Labels: A Tutorial

I get a lot of questions, comments and compliments about my jar labels: if I buy them (and where!) or if I make them (and how??). I’m very flattered and I want everyone to be able to create their own inexpensive, not-so-labor-intensive, yet pretty labels for her (or his!) fabulous canned goods.  Because, after all, presentation is everything in cooking: when I give jars as gifts, I get as many oohs and ahhs over the labels on the jars as I do over the preserves inside.  I’ve been a little reluctant, however, to share my label-making technique with you all, however, because, really… it’s embarrassing.  For someone who was once a computer science major (way back in the Dark Ages [i.e. the 80's] when we were programming on punchcards, reviewing code on clunky amber monochrome monitors, and traveling to three different buildings on campus just to input, review, and then get a print-out), I am embarrassingly clueless about HTML, Photoshop, Illustrator, or any number of software or coding skills that would come in handy for someone who writes and publishes an online blog. I am also stubbornly independent, so for most things, it all boils down to me cobbling something ridiculous together, old skool-style, in a program that I know well (which pretty much describes how I go about making preserves too – what do you know!). I’m warning you now – this exactly describes the process of making my jar labels.

Way back in the early days of the Can Jam, I was inspired mightily by the gorgeous labels designed by Lelo in Nopo and all of a sudden my usual label design looked amateurish and cutesy (and as Annie Savoy tells us: “Baby ducks are cute. I hate cute.”). So I spent far too many hours one night futzing & futzing at MS Word and eventually came up with a label design I liked, with some of the design elements of the Lelo in Nopo design that I loved, and some of my own style (and ridiculous Word work-arounds) thrown in. So, for those of you who are all about a torturously inefficient, but stubbornly independent, method for designing your own labels, I’ve laid it out below, in all it’s embarrassing glory: have at it. For those of you looking for a slightly more sane approach, scope out the links in the Resources section below: lots of good free downloads, label templates, and design ideas to get your creative juices flowing.  Either way? Futz, tinker and play. Browse through the Web, scoping out design sites, letterpress publishers, Etsy, for creative ideas. Think about the colors, textures and patterns that speak to you. Gather some of your favorite things (a tea mug, a beach shell, a hawk feather, a leaf) to your desk to inspire your design. Make the design from your heart, and when friends & family see it, they will instantly say “That’s so you.”

Go forth and conquer. If, in your travels, you see great sites that inspire you, pick up handy technique tips for Word shortcuts or easy label making, or simply have an idea to share, please chime in with a comment below.

Current label design inspired by Lelo in Nopo, who sells her custom labels on Etsy.

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Labels

INGREDIENTS

  • round 2 and 1/2-inch labels for ink jet printer (I use Avery #5294; you can also find them at WorldLabel and PaperSource, with thanks to Shae for the links)
  • label template: Avery’s is here
  • Microsoft Word (I have Office 2007, but have done these labels in the older 2002 version as well)
  • ink jet or laser printer

METHODS

[Note: Being essentially computer-clueless as I am, I've made this quite detailed, assuming that most of you have prepared documents in Word, but haven't explored much beyond that. Forgive me if it is too detailed: I'm a data girl. Too much info I can ignore; not enough info? Grrrr.]

