Lettering for Package Design: From Sketch to Label | Jon Contino | Skillshare

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Lettering for Package Design: From Sketch to Label

teacher avatar Jon Contino, Creative Director

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      My Favorite Hand-Illustrated Labels


    • 3.

      Translating Your Mood Board Into Sketches


    • 4.

      Working With Your Top Design (5:54)


    • 5.

      Explore Design on Skillshare


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About This Class

Join iconic lettering artist Jon Contino as he shares his process for preparing, designing, and executing iconic graphic labels. Whether it's packaging, t-shirts, or apples, there's a right way to design and illustrate a label — and now you can learn how.

You'll go behind-the-scenes in Jon's studio to explore what inspires him and see his full label design process — from research, sketches, and composition to manipulating final colors on the computer.

With 30 minutes of video lessons, 3 class-specific project guides, links to favorite articles, and a collection of core reference images, this class will inspire you to transform a simple sketch into a real mark. Get ready to make a lettered label you'll love!

Designs by Jon Contino


Meet Your Teacher

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Jon Contino

Creative Director


As a New York native, I have been under the influence of corporate mass marketing and inspirational street art since my first breath. Not surprisingly, I have garnered considerable attention for my unique approach to design utilizing hand-drawn lettering and typographic illustration in conjunction with a modern yet minimalistic sensibility.

I received numerous accolades for my fusion of old and new world aesthetics and continue to influence modern trends in graphic design and apparel design.

I reside in New York with my wife Erin and daughter Fiona where I work as a freelance illustrator, and also as Co-Founder and Creative Director of menswear brand CXXVI Clothing Company.

