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Design Labels in Adobe Illustrator with PDF Label Templates

   By Pariah S. Burke - WorkflowCreative.com


If you are preparing to design your own labels, you might want to read this comprehensive Tutorial on how to design your labels with Adobe® Illustrator. This Tutorial is based on the use of Address labels; however, the techniques can be applied to CD Labels, Mailing labels and even business cards- as well as desigining your name badges and other paper mediums where duplication of the design is required.


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Like me, you probably get ads for custom printed Address labels in the mail- as well as in your Sunday newspaper. You've probably poured through these offers looking for just the right design- or the right font- to express yourself and your work. Do you ever find it? (And I don't mean something kind of close to what you want to express; I mean, do you find exactly the right return address label for you?) No, neither do I. Most people end up settling for "close enough" imagery; the kind that's sort of reminiscent of what they wanted- and the least ugly of the 3-6 available font choices.


With those limited choices, the labels you receive are ultimately identical to thousands of other customers' Return Address labels. They're impersonal and unexciting return address labels. So, why buy 250-1,000 identical copies of a personalized Return Address labels for use, year-round, when you can create season- and event-specific labels right now as you need them- right on your very own computer? It's easy and fun, and I'll show you how!




1) What You Need
2) Getting Started
3) That's it for the setup. Now we're ready to get to the fun part!
  Designing the First Label
  For All Labels
4) Making Your Label Unique
5) Type-Based Designs
6) Adding Photos and Clipart
7) Drawing Directly in Illustrator
8) Filling Up the Label Sheet
  Preparing the First Label
  Filling the Page
9) Making Changes
  Fixing Typos, Oops, and Other Minor Edits
  If You're Using Illustrator CS3
  If You're Not Using Illustrator CS3
10) Designing Whole New Labels



What You'll Need

Please Note: The tools and materials for this project are easy to come by and, for the most part, inexpensive. Specifically, you will need the following:


-Your own computer (Windows or Macintosh)

-An inkjet or laser printer, preferably color (but black and white will work, too!).

-A recent version of Adobe Illustrator.


When Working with Illustrator:

Below I'll use the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, CS3 (version 13), but you can also use Illustrator versions 9, 10, CS, or CS2, along with the same instructions. The Adobe Illustrator software is the biggest expense of this project, but don't worry- it isn't too big of an expense, and is well worth it for the job! You can buy a brand new copy of Illustrator CS3 from Adobe Products alone; or, as a part of Adobe's Creative Suite 3. If you're a teacher or a student, it's even easier to buy- as Adobe offers deep educational discounts on both Illustrator and Creative Suite. If you don't qualify for educational discounts, make sure to check out eBay; copies of Adobe Illustrator 9, 10, CS, and CS2 are frequently auctioned there for just a few dollars after someone upgrades to a later version; these older versions work just as well.  


Which Labels Work Best?   

When desigining your labels, it helps to start with Blank faced, self-adhesive labels that give you lots of room for designing space and creativity! You can find them in all different sizes and shapes right here at WorldLabel.com. WorldLabel.com sells dozens of self-adhesive label sheets in numerous sizes, styles, and colors. Below I'll use 2.625 x 1-inch transparent, rounded Rectangle labels (that come 30 to a sheet!). This is just one of many different sizes or types of labels you can find here specifically for your personalized return Address label use. You can also find a wide selection of Rectangle, Rounded-Rectangle, and even Circular and Oval labels at Worldlabel.com.


Choosing the Right Label Template

After choosing and ordering the perfect size, color, and material of labels for you, download the free matching Template! On each label's product information page you will discover a "Download Templates" button. Download the Free PDF Template of the label, which will open below directly into Adobe Illustrator!


Getting Started

Even though WorldLabel.com offers rush delivery service, you'll still have to wait for a few days to print your labels (which is still less time than the average 1-6 week turnaround time for mail-order personalized return address labels!). You won't have to wait a single minute to begin designing your labels, however. As soon as you download the PDF template for your selected label, you can open it in Illustrator and begin creating your perfect return Address label. This can be a fun and creative process- so enjoy! 



