A close look into label creation and development


India • In part one of this series of articles the author referred to the general importance of labels. Part two deals with the imperative, that the label design has to be a parallel creation when the package is being designed.


In the part one of this series, I wrote about the importance of label. It is however an imperative now that the label-design must be a parallel creation when the package is being created and designed. In earlier times one would just decide on a container depending on the product being a liquid, powder, or a product. If it had to be a bottle, it would either be glass or plastic and then the shape would be thought of. For cost effectiveness some products would go into printed or unprinted LDPE or PP bags. If the product is a solid one, it would probably end up in a paper-based package like a carton. A bottle would get a simple screw-on cap and then the rectangular label would separately be designed to adorn the package. The labeled bottle would again go into a mono carton and then into a corrugated carton. While the basics appear the same but modern-day technological mindsets have undergone a sea change on how to go about creating a package and its labels. Now extensive brainstorming is done before creating primary packaging on issues such as product chemistry, its construction, shelf life, usage, lifespan, aesthetics, convenience of product delivery from the package, product decoration on the label, communication capability of the label with the consumer with ease, value building for the brand; its enhancement, protection and its authentification, security features, pricing information, manufacturing/expiry dates, bar coding, etc.  With evolution, growth of consumerism and increased retail selling; packaging waste is also now generated in gigantic quantities. So, for this reason each of the above considerations, the recyclability, waste disposal and sustainability must be kept in mind at every stage of package design.




Packaging design needs to start in reverse from the farthest end in the life cycle of a product with consumer as the end user in focus all the time at each stage. It is the consumer for whose attention and impulse to buy and comfort to use, the package is designed. One would imagine that once the product has been bought and has been used, its life cycle has ended. However present-day environmental obligations compel us to start our planning on how the packaging waste will end up, whether it is bio-degradable, or recyclable or reusable. So obviously the planning to create a package must begin with the end consumer and environment in focus at each stage. Now at the very outset we need to study the product that we have to package. It could be liquid, powder, or an appliance. It could be a chemical or a food product. Let us for the purpose of understanding the designing process consider packaging of perfumed hair oil. Large scale bottling of lubricating oils and cooking oils is done in HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) containers. HDPE is known to be somewhat porous and on long storage for months, oil seeps to the surface. Since the lifespan is short and since the lubricating oils are on shelves of gas stations before they are opened and used up, not much attention is given to the slight porosity. Similarly cooking oils are stored in cooking cabinets away from sight again it is not of much consequence. However, in case of perfumed hair oil which has to sit on dressing tables; first the porosity can make the bottle look greasy and dust attracting over long storage and secondly the perfume will gradually evaporate degrading the product. For this reason, the material of the bottle must be carefully chosen. Aromatic liquid preparations and volatile liquids like nail polish remover when packed in HDPE lose their aroma and lose levels due to evaporation. For this reason, PET becomes the preferred material for such packaging. Glass would be an ideal material and with full recyclability as it provides the best shelf life but due to the weight and its fragile nature, plastics are preferred. Similarly, when we decide to opt for flexible packaging, tin packaging, glass packaging, paper-based packaging etc., we need to dwell on how the chemistry of the product will react and stay well in the selected packaging materials. The shape of the package must be made attractive but at the same time convenience of use is importance. In case of lube oils, cooking oils and milk packaging the neck is moved to one side to facilitate pouring. Also, in bigger packs handles are molded-in to provide ease of lifting to the consumers. Additionally caps with pouring devices inbuilt or pumps are also used to make dispensing a pleasure. Once the material of the package has been selected the shape has to be created and it should keep in mind the behavior of the stability of the package on the packaging line during high-speed filling, capping and labeling process. Space needs to be provided for labels and their position, also ensuring that the label will easily dispense to be positioned correctly. The size of label should also be such that it takes into account the label printer’s press width with minimum waste matrix and deckle wastage to achieve cost effectiveness. The shape of the package should also be such that it can be placed and transported with ease and safety in secondary and tertiary packs. Another point for consideration is to provide the space for applying tamper evident label or seal wherever necessary. Most liquor bottles require government seal to be put on caps, but the uneven surface makes firm anchorage of the self-adhesive seals a challenge leaving room for tampering.


 Label Design:


\As I said label has to be in mind all along. It is the communicating arm of the product. It actually becomes the one part of the package that attracts the consumer’s attention, tempts him or her to lift it off the store shelf and then becomes the communication link between the manufacturer and the buyer. At this time, it does the job of being the best salesperson that the company has. It has the consumer’s focused attention there on. It is thus that it becomes the all-important part of a package. The self-adhesive label’s journey starts at the label stock manufacturers plant and meets the label designer’s ideas in the pre-press department, gets decorated and converted on the label press of the converter. Finally, it meets and is united with its life partner, the package at the product manufacturers packaging line. Hereafter begins the harsh journey experiencing product handling by different people, usage and facing diverse environments. The labelstock consists of primarily three components i.e., the release liner, the adhesive and the face material. Each component has to be in the mind of the package and label designer. Even though the release liner ends up in the waste dump, yet it is the most important part of the label converting and dispensing operation. The release levels will ensure speed of conversion and dispensing. 



