Let’s talk labels.
If you are a small home-based cookie business, I’m going to assume that you have limited financial resources to dump into your business. I’m basing this assumption on my own experiences and growth of my business. Investing significant amounts of money into a hobby or home-based cookie business is often not feasible for many of you. But, as I’m sure you’ve already learned, there has to be some financial investment in some things in order to operate at all.
Your cookies have to be packaged, you have to advertise, you have to purchase ingredients, you have to purchase supplies, etc. (If you need a comprehensive but realistic supply list, check out my “Frequently Used Tools” for cookie decorators.) One thing we all need are labels.
If you are operating a cookie business, you may need labels for shipping, you likely want a product label for your brand, and you need ingredient labels. I can’t reliably speak about the rules and regulations for every state, but I’m pretty confident that every state is going to require that you disclose your ingredients to your customers for safety reasons. The best way to do this is with an ingredient label. If you aren’t using ingredient labels, I strongly suggest you start. If you are baking for friends and family but not selling your product, you can leave the ingredient labels out – but the moment you begin exchanging money for your product, you more than likely are required to put an ingredient label on it – this is going to be applicable for hobby businesses, home-based, commercial, retail, brick-and-mortar, online, etc. Don’t try to skirt around rules and regulations just because you are a home-based business. That is a dangerous practice from a health standpoint as well as financial liability standpoint.
I’m going to explain the different ways I’ve made my own labels and talk about the benefits and downsides of doing this versus buying labels from a label company.
DIY Labels with Standard Home Printer
For a many years, I just used my Canon Pixma printer and full-sheet label paper for all of my labels. This is an inexpensive printer and the quality of the prints is pretty great considering its price point. I’ve never been a fan of pre-cut label paper, such as Avery labels, because getting them to align properly during printing has always been a pain and I was limited to the sizes and shapes offered. I’ve used a standard 8.5 x 11 inch label paper for ink jet printers for pretty much every label I needed. Then I could cut the labels down or into any shape that I needed. This Label Wiz brand has been my go to for years because it’s relatively cheap.
I also use several paper punches depending on the shape I needed. I like the punches by Fiskars because, like their scissors, the blades of the punches are sharp and stay sharp. I have the 1.5 inch round, 2 inch round, and 3 inch round. I also like the square punch because it worked well for my logo and product labels. I also love my Fiskars rotary paper slicer for straight and square cuts. The benefit of the full sheet label paper is that you aren’t constrained to a specific size or design of the label. You simply decide what you want in a design and shape, duplicate it as many times as the sheet will allow, and then cut or punch it out after printing.
Making your own labels, while time consuming, is typically a more cost effective way to get what you need without having to spend a lot of money outsourcing your label printing – when you are small or just starting out. You want your labels to be as cheap as possible and the best way to get cheap labels outsourced is by buying them in large quantities. But if you have limited funds to invest, this option may not be feasible.
Another benefit of making your own labels when you are small, is you can easily make changes to your label and simply re-print. I have altered my cookie and icing recipes no less than 5 times since I first began. If I have to purchase 5000 labels from a label company to get a reasonable price per label, and then end up changing a recipe or an ingredient brand, I will have to throw out all of those labels and re-purchase a new lot. That’s a lot of money down the drain.
This is also true for product and branding labels. I’ve changed my logo several times over the 10 or so years to better align with my product and business. Each time I’ve changed it, I’ve said to myself – “this is it, this is final and permanent” – and yet, depending on where my little business has been going – I’ve ended up making changes! Maybe you aren’t as indecisive as me and this won’t be a concern for you, but expect that you might decide to make a change. And if you are a small cookie business, you don’t want to be investing lots of money into designs and labels that you might end up having to throw out the window. Being consistent with branding is extremely important in your business and constantly changing can cause some hiccups – but that’s another subject that I won’t get into today. I will say to try to maintain consistency in this area – your business name, logo, branding elements, etc. because this will help you with recognition tremendously. But if you are just starting out, don’t stress too much if you decide that you need to go in another direction after a year or so with these things – it is possible to re-brand (if you didn’t just purchase 5000 labels from Labels R Us).
If you can afford to outsource your label production, then by all means I would recommend you do that. But for those of us who can’t justify the cost, or simply can’t afford to do that, we can make our own.