For a complete list of my features and accolades, check out the information ... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Everyone who has a creative interest will always have an interest in label design. No matter what skill level you have or what field you're coming from, creating a label is one of the most fun things you could do as a designer. This Skillshare class is going to be any type of label design that you're going to want do. T-shirt label design, wine packaging, beer packaging, apples, oranges, cookies, bread, it could be for a box of sugar, it could be anything. Label design, as different as it is, it's still a very unique and special art form. My name is Jon Contino, I'm a designer and illustrator from New York. 2. My Favorite Hand-Illustrated Labels: There's going to be a few steps that we take to get to the final label design that you're going to be producing. The first step is going to be research. It starts with every project. It's research about the company, research about the product, research about the style and the aesthetic that you're intending to cover. You're basically going to learn the worlds that this label is going to live in. So, everything from where the company began to where the product will sit in a retail environment, or anywhere for that matter, we will go through all of that and you will really develop an in-depth language for where that stays. The second stage will be sketching, concepting, coming up with how this label is going to exist. We're going to come up with the ideas of how it's going to be produced. All these things have to be taken into account. So, if we're designing a certain label for say the inside of a coat pocket, you know that you're going to be dealing with an embroidery, and it can't be as detailed as the same thing that's going to be screened printed it on the side of the box. We're also going to talk about typography and illustration and making sure that the correct items are emphasized so that when these labels are living in real life what you're trying to sell will come across a lot easier. The last stage is going to be finalizing it, getting ready for production. A lot of self critique. There's going to be a lot of information that you're going to have to ask yourself and you're going to have to go back to your research from phase one and compare and contrast and make sure you're still on the same line that you were from step one all the way to step three. So, we'll go through all that and by the end, we'll have a really great product. What we're going to look at now is some labels that I've done and some labels that have inspired me in the past. It's going to be a nice little cross-sectional stuff, I'm not going to run through every type of label there is. Just a couple that inspired me and a few that I've done that I've really enjoyed. So, I want to talk about these two that are some of my favorite labeled designs, and I'll start with this one first. This is a really, really old whiskey bottle. I'm going to say I've always thought it was from the 1800's. I'm not exactly sure when, but you get a lot of everything with this label. You get illustration, you get lettering, you get printing, you get really cool distressing and everything, and you get a cool bottle shape. This is something that you don't see anymore, and there's a reason that you don't see anything like this anymore. It's the world that we live in doesn't really have room for this anymore, it's a shame. You can see there's some really, really great hand rendered type. One type really meant something. You could see that when you don't have access to a million fonts, there's a problem with just laying out type as type lays out. You really have to get creative with it, and that's what they did. There's something special about the S, the T comes up and around, the O has little dot, and that the R wraps around the K. The K's leg comes down and into a swirl. You get all this great stuff. Then you also get your more toned down version of the word whiskey. So it's less of the brand and more of the product. So you seeing that hierarchy there. Then you also get this great line illustration of historic to really bring home the aspect of the mark itself. With this label, you can see one very important thing, it's a one color print. This is when printing was very expensive. It wasn't easy for anyone to do, no one had a printer, no one had anything like that, and you're utilizing different drawing techniques to be able to show shades. Basically this is all one color but you wouldn't know it because you're getting shades with thin lines, with thick lines, with big bold prints, with really delicate line work and you're really getting a nice sense of depth without having to resort to using 1,000 different colors. That's the world that you live in where it's like, what are my resources and how can I exploit them to be as special and creative as possible. The Wiffle ball box. If you're a kid and you love baseball you know this box. The great thing about this box is that it's very basic. But, in its basic nature you're getting a lot of really fun stuff out of this. What you have here is a basic square box, nothing crazy, but the way that it's produced, you've got the iconic Wiffle ball. Everyone knows that there are three holes, and then you've got the classic black, white, and orange. The great stuff about this is, you take a look at this box and in three-dimensions it's fun on every side. You can see it's a black and orange print on a white box, so you're getting a three color look out of only two colors, which is something to really consider. If you have to save money in the printing process, how can you use the background of the label or the product itself to act as a third color, or act as a fourth color, or even a second color? You can get away with a lot that way if you get creative. Not only that but you get some really cool hierarchy of texts here. You get the bold with waffle ball name sitting right in the middle. Boom. It smash it right in the face. Then