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Should I print my own labels?

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Colored and white reels with self-adhesive labels for printers

If you need to source labels for the first time, you’re probably having a dilemma deciding how to go about printing them. Perhaps you are a micro-brewery looking to sell your own branded beer, or a candle company wanting to label up your stock. Whatever your new business, you’re likely to have spent a lot of time and money developing your design and brand, so it’s normal to feel anxious about how your products are going to look in a retail environment. Your choice of label production is as important as any other decision, so take your time and do your research. We know that cost is also always a big factor, especially for a start up, so we’ve tried to break down some of the pros and cons for you to help you make this decision.

What will I need to print my own labels?

If you want to print your own labels, you’ll need to invest in the following –

  • Desktop label printer (£200 to £5,000+)
  • Ink, and other consumables (e.g., replacement print heads)
  • Plain die-cut labels (with a suitable topcoat which will be receptive to the printing ink)
  • Label printing software
  • Artwork in a suitable format for print
  • Recommended: support contract for maintenance and repairs.

You’ll also need time! This is so regularly overlooked and often in short supply for new businesses. It takes time to clean/calibrate/setup the printer plus time to process the artwork and print the labels themselves. You’ll also need time to thoroughly research each of the above elements before you even make a purchase. For example, desktop printers can cost anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. The quality usually increases the more you spend. So, what level of quality do you need? And is it worth buying a less expensive printer if the ink costs are much higher, meaning you’ll spend more in the long term? All these factors need to be considered. Cost up your entire process before you begin.

What are the pros of printing your own labels?

It’s potentially cheaper to print your own labels if you only have very small order numbers to fulfil. If you have unexpected demand patterns, printing your own labels allows you to be responsive and get those labels done quickly. If you’ve made a mistake or something needs tweaking, this is easy to identify after running just a few labels off, rather than receiving an expensive bulk order.

What are the cons of printing your own labels?

You’re looking at a large initial spend to invest in everything you’ll need and if you’re only filling small orders, it might take a long time to see that investment returned. The quality of self-print labels is also generally inferior to that of professional printers and might not be suitable for all applications. In the long run, the cost is generally higher due to the cost of ink for desktop printers and pre-coated materials. Printing is often a time-consuming process, especially if it’s not your area of expertise. This time will be taken away from other crucial activities needed for the start-up of your business.

What will I need to outsource my label printing?

If you want to use a professional label printer, you really only need your artwork to provide them. Print plates and tooling will be required, but the printer will handle these at a cost. You’ll also need to have a high enough order number to meet the printers’ minimum requirements (usually £70 to £100). Test prints will also incur a cost and are not always available if new print plates and tooling are required.

What to look for in a professional printer

Your new supplier should try to understand from the outset what your application is, what material/adhesive you need, and the best print process they have to suit your needs and budget. They should also be able to check over your artwork and recommend any additional protective finishing options such as varnish or lamination.

For high end labels with metallic embellishment options, then it may also be worth seeing ample labels to help you decide which finish and colours are most likely to suit your brand or product.  It also doesn’t harm checking out reviews sites like Google or Trustpilot to see if there are any customer testimonials available, as complex product labels which use metallic elements or other embellishments are often very complex.

Different label companies will use different printing presses, software and machinery, so it is often a good idea to stick with one to ensure consistency across your labels. You also don’t want to incur plate or tooling charges again by switching to a different supplier.

What are the pros of outsourcing your printing?

  • More embellishment or material options available such as gold foil, textured papers or clear substrates.
  •  Generally lower cost per label for medium to large orders.
  •  Better print quality.
  • Protective options such as laminates and varnishes.
  •  Professional advice. 

What are the cons of outsourcing your printing?

It can take longer to get your labels to you once ordered. The industry average is around 8-10 working days. If you only have very low order volumes, it won’t be the option for you as professional printers typically have high minimum order quantities. There may be a high one-off charge for initial production of cutters and print plates.

What is the best option for your labels?

There are many factors to consider when choosing whether or not to print your own labels. We would generally recommend that for all point-of-sale labelling where the label is your main marketing tool, that you go for a professional printer. This will allow you to get the best print quality and finish options available to attract new customers. However, if the minimum order quantities you’ve received are too high for your needs, or you need the flexibility of printing on demand, then it could be worth considering a desktop label printer.

For either option, you must put a realistic figure on the cost per label so you can understand the impact of the labelling costs on your margin. There may also be a swing point from which it is worth switching from printing in house to outsourcing in order to get your label unit cost down. 

If you’d like to talk this through further, then please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’d be happy to talk you through your options at no cost.