If you have a printer and computer at home, all you really need is label paper to get started. Like I said, I’ve used my cheap canon printer for years making labels. If you prefer to use pre-cut labels, then I would encourage you to use them. But if you’re like me and like to have more control over the design and shape, the full sheet labels might be a better option for you (these are also cheaper than pre-cut!)
I said earlier that making your own labels will be cheap, but time consuming. This was an important disclaimer. The word “cheap” was in reference to the cost of materials only. There’s another cost that many home businesses tend to forget about. Time. The time you spend doing anything for your business increases the cost to the customer – or it should. When you work a standard job, you are paid for the hours you work. This should also be true of any home based or small business. The amount of hours you spend doing anything, needs to have a cost associated with it which in turn gets recovered from your customer when you sell your product.
If your small cookie business does fewer than 5 orders per week, the amount of time you spend making your own labels, while significant, isn’t necessarily time poorly spent. However, if your business is booming and you find yourself spending hours upon hours printing labels, cutting them out, and then attaching them to your product, this might not be the best use of your time. And, at some point, the recovery of this time in revenue is not going to be possible. At this point, you will need to start to consider more efficient methods of labeling.
The most efficient way to get labels for your business is to outsource them to a printer company. But, to get a good price for the labels, you will need to purchase in very large quantities. If you are ready to do this, then great! Make sure to include any shipping charges that you may have when you look at the cost per label.
If you are not ready for this investment, or commitment, let me introduce you to the Dymo label printer!
Dymo Label Writers
The Dymo Label Writer has been the one single (actually two) most valuable investment into my cookie business. I first decided to purchase a Dymo for shipping labels. And I had two reasons for doing so. 1. Efficiency 2. Weather.
My original method of printing shipping labels on my regular printer and standard label paper eventually grew too inefficient. The time spent printing them and cutting them, as well as the cost of the paper and ink itself was no longer justifiable as the business grew. This was especially true when I only needed to print one label on a particular day and ended up wasting half of the paper.
The second reason was weather! It rains a LOT in West Tennessee. It’s also extremely humid in our warmer seasons. This moisture can DESTROY a label printed on an ink jet. If the label doesn’t get wet enough to cause the paper itself to disintegrate, a single drop of rain can mess up the barcode on a shipping label enough to render it useless. The high humidity can also cause enough dampness on the label that the ink can smudge when touched. When your barcode is is not clear, this means your package is – at best – going to be delayed – or worse – returned to you or simply lost. To prevent my barcodes from getting messed up, I would cover them in clear packaging tape. (The post office advises against this practice, but they have never denied any of my packages). You do have to place the tape without wrinkles or bubbles which is probably why the post office doesn’t like tape covered bar codes. If the tape wrinkles or has bubbles, the scanners can’t read the bar code.
So I wanted a more efficient label production and a label that could withstand some moisture – which meant no ink. Enter – the Dymo thermal printer.
The Dymo 4XL is the only model that will print a standard 4×6 inch shipping label. This is the standard label size for all three major shipping carriers – USPS, FedEx, and UPS. If you are not shipping packages, this model is not necessary. It is also the most expensive of the three I mentioned.
But, if you do ship packages, I cannot tell you how valuable this investment is. It not only prints the standard 4×6 labels, it will also print any other size label that Dymo offers – from very tiny barcode size labels, to address size, large address labels, as well as many other miscellaneous sizes they offer.
The other two models, the 450 Turbo and 450 Twin Turbo will print all other sizes of Dymo labels EXCEPT the 4×6 shipping label. So if you are looking at a thermal printer for ingredient labels or product labels only, the 4XL isn’t really necessary.
I first purchased the 4XL after debating for months to decide if the investment was worth the money. Guess what – it was. The benefits of these little thermal printers are well worth the money. There are other thermal printers available but when I looked at all of the options available, Dymo seems to have the most consistent high ratings and reviews. Now, from my own experience I can attest to the fact that they are reliable, easy to set up, and consistent in quality.