underneath it, you get some really cool other type stuff. You get the regulation in the italic script which is great, it's a great little piece of lettering. You get the cool bold underline baseball size making you know that this is legit. This is the real thing. It's no joke. You might not be on a real field but you're playing with the real size, so it's keeping you in that world. Then you got some really, really fun stuff that gives it that personality that everybody loves. It's right there, bold orange. It curves with an exclamation point. Really, really fun and then bad it bounce it safe anywhere. This right here encapsulates an entire childhood. This tells the whole story. The mirrored sides you have the same image. So when you put that on the shelf whichever way it goes, front and back, you are still getting that same branding. Then on the other side, you get some really cool stuff shows you how to throw the ball and how to get some really cool pitches out of it. This might look like it's a different color, but it's not. It's actually a very small half tone of that same orange that's on here. Again, you're squeezing yet another color out of only two colors. So, what is really a two-color job turns into something that looks like it could be a four or even five color job, just with being creative with the actual printing techniques. Then, of course, on the top the awesome pop orange to really separate and make sure that you know if you want to have a good time, you go to the orange side and you open it up from there. So, these two things have always been on the two ends of the spectrum of the more modern and more vintage or heritage way of going about things but they still live within the same world. So, here's a couple of things that I've done that I'll just give you an idea of based on what I've showed you already from the Stork and the Wiffle ball packaging and labeling. I do a lot of stuff in peril. I do a lot of stuff with the bottle packaging and other types of labeling, but my favorite stuff has to do with the peril, because I feel like there's a lot of story you can tell with it. This was for a clothing company named Barnaby Black. So, you'll see here this is a nice woven label. One color utilizing the cheapest way possible to get a really nice look and what we did here was also, this is a hand stamp size right here in the middle. We had custom stamps made for each size based on the style of lettering that I designed. We could just go in there and stamp it. So, we were saving money. We didn't have to have labels made up for small, medium, large, extra large, we got one label made up, got a few stamps made up and then you just put a little bit of extra elbow grease into it and you have a really nice, handmade, very warm, personable product that is even easier to sell to customers when they know a human had a touch in it, it's just not a machine. You come down here and there's a care label underneath which is using the same exact color stitching. So, we're not doing any new setup fees with any extra nylon or any extra color stocks or anything like that, each one is black on white. We're having black text, black illustration, black design on a white label. What this looks like is white on black but what it actually is is black on white label. So, we're still doing the same thing except on this we're knocking out the text and keeping it in a neutral color palette so that we can use this not just in these jackets but in other jacket as well that might not have this particular color way. The last one I want to share with you guys is the CXXVI hang tags. CXXVI is clothing brand that I started with a partner of mine, Mike Gordon, back in 2009. We wanted to create a really great clothing brand that was based on everything that we had a love for. So we took all of our love for everything, New York, in Nautical, in Vintage, Heritage, Americano, all sorts of great stuff that went into the history of where we come from a very hands-on aesthetic. We printed everything. We made everything. It was all produced in-house, in our studio in New York. So it had a very hands-on feel to it. We had to do things that old way. We were limited to color palette. We were limited to the amount of materials that we had, just strictly due to fonts. Each piece of these although they look really detailed, they're absolutely not. We figured out a way to make all this stuff look cool for really small amount of money and it adds a ton of character to the product. We'll take this one, for example. It's your basic manila hang tag. What we did was actually tea stain and hand-age these with rocks in a dryer actually, and they got beat up after they were stained, and we had some pens made up and we had a few stamps made up and we hand stamped everything. If you look at some of the older labels for more of the workware-based stuff, you will see that there are a lot of mistakes that are made. When you look at this and you look at the words custom made cutoff at the top that's intentional. The letter is not looking perfectly straight and the printing not being a solid print, having that distressing, that decay to it. It's all to pay tribute to that world of hardworking New York-based individuals that we respected and revered for so long. This hang tag also doubles as an instruction list, dry clean only. It's 100 percent cotton. When you pick up this piece of clothing in the store and you have this hang tag, you turned it over and you see exactly what you have to deal with this. Then we decided to throw in an extra little piece here, which not only helps with the branding, but it's also an extra cooler thing someone can take right off throwing their shirt. Now, not only do they have an extra cool piece which is like a free little throwing, but this is helping to promote the brand as well. This cool little story behind each one of these and I can go into all of them. A lot of these are hand-stamped for the date that they are manufactured on so that when people actually pick these up, you can see this was manufactured July 20th, 2011. We started experimenting with different types of fabric. It wasn't just paper labels anymore. It was different types of cotton, it was Canvas, it was Burlap and using the same techniques and getting really different outcomes and each one is really costing really minimal dollars. It's just the method of going about finding the style that you want to achieve and finding a way to create it in the cheapest way possible. That really helps out for when you're working with bigger companies too. It doesn't have to be for startups. When you're working with bigger companies and you can achieve a really good effect and still save money. Guess who's getting more work out of their company. 