Our process for designing beer cans with our hand drawn full wrap labels

Regular Black Hops drinkers would have noticed that over the past few months we’ve brought out a few colourful and highly distinctive full wrap can designs. It’s been a bit of a departure from the minimalist can designs we have for our core range of beers, which we covered in this post.

We thought we’d have a bit of fun with some of our super limited releases and come up with a new, unique design approach. So far we’ve custom designed cans in this way for:

  • staff beers: employees get their own custom beer after being with us full time for one year
  • the occasional venue collaboration
  • a few of our limited run Recon Series beers.

It’s not a cheap process though, so we’re quite selective as to which beers end up getting the hand drawn, full can wrap treatment.

So this time, I’ll delve into our process for designing full wrap label beer cans with this new, hand drawn illustrated approach. We’ll focus in particular on one of our recent collab beers, Black Market Schwartz.

We’ll also have a look at some of our other full can wrap designs.

Every great design needs a great designer

In my experience, good designers are quite hard to come by and when I find them I tend to work with them on a lot of projects. In this case, I’ve been working with my friend Daniel for a long time. He’s based in the Philippines and is an incredible artist.

I’ve worked with him in the past on animated videos and lifelike cartoon illustrations for various projects. I started working with him on Black Hops projects when we released BandWagon, the Wagon Wheel Stout we brewed for the 2017 GABS festival.

Design should never be outsourced to a designer

I’ve long had the belief that design isn’t something that should be outsourced to a designer. To me, it’s the business owner who really has the ultimate role to play in designing anything. They are the ones who should be fully across their design choices, they will choose the designer, they will decide what parts of the process to value and what parts not to value – or indeed whether they value design at all. To me, just simply outsourcing the process says you don’t really value it.

With Black Hops, most of the design ideas for a new can label will come directly from us, where we will have a spark of an idea and turn it into a specific brief for a skilled designer.

In the case of Black Market Schwartz, our dark lager collab with Miami Marketta, here’s how that spark of an idea originated (on our company comms tool, Slack)

I should also mention that we tend to keep these colourful can designs for very temporary beer releases. Breweries tend to use a bit of creative license in borrowing ideas from other sources for their can artwork. I’m sure you would have seen a lot of cans that get their inspiration from other places. To me, that’s completely fine for a limited run like this. But if breweries start doing it for core range beers I think it can be a bit of a grey area when it comes to things like potential copyright infringement.

In the case of Black Market Schwartz, we liked the ‘GTA’ look and feel and wanted to approximate something like that for this special limited run beer.

From there we brainstormed back and forth between myself, Kearnsy, our Sales Rep and eventually the customer (in this case Miami Marketta), about how we’d go about nailing the design.

Here was the original design brief I sent to Daniel, prior to him coming up with the artwork:

Design Brief

Deliverables: Standard decal and can design for a new beer Black Market Schwarz.

Beer: Black Market Schwarz will be a collaboration between Black Hops and Miami Marketta street market.

Idea: Grand Theft Auto inspired tough looking dark decal design, dude in a hoodie dodgily trying to offload trays of Black Market Schwarz out of the back of his car with the Marketta sign and lights behind. Have him shining a torch into the boot looking sketchy.

Other inclusions: Also include Marketta logo and Black Hops logo, maybe just have the guy wearing a Black Hops hoodie with the logo really prominent.

There is also some general branding from the event included, however we don’t have to follow this style too closely. You might just use some of the lettering styles or colours etc.

Beer Description: Flashlight in your eyes, he wants to see your ID. You try to run but you can’t escape the darkness, Black Market has taken over your tastebuds and there is no escape. Get a grip but don’t get caught.

Style: Schwarzbier

ABV: 5.2%

STD: 1.5

Our descriptions, including this one, are normally written by Govs, who has a bit of a flair for creative beer descriptions. Kearnsy also often writes some of the limited release descriptions, particularly those involving rhymes.

Daniel’s Design Process

Daniel then runs with the brief we give him, asks any questions and gets to work. His process is to start with a rough sketch on a graphics tablet where he can sketch and can later vectorise his sketch before filling in the colours. He always sends me back the sketch to get right before it gets vectorised and coloured in.

With Black Market Schwartz, he sent back this initially:

I normally have a fair bit of feedback on the details. Here’s my initial response back to Daniel:

There is generally a little bit of back and forth after that, as we gradually get closer to a finished sketch.

In this case there was quite a lot of fine tuning – finalising small details, adding more elements in, moving things around, making some items more realistic etc.

At one point he even changed the van from Eddie’s Hyundai iLoad double door van to my LDV then changed it back! Here are some of the revisions.

Eventually we got there and came up with the final sketch:

And once we have consensus, Daniel will fill-in the colours and bring the design to life.

Finished decal design:

Finished can design:

Full wrap can labels

Once you have your design nailed, it’s time to get the design onto the can itself. Labels on cans have the potential to look terrible, so you need to get this right.

Here’s a few things we covered off to make sure that our designs appear integrated into the can as much as possible.

  • We experimented with clear labels but couldn’t get them looking good.
  • We’ve custom printed black cans, which look a lot better than silver ones.
  • We also have black lids, which we use on some designs.

Finally we make sure the top of the can label is colour matched to the can. The bottom doesn’t matter because you don’t see the can next to it (you only see the little silver base which exists on all cans, regardless of whether they are labelled). The top however can make a big difference. Having a print label that’s simply wrapped around a silver can doesn’t look great. So we try to ensure that the top of our design is always a close black match to the can colour. That way all you really see is a very faint line where the label goes – and even that is barely noticeable in photos and looks as close as possible like a fully printed can.

Here’s how the Black Market cans turned out:

Costings and Production Process

When producing labels for a can there’s basically 2 main choices: print the can itself, or cover a normal can with a label or wrap.

Printed cans have a minimum order of 60,000, so if we were to print can designs for all of our beers we’d be talking hundreds of thousands of cans.

But the decision doesn’t end there, because labels are very expensive. In our core range we keep the labels as small as possible, both for design and for cost reasons.

Meanwhile full wrap labels can be as much as $1 per label if we only order a few cartons worth.

So we only do them occasionally and where possible we try to order a bigger roll (if there’s a chance of brewing the beer again down the track).

When feasible we might also try to get a few designs in one order.

Other BH full wrap can designs

Here are some of the designs we’ve done since doing full wrap can labels.

Chair Force One

As a test run I did my own staff beer first, the Chair Force One.

Other GABS beers

We brought back our old GABS beers and did full wrap can labels for them. Note they were the old designs, so didn’t necessarily follow some of the processes mentioned above.

Get Railed

Our first year-long full time staff member was Kris Railton (aka Railo), our OG keg slinger. This was the design we did for his staff beer, Get Railed.

What’s next?

Our second year-long staff member, the legendary AliCat, has her chance at a custom beer next, so stay tuned for that announcement very shortly.

As always, we love hearing from you, so let us know what you think of our new can designs.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments, or follow the journey more closely on our social media channels or in our Facebook Ambassadors group.


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