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Case Study: How I Designed the Oktober Fest Beer Label

One of the first questions potential clients and other designers usually ask me is what my design process is like. This series of graphic design case studies is aimed at answering that question. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the development of my design and illustration projects from the concept stage right through to production.

In this first instalment we’re going to be looking at the Oktober Fest beer label that was created for the Barn Door Brewing Co. This was the first label I designed for them and really set the tone and style for the entire series. Lets get started!

Research & Concept Development

The first step in all of my design projects is research and concept development. The research stage mainly consists of looking at the competitors work and finding interesting imagery that relates to the theme of my project. Once I’ve got a direction in my mind and have gathered enough references, I’ll starting drawing like crazy. Everything is super rough at this stage and honestly a lot of it is crap. It’s really about dumping the bad ideas and getting to the good stuff that comes later.

Usually there is a standout idea and I’ll create a couple of cleaner concept sketches, sometimes in colour.


Going Digital

These initial drawings are sent off to the client to see if I’m headed in the right direction. If they are happy with everything I’ll proceed to work on a digital version of the label. In this case I drew inspiration from the old barn that was on the brewery’s property and focused the label on that central theme. I wanted the design to have a rustic and hand-made look that was consistent with the brewery’s heritage.

I also started to think about how the typography , barcode, etc. would fit into the design as beer is a regulated product and has strict specifications. Inclusion of these items as an afterthought becomes very obvious and you don’t end up with a cohesive look.


Fine-Tuning Illustrations

After another client review we both agreed that the idea was strong, but the execution required some work. It just didn’t have the Oktoberfest feel so I was back to the drawing board, literally. The beer stein was completely re-engineered to combine both Oktoberfest and farming imagery and the typography was hand-lettered in banners.

My illustration process almost always consists of a pencil sketch that I will then clean up and trace over with a range of different sized pens. The result is a fairly detailed image that’s ready to be scanned.




Sometimes I’ll decide to add another element to the drawing and in this case I’ll just overlay a new piece of paper, turn on my Lightbox and draw that specific section. The two images can be pieced together later on in Photoshop.



Creating Mockups

At this stage I was pretty happy with the new illustration and took things to the computer. I cleaned up the scan in Photoshop, combined the different drawings and brought into Illustrator to Live Trace. Next I added some colour and worked on incorporating all of the required elements. I then created some quick mockups on the actual bottle, which I photographed earlier and sent off to the client for review.


Prepping Label for Print

Luckily for me, they were ecstatic with the results of the new direction and didn’t require any further changes. Now it was time to build a flat file and prep this baby for print. This is one of the more time-consuming stages in the process. A piece of string was used to measure the circumference of the bottle and to find my finished size. I also had to create a custom die-line because of the irregular shape of the label. The process I used for this step is outlined in a separate design tutorial called Preparing Custom Dielines for PrintThe label was now ready for a test print and fitting on the bottle.


Finished Label Design

The label needed a few final adjustments and then was sent off to the printer. Below is the final product, which is now available in select LCBOs. As you can see, the end result is very different from the original sketches and it’s through the entire process that a great final result develops.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this inside-look at my process of designing a beer label. Because this series is new I’m still figuring out what information I should or shouldn’t include so feedback is hugely appreciated. If your interested more about the technical side, let me know and I’ll create a few tutorials that go into further detail.

Grant Burke

Grant is a freelance designer and illustrator, born and raised in the Toronto area. He has worked with clients from around the globe and focuses on building unique brand identities and developing illustrations for product packaging and apparel.

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