3. Translating Your Mood Board Into Sketches: So, what this project is is basically, it's a wine label for a company called Dogo out of Argentina. What they're doing is they're trying to establish a good mid-level wine that references the heritage of Argentina without getting into some of the negative stuff that maybe has been in the news at one point or another. So, they want to focus on the positive, and one of the positives is this particular brand breed of dog that is strong, it's a bold-looking animal, it's a very graphic-looking animal. It looks like it could tear you apart, but at the same time, it has a very distinguished look about it. In creating this brand, they want a really kind of show that distinguished vibe of Argentinian heritage with a strong powerful demeanor of this is the one that you want. I usually have every one of my clients kind of give me a rundown of what they think the brand is, tell me a little bit about the brand. Tell me, what's the story of the brand? How did it come about? Where did it start? Whose idea was it? Why did you come up with this idea? All those questions just to see what their creative process has been up until the point where you've come into the picture. Now, what I need, as the designer, is what's called the mood board. Get a feel of what's in the client's head based on what they like, so they can search the Internet, they can take pictures with their phone and email it to you, or any kind of way that they can really encapsulate the idea of aesthetics in visuals, so that you can kind of understand where they're coming from because you have to think about the fact that they're hiring you to create this label, so they're not able to really kind of communicate exactly what they're thinking. So, the best way for them to do this is to find other labels that they like, to find out the brands that they like. With this client, I had him put together a mood board to come up with a few history points, things that would really make sense for what this brand is going to be. So, what you'll see here is a few images of the dog, you'll see a few images of different alcoholic beverage packaging that he likes, different labels that he likes; and then of course, he was looking for something a bit more heritage. So, you'll see pieces of vintage label work. You'll see custom lettering. You'll see different types of illustrations, things that have a bit more sophistication to them while still maintaining that more powerful feeling of bold lines and solid colors. Now, what this is going to do is you're going to take all these elements. You're going to take the style of dog. You're going to take the style of bottle. You're going to take the boldness. You're going to take the custom type. You're going to take all these things and you're going to try and develop a language with them. How did these things fit into each other? This is someone who doesn't have the vision, who's coming to you for the vision and he's putting all these things on a board. This is a language to him. This is telling a story right here. So, how do you translate all of this stuff into one label? In order to tell that story, how do you take that to the next level? So, that's what our job is at this point. Okay. So, what you see here is some various logo explorations that I worked with, just doodling, just putting pen to paper and just playing with different types of shapes and seeing kind of what comes out of my hand. Playing with different sizes. Is this the elegant? Does this give you an interesting perspective on the brand? Does it help? Does it hurt? This is a little bit more toned down version of this. This, you can kind of see, it almost has more of a cryptic feel to it. Then of course, you start to get into some more of your basic stuff where there's maybe like a cool script here, where there's something that's a little bit more elegant, but has kind of like an older feel to it. Then, there's something that has a little bit more of a Southern, almost Western mixed with Latin kind of flair. You can see which ones I wanted to explore further, which ones I immediately gave up on, and which ones just kind of didn't really go much of anywhere. So, the first thing I always like to do is just sketch out exactly the product that the label is going to be living on. So, this way, it gives you a little bit of context as to what you're actually doing. Context is very important because if your label is not flowing within the context of the piece, it's not going to make sense with the overall story of the brand and the product. So, you want to make sure that your label and your product are in sync with each other. I've decided that I'm going to do a printed label and it's going to be a printed label that's going to be applied. So, we're not going to be dealing with screen printing here. We're going to actually be working with a shape. So, the shape that I want to work with, it's kind of an elongated rectangle with cut-off corners. It will give it a little bit more of an elegant touch than just a straight plain rectangular label design. It's nice and long. It has a feeling similar to what you might see in like an olive oil label or something along those lines, something that has a little bit of heritage. I figured out kind of where this is going to live within the bottle. It's going to be a nice long