If the release level is too tight then the waste matrix will keep breaking adding to down time and it will not dispense labels well. Also, if the waste matrix is too thin it will also amount to matrix breakages. On the other hand, if the release level is too easy then the smaller labels will lift with the matrix and may fly off at the label dispensing line. The designer needs to select a size that will not add to waste yet provide a waste matrix that will lift easily and will help in faster conversion. Finally, the liner, if it is paper, is adding to a gigantic waste problem as proper recycling facilities are not available. A filmic liner is thinner, decreasing the tonnage of waste generated and it is also recyclable. As for the liner to be used and the release level the stock manufacturer needs to be taken into confidence. Largely the optimum release values set by coaters, work across a very wide range. There is lot of work being done to produce linerless label materials still there is time before the product is developed to be used on existing packaging lines. The adhesive is a crucial component and needs the designer’s attention at the designing stage. It is the link between the label and the container such that it must adhere and perform well. HDPE is a hard to wet substrate and normal general purpose acrylic emulsion adhesives do not deliver a permanent bond. Specially formulated adhesives need to be used. Further if a removable label needs to be affixed and later removed, then removable adhesives are needed. Finally, the label material which is the top layer of the label stock and becomes the face of the product is also called the facestock. The designers need to do a careful selection as this is the part of labelstock that along with adhesive goes with the label on to the product. This is the most important part of label design and its integration with all the final packaging is what the product will eventually deliver.



Designers need to make the maximum indulgence in selecting the right face material. To design for printing excellence, creating appealing and convenient shapes of the packaging is an eventuality for any consumer product but what to print upon is an imperative and there is a world full of options. Not much long ago it was just deciding whether to use paper or film. By and large it still happens this way, however as vision expands and as we look around considering the possibilities that exist, labels start looking for an interesting avatar! Some parameters and inputs could provide the answer on what the label face material should be, but the way markets are evolving it needs a more intense thought process. To select the face material for a label we need to be again starting from the extreme end of the chain. We need to dwell on disposability or recyclability, endurance of usage conditions, compatibility with the product chemistry, cost analysis, aesthetics that aid selling, convertibility in supplier’s plants, statutory information, variable information on the label and capability to accept the desired printing, decorating and converting processes.



Consider any toiletry in a bathroom; it must be there all the time facing harsh and diverse conditions. It has to bear cold water, hot water, dry weather, cold weather, hot and humid environment, soap and continuous squeezing of the bottle. If the bottle material has been selected as HDPE, then the label in such a case cannot be paper as it will not withstand conditions to which it is exposed. Brand owners cannot expect their product to have a shriveled-up label lying in a customer’s bathroom for other guests to see such a situation which would have adverse impact on their brand image. Going further down the chain, a label should ideally be of a polymer that can be recycled along with the bottle. In a situation like this a PE film as label face will be preferred as it will behave same as the bottle material in recycling. However still, the selection of label face material cannot be limited due to above parameters only, even though they are necessary considerations. It must be worthwhile to deliver the sales impetus to the product that it will be applied upon. In present times designers have the options of a very diverse range of face materials. Examples are uncoated paper, coated art paper, Kraft paper, textured paper, metalized paper, foil laminated paper, PE Film, PET film, BOPP film, PP film, hybrid films, metalized films, clear transparent films, fabrics, cork sheets and the options go on increasing as per the designer’s imagination.


The final Label design


This needs the magic touch! The shape of the label must be in synergy with the package. One cannot have a square label on and oval container! Once the shape of the label has been decided we again need to design the label with the product and consumer in mind. A pharma label will be simple line jobs having consistency and legibility. It must carry all the statutory information, contents usage and dosage information. Recent government regulations have made it mandatory to print 2D barcodes to facilitate track and trace mechanism as a measure to counter duplication and fakes. Given the small size of most the primary pharmaceutical packs putting all this on a label becomes a very challenging proposition. When we consider the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) products we are required to decorate the labels with high resolution images with real skin tones. Capability of the label printer is of importance as we move to higher end  labels. Most labels are printed on flexo presses. These labels need excellent registration controls on all UV flexo presses with hot or cold foiling and combining, screen, offset or gravure printing on hybrid presses for special effects. Shapes are die-cut conforming to the shape of the package. These labels have a very tough task of convincing the consumer to buy so they need to be designed to communicate. The label must have product information with high resolution graphics to hold the customers attention. Since lot of information is required regarding usage, manufacturing dates, retail prices, bar codes, licensing details, contents and manufacturers address, a separate label is provided behind the container. The front label that is the face is made as attractive as possible to tempt the customer to reach out for it and the back label starts to communication with the user. As we go on to wine and liquor labels the need for attractive graphics becomes even more demanding. As the store shelves get crowded with number of brands and strict laws restricting advertising of alcohol, labels become the major platform to advertise and catch the consumer’s eye. Wine and liquor labels require very high level of decorating capabilities from label printers. The labels have textures, advanced graphics, foiling, printing with metallic effects, embossing and additional effects. It is for this reason that companies who indulge in liquor labels have made large investments in high end combination presses where in they can incorporate flexo printing with offset, screen and rotogravure printing to achieve the special metallic colour effects so prominent in highly decorative labels.


In the next part of this series on life of label, I will dwell on die-cutting, brand protection, building security in labels, additional decoration and finally innovations in labels.

 Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 India, October 2014 and updated in January 2022