1) Open Adobe Illustrator. If a "Welcome" screen appears, close it. Select Open from the File menu and, in the Open dialog, navigate to the location of the PDF label template you downloaded from WorldLabel.com. The file name should begin with OL and end with a 3-4 digit number. Select the file and click the Open button. You should see something like I do (see Figure 1), although your individual labels may be larger or smaller and there may be more or fewer on the page.


For this project I'm using WorldLabel.com's WL-875, same size as Avery® 5160, 8160(see Template WL-875.PDF). Each label measures 2.625-inches wide and 1-inch tall and they come 30 labels to a sheet. These labels are little larger than the typical 1.75 x 0.5 inch return address labels, but they offer space for more than just a printed return address- without being ostentatious in the process!


WL-875 (same size as Avery 5160, 8160)

Figure 1: A blank label Template; in this case WL-875 (same size as Avery 5160, 8160)


2) On the "Layers" panel (palette in versions of Illustrator prior to CS3), which you can open by choosing "Window > Layers", you should see that all the template pieces reside on Layer 1. These objects are guides which will help you to line up artwork to the pre-cut, self-adhesive labels that will soon arrive in the mail. You need to be able to see the guides- but keep in mind that you don't want the boxes themselves to print. So, on the "Layers" panel, double-click the icon right beside "Layer 1" (not on the "Layer 1" text itself). You should then see the following "Layer Options" dialog (see Figure 2). In the "Layer Options" section, check the box beside "Lock"- and uncheck the box beside "Print". The former prevents accidental changes to the template guides, while the latter prevents them from printing- all while keeping them visible to you onscreen. Click "OK" to close the "Layer Options" and effect the changes. On the "Layers" panel, a little padlock will appear to the right of the eyeball (which, incidentally, denotes that the layer is visible)-and the "Layer 1" title will become italicized to indicate that the layer will not print.


Figure 2 : Caption: The Layer Options dialog.

Figure 2 : Caption: The "Layer Options" dialog.


3) Now that we've locked "Layer 1" to prevent accidental changes to the guides, we have nowhere to draw (all objects created in Illustrator must be on layers). Returning to the "Layers" panel, click the "Create New Layer" icon at the bottom of the panel; the "Create New Layer" icon looks like a sticky note; it is to the right of the trash bucket (Delete Selection) button. Illustrator will insert Layer 2 above Layer 1. Layer 2 is where we'll create the personalized return address label, and it will be sure to print.


4) Before we go any further, let's first save the design as a new document, without harming the original blank label template. Simply click "Choose File > Save As". In the "Save As" dialog, you can choose where you'd like to save your label design document; you might want to name the file appropriately (something like "My Labels" would be good).


Before you press the "Save" button, though, note the "Save As Type" dropdown Menu- it is located beneath the "File Name" field (see Figure 3). Is it set to Adobe Illustrator (*.AI)? If not, make sure to Click the Arrow that is located beside the Menu to pull it down, and choose Adobe Illustrator (*.AI) as the "Save As Type". Now you can click "Save", which spawns the "Illustrator Options" dialog (see Figure 4). Depending on the version of Illustrator you're using, the choices in the "Illustrator Options" dialog may be different; just leave them at their defaults and click "OK" unless you know you need special options.


Figure3 : Saving your "My Labels.ai" file.


Figure 4 : "Illustrator Options" for saving .AI files from Illustrator CS3.


That's it for the setup. Now we're ready to get to the fun part!


Designing the First Label

The real trick to designing your own personalized Return Address labels- or any project wherein one design will appear multiple times on the page- is to concentrate entirely on one instance- and on one label. In the case of my labels, there are 30 copies per page; I need to think about one and pretend the other 29 don't exist (at least for now). No matter how many labels are in your template, focus on just one- the top-left one - until it's exactly the way you want it. After that, we'll use special features built into Illustrator to not only duplicate the design throughout the rest of the page- but also make it so that, if you need to change all the labels, you'll only have to manually change one label at a time, in order to change the rest.


