This post on product label design tips is authored by Kimberly Head, CEO of Watergraphics, a leading branding and packaging design firm, and our newest guest blogger. We look forward to more contributions from this recognized expert on label design.
For Font’s Sake
Three Font Rules for Effective Label Design
You’ve spent a lot of time creating the perfect product, and now you need to design a label that’s going to encourage people to click on your product image or reach for it on that store shelf.
Your goal is to distinguish your labels from the county fair home-made labels by creating one that looks polished and will sit comfortably among the competition in retail stores and major online markets.
There are many elements to good design. An easy way to start is focus on the fonts. If your typography looks clean—your label will too!
What the font is a font?
Of course you’ve heard the word “font” - but just what is that? A font is a collection of all the characters of a typeface, including capital letters and lowercase letters, numerals and punctuation marks. In metal typesetting, a font was a particular size, weight and style of a typeface. Each font was a matched set of type, one piece (called a “sort”) for each glyph, and a typeface consisting of a range of fonts that shared an overall design.
Choosing fonts for your packaging/label is like selecting an outfit. Think about what your attire says about you. Based on what you wear, people might rightly or wrongly make assumptions about your style, your personality, your socio-economic background, your age (or the age you wish you were), or the kind of impression you want to make. Different occasions call for different apparel. You wouldn’t wear a sombrero to a job interview (unless you were trying out for a mariachi band). Of course, nobody wants to judge or be judged based on clothing, but hey, we all do it. Your label is your product’s outfit and, yup, it’s going to be judged!
Your label provides that at-a-glance first impression that people gauge and judge your product by. Your font choices need to be purposeful and appropriate. Is your font saying “cheap quality” when it should be saying “natural and organic”? Do the elements of your font “outfit” clash, or do they complement each other? These considerations are part of what makes choosing fonts such an important aspect of the design process, one that should be approached thoughtfully.
Rule No. 1: Create an Outline
Let’s get your product dressed! Write down qualities that you want your label to communicate - don’t over think this, just let it flow - get it out on that paper. This will act as the outline for your label’s font selection. Typefaces have their own personality (flirty/ serious, sporty, or elegant, etc). Later, you will select fonts that relay the message you outlined. A good typeface creates an emotional response. You’re trying to get that tone of voice right - you can shout or whisper. The font selection sums up the spirit of your product.
You’ve defined the vibe you want for your label, now it’s time to find the perfect font that speaks that message. The Internet is jammed with font sites. My favorite FREE font site, hands-down is dafont.com -- just love it! Another good one is fontspace.com. There are plenty of websites to purchase fonts from. Always double check usage rights of fonts. Just because you can download it from the Internet does not mean you may use it commercially. Most font-sites have the usage rights clearly stated on the web-page.
Label production note: please outline your fonts prior to submitting print-ready files. To help, Wizard Labels has crafted this handy “How to Outline Fonts” Guide. Sending live fonts creates unecessary challenges for your print-shop, so take the extra step and avoid problems.
Rule No. 2: Do Not Over-dress: Limit font usage to 3 fonts
One major mistake that people make is using way too many fonts! There are two basic categories to fonts: ‘serif’ and ‘sans serif’ fonts. Pair fonts that work well together. The easiest rule is to select one serif and a complimentary san-serif font.
• SERIF: a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol. Popular serif fonts are Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier, Bookman and Garamond.
• SAN SERIF: fonts without serifs. Popular san serif fonts are Helvetica, Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic and Verdana.
DO NOT USE MORE THAN THREE FONTS! The more fonts, the less readable is your label. The label example below portrays what NOT, NOT, NOT to do.
• Flirty fonts will set the mood; and can be the focal point of your label.
• Secondary fonts should be very basic. The audience shouldn’t take notice of this secondary font at all. This secondary font needs to be very easily legible.
Some Font pairing sites you may wish to explore:
If the characteristics that the font is communicating don’t match the message of your overall design, there will be a visual disconnect. When browsing fonts, it can be easy to get caught up in all the fun and interesting choices, but don’t let personal preferences get in the way; a font you believe is distinctive may not truly communicate your branding message. Go back to your initial brainstorming notes and ask yourself:
• Does this font support the qualities of my brand?
• Can I read it from far away?
• Is it truly appropriate for my brand or do I just like it for other reasons?
Readability is key. If you can’t read it, it probably doesn’t belong on packaging. No matter how ‘cool’ a font is, if you can’t read it, the package is handicapped in conveying its message.
Rule No. 3: Do Not Over-Accessorize (italics, bold or underline)
Another mistake many people make is to use embellishments like bold, underline, and/or italics. All embellishments of fonts make it harder to read. Underlining creates a block to the human eye to differentiate each letter, and over-use of bold and italic doesn’t draw attention; it competes for attention, creates extra noise and decreases readability. If your main font is fancy, do not use ANY embellishments.
If you follow these three basic font rules, your label design will help sell your product. Font choices set the tone for the whole design and can influence viewers’ feelings toward your product - bad typographic choices distract from your design’s message and intentions.
The power of a typeface is largely subliminal, albeit your label will be balanced and beautiful. A good typeface creates an emotional response. Your goal is to get that tone of voice right - you can shout or whisper. The font selection sums up the spirit of your product. Now that your product is dressed for the occasion -- get it to the party (aka: retail shelf/online)!
Besides dressing your product with the right font(s), there are other label design decisions to consider. For more helpful information, please visit Wizard Labels’ Artwork Design Specifications, Blog, and FAQs.