Tips and Rules for Designing Wine Labels

Editor’s note: This post was written by  Scott Huntington, a graphic designer and blogger from Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @SMHUntington.

If you’re a freelance designer, chances are you’re asked to create designs for products you know nothing about. This was the case when I got hired as a graphic designer at a small winery. I knew there was white wine and red wine, but that was about it. For the next three years I explored the art of wine labels and now am offering you some tips for if you ever need to design some of your own.

wine labels

The Science

Wine labels do more than paint a pretty picture. They’re a huge factor in helping people purchase the wine, can determine the perceived value, and actually change the taste of the wine. Yes, the taste. In the video below, test subjects enjoyed wine that had a California label, but hated it when the same wine had a North Carolina label.

Not only does the label change what people think about the wine, it helps them buy the wine in the first place. A whopping 70% of people in a liquor store use the label to help them determine what wine to buy. Your design is extremely important.

The Rules

Ok, before you start whipping together your label, there are a few crazy rules that you probably never thought about. Here’s how I found out about one of the most interesting rules.

I made a lot of custom labels for weddings, anniversaries, and businesses. One time, CJ Pony Parts, a Mustang parts company, contacted me to design labels to use as gifts for their employees.  Since the Mustang is the all-American car, they wanted the label to have a some sort of Mustang with an American Flag in the background. Great idea, right? I made a great design only to have the winery owner tell me that it was illegal to have an American flag on a bottle of wine. Crazy rule, but it’s true.

The whole label design process has to get approved by AFT, too, which could take months. There are rules on font sizes, color contrast, and where you’re allowed to put things like alcohol content and the government warning.

The Actual Design

wine labels

When it comes to the actual design, there are a number of important factors you need to consider. The first is if the wine is part of a series or can stand by itself.  If it’s part of a series, you need to ask yourself if your idea can be expanded on when more wines come out. For example, when I was designing labels for the Gettysburg 150th Anniversary series, I made them so they could have an unlimited amount of wines. We would keep the main part of the label and then add a different center picture and title.

The next huge factor is the price of the wine. If it’s an expensive bottle, go with colors to match. Gold, beige, deep red, and silver show that the wine has more value. Choose a color scheme that will make the wine look aged and expensive. Use scripts or thin fonts. Show classic wine images such as your grapes or vineyard.

For a cheaper wine, just about anything goes. Animals are huge hits on wine labels. They say that the wine is fun, light, and great to drink anytime. As millennials start to take over the wine demographic, bottles of less expensive wines are becoming more desired.

If your winery has a larger budget, think about using the whole bottle as a canvas. It can be more expensive, but the results can be downright awesome. Check out some great designs that go above and beyond.

The main thing to do when designing a wine label is make it stand out from the crowd. Think about what you’d want to see when you’re at the liquor store. Design something that people will want to collect and keep. And don’t forget to get a bottle for yourself.