Creating Vector Beer Labels in Inkscape

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***READ BEFORE CONTINUING: This is not an Inkscape tutorial. There are already a ton of these across the web that will explain the software better than I can. This is a guide to developing ideas, layouts, and graphical components of a label.***
What is the first thing you notice when having a beer? You notice either the bottle it comes in or the tap handle it’s being poured from. Both of these are given a face using labels. Labels give your beer an identity. They say “you aren’t just drinking a beer, you’re drinking my masterpiece.” And if your beers don’t turn out great (like some of mine), they still leave the drinker with something to remember. Fortunately, label designing doesn’t have to be difficult. You can create professional looking vector labels in Inkscape for free by keeping a couple simple concepts in mind.
For those unfamiliar with Inkscape, it is a free vector drawing program that is available on all your favorite operating systems. However, because it is a vector drawing program, you are somewhat limited in the style of art you will be creating. Vector graphics are good for labels like those of Double Mountain, but not so good for those like Sierra Nevada. So if you’re looking to create something like Sierra Nevada, you can probably stop reading here. Otherwise, let’s press on!

Removing Preconceptions and Self Judgements


First, the non-graphical side of things. If you’ve ever said something like “I’m terrible at graphic design, so I can’t make labels,” stop saying this at once. I want you to read this article without any predispositions about your abilities. Start with a clean slate; after all, you’re only going to be as bad as you say you are. Second, come up with an interesting theme or idea. I highly recommend choosing something that you are passionate about, maybe other than beer. That way you are always inspired to do your best designs and can draw on your knowledge of this subject. In this article, I will be sharing my design process for one label in a series of single hop pale ales that I did using space named hops. As someone who is very interested in astronomy, I was consistently motivated to capture the essence of the intergalactic in my design.
A simple, but cohesive color palette is a great first step to an amazing label
Now that we have a good attitude and a good theme, lets select a primary color scheme. Having too many colors is an easy way to make a label hard to read or follow. That’s why I suggest you select three colors that will occupy the majority of your label. Sometimes colors can immediately jump to mind based on your theme, but other times you may struggle to find three that work well together. This is where google is your best friend. Image search your theme and see what other people have used as colors. When I did this for space, (by searching for things like “space graphics” or “retro space posters”) I eventually landed on the following three colors:
And don’t be afraid to use a color wheel, like Adobe Color (a free in-browser color palette selector), to find the best colors that complement one another. Long story short, use the internet as much as you can. Also, remember that if you are brewing something seasonal, colors can easily convey that as well. Summer beers generally have a lighter color scheme including blues and yellows, while winter beers are darker and feature colors such as maroons and greens.
The Decotech font was great for my theme.
With a good color palette selected, the next step is to find that perfect font. The worst place to find a beer label font is in your computer’s default library. I strongly encourage you to branch out and find something online. Dafont.com offers a vast library of fonts ranging from Retro to Medieval. I have yet to find a font that isn’t free, and installation of fonts is incredibly simple (google it if you’re unfamiliar with the process). You can even type the string of text you want to see while you search. Search for 3-5 fonts that fit your theme and that you find personally appealing. When selecting fonts, try to find one "display font", which can be big, bold, ostentatious, swirly, weird, etc., and one font that is better suited for a paragraph. Download and install them so you can test all of them in your label. I found a font called Decotech that happens to perfectly fit my space theme:

Designing Your Label


I found this image to use for inspiration of my design.
Now that you have a theme, colors, and fonts we can finally start creating the label. Again, you’re going to want to consult image search here. However, please be careful with the use of copyrighted images. While we may only be creating the labels for our own use, not commercial use, it's still someone else's image that they have taken the time to create and post. Anyway, I will be sharing the design for my “Challenger” label. While widely known for its tragic explosion after takeoff, Challenger also had nine successful launches. As such, I wanted my label to show a rocket taking off into space. That means I needed a rocket image, smoke, and some planets, stars, etc. Google helped me find simple graphics of these things that I ended up tracing and tweaking a little in Inkscape using the Bezier curve tool. Once your outline is drawn you can select anchor points to move or modify curves. I repeated this process with the smoke and a little hop graphic I found and turned into a planet.
Create depth by using opacity settings.
To give the label a little depth I copied the smoke and layered it behind two more times while lowering the opacity. I modified the Bezier curves slightly on each layer to create some variety in the smoke's appearance like this:
Now I have all of the major graphical components of the label drawn out. Finally, let’s place them in a 3.75” x 4.25” rectangle. Knowing that the dark blue in my color palette would be the sky, I filled the rectangle with it. I then dragged the smoke to the bottom and aligned it with the boundaries of the rectangle.
The Basic Label. Now I just need to touch it up.
I placed the rocket slightly above and tentatively put the hop planet off to the side. Now type out all the text you want and apply your font choices. I would stick with using only one display font, and one simpler font on a label as it can get distracting or hard to read otherwise. Loosely place the text on your label. Now keep moving things around until you find a layout that is satisfying and effective. One thing I would watch out for is paragraphs of text. I know it can be tempting to tell the story of the beer, but blocks of text take up a lot of space that could be used to show an image. Labels are visual and can quickly become overwhelmed by text. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words! Here is the layout I ended up liking for my label:

