BTL_Label School_headingThis month we’ll be discussing some of the more common graphics applications that might be used in label design. Even if you outsource label design creation, you’ll want to be aware of the application(s) and platform used to create your label. Inevitably there will be design changes.  Knowing how the label was created, what application was used, and whether or not a Windows or Apple platform was used will make those changes much less stressful for you. Let’s start with a review of software graphics products.  Adobe dominates the market in all areas, however companies like Corel, Serif and Xara also have product offerings.  Also many free alternatives exist for each basic functionality. If budget is a concern, search for these alternatives.  Also popular for the budget conscious is the new and popular model of monthly subscriptions. Most major software vendors are offering monthly or annual subscriptions for their full product suite.

Vector-Based Graphics Editing:  Vector-based graphics programs deal with drawings, rather than photographs. Adobe Illustrator seems to be a tool of choice for piecing together label art, centering around vector drawings and text. Because Adobe Illustrator can capture and work with both image and vector graphics, it remains a powerful tool for graphics layout and is a favorite of graphics artists. Files created in this application have the format file.ai.  CorelDRAW Graphics Studio is another choice for this type of graphics editing. Corel first introduced its drawing application in 1989 and has expanded to include other related applications.  DrawPlus by Serif is another drawing program that seems to be popular. While not as well known as Adobe or Corel, Serif has been around since 1987 and has a full product suite.

Photograph editing: Adobe Photoshop, almost a household word, is an application usually used specifically for editing images and photographs. It’s known to be quite intimidating to the layman and is one of those programs you may not wish to dabble in. Photoshop may play a part of your label design, but it’s likely you won’t be producing the final product with this format.  However, it is entirely possible your graphics artist will deliver your label in the photoshop format. Files created in this application are usually exported in the format file.eps.  An alternative to Photoshop is Serif’s PhotoPlus.  PhotoPlus has good user reviews and may be a more economical choice. Xara, a company developing software in the UK since 1981, also offers Xara Photo & Graphic Designer. This is another more economical choice that may be worth a look.

Print Layout and Publishing: There are quite a few applications that exist specifically for digital print layout and publishing. Adobe InDesign is desktop publishing software meant to create items incorporating text and graphics with layout and style. One might use InDesign to create a product brochure, an entire book or something as simple as a single product label. The purpose of applications like this is professional layout for print and digital publishing. Other desktop publishing applications include PagePlus by Serif, Page & Layout Designer by Xara, and Publisher by Microsoft.

Portable Document Format: Adobe Acrobat is a tool for creating and working with files in the Portable Document Format (PDF). Everyone seems to be familiar with the ubiquitous and free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Adobe also sells versions of Acrobat which allow general editing of PDF files. Other popular programs that can edit PDF files include PhantomPDF by Foxit, Power PDF Standard by Nuance, and CutePDF. Of course, many applications now have “Save As PDF” in their export options or you might even install a PDF printer driver that writes out or “prints” a PDF file. If you are working with labels in PDF format, any of these PDF applications that allow you to do basic file editing might be useful to you.

Bitmap Editing:  Paint is a free application that comes with your basic PC. While not the friendliest for making labels, it serves its purpose from time to time, for example for minor changes or resizing. Paint opens any of the following “standard” graphics formats:

  • Bitmap (Monochrome or single color, 16 color, 256 color ,24-bit color) – .bmp, .dmp
  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) – .jpg, .jpeg, .jpe,
  • GIF (Graphics Image File) – .gif
  • TIFF (Tagged Image Format File) – .tif, .tiff
  • PNG (Portable Network Graphics) – .png
  • ICO (Icon Files) – .ico

It’s important to understand that your label graphic is saved in a particular graphics format; it’s more important to make sure it’s saved at a high quality resolution in that format. However, some formats such as TIFF and PNG are more ‘quality friendly” because they do not have built in compression. Bitmap images are often too low res and JPEG images often have been compressed, both resulting in a poor quality image.  Remember, just because the image looks good on-screen, does not guarantee that it will look good when printed. Check the quality and resolution before hand.

Basic Document Editing: Microsoft products. Don’t forget about them!  It’s likely you already have these applications installed on your PC so it’s worth taking a look. Microsoft PowerPoint has some basic but powerful graphics editing tools. PowerPoint is also known for excellent image scaling; this is not true for all applications and image scaling can greatly affect the quality of your label print. It might be that your label is simple enough to use Power Point. Word is probably a little less friendly, but if it’s something you already own, don’t discount it as a basic label authoring tool. Just remember if you need anything more sophisticated, be ready to move on.