Labeling: When Innovation Meets Art

This isn’t the first time Brouwerij West has made our pages with their groundbreaking approach to label design and application. Here, Founder Brian Mercer shares some background on the philosophy and process behind their unique approach to can labels.

Jamie Bogner Jul 23, 2019 - 5 min read

Labeling: When Innovation Meets Art Primary Image

CBB // Why create double-layer labels rather than simply doing more complex die-cuts that achieve the same look?

BM // I’m not sure that single-layer die-cuts (with all their built-in limitations) could get close to the 3-D sculpture and texture of the process we have developed. The exciting part of the whole process is that we are able to achieve layers of art, color, and texture on every inch of the can surface. Sure, we could simulate the same look on a wrap or full can printing, but I don’t think the effect would be as compelling to both the producer (Brouwerij West) or our customers. We love all the new art that is being developed in the can world; it’s an exciting change from decades past.

We started working with all our favorite artists such as Nychos, Muretz, Tristan Eaton, Joshua Davis, Matt Mills, and while we felt that the art alone was amazing as a single layer, we really wanted to have a more complete collaboration between Brouwerij West and the artist. By going to double layer and separate label pieces, we are making a new piece of art, almost as if we are sculpting a new canvas on which the art comes to life—artist and brewery both clearly visible.

CBB // With multilayered labeling, how do you visualize the physical effects of the labels wrapping on top of each other?


BM // I usually start working with existing art from artists I love and build a concept for the label. Sometimes the art will work better as two layers that reveal a complete image, or it could be that the image is doubled by having both layers repeat the image. Every piece is different. This part takes a ton of time. From that point, the concept is handed over to Matt Taylor (Varnish Studios), and he brings it into focus, improves it, adds text, and models it on the can to ensure the circles will apply to the can (or bottle) in the right place.

CBB // What technical considerations have you had to employ with your labeling machine?

BM // A bunch! We have gone through three label applicators and have learned a ton. No one knew how to do this, and it was a struggle to get our label printers to try it, and then it was a struggle to get the applicator to apply them correctly. The last two applicators were custom modified to get them to apply the circles correctly and most importantly to have consistency from can to can. It really has been a ton of work. To that end, I just want to take a moment to thank everyone involved, especially our brew staff for the patience required to get this to where it is now. We still have brew staff come in Monday morning with labels stuck to shoes, clothes, hands, elbows, etc., from the previous week.

CBB // Are these primarily longer labels that are double-wrapped, or are you using a second inline label applicator?

BM // They are made in panel sets that can be combined in doubles or singles and sometimes threes that are all fed through the single applicator.

CBB // Any challenges with application, production downtime, or setup?

BM // Again, there’s a ton of work and endless amounts of time to get it to the point that we are at now. Downtime, label backing–paper fails, setup problems, cleaning of hundreds of stickers from the applicator when the process spins out of control at speed. While we feel that we are pretty good at it now, the application needs a skilled and observant operator to maintain proper application across hundreds of cases.

CBB // Does the much more complex process resonate with consumers and improve sales, or is it simply an approach to sophisticated branding that you’d employ without ROI concerns?

BM // It definitely resonates with consumers. We continuously see consumers intrigued by the difference in design and with the individual stickers, and they pick up the cans to inspect them. We then see a ton of people who pull the stickers off the cans and reapply them on phones, windows, computers, hydroflasks, etc., which is incredibly exciting for us. It’s so fun to get that sort of reaction.