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January 2012

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  • Private Labeling -- the Business of Putting Art on Consumables

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  • Private Labeling -- the Business of Putting Art on Consumables
    by Ellen Million

    Your artwork -- on chocolate bars! Or tea! Or fancy soap! Or cosmetics! Is it a crazy idea? Would you need an incredible licensing deal? Are you eyeing the recipes for making your own soap, wondering if you can talk your spouse into giving up their side of the garage for a propane stove and a few vats of lye?

    Such a dream may be a lot more attainable than you realize, thanks to a concept called 'private labeling.'

    Basically, you leave the product-making, and often the packaging, up to another company, and buy blank lots of things that you put your own artwork on. This is different than most other kinds of product production (such as t-shirts, mousepads or stationery products) in that private labeling is applied to consumable things, such as food and cosmetic supplies.


    Finding private labeling
    The biggest hurdle for discovering on-line sources for your private labeling is figuring out what it's called. You could search the Internet for 'blank chocolate' for a long time before finding a supplier for your line of fairycat chocolate bars. I've already just given you the search term you need to focus your investigation, and that alone will make it much easier.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that many businesses who do not advertise the fact are open to the idea. The best place to start looking for a product to private label is to start with a product that you actually like and already use. Approach them professionally, ask specifically if they sell blank product or offer private labeling, and find out what kind of minimum quantity you might be required to commit to.

    Be sure to pick a product that you can safely store and sell! If you need to buy 1,000 units of chocolate bars, ask yourself if you will need refrigeration for those bars for the time it will take to sell them. If you do sales events that are very hot, chocolate might be a poor choice for melting reasons. Look for shelf-stable items that you don't have to buy by the pallet. If you do most of your business online, look for things that ship easily and don't break; items that fit in USPS priority flat rate packaging are particularly stress-free for shipping.

    Take that a step further, and consider giving your patronage to local small businesses in a niche field that may be looking to expand, rather than taking your money to a far-off corporation producing goods overseas. Art and homemade or small-batch items are a strong match; many customers who are interested in supporting independent artists are equally invested in helping small independent businesses! These kinds of partnerships can be enormously mutually beneficial.


    Company-Supplied Private Labeling
    Some companies will offer to supply you with pre-printed product with your logo or artwork already on it. You may find that they have stringent restrictions on how much space on the label you might get, or will do the design work themselves. This may work great for you! It can save a lot of sweat on your part, as all you really have to do then is turn around and ship the product to your customer.

    But you might be picky, like me.

    I ordered printed tea tins, and found that the printing quality was not up to snuff. It might have worked fine for larger lettering or simpler art, but I found the text hard to read and the image quality... just not good enough.

    I tried again, sending a modified file to try again, and was disappointed a second time. Learn from my lesson here, and plan yourself enough time to view a sample version of your design as they print it. I ended up discounting several hundred tins of tea.




    Print-Your-own Private Labeling
    After frowning over the teas for a while, I decided I could do this myself. I had a good quality laser printer, and I went to the local OfficeBox store and bought some 2"x4" label paper. A few tests to figure out how to apply them to a rolling cylinder, and I ordered my tea completely unlabeled to art up myself. This worked out great!

    For most kinds of private labeling, you'll need a good quality printer, label paper (you can get it pretty cheap on eBay in a dazzling array of sizes!) and either bags, plastic-wrap, or some kind of sealing system. It's easier if you can get the company to send your product pre-sealed, but a little cling wrap and some tape will seal up most products. Some products are regular-shaped enough to go neatly into some of the bags and boxes available at clearbags.com - this is my first stop when I'm looking for packaging ideas! (Note that you need food safe packaging for food!)

    Your art may not be the 'main event' of a consumable-based product, but don't underestimate its ability to make the sale. Make sure your design is presented well (not chopped off, or printed poorly), but is in harmony with the product you're selling -- if you're selling tea, make sure the tin says tea on it. Plan your design for an ingredients list, and always make sure that your label has information about buying more; the beauty of consumables is that people use them up! Make it easy for them to get more!


    Pizazz!
    One of the niftiest things about doing your own labeling is that you can add your own flair to the final products. A little bit of gold string, a pretty piece of matching ribbon, or a jewelry charm can jazz your soap bar from 'nifty' to 'gift-worthy.' Play around! Have a fun craft day figuring out the best way to present your product, looking for something unique and beautiful.

    Consider pairing your new product with an existing product. I had great luck pairing soap with small stationery items: magnets, stickers and bookmarks. This way, the customer had something with the design to keep forever, long after the consumable part was gone. Charge more, accordingly - this is like two sales in one!




    Two Important Notes
    Selling food is trickier than selling mousepads; people hardly ever get Salmonella poisoning from mousepads. There are extremely rigid rules about handling and packaging things that people eat or drink, and you must be sure to meet these rules. The best and easiest way to do this is the only buy pre-sealed packages. You can get much better deals buying a bulk lot of loose tea and stuffing your own tins, but most locations will require you to have an inspected and approved kitchen in order to sell those tins once you're done. You do not want to tread on the wrong side of those laws!

    Be absolutely sure that you meet local and federal requirements for labeling the ingredients of consumables and cosmetics! These restrictions vary by where you are selling, and you should check with your local laws to make sure that you are in compliance. At the very least, it is always safer to list every ingredient in your product, both on your label and in the advertising for your product; the last thing you want to do is give your customers allergic reactions! Make sure that your supplier is willing to give you that list of ingredients... before you get too far into your relationship!




    Some Final Thoughts
    Private labeling can be a fun and lucrative way to see your work on great products that your customers buy over and over again! It comes with some hassles, but also gives you a great deal more control (and profit!) over licensing. Hopefully, this article will give you a little taste of what's involved with it, and help you get started in putting your own artwork on consumables for sale.

    Ellen Million has always had a passion for projects. Visit her site for prints and embarrassing archives.
    Would you like to support our contributors? As a subscriber, you could use your subscription fee to pay this author for their work, as well as receive lots of extra subscriber perks!



    Fantasy coloring books from Ellen Million Graphics Get a pre-made portrait, ready to go! A 48 hour creative jam for artists An e-zine for fantasy artists and writers A shared world adventure

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