Sticker it logo

How are custom labels made?

In this blog, we’re going to tell you exactly how custom labels get made by professional label printing businesses.

We'll cover how a designer gets the artwork ready for manufacturing, how they’re printed, and how they are finished (this includes the cutting and a deep dive into custom shapes).

But first, a quick recap on what custom labels actually are.

What is a custom label?

A custom label is a piece of paper or plastic (or it could be another type of label material) that has glue on the back so that you can stick it to an object or surface.

Labels are typically supplied on sheets or on rolls, depending on how you want them and if a machine is applying the label. Here are some beautiful examples of such printed labels:

Creating a custom label consists of three main steps. They are:

  • Step 1 - Getting your design ready for printing

  • Step 2 - Printing your labels

  • Step 3 - Finishing and packaging

We'll describe each of these three steps in detail below. 

Step 1 - Getting your design ready for printing

Getting your artwork ready for printing is often overlooked.

It’s not particularly complex but does require knowing the limitations of manufacturing, which we’ll cover here. The main limitations are:

  • Printers work in CMYK, not RGB

  • Highly detailed cutlines don’t work as well as simple cut lines

  • Not going too small with your label

Printers work in CMYK, not RGB

Computer screens display colours in RGB, whereas printers work in CMYK.

This is a limitation because the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) colour gamut contains about 16,000 different colours. However, The RGB (red, green, blue) colour gamut has about 16 million different colours.

This sounds like a massive difference, but in reality, it’s not as drastic as it seems.

The problem comes when you design in RGB on your computer, you may find that the colours will look different once your labels are printed in CMYK.

To avoid this problem, switch the colour palette in your design tools, such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, to CMYK.

When we send you a design proof, we’ll always convert the colours to CMYK to give you the most accurate representation of how your label will look once printed. Learn more about what a digital design proof is here.

Highly detailed cutlines don’t work as well as simple cut lines

The beauty of custom product labels is that you can have any custom-shaped label you can think of.

However, an issue we see you regularly is people try to be too clever or complex with a cutline shape.

The incredibly fine details that can be created on the computer and seen beautifully when zoomed in at 400% just don’t work in real life.

The label material is cut with either a metal knife, die or a laser and can’t get as detailed as a computer can show. 

This issue can be solved by looking at your design at a one-to-one scale when reviewing your cut line shape.

The other point to remember is that any small details are more susceptible to tearing or lifting when your custom printed labels are knocked, bumped or scratched.

Here are some examples of sophisticated, custom cut lines that look great but still work really well on a real-life product label.

Not going too small with your printed labels

The final point to mention when thinking about making your design ready for printing is that you don’t want to make it too small.

This is for two main reasons; you want design details such as text to be large enough for your customers to read, and you want them large enough to peel and apply your label easily.

Step 2 - Printing your labels

The second step in creating custom labels is to get them printed.

There are many different ways of printing labels today - too many for us to cover in this article, so we’re going to stick to the most popular method of printing, which is digital. 

If you want to learn about the methods of printing, view our article on the different types of print technology.

The reason digital printing is so popular is that there are no set-up costs for a digital printer, whereas, in analogue printing, you have to either make screens or imaging plates. 

Digital print technology has evolved massively over the last 15 to 20 years, and the print quality is now incredibly detailed along with the speed at which they print is also very high. This allows them to compete with traditional forms of printing whilst removing the overheads. 

Focusing on digital technology allows us to offer you as little as one label for a reasonable price. 

At Sticker it, we use a certain type of digital printing known as digital offset.

We use this technology Because it's the world's best print quality and speed - you can’t get any better!

This video shows you how digital offset printing works.

Step 3 - Finishing and packaging your custom printed labels

The final step when creating your custom label order is finishing. Finishing can include many different processes such as; laminating, cutting, spot UV and spot foil. We will explain each of them in turn. 

Laminating

When you laminate a label, it not only adds thickness and durability but also allows you to add a gloss or a matte finish.

At Sticker it, we laminate every material we offer, apart from our biodegradable paper labels. Lamination gives your personalised labels improved durability and beautiful finish.

The only downside to adding laminate is money, but for the tiny extra cost, we feel it’s well worth the benefits.

A glossy laminate will also make the colours of your design really pop and stand out. Here are some beautiful examples of gloss labels:

Oval mirror silver label with morning bliss design applied to a glass bottle with cold brew coffee
Rectangle glitter labels in different colours used as honey jar labels
Clear eco friendly label round with baker bros logo applied to seal a sandwich wrapper

The reason we don’t laminate biodegradable paper labels it’s because the paper-based material that doesn’t need laminating. Instead, we want to showcase the beautiful texture of that material. Paper labels are suitable for either indoor or short-term outdoor use, so adding a laminate isn’t necessary.

Cutting

All custom labels need cutting, and cutting can be done in a number of different ways. The options are; a digital knife, rotary die, or laser cut.

All of these methods will ultimately cut your label in whatever shape you need (within reason), so it doesn’t really matter which method your supplier uses.

A digital knife and laser cutting are similar in the fact that there are no set-up costs. They are both completely digital and just use a vector shape to cut.

Here is a laser cutter in action:

Rotary die-cutters use a premade metal die to cut the shape you need. There is a small overhead cost to creating this die, but it doesn’t cost much and doesn't take long to create.

Here is a rotary die cutter in action:

Spot UV and Spot foiling

Spot UV and foiling are specialist processes that aren’t offered by many label manufacturers.

They are premium finishes that can add extra bling and tactile finishes to your label.

A clear varnish is applied to the surface of your label in specific areas, and is either cured to give a spot glossy finish, or the foil is applied over the varnish to give a metallic colour.

Here are some examples of labels using these effects:

You can also get beautiful effects without foiling by printing on metallic coloured materials. We offer glitter labels, mirror silver labels, holographic labels and others that all can create incredible effects. Here are some examples:

Wrapping up

Are you ready to get your own printed labels? Then have a look at our custom labels range right here.

Maybe you want to learn more about all things custom labels and custom stickers before making your decision? Have a look at these articles to find just what you need: