Professional Looking Labeling/Packaging on the Cheap for Small Business?
February 27, 2014 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking into opening an online shop with a few niche items, and I don't know how to go about packaging and labeling them. I'm very small time and this is a very small market, so I need to keep things on a budget. In theory I have a color inkjet printer and bw laser printer, but neither are cooperating at the moment, and I don't want really terrible hand made labels I've seen some people make on their printers. I can probably figure out why they're broken if there is a way to do nice looking labels on a home printer, I just haven't seen it. I can do design, but I've got little experience in the physical space. I'm also completely lost on the packaging side of things. Where can I find out about packaging and labeling cheaply for small (micro) businesses?

A few of the products I have in mind, if it helps:
Specialty Fish Foods:
For containers, I'm going to use some pill bottles. I can get them cheaply in small quantities locally (I may change this as money becomes available, but this will work for now.) I have a black and white laser printer and a color printer (although both are misbehaving right now). But printing on matte labels looks unprofessional. I have not tried glossy labels yet for the inject for fear they will look bad and be wasted money. If you've used anything like that and like it, please let me know.

Aquarium Decorations:
I can get them unbranded from a supplier, so I was hoping to package them thusly:
Plastic bag with cardboard/paper closure/label at the top.
Similar to this but no backing:
or this (but paper at the top)

Acrylic Feeder
Lately, I am fabricating an acrylic feeder that will require some protection. I was thinking of putting it in a cardboard box with crunched up shredded paper as the padding. That's just one idea though. I'm probably not explaining it well, but it's a packaging type I've seen numerous places, expecially Etsy. I'm not sold on that exact packaging, but that's the idea I have in mind. The size of the item will be something like 6"x10"x4", and it will be the type of thing that can crack or shatter if mishandled, such as a drop from a 3' or more. But it's not fragile like glass.

Any suggestions? Part of what I'm struggling with is I don't even know what to call some of these things to know how to search for companies that do the printing.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Considering some of these products are going to be repackaged, all of the value you are adding to them is the packaging, curation, and boutique vibe your store will give. You need to get this right.

I'd suggest you eventually try to contact a designer that would give everything a work over. For right now, I understand you're more just trying to figure out if this business will even go anywhere, no sense in throwing good money after bad. You can eventually reach a size efficiency with ordering lots of labels at once, and a designer should be able to help price that out for you.

But for right now? Honestly, you should just look up Avery label templates. Martha Stewart has a brand too. They both have websites with pre-fab templates that pop into microsoft word, you change the text, they go through your inkjet printer onto the Avery labels and look decent enough. No reason to be scared of them. Think about ribbons or tissue paper, or backing paper in patterns that can supplement the labels. Or maybe get a stamp made, and stamp directly on the package material?

Uline is a great resource for boxes.
posted by fontophilic at 8:53 AM on February 27, 2014

For padding for shipping the acrylic feeder you might consider getting a Geami Greenwrap Ready Roll or another product from Geami. Comes in various colors.
posted by gudrun at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2014

I have label stickers from Vistaprint that I use to label my packages. The small round ones are pretty cheap, especially if you can get them during a sale. They also seem to do living social/groupon deals semi-frequently.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2014

How about something like a pillow box? They give you a clean effect very easily, and if you get the clear ones you can use an insert for labeling instead of using adhesive labels. If you pack the box with shreds (basically this) it can serve as protection for your fragile items.

The other suggestion for the feeder would be to use something like these kinds of tubes. Again, labeling can be an insert instead of a label.
posted by cabingirl at 9:28 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Avery has "weatherproof" labels which when printed with a color laser look great and are durable/smudge resistant.
posted by Sophont at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2014

The inkjet is too slow and the ink is far too expensive (when printing photos for example, a large print costing several dollars in ink compares to about 60 cents from a department store or drugstore photo service). Maybe you can design a label that uses virtually no ink?

There is glossy sticker paper for inkjets, and it works wonderfully (inkjets look their best on glossy inkjet paper), but it's expensive.

B&W Laser is cheap and fast, though difficult (but not impossible) to get looking good/professional. A color laser would be better (though not for photographic work), perhaps consider whether you have enough non-business reason/resources to justify buying one?

For the decorations, you could use the cheapest photos from the drugstore photo service and fold those - you'll get a full-color glossy for less than 20c, (which might sound expensive, but I doubt you can produce much at that price using your own equipment, once wear and tear and ink and paper is all considered.)
posted by anonymisc at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2014

Think carefully about whether your products require extra packaging or labeling if you are only selling online. It sounds like some of the packaging you are considering is retail packaging. You don't need that if you are going to be selling only online.

For example, what value does the plastic bag and paper closure add to your product? Perhaps it would be better to think about how the protective shipping packaging can work for you, rather than adding a layer of retail packaging. Consider the success of Amazon's frustration-free packaging program.

For items that need a label, look for a local or online print shop that can make these for you. I don't think there is a homemade alternative that is both cheaper than a print shop and looks reasonably professional. Keep it minimal to keep costs down.
posted by ssg at 11:51 AM on February 27, 2014

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