March 19, 2014

6 Ways for Startups to Get Away with Self-Made Labeling

6 Ways for Startups to Get Away with Self-Made Labeling

For designers of all stripes, watching small businesses fly without the net of experienced design insight can be cringe-inducing. But let’s face it: since the dawn of the driveway lemonade stand, kids have been scribbling crayon-mutilated “writing” onto poster boards and calling them advertisements. No one is saying you can’t be successful — even if you commit the sin of omission and leave packaging and label design out of your budget. But doing so requires a little old-fashioned American ingenuity and elbow-grease, the same things that turn baby’s first billboard into baby’s first twenty dollar bill.

If you find yourself at the helm of a startup business and wonder how you can get away — at least initially — with homemade or in-house label design for your products, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Here are six ways startups can create their own product labels to get their financial juices flowing until they can afford to hire a top-notch packaging designer to take sales and branding to the next level.

1. Get Help

First, if you’re going “commando” with self-designed labeling, consider employing the services of a mass-production custom printing company like VistaPrint or Zazzle. While these companies do tend to create products that all fit a general, somewhat vanilla and easily identifiable aesthetic, the label designs they can help you create will certainly be good enough to sustain your business until you can afford to bring in the labeling pros. In addition to label design, these types of online printing warehouses also create custom apparel, collectible items, and other marketing gimmicks.

2. No Such Thing as Too Much Photoshop

So you’re not a graphic designer. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and it looks like you’ve done that. Step two in this case should be trying out a flagship graphics editing and design program like Adobe Photoshop to see what you can create using its cadre of top-notch tools. What you lack in graphic skills and label design training can be offset and supplemented by the groovy algorithms that make Photoshop so reliable. Again, you’ll get major bang for your branding buck by investing in a professional design team, but starting small is perfectly respectable; these types of programs can help you create good placeholder labels while you spread your wings.

3. Get Crafty

While you’re coming up with ideas to implement into your self-labeling strategy, why not harness the power of the social network for DIY denizens: Pinterest. A quick search can provide you with hundreds of images from which to jump off the high dive into a teeming abyss of exceedingly crafty people who obviously have entirely too much time on their hands. We mean no disrespect, of course. A cursory glance got our own graphics juices going again, so give it a shot and see if you can’t get some good ideas.

4. Back to Basics

If you have no idea where to begin and are going about this like some kind of hippie hermit, two things: 1) more power to you and 2) maybe consider a few basic design principles before you begin. If you choose to go it truly alone, going back to basics is never a bad idea. Think about things like how your product will stand out amongst its competitors on crowded retailer shelves; if less might really be more when it comes to messaging on your labels; how your brand’s unique personality can be reflected in the label design; and how sustainable and responsible your packaging needs to be. Asking yourself about these basic principles may inform design decisions you make as you embark on a self-labeling odyssey.

5. Know the Rules

Finally, don’t forget to verify any specific rules and regulations set out in your municipality, state, or the U.S. in general that may limit or inform the essential information required to be included on your labels. Forgetting this crucial step can prove a costly mistake; it’s another reason why calling in the pros is a good step take eventually. Especially for products in the personal care and food and beverage sectors, labeling regulations must be carefully considered.

6. Homespun Hegemony

For you few, you happy few, you band of ballsy self-labeling brothers, skipping the professional input doesn’t have to be a death knell. Thinking of the resources and guidelines above, you can get around your graphics deficit by spinning your DIY labels into an asset or marketing opportunity. With hipsters driving the return to a love for things kitsch and Americana, a good old homespun look might even be a boon to your marketing. Think of the marketing power harnessed by those little “Made in the USA” tags, and fly your domesticity flag proudly.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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