Most craft brewers are so busy thinking about the product that goes in the bottle, they neglect to devote time to the bottle itself. But brewers beware: Appearance is a big factor that influences purchasers’ decisions. What your label looks like, and who prints it, worth some consideration; both factors will have a big impact on your overall success.
If you’re just starting out in your craft brewing journey, you’re probably wondering who should make your labels—an outsourced labeling company, or your own, in-house personnel. Below, we outline some benefits and advantages of each option.
In-House Labeling vs. Outsourced Labeling
As we mentioned above, you have two main options when it comes to labeling your beer:
- An outsourced printing vendor. This will be either a physical, brick-and-mortar company complete with equipment and staff members, or websites like Labely and Grog Tag, which allow you to select your specifications from a few fields, then receive a box in the mail.
- In-house printing. As the name suggests, this is printing which happens under your own roof, managed by yourself, your partner(s) or your employees.
Neither is “better” than the other; both options have different pluses and minuses which can help influence your decision.
Advantages of label printing vendors
Outsourced vendors, particularly the brick-and-mortar type, are generally great for those who want to have quality at any cost. Benefits of outsourcing to a printing vendors give you:
- Greater convenience. Outsourced labeling can give you huge time savings and peace of mind. Some printing vendors will manage the entire labeling process from start to finish, including designing the label itself.
- Room for creativity. Walk-in print shops can typically customize every aspect of the label, giving you much more wiggle room for creative shapes, sizes and textures. Online print shops offer a little less, but still have a wide menu of offerings.
- Professionalism. Since labeling companies are typically very experienced in what they do, mistakes and mishaps are rare, and the end product is more reliably professional in its appearance. If you undertake labeling yourself, there may be a bit of a learning curve.
Disadvantages of outsourcing to a printing vendor
With all that said, outsourcing to a vendor also has some drawbacks. These include:
- Cost. While working with an printing company does save you a significant amount of time and effort, it also tends to be pricey. And that makes sense: Your patronage is helping to pay for the printing equipment, maintenance, repairs, and labor. And that labor can extend to any designers, account managers, marketers, and administrative personnel that the company might employ. All of those people need paychecks, and the final price tag will reflect that.
- Reduced agility. In business and in life, things tend to happen unexpectedly (like, off the top of our heads, the Covid-19 pandemic). You never know when you might suddenly receive an emergency, rush order with a hefty payoff. Outsourcing your label printing limits your ability to be responsive. If your printers are all in-house, you can access them at any time of day or night, instead of having to wait anxiously for a response or an order.
- Less room for experimentation. Most label vendors require customers to commit to a minimum order size, such as 5,000 labels. If you’re already 100% satisfied with your current label, this doesn’t present much of a problem; but if you’re just starting out, you might need to test your first round of labels “in the field,” so-to-speak. Working with a vendor means that you won’t have as much flexibility with what you can try and reject. If you order a design in bulk, and end up changing your mind later down the road, you might end up with 3,000 unusable labels lying around.
Advantages of In-House Printing
Getting started with in-house printing is easy, and comes with its own array of benefits. These include:
- Small-batch capability. As we discussed earlier, labeling vendors are usually a better option for companies that will be ordering a few thousand labels at a time. If you are a small brewery selling right from your taproom, and only need a few hundred labels at a time, having an in-house labeler will enable you to print only exactly what you need, when you need it.
- Greater control. This, in our opinion, is the main reason to consider in-house label printing. Owning your own labeling equipment allows you to have control over the entire production process, from start to finish. There’s no need to hope that your order arrives soon; hope that your order is to your specifications; hope that the vendor gets back to you; or hope that the reprint is delivered correctly, too. Instead, you can print, view, and access your own labels before the ink is even dry. You don’t have to depend on anyone else, which offers a lot of business owners significant peace of mind.
- More efficiency. Labeling your beer in-house greatly expedites the production process. You don’t have to spend time negotiating prices, exchanging emails, or signing contracts. Get an 11:00 p.m. bulk order for a wedding happening tomorrow? Just head to your office/garage/distillery and start printing—no need to wait for the vendor’s doors to open the next morning.
- Reduced costs. In-house labeling can often yield brewers significant cost savings. You will, of course, have to continue to pay for ink, the bulk of the labor will be, in a sense, free. Essentially, you’ll be choosing to spend time instead of money (which we’ll expand on below).
Disadvantages of In-House Labeling
Printing your own craft beer labels also has some drawbacks. These include:
- Lack of equipment options. When you work with a printing vendor, they will usually have multiple printing and labeling machines in-house. As a small business, though, you will probably only be able to afford one, at least at first. While it’s true that many of today’s industrial printers boast a wide range of abilities, no single machine can beat a suite full of options. In other words, once you purchase your printer, that’s the one you will have to rely on for the next 5-7 years. If you have more creative ideas that exceed your printer’s capabilities, you’ll have to outsource, bringing you back to square one
- Maintenance and upkeep costs. Speaking of your printer running for the next 5-7 years, if you want it to last that long, it will require regular maintenance and upkeep. Some business owners find this inconvenient, and those costs will add up. Which leads us to…
- Opportunity cost. As you are doubtlessly already all-too-aware, every hour in your day has great value, especially as a small business owner. If you’re like most humans, you only have so much energy to give, and if you choose to devote time to managing the printers and labeling process, you won’t be able to spend it elsewhere. While you will be saving money, the time you spend might not be worth it.
To wrap things up, only you can determine which printing method will be best for your particular circumstance. Our only bit of advice that can apply to everyone is to spend some time weighing your options. Even though it’s just essentially a little sticker, a label has a big effect on whether your target consumer decides to reach for a bottle, or leave it on the shelf in favor of a safer, more well-known option.