Sticker printing: a step-by-step guide

Sticker printing, have you ever wondered how it works?

You probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of stickers and labels in your daily life. They are everywhere!

Over the next day, take a look and just see how many labels are stuck around; you’ll be amazed. But don’t try and count them because you won’t get very far as there are just so many.

Try picking up a bottle or a jar of something you really like; gin bottles are a great example, and take a look at the incredible detail that you can achieve from a printed sticker. Some of them are beautiful works of art. 

This article is all about sticker printing. We will explain, step-by-step, how stickers get printed and how to create different effects.

1 – Design

This step is often forgotten, but I want to include it because it’s so critical getting a fantastic looking custom printed sticker.

Designs are often in vector format, which means they can be manipulated and scaled very easily. But most importantly, when a design is in vector, it is easy to change colours and create special effects.

So if you want metallic, chrome or other effects such as varnish, you’ll need vector layers to achieve these. So I always recommend designing and vector first where possible.

2 – Selecting your material

Selecting the material you want your sticker to be printed on can be tricky.

There are many options, each with different benefits and downsides, but getting it right can make the difference between a beautiful piece of packaging that helps your sales skyrocket versus poor, cheap-looking labels that peel and crease. 

When selecting a material, there are two main categories: paper and plastics (or vinyl). 

Paper-based materials are less durable but more easily recyclable, and you can create some incredible textured effects.

The image above shows various vinyl stickers printed on different coloured materials to create beautiful effects. They come in a wide range of colours and are highly durable, and you can add a laminate to give different textures and finishes. 

3 – Printing

Now for the fun bit, the sticker printing. For you, this is relatively straightforward because you don’t have to worry about it.

Most printing of short-run or low quantity stickers and labels are done on digital printers.

They print CMYK + white all in one go, and the quality is outstanding. So you can get photorealistic images printed onto your sticker almost instantly.

If you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of labels or even millions, analogue printing presses such as flexo or gravure are still used today.

4 – Finishing

Finishing is personally one of my favourite steps. You can add and embellish a normal-looking sticker to make it look out of this world. 

Finishing includes laminating, which means covering your printed label with a plastic film to protect the prints from scratching and fading in light closest to give it different textures.

Finishing can also include applying foils or varnishes. Foils are super shiny and look fantastic, and varnishes can be highly textured or raised to make the label feel tactile in your hands. 

5 – Cutting

The final stage is cutting.

It seems simple, but actually, it’s probably one of the most complex stages to get right.

It has to be highly accurate at incredible speeds to get a suitable finish. So there are new machines where high-speed lasers are used to cut the material to within a few microns accuracy.

These high-speed laser cutters are insane to watch when they’re moving faster than the eye can see, and out of the end of the machine, you’re getting a perfectly cut sticker with lots of intricate detail. 

The other tricky thing to get right with cutting is to get the perfect depth. It needs to be just deep enough to cut through the sticker later but not too deep to cut into the backing paper because then it can I have a tear or be hard to peel.

Neither of which is a nice experience. 

Final thoughts

So now you know all the detailed steps that go into making a beautiful custom sticker or label.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading and found it helpful. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.