  1. Download the template. Save it as something you’ll remember (label-template.doc, perhaps) so you have a blank slate to go back to if need be. Under the View tab, select Page Width to make viewing easier. The circular labels (and template) fit a standard-mouth Ball jar lid perfectly, but, when a jar is assembled with a ring or screw-band, some of the label will be underneath the band; bear this margin in mind when designing your labels and leave yourself a little room at the edges.
  2. In the Insert tab, in the Illustrations box, go to Shapes: under Flowchart there will be a shape that looks like a filled-in capital “D” (in flowchartease this signifies a delay.) Click on the “delay” shape:A + sign will appear as the cursor; place the + sign in the middle of a circle on your template and, holding down the mouse, draw a large “D” shape. The “D” shape will likely pop to the top of the page; simply grab with the cursor and move it back to the middle of your circle. (You could also freeform a true semi-circle shape using the “freeform” shape tool, if you have steadier hands than mine.)
  3. If you are in Word 2007 or later, the Drawing Tools menu will automatically pop up (if not, you may have to right-click and bring up the Format AutoShape menu for the next few steps).  Under Drawing Tools, Format, in the Arrange box, go to Rotate and select “Rotate left 90 degrees.” 
  4. You’ll notice that when you move the cursor over the autoshape, you get a + sign with arrows on the end, indicating that you can hold down the mouse and move the whole shape about the page, and when you move the cursor over a blue box at one of the points of the shape, you get an arrow, indicating that you can increase or decrease the size of the shape. Move the shape so that the top of the semi-circle aligns with the top of the circular template, the bottom is at roughly the middle of the circle, then stretch the sides so that each side aligns with your template. Because it is not a true semi-circle shape, the ‘shoulders’ of the D shape will overlap the top edges of the circle; this is fine and simply means that a little of your label color will print outside of the true label shape.
  5. Now you have a semi-circle (with shoulders) aligned with the tops and sides of your circular label template, that covers about half of your circular label template. Click on the shape so that it is selected (blue boxes and dotted blue outline will be visible):Either right-click to bring up the Format AutoShape menu, or go to Drawing Tools, Format, Shape Styles box, and select Shape Fill to pick a color for the top half of your label. Just under Shape Fill you’ll see Shape Outline. Go to this and select No Outline.
  6. So now you have a filled-in, color, top half of a label. But you’ve obscured the label outline with those ‘shoulders'; to fix this, select the template shape (as opposed to the shape you added; the entire square [the table cell] will show blue boxes and dotted blue outline. Move the cursor over the circular outline until you see the + with arrows, then click to select.). Right-click, scroll down to Order on the drop-down menu and select Bring to Front. You should now see the circular label outline again.
  7. To insert the design strip of circular shapes, I went back to the Insert, Shapes tool (this was laborious and time-consuming, and really, I don’t recommend it. I love these labels, but I’m sure there is an easier way! If I had thought about it more at the time, I would have gone with a long, wavy stripe, or one of the patterns available under Format, Autoshape [see step 14]. I encourage you to come up with your own designs, hopefully easier than mine!).  Go to Insert, Shapes and under Basic Shapes select Donut. You’ll get the + sign cursor; hold down the mouse and insert a donut, the shape & size you want it (I pulled these wide to make oval shapes; you can, of course, use any shape from the menu that you like). The donut will be white with a black outline by default; Right-click on the shape, and click Format AutoShape. Under Colors and Lines tab, choose Line, then No Color.
  8. Right-click on the donut shape, choose Copy, then hit Ctrl-V a few times on your keyboard to create several copies (they will appear in a row, then you’ll have to move them to where you want them). Rinse and repeat. Pick up the little yellow arrow that you see on the inside of the donut shape (when the donut is selected) in order to change the width of the line forming the donut; I included a couple of different widths in my design. (Yes, I know – tedious, right? I warned you.) Continue until you have the design the way you want it.
  9. Now that you’ve filled in your design strip, it is time to add text to your labels. I add most of mine with text boxes, for greater control in where I can place the text on the label; however the “Local Kitchen” text is directly typed into the cell: just click the cursor anywhere in the circle. Left align the text in the cell (use the Left Align icon, Home tab, Paragraph box), then hit return until the cursos pops below the autoshape.  Type a few blank spaces (to give yourself a margin) then your text. The LOCAL KITCHEN font is Mufferaw 15 pt, and the date (“october 2010″) is Teen 8 pt. To adjust the spacing between lines of text (i.e. move the “october” text higher, closer to the “Local Kitchen” text), select the october 2010 text and go to Paragraph under the Home tab.  Click the bottom right-hand arrow to expand the Paragraph box. Under Spacing, Line Spacing, choose Exactly and 8 pt (or the exact size of your text) and make sure the “before” and “after” spacing on both lines of text is set to 0 pt.
  10. To insert the name of the preserve, go to the Insert tab, Text Box and choose Simple Text Box. Type the name of your preserve, adjust the size of the text box and move it to the general location you want it. Select the text box (blue boxes will appear), right-click and choose Format Text Box from the drop-down menu. Under the Colors and Lines tab, choose No Color for both the Fill and Line. This will make the text box, but not the text, disappear from view. Select the text and change the color, font and justification to your liking (current example is Teen 18 pt white), then select the text box and adjust the positioning to place the text where you want it on the label (I find this is easiest to do with the arrow keys on the keyboard when making small adjustments).
  11. Insert a second text box in the lower half of the label for ingredients (or a personal message, “Happy Holidays”, “from the kitchen of” “handmade with love” etc.) if you like. My ingredients are usually in Teen font, 7 or 8 pt size and in a color coordinated to the main autoshape color.  Once again, adjust the line spacing within your text box by going to Paragraph (under the Home tab); under Spacing, Line Spacing, choose Exactly and 8 pt (or the exact size of your text). Right-align the text by selecting the text block and clicking the right-align icon in the Paragraph box (Home tab). I try to line up the right-hand margins of the preserve title text-box and the ingredients text-box so that they are in line, vertically (this isn’t always possible while also ensuring that it will fit within the circle and be visible under the jar band).
  12. Once you have the label how you want it, print out a test run, on a regular sheet of paper, and make sure you will be able to see all the text once you put a ring on your jars by holding an empty jar band, upsidedown, over the printout (although I store mine without a band on them, I include the band when I give them as gifts).
  13. When ready to print, select the entire contents of the finshed label’s cell by clicking in the lower left hand corner; copy, then paste the label into other cells.
  14. For a two-toned color portion of your label, select the semi-circle autoshape and right-click. Choose Format Autoshape from the drop-down box. In the Colors and Lines tab, under Fill, click on Fill Effects.  Click on Two Color (or explore the Presets) and choose a second color from the drop-down box under Color 2. Since our autoshape is rotated, a Horizontal variant will actually be vertical, and vice versa. Experiment with different fill effects until you find a pattern and color combination that you like, then mix & match font colors to coordinate. You can even change the Texture, Pattern or insert a Picture into your autoshape.
  15. Once you have your basic design down, use this as your label template: change the preserve title & ingredients text boxes for each new jam, “save as” the new file, and update the colors as you like. Make changes to one cell, then copy & paste as many labels as you need for the batch.
  16. So there you have it: print your labels, adorn your jars, sit back, and enjoy.