The set up of the Dymo couldn’t be easier. It’s almost plug-and-play simple. The only work really comes from telling your computer or website (such as Etsy) to print a 4×6 to the Dymo – but this is also super simple to do. The speed is the second benefit. This little printer spits out labels almost faster than you can roll them up as they exit. My canon printer has been good, but after printing to this Dymo, I have lost ALL PATIENCE waiting for it to print! It is an ink jet and not a laser so slow is the name of the game with an ink jet printer but I just can’t deal with its slow motion lifestyle anymore! And finally, the third and probably most important benefit of the Dymo thermal printer is there IS NO INK! You NEVER have to spend money replacing ink cartridges. The ink in an ink jet, or even toner for a laser printer, is going to be the highest cost you face when printing labels on them. Ink is freaking expensive. The Dymo uses heat, not ink to print with.
The only downside to using the Dymo for your label printing is that you can print in any color you want – as long as it’s black. (Henry Ford anyone? …crickets…). Ok, yes, the color options are non-existent with a thermal printer. Since the printer uses heat to print, it’s going to print black onto white paper. But, if you need this for shipping labels and ingredient labels – do you really need color for these anyway? An ingredient label needs to be a list of your ingredients, in a consistent and easy to read font style. That’s all. It doesn’t need to be fanciful – in fact, the FDA/USDA requires that it NOT be fanciful. It needs to be clear and easy to read. Leave the comic sans, brush scrips, and modern calligraphy fonts alone when it comes to your ingredient labels. A standard serif or non-serif font is going to be best – think Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, etc.
In addition to my Dymo 4XL, I’ve also recently purchased the 450 Twin Turbo. Right now, I’m regularly producing several different types and sizes of labels. The 4XL will accommodate ANY size or shape label that Dymo offers so there’s no real need for a second model other than efficiency. I purchased the 450 Twin Turbo so that I could have three of my most often used label sizes loaded and ready to go at the push of a button. I use the 4×6 shipping label, a 2 inch (approximately) label, and an address label for shipping, product labeling, and ingredient labels. When I’m printing a lot, loading and unloading the 4XL to change out sizes started getting a little irritating so I decided to get the twin turbo to hold the two smaller labels. Since it accommodates two sizes at the same time, it was the perfect addition to my printing station. The 450 Turbo and 450 Twin Turbo are basically the same machine – they are compatible with any size label except for the 4×6. But, the Twin Turbo holds two separate rolls at a time. They can be the same size rolls, or two different sizes. Since I am using three different size labels regularly, the Twin Turbo made the most sense.
I said earlier in this post, I’ve never been a fan of pre-cut label sheets – like those from Avery and others. You may be wondering then, why I’m ok with the pre-determined sizes of the Dymo labels. My first issue with the label sheets (8.5×11) that are pre-cut is the difficulty with layout during design and then alignment with printing. In order to use those labels, you usually need to use a template to get proper alignment and layout. I get annoyed with these complexities – but you may not. I personally find the label creation with the Dymo easier and more straightforward than with any other label option.
The Dymo has provided software where you can create your labels and then click to print to the printer. I like to create my labels with other software and then print them because I have more control over design. I would still like to have custom shapes and sizes for my labels which I am limited to with the Dymo options, but the benefits of this machine outweigh those limits. The speed of printing, the cost savings versus a standard ink jet, the efficiency of the printers, and the thermal printing instead of ink are all positives of the Dymo that overshadow any of my previous issues with limits in label sizes and shapes. I’ve been able to find 3 labels that accommodate what I want and need from my labels so this solution has ended up working perfectly for me.
In the future, it’s possible that I will outgrow this system and moving to an outsourced option for labels will probably be needed. But the volume of product that I produce at this time does not justify a different system yet. If your business needs to label thousands and thousands of products monthly, my Dymo system may be far too inefficient and costly for that level of production.
As always with these posts, I’m giving recommendations based on my experience and the needs of my business in the hopes that you can learn something useful that helps you in your business. But, each of us has to evaluate our needs and determine what options are best. If outsourcing your labels is working for you and you wouldn’t have it any other way, then I in no way want to discourage you from doing that. But if that’s not an option for you, or you are dissatisfied with that option, I hope I’ve given you a couple more options that might work better.
Let me know in the comments what your preferred labeling system is and why. Do you outsource your labels, print from a standard printer, use a label maker like Dymo, or do you have an entirely different system that I need to consider?
Below are a list of items I’ve mentioned in this post. You can find everything on Amazon (which is where I do 95% of my shopping!).