Finishing Touches, and Final Considerations


To finish it off, I grabbed the spray paint tool and added some different sized stars to the sky. I then slapped my logo on (which I modified the colors on to fit this theme) and called it good! Here is the final label:
One finished label, ready for beer.
I think label making can appear as a daunting task because a lot of commercial breweries use complex graphics and images. But remember, they have graphic designers that are paid to make labels for them. You are just a solo homebrewer. You have the DIY ingenuity to make beer. You can do labels, too! I had no graphic design experience when I started with labels. Always remember to access the internet’s wealth of resources (tutorials, images, fonts) and create something that appeals to you. It is your beer after all. Also realize that the quality of your label is usually directly proportional to the amount of time you put into it. I spend around 3-4 hours per label from initial research to final form. However, using the tools outlined in this article, you should be able to get from blank canvas to beer label in a reasonable amount of time. Most of all, don’t settle on something you’re moderately happy with just to have a label. Strive to create the best label you can no matter what! Don't you do the same for your beer?
All of the finished labels in my series.
 

Comments

Great article, thanks for posting! Downloading inkscape now to give it a whirl. Love your space theme, as well.
 
Really enjoyed this article. I wasn't aware of dafont.com or InkSpace, thanks! I generally use Pixlr for my label tinkering. Also free. Not really intuitive unless you have some Photoshop experience but there are tons of tutorials to guide you through anything.
Cheers!
 
Excellent article!
I'd been playing around with Inkscape, guess I'll have to get serious about learning the program now!
 
Thanks! Definitely give it a try. There are a lot of inkscape tutorials on youtube and such and once you get a hang of the basics, it's very easy to use. Would love to see your work if you end up creating something!
 
Thanks. Pixlr looks more like a program that could create something more photo based rather than vector images. If you're looking to create something like mine above, Inkscape is hard to beat.
 
Do it! Once you get a hang of the basic functions, it's pretty easy to create just about anything. Would love to see your work if you make something!
 
Nice article. Love the simplicity of the labels. I'm not a big fan of 'busy' labels.
Definitely going to give Inkscape a try. Very cool labels you got there!
 
Looks great! I'm really digging the space theme. I love the hop asteroids. Awesome idea. I'm going to have to start to mess around with inkscape now... :)
 
Yes! That's awesome! Inspirational too. I commissioned SWMBO to do a label for one of my beers, she knows how to do all the fancy computer stuff in this family. Maybe I can start making some on my own now. I love the encouragement of the “Removing Preconceptions and Self Judgements" section. That is brilliant. The entire tone of the article is extremely uplifting. Thanks, dude.
 
Thank you! And I agree, I think the best labels are those that use a few simple pictures to convey ideas. Blocks of text can be unsightly and distracting from the visual appeal of a label.
 
Thanks, I really appreciate the positive feedback. I hope this encourages you to experiment with Inkscape (or any program really) to get started making your own labels. It can be very fun and rewarding when you really get into it!
 
Thanks! I don't have a lot of experience with GIMP but I know that it offers a lot of potential as well. But I would encourage you to give inkscape a try as it offers better tools for drawing your own shapes, objects, etc. It can be pretty powerful once you learn all the features.
 
Awesome article. Thanks so much for sharing. My label making skills are limited to MS Paint if that tells you anything. I'll definitely have to look up some tutorials now.
 
Awesome write-up! I have been looking to make labels for my bottles when I make beer so I can tell what they are, at least for my staple beers I always have. I'm going to DL it now as well and play with it using this article for a starting point, and YouTube as well.
 
Glad to hear it! Youtube will be your best friend when learning. Share your labels if you end up making something.
 
Connor Kelly.... Frickin Excellent Write up from the Heart man!!! Even though this is NOT what I was originally Looking for... This was a Great Read - Fully Inspiring -VERY INFORMATIVE!!! I am an Artist 1st -Home Brewer 2nd... And I'm now Super Excited to make my very 1st Label for my Holiday Seasonal Cider Brew! Do you Copyright your Labels as well?! Thanks for being here and a Pillar of Homebrewer DIY Perseverance!!! May this Holiday Season find you in Good health - Family Love v& Laughter!!! ~cheers!
 
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