OPTIONS

  1. If you’ve made it this far: congratulations! You’re more patient than I, which should be obvious by the convoluted way I came up with this label design.  But, with convolution, comes inspiration: you can also see that the options for tweaking, or majorly re-working, the design are many: just a few ideas below. 
  2.  Make the lower half of your label colored, with top half white, color or texture the entire label with a circle shape, use the donut shape to add colored rings (bullseye) to your label.
  3. Change the “design strip” by modifying the autoshapes, mix & match different autoshapes, or insert a photo, or line of prose, or ClipArt.
  4. Make the design strip color while the rest of the label background is white (saves on ink).
  5. Draw your own artwork and scan into a .JPEG file, then upload that as your label background.

RESOURCES

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22 comments

  1. Nice work! Your labels have great design. As a diehard user of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign I had no idea Word was capable of such creative tasking! I have been creating labels for my preserved products for several years with photos to showcase the contents of the jar. A label on the lid is easy reference and a label on the jar obscures the beautiful contents in the jar.

  2. Diane

    Thank you so much! I hate sticking labels on the jars – they never seem to come off cleanly, even after a run through the dishwasher. Because I love your jar top labels so much, I’ve tried to create my own. But I don’t have photoshop or illustrator, so it was just an exercise in frustration. You have now taken me to places I have never been on my computer. Bless you! I think I can do it now.

  3. Parsifal

    Hi,

    I’ve been a huge fan of your blog for a while now watching all that you create. Some really beautiful things are being made and shared here for all.

    The labels you design are no exception to this statement and you should be proud. I mean that sincerely!

    Thank you for sharing your approach and resources with everyone!

    Thanks,
    Brian

  4. Casey

    I am SO excited to try this, I can’t even tell you. I am a self-proclaimed Word nerd, but you may have surpassed me! LOVE it!!!

    My question is, do you know of any sites where I might purchase 1″ labels where I DON’T have to purchase a minimum of 100 sheets? Much as I would love to say I’m that successful, I just don’t need 630 labels.

    Or, if anyone is willing to share, I’d love to split the cost of the labels. I’ll be happy to send half of them to anyone who puts half the cost into my Paypal account!
    :) Casey

  5. Hi all,

    Thanks for the kudos; chalk it alll up to stubborness and my severe determination to never learn the tools in Photoshop. :)

    Casey – if you want the labels that fit a jar lid, they are 2 and 1/2 inches in diameter. PaperSource (linked above under “ingredients”) sells a package of 60 labels (5 sheets of 12/sheet) for $5.95.

    Kaela

  6. You are VERY kind to share this. All the way through every maddening detail. I have wasted many brain cells on Microsoft word. And you, my friend, are just awesome for your generosity.
    best regards,
    maggie

  7. Cyn

    Word is one of my first loves and I still frequently use it to print some labels. These instructions are amazing! I started paper making through DIY – I think you may have caught the paper making bug. Thanks for including my Etsy shop in your resources.

  8. Your patience in Word is astounding, and your riff on my design is so fantastic. I started offering my labels for sale because people wouldn’t stop asking about them on my blog. I never had the patience to show people how to make them themselves, let alone in Word. Kudos to you!

  9. Karla

    Your tutorial is awesome. I was following along and experimenting using Word 2003 and I could STILL understand everything you were saying perfectly. Even if I never can anything again, I had fun playing around with portions of Word that I never knew had a purpose (ie the Fill Effects and the Delay AutoShape). Who knew that last one was good for anything other than flowcharts??? Anyway, just wanted to say you are a wonderful instructor and thank you so much for the tutorial.

  10. Thanks so much for all the love! (and thanks for not thinking I’m *too* crazy!) Glad that some of you are getting use out of it.

    And Shae – I am wonkilicious. Wonktastic. Wonktacular??? ;)

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