Clay,

    Your entire site is the perfect capstone to my recently completed BA in graphic design. I’m indebted.

    May 30, 2013
  • alicelynn

    Hi Clay,

    i think it is the best of tutorial i’ve ever seen!
    thank you so much for sharing this
    i should learn many things for you :)
    im a graphic designer and just a newbie on packaging, my friend need me to help her to design some label for her ice cream product and she said that she need me to
    be able to deliver final mechanicals done to specific package specs that can be sent to a printer.
    what is package spec for ice cream product? is it all just about chosing material? i dont understand with choosing best material for ice cream label. any thought? thanks before!

    June 15, 2013
    • Clay Butler

      What she means is the printer will need a print ready file with 1/8 bleed. All images embedded and all fonts converted to outlines. Color profile CMYK. If it’s a box or an unusually shaped label, then you need the dieline on a separate layer. That’s it. All the other stuff, like paper or film choices is not your responsibility and it’s best to ask the printer on recommendations on that. They print labels for all sorts of products so they will have a good idea on what type of film/paper to use for a strong, water poof, freezer poof label.

      But really, what you should be asking her is what are the specs and who is the printer. At the very least your friend should be providing the package you’ll be designing to, or a sample of the product, or at the very least maximum surface area for the label.

      Just keep asking questions and don’t start anything until you are 100% confident you are designing to the correct dimensions and specs.

      June 15, 2013
  • Sam

    I was wondering how much your services cost him? I am trying to figure out my pricing right now for a company and am having trouble crunching the numbers in regard to my time.

    July 19, 2013
  • Roger Adams

    Hi Clay,

    I have followed you for some time now and I have to say you have been an inspiration in my career and I always enjoy coming back to your site to see what you are up to.

    This has to be one of the most fantastic tutorials I have read, and this must have taken some time to construct, likely your own spare time; especially for junior designers. Whilst I dont totally agree with your “technical side VS philosophical side” opinion, I do appreciate your side.
    I think this is also one of the most realistic overviews of how client / designer relationships function, in real world situations, from a freelancers perspective to big design agencies.

    As a packaging professional, your website and invaluable insight is influential, for anyone seeking to be better at what they do, I just wanted to take the time to acknowledge your work and say thank you, you are an ambassador to the packaging design industry.

    Roger

    August 20, 2013
    • Clay Butler

      Golly thanks! One of the nicest comments ever. Much appreciated.

      December 15, 2013
  • Matthew Williams

    What a great insight into the whole process, thanks for sharing your experience, it’s made me even more excited to try and get into this industry in some fashion.

    October 16, 2013
  • Lauren

    Clay, how did you get the information of the ingredient percentages for the label? Is that for the client to provide or does the designer have to research the sodium, potassium etc amounts? Please help

    December 17, 2013
    • Clay Butler

      They generally supply it, but in a pinch I make my own calculations based upon the FDA Daily Value (DV) guidelines. As long as you have the grams per serving of a nutrient it’s easy to calculate the DV percentage. For instance, if a serving has 25 grams carbohydrate you divide that by the DV of carbohydrate which is 300 grams. That gives you .08 which is 8 percent.

      December 22, 2013
  • Clay, great work, thank you for sharing a bit of your world! My question is: Based on your experience, do you quote a project such as this at a fixed price, or do you break your quote into segments with an hourly contingency in there somewhere? I’ve done this same type of work for 15+ years now and see a ton of similarities in this workflow with mine. I usually have a pretty good idea how much time a project will take, but you just never know how many “tweaks” a client will want, nor how many weeks it will be strung out. I’m just curious if you’re working hourly as some point in this stretch or if it was all covered by a fixed price. Thanks!
    Jarrod

    January 17, 2014
    • Clay Butler

      Fixed price. I think hourly rates and itemized costs for changes diverts the emphasis from value received and solving the problem to stressing out about costs. This will hurt the end result. I prefer to just charge upfront and roll the dice. Sometimes you get clobbered with a project that won’t end, but most of the time it works out fine. So my pricing structure has both psychological components (creating a favorable work environment where both the client and myself stay focused on results) and workflow components. I’m not a clock watcher. I’m also not going to hold back a superior solution just because a client ran out of money. So a flat fee frees me to be the person I want to be, which is generous, proactive, loyal, and results oriented.

