The Cost of Custom Product Labels: What Impacts Pricing?

By The Label Printers


Prices vary widely across the custom label printing industry. And it’s not always clear to buyers why such a tiny slip of material costs what it does, or how different label options can have such a significant impact on pricing.

So, we’re going to pull back the curtain and demystify product label pricing — not only to help you get the most affordable label for your application but also the highest-value label.

As you may have already discovered, the cheapest product label is not necessarily the most cost-effective. Certain cost-cutting decisions may hurt your label’s performance and, in the long run, cost your company more. On the other hand, it’s also very possible to overpay for custom product labels by spending on features that aren’t necessary (or that could be done via a different, less expensive method).

So, how do you make sure you’re getting the best value from your custom labels?

As with any purchase, from cars to conveyor belts, the key to getting the best value is to understand what elements impact pricing and which are most important to you.

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Product Label Materials: What They’re Made of Matters

As with any other manufactured item, your product label’s components drive its cost, and it all comes down to economics. Certain raw materials simply cost more than others due to market forces, how much your label supplier already has in stock, your label printer’s existing relationships with raw material providers, and so on.

But as with any other manufactured item, cost should be just one of several factors you consider when planning your product label. After all, there’s no point in saving pennies on your labels if they don’t work well and you have to buy new ones. To avoid label disasters — such as unsightly rips, peeling, fading, and crumbling — you’ll want to choose label materials that are appropriate for the job.

Critical questions to answer with the help of your label printer include:

  • Do you need a durable label? Do you expect your label to last a lifetime (for storage in a wine cellar, for example) or just a few months (like for a snack product most people consume within moments of buying)?
  • Will your label serve some regulatory purpose (like a warning label on a piece of industrial equipment)?
  • What kind of environmental factors will your label encounter during typical use — rain, heat, cold, intense sunlight, rapidly changing conditions?
  • Do you want to allow your customers to remove the label, perhaps to recycle it or reuse the product packaging?
  • Are you interested in special visual effects, such as reflectivity or holography?
As with any other manufactured item, cost should be just one of several factors you consider when planning your product label.

With the answers to these questions, your label printer can help you narrow down your material options to those best suited to your application. Typically, two of the more significant factors are the label face stock (the material that the label is printed on) and the adhesive (what makes it stick).

Label Face Stock

Most labels are constructed from either paper or film. Typically, paper costs less than film — but this is not always the case. There are literally hundreds of paper and film options to choose from!

And again, the material has to fit the job. Most types of paper do not hold up well to moisture, for example. Film tends to be more durable and waterproof but also (but not always) more costly. Bottom line: Because there are so many options to choose from, your label company should be able to find several types of face stock – at different price points – that will work with your labeling needs. So, don’t be shy about asking them to recommend a range of options; they should be able to explain the pros, cons, and pricing impact of each one.

Label Adhesive

Another material input that feeds into the cost equation is your choice of adhesive. There might be a dozen or more different adhesives to choose from for every type of face stock, each with varying performance characteristics and costs. For example, some adhesives work better on porous surfaces such as wood or cardboard, while others are better suited for glass or metal – and plastics carry their own unique surface characteristics.

Your label vendor should be willing to talk you through your options to choose the right adhesive to achieve your label objectives and stay within your budget.

Color Conscious: How Ink Impacts Product Label Price

If you’ve ever shopped for a printer cartridge, you’re probably familiar with the concept of more colors costing more money. This may be an oversimplification, but in general, the maxim holds up when it comes to custom product label printing.

More colors translate into more steps for your label printer, more ink, longer setup time, and stopping and starting the equipment more often. And that can lead to higher expenses.

More colors translate into more steps for your label printer, more ink, longer setup time, and stopping and starting the equipment more often.

The type of ink affects the price, as well. Certain specialty inks — used to create security elements, for example — can be surprisingly costly. Fluorescent and metallic inks also tend to be more expensive than standard colors.

Choosing the right ink for your product label is similar to choosing label materials. Cost is important, but so is performance. You may regret skimping on ink when it comes off on your customers’ fingers or fades after a few days in the sun.

Here are a few color-related tips for saving money on product labels:

  • Recalibrate your color tolerances. Do you really need multiple Pantone spot colors, or can you get the shade(s) you want through the use of process printing (combining Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black)?
  • Get your printer involved early in the design process. A label printing expert can help steer your designer toward color choices that look great while conserving ink.
  • Flip your perspective. Metallic ink can be expensive and challenging to work with. Instead of metallic ink on white paper, consider a white spot color on metallic paper.

Volume: The More You Order, the More You’ll Save

Every batch of label printing requires a certain amount of setup work to get the press equipment ready for the job. Custom dies may need to be created as well. So, it stands to reason that the more labels a label printer can get out of a single print run, the less each label will cost.

As with most products, you can save money by purchasing labels in bulk. But that can be a bit daunting: Do you need 100,000 labels right now? Maybe, but maybe not.

Even if your projections are uncertain, it still helps to have the conversation with your label printer about how volume affects pricing, the potential for blanket orders, and other ways your printer can help you strike a balance between your current needs and your future expectations.

Without getting too much into the weeds of the printing industry, a printer will typically use a different setup for printing 100 labels than printing one million. If big numbers are in your future, discussing it with your printer now will lead to greater efficiency and lower costs down the road.

Beyond the Labels: Packaging and Shipping Costs

There’s another decision to make that isn’t about your labels’ appearance and composition: How do you want your labels packaged? On rolls? In sheets? How many sheets per package, or how many labels per roll?

These questions are not incidental to the cost of your label, especially when you’re dealing with huge quantities. For example, if you order a million labels and ask them to be packaged on rolls of 100, that’s 10,000 separate cardboard roll cores and extra time in rolling and packaging —plus extra costs in shipping and handling.

This is not to say there aren’t legitimate reasons to package your labels in smaller units. A good label printer will ask you how you intend to apply your labels so they can package and ship your labels in the most efficient format.

If you plan to run your labels through thermal printing equipment or an automated application line, rolls are essential — and typically, the more labels per roll, the better (less shutting down and resetting the machinery).

Finally, shipping costs should be part of the conversation. This is another area where buying in bulk may save you money. Ordering 1,000 labels 24 times per year means paying for 24 separate shipments, along with the whole shipping infrastructure of invoices, packing slips, receivers, and so on. Compare that to ordering 24,000 labels a single time. (On the other hand, you would have to arrange storage for thousands of labels you’re not using right away. Product label cost is always a balancing act.)

How to Get the Best Price on Your Custom Product Labels

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably learned at least one thing: There are a lot of options available that can save you money on your custom labels, without sacrificing the quality you need.

You can maximize the value you get by:

  • Being transparent. Be upfront with your label printer about your long-term goals so that they can build the best product strategy. That strategy will impact the price for your current and expected future needs.
  • Being flexible. As you’ve learned in this article, minor adjustments to your label design or material choices can have a big impact on pricing. Be willing to listen to your label printer’s suggestions. And understand that all of your printer’s questions are designed to help you, not annoy you.
  • Being willing to test. There are millions of possible application surfaces and environments and thousands of different ways to combine label materials and adhesives. If a label printer recommends running a test, it’s worth doing. Often, testing is the only way to guarantee your investment in custom product labels will pay off.

We hope we’ve erased some of the uncertainty around product label pricing, helping you be a more confident consumer. Ready for more? Gain the knowledge you need to have productive conversations with your label in our free six-chapter Custom Label Buying Guide.

Read our Custom Label Buying Guide

Tags: Understanding Labels, Product Labels