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Custom Cannabis Labels: What You Need to Know 


Like any consumer product, cannabis products need labels for three main functions: branding, identification and compliance. 

Labels are the face of your brand. They’re what captures customers’ attention as they make the split-second decision to purchase one product over another. Labels also inform customers about what’s inside a package, providing helpful and accurate details about the product. In an increasingly saturated market like cannabis, well-organized, eye-catching labels are the key to standing out on the shelf. 

But labels aren’t just about aesthetics, particularly for the cannabis industry. Labels play an essential role in keeping cannabis businesses compliant with strict state regulations. Cannabis businesses need high-quality product labels that not only look great but protect their entire operation. This is why many cannabis brands choose to work with a professional label manufacturer to produce custom labels for their specific application. 

If you’re thinking about creating custom labels for your cannabis product, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together this guide to help you make sense of the cannabis label production process and the custom design options available to you. 


First things first: Define your label vision

We recommend starting the cannabis label design process by outlining an overall visual direction. This way, there’s less guesswork and fewer opportunities for miscommunication between you, the packaging designer and the label manufacturer.

What do you want your product’s packaging/labeling to tell your customers about the product inside? Do you have an idea or feeling you want to convey? It helps to jot down some adjectives that describe your brand, such as “luxury,” “minimalist” or “earthy.” 

These details will guide nearly every decision in the label design and manufacturing process, from the size and shape of the labels to the colors, material and special finishes used. Of course, you can make changes along the way, but the earlier you nail down your vision, the easier it will be for the label manufacturer to bring your idea to life. 


Follow the rule of 5-3-1

Your label needs to be able to communicate to your potential customers from 3 different vantage points. We call this the Rule of 5-3-1. This means that it should be designed in a way that it stands out and catches a person’s eye from across the store and continues to present details and information as the customer approaches it. 

Your customer should be able to spot and read your brand name from 5 feet away or from behind a counter as a customer scans the selection. Large clear fonts and a great logo will ensure customers can find your product as soon as they enter the dispensary. 

As the customer approaches the container and label that caught their eye, it should ideally reveal a few details in the layout that were not visible from longer distance. At 3 feet, or across the counter, textures, varnishes or other embellishment will add really distinctive looks and hopefully keep interest in the product building. We’ll talk more about these features later. These touches should enhance the clear message and description of the product on your label.

If the label has done its job, the customer has now approached and asked to see the product. From one foot away, or when it’s in the customers hand, the label should clearly convey the details of the product. Flavor profiles, Cannabinoid details, harvest info, and disclaimers should be clear and crisp to maintain compliance, and communicate the fine points of your product.  

The Rule of 5-3-1 makes sure your design and label buy has the most impact, and helps the team make intentional choices about each aspect of the label!


What makes up a label?

When creating custom cannabis labels, it’s helpful to understand the basics of label construction. A typical label consists of adhesive, substrate, facestock, ink and finishings such as embellishments and coatings. 


Adhesive: There are two main types of label adhesive: permanent and removable. Permanent labels are designed for a one-time application. Once bonded to a surface, they will resist harsh temperatures, moisture, chemicals and solvents. Removable labels are more expensive than permanent ones. They allow for easy removal of misaligned labels without leaving behind a sticky residue or tearing the label. 


Substrate: Substrate is the base material on which the label is printed. It can be paper or synthetic. Paper substrates generally cost less and can be made with recycled material, making them more eco-friendly. 

You do have a few options with the substrate, such as how wide it is and how much negative space you want. Say you choose 100% full-bleed label printing — meaning your printing extends to the edge of the label. In this case, you’ll need to carefully peel your label off the roll and leave the excess material, or “web,” behind on the substrate. If you choose to die-cut your labels, this process will take the web off and strip away that negative space on the roll of labels. So, if you want a circle die-cut label, you’ll receive a roll of labels with only your circle-shaped label on it. This can save you quite a bit of time when applying your labels. 


Facestock: This is the top layer of the label that you’re actually printing on. Facestock can be paper or film. Paper is widely used in short-term environments, like shipping labels. If you’re looking for more durability, choose a film-based facestock such as BOPP (Biaxially-Oriented (BO) Polypropylene (PP)) material or Polyethylene material. BOPP and Polyethylene labels are thick and rugged, standing up to moisture and tears better than paper labels. They’re also more expensive than paper labels. When comparing label materials, keep your order size in mind. A high volume order usually means you’ll see less of a difference in per-label costs between materials. 


Ink: Today’s color label printers are ideal for printing crisp, professional-looking labels with vivid colors. The ink is laid down on top of the facestock before any finishings or coatings are applied. 


Foil Embellishments: Consider adding optional hot or cold foil stamping to give your labels a metallic, shiny accent. Hot foil stamping involves transferring pre-dried ink or metallic foils to a surface at high temperatures. This method is widely used in the wine industry. Cold foil stamping is a more affordable technique that uses a special UV-curable adhesive, which works better on temperature-sensitive materials. Cold foil stamping is also used to apply dimension with playful 3D holographic patterns and designs. 


Coating: Whether or not you choose to add embellishment, every label needs a layer of protection, called a topcoat. Depending on the look and feel you’re after for your labels, you can choose more than one type of coating enhancement. 


Examples include Soft Touch coating, which gives labels a sophisticated matte look and velvety smooth texture. MotionCoat is another coating option that adds motion-like effects to your labels, creating instant shelf impact. 


Infinite possibilities for customization

You can take any combination of the elements above and create completely unique labels that represent your one-of-a-kind cannabis brand. Customize the size, die-cut shape, material, design, number of colors, adhesive, embellishment and topcoating — the possibilities are endless! 

As a world-class label manufacturer and coater, it’s our goal at Delta9 Systems to ensure close collaboration with our customers. We work closely with our customers throughout every step of the process, including R&D, testing, trials, scale up, production and delivery to ensure the highest quality label products with superior customer service. We understand the nature of the cannabis industry and the challenge of keeping up with ever-changing label regulations. When you need custom cannabis labels, trust the Delta9 label experts to help find solutions that are scalable and cost-effective. 


Need a custom cannabis label quote?

Whatever you need, whatever application, we’ve got you. Give us a call at 1-877-303-8957 or use our online contact form to get in touch with the Delta9 team today! 


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Chris Guthrie
Chris is the General Manager of Delta9 Systems, a division of General Data Co. He is an expert in the cannabis industry, having participated in the birth of the cannabis industry in Washington, and has operated one of the first and oldest medical dispensaries in Seattle. For a decade, Chris has participated in the design and managed the construction of dozens of indoor gardens, and has been involved in cultivation, processing, retail operations, as well as industry activism.
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