For All Labels

It's early October as I write this article. The trees are changing color, my breath is beginning to draw puffs before me, and the department stores have devoted aisle after aisle to giant bags of tiny candies and vinyl Superman, princess, and pirate costumes. Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, is only a few weeks off. Therefore, I'm going to make myself some Halloween-themed Return Address labels (see Figure 5).


Figure 5 : The seasonal return address label I'll create below.

Figure 5 : The seasonal Return Address label I'll create below.


Adobe Illustrator CS3 is, at the time of this writing (and has been for many years), the world's most advanced vector drawing application. You can draw quite literally anything you can imagine for inclusion on your Return Address labels! With infinite possibility (but very finite space in this article) I can't walk you through creating every possible design you might want....but I can certainly teach you some of the skills, which you'll call upon when creating any Return Address label design. Armed with those skills, you can create anything you can imagine: desigining impressive artwork that precisely expresses you, your interests, or perhaps a season, holiday, or event from your unique perspective.


Let's begin by creating the basic elements necessary for all personalized Return Address labels: 



1. Select the magnifying glass-like button on the "Tools" panel to access the "Zoom Tool". Click once in the center of the first label (in the top-left corner of the page) to zoom in. Keep clicking and zooming until it fills (or mostly fills) the screen (the document window).


2. Begin by grabbing the "Rectangle Tool" from the "Tools" panel (press "M" on your keyboard for the fastest way to access the "Rectangle Tool"). Then, by clicking and dragging, create a rectangle that is roughly the size of the first label, and completely covers it. When you release the mouse button, the rectangle will be in place and selected. (Don't worry if it isn't exactly the right size or if the colors are off. We'll fix both in just a moment.)


3. Press "V" to change tools to the "Selection Tool" (the black arrow), which enables you to manipulate objects' dimensions and positions. The rectangle should still be selected, but if it isn't, click once on it with the "Selection Tool" to select. Now, position the top-left corner of your rectangle to precisely align with the template guide beneath it. Note: If, like me, you're using rounded corner labels, make sure to align the non-rounded rectangle such that the top and left sides align with those in the label guide. (Don't worry that the sharp corners of your rectangle extend beyond the rounded corners of the guide; the labels are precut, so that when you print, excess ink beyond the corners will be discarded anyway.)


4. With the rectangle still selected, open the "Transform" panel from the Window menu. The "Transform" panel offers precise control over an object's position, size, angle, and skew; with this project, we'll only make use of its positioning and sizing controls (see Figure 6). The odd nine-box grid on the left part of the panel is what we call the "reference point" or "proxy"- each object has four corners, plus four sides, plus a centerpoint (4+4+1=9): to which the "reference point" or "proxy" corresponds. For instance, if you want to position the center of an object to specific coordinates on the page, choose the middle reference point and then set the "X" and "Y" coordinates.


Figure 6 : The "Transform" panel precisely aligning and sizing the background color rectangle. (Please Note: I've changed the template guides' color to cyan for figure clarity; your template's guides will likely be black.)


In this case, however, we want to precisely position the top-left corner of the rectangle (which is the label's background color). To do this, first click on the top-left reference point in the "Transform" panel's proxy. When the reference point is selected, it will fill in black.


To continue, you must first obtain the exact dimensions of the label you chose- as well as the page margins- to complete the job. That information is conveniently provided for you on WorldLabel.com, on the label's product page. I'm using labels with the product number WL-875, so in order to find this label's dimensions, I'll return to WorldLabel.com, browse the "Rectangles with Rounded Corners" category, and then locate WL-875 among the options there. Clicking on the red "Click to View" button beneath the WL-875 thumbnail, I'll be taken to the Product Page at the very top, where I'll be sure to find all the information I need (see Figure 7).


Figure 7: The product information page on WorldLabel.com

Figure 7: The Product Information Page on WorldLabel.com provides the information I need- such as label height and width- and the correct size of all page margins!



Continued Page Two



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