label. It's going to give us a lot of room to play with here, so we can fill in all that cool stuff that the client wants. So, I want the logo to sit probably about here, and it's always kind of important to work with the most vital parts of the label first. Get them in, get them at the size that you want and make sure that they are going to be clear no matter what. Then, you can always fit in the other stuff as you go along. Once this sits on a shelf, the eye is going to go directly towards this. It's going to be at the top. You're going to have this hierarchy, kind of flow down, and we're going to play with it. The next important thing that the client was looking for was the dog. So, we're going to play with the dog head. Here, I want to put the dog kind of in this area right here. I want this to live kind of front and center. So, this will help to, if this product is around long enough, will eventually become a very iconic-looking dog, hopefully if all goes according to plan or we do a good job with this, and we can correct the anatomy of that as we go into it. But right now, we want to make sure that this looks like something that we can work with and you can already start to see how this layout is kind of come together. Now, the client also wants a brief story of what the product is on here. So that's why we're going with a little bit longer of a layout as well, because we have a lot of information that we want to fit on the front here. So I'm playing with some decorative styles, maybe a diamond here, maybe we'll do some flourishes in here. These were kind of creating a cool shape, I had thought that I wanted to put something in the lower middle portion, so I left that shape opened. Now, while I'm looking at it, I have some some cool shapes going on here, I have some flow and flourishes. I have the nice dog illustration that's going to go in here and I have a nice bold Dogo lettering at the top. So I want to put a cool little diamond in here, and what we can do is we can put the information of what's going to be in the bottle here. This is a 750-milliliter bottle which is pretty standard for most wines. I'm going to do, I'm going to break up the M and the L, and I'm going to put them up here, and down there. So, this is kind of given it a little kick, some cool stuff. This wine is also going to be a Malbec, so I have a nice space right here, I want to lay out the word Malbec here, kind of in a cool pinched kind of way. So, in doing so, I'm also leaving this space open for whatever other kind of wine that this company will make, they're not all going to be Malbec, maybe there's Chardonnay or whatever they could they could be making, I have plenty of room to kind of expand this. I can go out here, I can make this like this. I have plenty room to really make this work. There's also a few other things that we need to put in. The client wants to make sure that the word 'Argentina' is in here, so I'm going to fit this in here, I want to put maybe like a nice little banner-esque shape, we're going to fit the word Argentina in here. Now, the reason I'm doing a double line here is for a pattern guide. I want to be able to make sure that this word is spelled correctly, number one, and also number two, we'll have room so that this negative area here, I can maybe add some extra decorative elements to. Now, I'm going to put the word oven here. We're left with a good empty space here, and Dogo of Argentina kind of gives it almost, not even like a classier name but something that has a history, something that maybe is rich in the area that it's coming from. So, it kind of gives a nice little prospective as to where it is and that this product is of this place, which is a very important thing for the client. We're going to try and flesh out these letters a little bit more. I'm going to make these kind of thin serif. I want to give it a little body, but it's going to be pretty thin to begin with. Now, these letter styles, I've played with in my thumbnail sketches, but this is something that when I heard Dogo, I immediately kind of went to this lettering style and I mean this just comes from years of experience and research. I basically have a whole font library stored up in my head, so if you're not there yet, you will get there and if you are there, you know what I'm talking about. I also know that I wanted to add some kind of other decorative element that kind of breaks out of this. So, the first thing I want to do is put maybe a little seal up here, and this seal could be a gold foil seal, or it could be a wax seal, but whatever it is, I want it to be kind of like official. It's there. This is the official wine of Argentina. I want people to be able to think that. So one thing I thought would be kind of cool was to come up with some kind of monogram. So I was just playing with the DA, Dogo Argentina. We can go back and fix that a little bit later on, and this will be a great spot for the vintage, too. So maybe we could do a little V for vintage, and we could play with 2010. This looks pretty good. We'll put a little kind of like line over here, like some kind of flourish, just to spice it up a little bit, draw some attention to it but not too much. We're going to keep this font pretty thin and we're going to let it live so that it doesn't interfere with with Dogo, the most important part. So right now, we have everything kind of exactly where we want it. The hierarchy is communicating exactly what this is. This is a Dogo of Argentina, right? That's what you're going to see first. Then you're going to see the dog and then you're going to see the Malbec, and then all these other stuff, you're going to see second. So, this area right here is going to be our most important part. Stuff here, I know it's going to start with the word Dogo, and then we can write in a cool little story right there. Make sure it fits. We're going to have to play a little bit with spacing, but once we get into that final, we'll make sure that everything kind of looks good, and we have the requirements, the 2010, the 750 milliliters, the things that most people who are buying wines would really look for. They're looking for the date. They're looking for how much is in there. Once you're associated with the brand, then it's a matter of the information of this particular product. I also think maybe it might be cool to have a little neck label here, maybe we could put the vintage appears well. Maybe we could play with this idea, and then this could wrap around. There's a whole bunch of cool stuff. You can come diagonally. 