How to win a label print competition

By Tony White | July 10, 2012

Winning awards and gaining the recognition of industry peers can really lift a company’s profile.

Winning awards and gaining the recognition of industry peers can really lift a company’s profile. And in the highly competitive print market, an independent, third-party endorsement is a powerful way for a company to set itself apart from its rivals.

But despite the business benefits afforded by scooping an award, many companies don’t invest sufficient time in submitting a compelling entry. In fact, many entries fail because of elementary mistakes. I’ll explain how you can avoid these mistakes and paint your product in the best possible light. For the purpose of this article, I make reference to the FINAT label printing competition, however, the general principles also apply to packaging awards.

Get the basics right
Some universal principles apply with award entries, regardless of the organization running the awards or the print technology being assessed. Some of this advice may appear common sense, but unfortunately I’ve seen enough entries that ignore these principles to warrant highlighting them here. 

Rules aren’t there to be broken
Read the entry requirements very carefully. Then read them again. It’s amazing how many entries are disqualified or switched category because the rules haven’t been followed. Remember, organizers set rules for a reason. For example, if they ask for 20 continuous samples uncut, they’re probably looking for continuity of quality, and want to check the repeat lengths are consistent.

Judges won’t do the work for you
Decide which category you want to enter. Ticking two or more options on the entry form and leaving the judges to decide is frowned upon  by every judge I know. It’s not up to the judges to make that decision – you know your product better than anyone and should know which category is most appropriate.

No sample, no proof
Next up, technical information. This crucial section often proves the difference between success and failure. It’s also where organizers often leave scope for additional information. This is one of the most neglected areas of an entry, despite it being a golden opportunity for a company to present additional compelling evidence and convince the judges that their product is a worthy winner.

It’s no good saying, “The label was difficult to print,” as this will make the judging panel wonder why a sample is so difficult to produce. And claiming, “The quality of the label is exceptional,” or “The label is used by Big Brand Inc.,” means nothing if there’s no sample to prove why it’s exceptional or why Big Brand Inc. loves it. Remember, if you don’t want specific information to be published, say so, and the organizers will respect your request for confidentiality.

Judges are firm but fair 
Each judge will spend about one to one-and-a-half minutes examining each entry, and will be every bit as stringent in their assessment as your quality control department – possibly more so.
But while the judges will look for faults, they come to the process with a very positive attitude and want each label to succeed. The key is to stay one step ahead of them – scrutinize your work for flaws, and only submit a sample when you’re satisfied it’s the best you can produce.

The judges also recognize that, in general, all entries are commercial. For example, a company has paid good money for their brand to be represented on a label in a certain way. Judges will make allowances for the “commerciality” of a label.

Out of register, out the competition
One of the most common technical problems in all competitions is mis-register. If the sample is out of register, it will fall at the first hurdle. Indeed, more than half of entries are rejected for poor register, and in some competitions mis-register has accounted for 70% of rejections. So please, please ensure the image is in register, either from color to color or from print to embossing to hot or cold foiling and eventually to the diecutting pattern.

It’s all in the finish 
Another important factor that judges take into account is the printing / finishing processes used. They’ll immediately recognize good printing technique, be it flexo, offset, litho, letterpress, silk screen or gravure. The judges will ask themselves a number of technical questions, depending on the process, the substrate, the fineness of the lines, the size of the typeface and the fineness of the halftone screens used, etc. For example, is there good ink coverage? Are the vignettes smooth and progressive? Are the keylines too thick for the design? Where adjacent colors overlap, do they complement each other or clash? Has the right anilox cell ruling been used? Has the right mesh size been chosen?

The judges know the main faults encountered with different printing techniques, and will decide if a fault is significant or acceptable as part of the process.

The ancillary processes are also considered. For example, with hot or cold foiling, are the edges clean and neat? With embossing, is it in register with the printed image, and is the relief well-defined? And with diecutting, has it only penetrated the facestock, or has it cut into the liner, making stripping very difficult? Are the cut edges clean and not burred over?

The judges will also assess the difficulty of the production process. How wide is the press? How fast was the job run? What type of substrate was used – film, or thin / thick paper? What about the ink – water-based, solvent, UV or EB? And what method was used for drying or curing?

Appropriate designs impress judges
Design is a very important element in the overall assessment of the label. What does it say about the product / branding? And is it suitable for the product? For example, a cosmetics label must appeal to consumers, while a wine label might evoke luxury. Industrial labels, meanwhile, must be resistant to abrasion, oils and solvents, etc. Does gloss or matte varnishing add to the final result?

You get out what you put in
Ultimately, a competition is there to be won. There’s no reason why your product can’t win it – as long as you invest time in proving to a judging panel exactly why your product is better than your competitors’.

Obviously, rules and criteria vary from competition to competition. But follow these guidelines and you’ll have the cornerstones of a solid entry – and with a bit of luck, walk away with the prize.

Tony White, Chairman of Judges at FINAT, has 17 years’ experience in judging print competitions around the world.
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