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06 Mar 2023 | 16:00

An introduction to product labels for small businesses

As the owner of a small business, you’ve already poured your heart and soul into doing, making, and running something that you are incredibly passionate about. Whether your idea came from a want, a need, or an opportunity, getting your products into the hands and homes of your customers is the next big challenge, and your labelling and branding will play a huge part in making this happen.

One of the most effective ways to professionalise and make your product really stand out is by designing a unique, eye-catching, and recognisable label for your product. A well-designed label will make your product instantly recognisable amongst your competitors, provide them with essential information and create a memorable brand image. In today’s guide, we’ll explain everything that you need to know about label printing, design and creation for your small business. 

A tale about the importance of labelling for your brand

Before we get started, let’s set the scene of just how important branding and labelling are. To do this, let’s take a quick look at Tropicana's 2009 attempt at re-branding.

Tropicana invested a whopping $35 million to redesign their iconic ‘straw in the orange’ packaging. Less than two months after the launch on January the 8th, sales had dropped by 20% - a loss of $30 million. By February 23rd they had reverted to their previous branding and packaging.

In total, the rebrand cost Tropicana an estimated $50 million; customers weren’t actively looking for their orange juice, but reaching for it instinctively because they recognised the label. While small businesses are unlikely to be dealing with a fallout of this magnitude, it goes to show the impact of labelling your products.

So, how can you avoid a problem like Tropicana? By giving the labelling of your product the same time and attention to detail as the product itself.

The different types of labelling for products

There are three main types of product labelling that you need to be aware of as a small business owner: 

  1. Product labels

  2. Barcodes

  3. Packaging

  4. Shipping labels

Product labels are often the first point of contact with your customer. These labels are the forward-facing ones that you see on the shelves and they display the most important information about your product. This includes the name of your brand, the name of the product and details such as the product size or volume, and what it’s made of. 

Barcodes can be used both for your internal inventory and asset management, as well as to identify products in stores. A barcode holds data including pricing and quantities and can also be used to track shipments and manage inventory. Your product label can home your barcode, or you can have separate barcode labels depending on your needs, and the type of packaging you might be using.

Packaging refers to the actual vessel that your product comes in. Primary packaging is the container that is in contact with your product, secondary packaging is used to avoid damage to the product, such as boxes or padding, and transportation packaging is the container that your products, in their secondary packaging, are placed in for further protecting during transportation and shipping, like boxes, pallets, and containers. 

Shipping labels are used when your product is in transit to its destination. They all differ depending on what carrier you’re using, but a few things remain constant; the name and address of the recipient, the weight of the package, and a tracking barcode. In addition to this you might also find details such as a return address and the shipping class. 

As you might expect, product labels and barcodes are our areas of speciality here at The Barcode Warehouse. Let’s start off by discussing what you should consider including on your labels. 

What should I include on my packaging labels?

Product labelling is not only there to show your products off at their best, but also to comply with regulations. According to the GOV UK website, businesses in the UK must not use their labelling to mislead customers on any of the following: 

  • The quantity of size of your product 

  • the price

  • what it’s made of

  • how, where and when it was made

  • what you say it can do

  • the people or organisations that endorse it

There are also more specific guidelines around what your labels must display if you manufacture, distribute or sell precious metals, footwear, food and beverages or products for children. We recommend following the guidelines outlined in their product labelling guide.

Beyond the legal requirements, you may also want to include some of the following on your labels: 

  • Your own branding

  • The name of the product 

  •  Any graphics or designs

Ideally, your product label should display all of the information about your product that our customers need to know to influence their buying decision. Once you’ve got all of your details gathered together, it’s time to start thinking about the size of label that you need, so you know how much space you have to work with. 

How do I pick the right size label for my products?

There are a number of steps to picking the right label size for your product: 

  1. What details need to be included on your label?

  2. What shape and size of container are you using?

  3. Is there an industry standard that you should be using? 

  4. Think about whether you want a full wrap label or a minimalist label?

  5. Do you want to include your barcode on the main label? 

The best way to decide on the label size for your product is to play around with a few dimensions. If your packaging is square or round, measuring the length and height of your product is a good place to start. Make some basic paper templates and play around with what looks right to you. Think about how much of your packaging you want on show, or the container!

Label printers typically print in square or rectangular shapes, in a huge range of sizes, so the design world really is your oyster. For small businesses, these are the shapes that we would initially recommend as they offer value for money and flexibility as you are growing your product range and business. 

The size and shape of your label should complement your product and its packaging. A label that is far too small, or too big, can look awkward or unprofessional. Of course, there are always exceptions, like angostura bitters! 

The iconic oversized angostura bitters label was a total accident. In a rush to get their redesign ready for a competition, one brother took responsibility for sourcing the bottles, the other, the labels. Due to a miscommunication, or a mistake, the label was far too big for the bottle! Safe to say that they didn’t win the competition, but a judge suggested that they own the mistake and make it part of their signature branding. The rest is history! 

This is a rare exception where a label size mistake has become part of the brand. Typically, mistakes with label sizes result in costly reprints or, if you choose to use your under or oversize label; issues with adherence like wrinkled edges, peeling and tearing; all things that negatively impact the perceived quality of your products! Attention to detail doesn’t stop there; the shape of your label can also add to the shelf-appeal of your product and can enhance and elevate your chosen packaging.

How do I design and print my own label?

You may believe that you need a professional graphic designer to create a professional looking design for your labels. While there are definitely times when it’s best to call in a pro, there are also plenty of tools and software out there to help you get started with design. Web apps like Canva offer plenty of free templates to get you started, but the next challenge is often how to get your labels printed. 

Larger businesses will typically have a warehouse where their products are created, packaged and shipped from, but small businesses might be run from home or an office, using a slightly smaller outfit. If you’re not at the stage where you want to outsource your label printing needs, investing in a barcode and label printer is a great way to get started.

Here at The Barcode Warehouse, we offer a range of barcode and label printers to suit every size of business. From affordable compact portable printers all the way up to industrial printers. For small businesses, we would recommend the following for their accessible price points, flexibility, and features.

Firstly, we have the Zebra ZSB. Available in both two-inch and four-inch sizes, this thermal label printer is a compact device that really packs a punch. Not only can it be used for all of your shipping label needs, but it also comes with Zebra’s free web-based label design software! You can customise your labels from your computer with ease, and you can even print from your phone with the app, too. Ideal for those that always find themselves on the go. 

Next, we have our BarTender label design software. This offers a full solution for all of your labelling needs, and is compatible with many of our label printers. It’s incredibly easy to create your perfect label either from scratch or using any of BarTender’s templates! If this is your first time using design software, we encourage you to take advantage of our free 30 day trial of this software. Try out all of the features of the software with no limitations and see how. 

Start my free trial today

Finally, we have LoftWare NiceLabel. This software allows you to design and print labels without the help of any IT support. You can produce labels quickly without the needs of coding expertise, perfect for single sites and smaller businesses! If you’d like to see how this works, why not book a completely free demo with one of our product experts today?

Final thoughts

As you can see, there’s plenty to think about when it comes to designing labels for your small business. If you’d like any support choosing the right labels, label printer or design software to help lead your business to success, don’t hesitate to contact our friendly support team. With over 35 years of experience supporting businesses of all sizes we can offer you free, no obligation advice to help make your products a success!


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