      February 21, 2014
  • Jack

    Thanks so much for your article! This is great and very helpful!

    May 28, 2014
  • alice

    Yes, it is a great example of the design process. Did you keep a record of how many hours you spent on the design process? I didn’t get to read every word but am wondering if you included distribution in your pricing eg. local vs. national vs. international. A label for an international product will cost more, as the client has opportunity to make a lot more $ than from simply a local product. So… How many hours do you think you spent?

    Thanks so much!!!!

    December 8, 2014
    • Clay Butler

      I don’t log hours. I don’t price differently for local versus national/international. Since everything is global now, there’s downward pressure on all costs, from sourcing bottle, to the printing labels, the the branding and design. Everyone is competing against everyone in the entire world. So regional versus international doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

      December 18, 2014
  • Danay

    Thank you for all the wealth of information you provided. I am in the process of launching a natural skin care line and I find the hardest part is the label design. I am glad I found your site.

    March 3, 2015
  • Dana

    This article was extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing your insight.

    October 6, 2015
  • Hi Clay,
    What a long storyline with steps of design process!i love your writings! Keep posting,

    December 22, 2015
  • Meherwaan

    Thanks man this was awesome!

    February 9, 2016
  • John

    Hi clay
    Can i ask a question, what is the common size of design in packaging? Because i’m a beginner, the HR ask the question about that.

    May 10, 2016
    • Clay Butler

      There are no common sizes ( except for may 12 oz cans of soda and products like that). Every package design is custom made to fit a specific product. I think the HR person asking the question doesn’t understand the packaging design process completely. It’s kind of like asking what’s the common number of words in a book or what’s the common size a piece of fruit.

      May 10, 2016
  • Kalani

    Its very refreshing to have a designer share knowledge and a complete honest experience like you do here. The industry can be for the most part very secretive sometimes, I think because its so competitive anymore with so many designers trying to make a buck, but I applaud you for giving new comers hope really to do these type of designs and guide them on how to even talk to clients on keeping them in the loop, its very good advice im sure most will overlook. Keep on doing what you do please. Thank you.

    August 2, 2016
    • Clay Butler

      You’re welcome. I don’t subscribe to the scarcity model (there’s only so many friends, love, respect, kindness etc. in the world so you must horde it) or zero sum thinking (your gain is my loss). I also have a commitment to the idea that we move civilization forward by sharing our knowledge. If every generation had to start from scratch we would had never progressed passed living hand to mouth in caves. I’ve learned so much from others – we all have – so I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to the pool of human knowledge in whatever way we can.

      September 2, 2016
      • diana

        wow clay! i am speachless, writing you from colombia , south america , got a hold of this tutorial since we do cold cuts in our company and no one has been able to design something that pops . i am a graphic designer but i have not design for so long and this has been a great tutorial to star up the idea i have in mind. thanks for sharing the knowledge you have gain through the years .

        July 29, 2017
  • Thank you very much Clay! This is a great tutorial article!

    August 29, 2016
  • Hey Clay just wanted to thank you for you easy ‘inking and color’ tutorial of the demon head. I loved it. And best of all having it only take 15 minutes is exaclty what I needed.

    I’m a writter/musician and was thinking about getting back into oil painting because I needed a hobby that wasn’t my job. I needed something that I could complete in about one hour so it would seem like a break and not something ‘else’ to stress about.

    After seeing your inking tutuorial I loved it and the vividness of colors and the very simple shading idea with the knife tool. So I am awaiting my Wacom Pro (Medium) tablet and looking forward to learning to ink and color in Illustrator as opposed to working with smelly oil paints again.

    I really loved how simple the ‘demon’ head was loved that it was only 15 minutes. I also saw your hulk one. Would you consider making another simple subject or maybe point me in some direction to find other ‘easy subjects’ to paint.

    Would the style be called ‘2d’ ? for your simplified method of shadows.? I wouldn’t want to get any more complex projects than that.

    Thanks so much.

    Tony

    December 9, 2016
  • Thank you Clay! It’s very helpful.

    August 4, 2017
  • Rahoul Jasuja

    This is awesome. I design labels in India and this is very helpful. Thanks

    August 7, 2017

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