4. Working With Your Top Design (5:54): You can see there's a ton of different ideas here that we played with, and a lot of them have to deal with hierarchy. It has to do with the layout. It has to do with how it would look on a shelf, what type of style you're going for. I mean, if you look at this page, we can see some very different styles here. This is a lot cleaner. This has a lot more of an elegant vibe. This feels a little bit more bold, a little bit more handmade, and this one seems actually a little bit more modern. Maybe even a little bit more quirky. So, you get into these, and we're playing with this stuff. This is a little bit more modern, a little bit more risky, but maybe it's not getting the right vibe. Maybe there's not enough heritage in this. This looks like it's still maybe a little too modern, plus you're not getting the full dog in here. This one's a little closer. We're giving it a nice heritage field. We got a nice banner going on here. We have room for the story to take place, but something about it just wasn't feeling right. We wanted something a little bit more uniform, so this is what we ended up with as more of the final sketch, and you can see the style of the lettering. You can see the dog is standing strong right in the middle. It's a full body shot. You have a nice dedicated space for story, and then you have these cool little accents on the bottom. You are going to notice, "Oh, look at this negative space down here. Maybe I can do some cool flourishes over here. Maybe this negative space over here could lend itself to some cool flourishes." So, you'll see as you work yourself through, there's going to be a lot of cool stuff that's going to come from this, and we're going to be able to really play with it once we get the ink done and once we bring it into the computer and start playing around with color. Basically, what you see here is a final ink piece. I like to do everything in all black and white. It makes it really easy to start manipulating once it goes into the computer. So, you want that sharp contrast, so that when you do scan it, it is easy for you to see what is your mark, and what is the paper, and you want to make sure that you're able to separate this. Because when you do go into production, whether it is print, or silk screen, or with stamps, or whatever it is, you're going to need to be able to separate this stuff. So, everything that's clear now it's just going to make your life that much easier moving on. What we're going to do here is we're going to take this final inked piece, which is the layout that we are most happy with at this point, we're going to scan it in, and we're going to start putting the finishing touches on. Okay. So, now once we have everything scanned in and we bring it into our program of choice, I like to work in Illustrator for stuff like this. Now, we're set. We're ready to go. You can see each one of these items is selectable. I've grouped it all. I've cleaned it up. Everything is ready to go. So, at this point, we're ready to really take it to that next stage, is adding some little bits and pieces here and there. For me, I think I'm going to want to add a little bit of a drop shadow here, and maybe something a little bit on here, maybe even something a little bit to highlight the dog. So, that's my thought process at this point, so I'm going to play around with that a little bit. When I move in to the coloring and all that kind of aspect, you're going to see there's a lot that really goes into it. I have my little Argentina flag reference right here with the blue and gold. A lot of other stuff going on here. But really, I'm playing with everything here. I want to see what the layouts look like. I want to see what my options are. I want to see if, since we are in the computer and things are a little bit easier now, if I can start swapping some other logo treatments I did, if any of them would make better sense, if the little highlighted behind the dog is going to be good or if it's going to be distracting. All these kind of things really play into it. You can see I started playing with some label stuff that we did in the sketch. Three of them have it. One of them doesn't. There's a lot of things that you can really play around with, and the computer really allows you to do that. So, once you get to this point, this is basically where you start making your tough decisions: what's going to stay, what's going to go, what's going to be part of the final piece. For me, the final ended up looking like this, and it was pretty close to what we were doing. We were doing a pretty good job until this point. We went through a lot of drawings, a lot of sketches, a lot of different type styles. I flip flop on the logo about a thousand times. But all in all, I it's a pretty solid label. It has everything that the client wanted. We're highlighting strong darks and lights. The dog is very centered, very prominent, and the Dogo is boom. In your face, you can't miss it. The black and the light blue with the Argentina, it's right there. We're hitting everything. We have the yellow little stamp. They're almost gives that feeling of its a sun looking down. The yellow and the blue, it's like sun and sky, and it gives you that vibe of the Argentina heritage. So, we have it all in there. It's powerful. It's strong. It looks elegant, but it doesn't look too fancy. It's going to really communicate very well what we're shooting for in terms of the initial brief, and hopefully, tons and tons of sales. 5. Explore Design on Skillshare: way.