“Glamming Up Your Cans” Lab #1: Canning Label Design


September 17, 2011

We canned close to 100 jars of sweet and savoury goods over the course of our Summer of Funner. I love the way these jars glimmer and glisten high up along the tops of our kitchen cabinets. Now that we’re into the Lunchbox Season, however, it’s time to think about sharing some of our kitchen’s shimmer by wrapping up our cans and giving them as host and hostess gifts, teacher treats, and presents for the holidays.

Today, we took the first step in the process of “glamming up our cans” by designing and printing a basic label for their lids. First. we looked for inspiration from canning experts, and we sourced our own blank labels. Then, we drew illustrations for our labels and came up with a “brand name.” Next, we used Picnik’s photo editing website to add text and shape to our images. Finally, we produced our labels. Now, we’re looking forward to what’s next.


These Aren’t Your Grandma’s Cans … Inspiration and Sourcing

Retro-chic gingham jam jar lids from the u.k

We’ve come a long way from the lace and gingham mob-caps we used to see on the tops of jam jars at county fairs or in other people’s grandmother’s cupboards. [My Italian and Irish grandmothers weren’t canners, though they had their own distinctive talents in the kitchen. Think egglplant parmesean and egg yolk cookies or turkey stuffing and boozed-up mincemeat pie.] While these decorations retain their charm [aren’t these red gingham jar lids from the u.k.’s Preserve Shop the ultimate in retro-chic?] there are newer, modern options for “glamming up your cans.”

We’ve been looking to the experts for inspiration. Canning Across America is a good place to start online. The kids also admired some of the very simple ideas depicted in this summer’s Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest magazine, Canning. They marvelled at the pretty red and white string they saw connecting a plain white paper tag to the rim of a jar.

Baker’s twine from Kate’s Paperie

I had to explain to them that this was not kite string [although, now, the notion of kite string and small oragami kite tags beckons!], but the string that old-school bakeries use to keep their cardboard boxes tight. This led to a fascinating discussion about cannolli which I won’t get into here…Another favourite label of ours looked like either a piece of masking tape or a white cotton ribbon pencilled “Tomatillo Salsa.” This name had been placed at an angle like a sash over the front of a stubby jar. The beauty queen’s identification was secured, additionally, by a plain red elastic band stretched around her girthiest girth. The editors of the magazine also featured a lot of pretty, plain stickers that you could easily find alongside of the “hello-my-name-is” labels [hey, why not use those, too?] at an office or dollar store. We liked these simple styles a lot.

Required Reading by Sarah B. Hood

Then, we looked at our new yet already well-sugared and vinegar-stung copy of We Sure Can, where Sarah Hood introduced us to the fabulous notion that you can place circular stickers on your jar lids to label their contents. If you’re going to use a sticker, she argues, this is perhaps the best place to do it because the flat metal lid is the only part of a can that you don’t reuse. You don’t have to deal with removing a sticky label from the side of a glass jar, then. And, if you’re packing your jars in a box, you can easily identify them by the words on the discs on top. Hood has some fantastic resources for sourcing pre-formatted circular templates as well as label vendors in her book. We can’t wait to try some of the etsy boutiques she recommends! As far as we’re concerned, Hood’s book is required reading for today’s “glamming up” lab, so please be sure to have a look!!!

We also did some “sourcing” on our own, or stumbled into it, as the case may be. When we were shopping for school supplies a few weeks ago, we found some 2.5-inch diameter circular, brown-lunch-bag toned Avery labels (#22808). The company also makes a 2-inch white circle. However, for this round, we wanted to go full size, so we took the recycled-looking one home. Today, we went to the company’s website and downloaded their basic ms-word template for the label we had purchased. We also noticed that they offered some very lovely prefabbed templates for you to download free of charge (think scrollwork, electric mixers, baby onesies, or birds) and to which you can add your own text and personal touches. We skipped those, though. We wanted to do the design work on our own!


Drawing and Branding

Next, we had to create the images that we wanted to put on our canning labels. The kids abandoned last weekend’s sketches, the horse and ‘dillo drawings that they had produced as rough drafts for this project. To emphasize the contents of the cans, they decided that they wanted to draw images of their favourite animals indulging in home-canned goods. So, they sat and sketched their images in #2 pencil on plain white paper. Then, using their favourite “cartoon technique,” they traced over their sketches in black permanent ink and filled in the rest with markers and pencil crayons.

Bea sketched the bear holding a spoon, ready to dig into a jar of jam or jelly.

Tobes sketched a turtle getting ready to catch a flying pickle in his smile.

This gave way, naturally enough, to the idea that we would label our sweeter jams, jellies, butters, and mustards with Bea’s handiwork and use Toby’s turtle for our savoury pickles, relishes, and compotes. Next, we had to decide on a “brand” name, a way of identifying ourselves and our project. When I asked the kids if they wanted to have a particular name or slogan for their jams [i.e. B & T Foods, Lunchbox Season’s Greetings] they decided to go with the name that expresses how and when the gifts were made: Summer of Funner. They also wanted to make sure they included both the name of the canned good and the list of ingredients on their label.


Picnik Time: Reshaping and Adding Text

Then, we used our computer to shape and add text to our drawings. After scanning our bear and turtle images and saving them as picture files, we headed over to picnik [UPDATE: PICNIK IS NO LONGER ACTIVE – TRY USING IPICCY.COM OR FOTOFLEXER.COM !] to make use of their free photo editing software. Using the “Frames” feature, we rounded the edges of each image so that it would fit more easily onto a circular label. Toby’s square image was more amenable to coming full circle, so to speak. Bea’s image worked best as an oval inset on a round backdrop. Then, we used the site’s “Text” feature to label our canned goods and to list their contents. We used a different font for each type of canned good that we wanted to label. That way, while the pictures remained consistent, the font expressed the style or “soul” of the contents of the jar. Here are the nine label designs we came up with today:


Paste and Print

After we saved these new and improved images on the computer, we inserted each picture file into one of the nine pre-fabbed circles on our label template. We had to remember to save this file under a new name, so as to always have our original label template handy. Unfortunately, when it came time to print our test-run of labels, we ran into trouble! We had printed so many things over the course of our Summer of Funner that the colour printer was woefully low on coloured ink. Given the “brown paper packages tied up with string” look of our labels, it was quite difficult to produce a bright example of our craftiness.

Still, a few of the labels were vibrant enough:


What’s Next?

Fresh Supplies: Once we get our printer ink, we’ll be printing out several more batches of our brown labels. We’re also thinking about checking out the slightly smaller 2-inch white Avery circular label.  It might just fit better on the lid after all…

More Glamification: In a few weeks, we’ll be moving on to Glam Cans Lab #2: Decorating Your Cans. Be sure to check back with us then!

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One Response to “Glamming Up Your Cans” Lab #1: Canning Label Design

  1. Sarah B. Hood September 19, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    These really are some of my favourite jar labels EVER!