Cannabis Labels Warrant the Right Attention, Talent and Time

By Gary Paulin and Mark Lusky

After a do-it-yourself, homespun start, cannabis companies have upped their game in both professionalism and pizzazz when it comes to labels.

Product labels are essentially a company’s “front door.” To compete effectively, cannabis companies need to ensure that their custom cannabis labels look good, stand out from the competition, and can impart much-needed information about efficacy and safety.

Doing this warrants the right attention, talent, and time to make sure everything looks and reads well, is clear and complete, and offers a conduit to further information as needed. A well-done product label is an admirable “goodwill ambassador” for a company’s products.

To ensure everything is well-done, following are recommendations that can make the entire process efficient and cost-effective:

  1. Get a designer who knows the 3Ps. The 3Ps are print design, printing, and prepress. While digital design skills are extremely important, print is a different world. The rules that apply for digital are far different in many cases than print. For example, higher-resolution 300 DPI rules in print, while digital requires lower resolution files. CMYK is the color palette in print, while RGB applies to digital. Print blends and fades don’t work the way they do on a digital screen.Knowing how print design works with prepress and printing processes is another big plus. A qualified label designer can start at the end and “reverse engineer” a top-notch label that will print the way it should. Too often, grandiose designs run into trouble because they can’t be printed accurately or, in some cases, cost-effectively.
  1. Don’t overload your labels. It’s human nature to fill a blank space. This can be very problematic when considering cannabis labels where too much “stuff” can create visual and informational challenges. For example, including a QR code or barcode to connect people with valuable additional information, documentation and explanation can be very effective—but they require space. It’s important to make decisions about codes or the newest technology, Augmented Reality, at the beginning of the label planning process.Then, there are ingredients, required disclosures, and disclaimers—depending on product type and where it’s being sold. Last, but not least, labels that pop are about more than flashy, provocative design. They’re also about a clean, non-cluttered look. The whole world is overwhelmed with information and visual overload. Keeping cannabis labels simple, yet elegant and impactful, can provide a huge competitive edge.
  1. Make it readable as well as red-hot. Legibility is about much more than type that’s big enough to read without a microscope. Readability needs to consider many angles, including lighting, packaging and contents. For instance, reflective labels can be great, but how will they look in different types of lighting? Consider the line width. A thin font doesn’t stand out as much, and can defeat the purpose of making type legible—particularly if the lighting isn’t conducive. Then, there’s the famous compare-and-contrast exercise looking at how the label renders on the actual package. A clear label may not be the best choice if what shows through is the same color as logos or other elements that “fade” into the background. And, of course, there’s the choice of ink colors and the label material and color. How well does everything play with each other? Does the label achieve the desired branding image? Wild and crazy may be attention-getting, but for a cannabis company wanting to project stability, professionalism, and quality, it may be a bridge too far.
  1. Get team buy-in and direction upfront. Company decision-makers, graphic designer, and printer are well-advised to discuss strategy and desired outcomes at the beginning of the label printing process. It there is dissension about what the label should look like, convey, and accomplish, this is the time to resolve it and get on the same page. Otherwise, the labels themselves may wind up looking muddled and indecisive, reflecting the decision-making process itself. It’s vital that the graphic designer and printer be able to share ideas openly and completely—even if they’re not adopted. Cannabis companies deserve to know what they’re getting into upfront—and transparent, direct communication ultimately can lead to much better outcomes. Labels that are well thought-out, designed, and printed can help propel a cannabis company into a productive and profitable position.

About the Authors

Gary Paulin is vice president, sales and client services at Lightning Labels, a Denver-based custom label printer that uses state-of-the-art printing technology to provide affordable, full-color custom labels and custom stickers of all shapes and sizes. Mark Lusky is president of Lusky Enterprises, Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Contact:; 800.544.6323 or 303.481.2304.

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