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Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements

Lynn Spooner October 5, 2020 Branding & Design, Production, Resources

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Designing a beer label that’s both creative and compliant with TTB regulations can be a daunting task! Whether you’re a graphic designer creating a new beer label or a brewery seeking a designer to create it for you, you’ll want to be up to speed on the details of the mandatory elements and how they affect the design of your label. This Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements will help you get the details correct from the get-go, avoid your COLA label application from getting rejected by TTB, and keep beer releases on schedule!

The Advertising, Labeling, and Formulation Division (ALFD) of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (better known as the “TTB”) is responsible for enforcing how producers both label and market their beer. Not only are TTB’s regulations very specific but they are also strictly enforced through a federal approval process of label designs. In fact, a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) is required for all beer labels.

We’ve pulled together the most important details you need to know for navigating the rules and regulations. Our goal is for this guide to be an informative reference so your approval process on beer labels is easier! We’ll guide you through some specific TTB requirements that deal with font legibility, contrast, size, and placement of the mandatory info as well as what you can and can’t put on your beer labels. And although the word “label” implies beer bottles, these guidelines are equally applicable to beer cans.

First, let’s take a look at the basic content found on beer packaging in the diagram below and then we’ll get into the details.

Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements: Diagram showing the Basic Content on a Beer Can using Bad Hard Day Lager, designed by Jackrabbit, as example

Here are the primary 10 items that TTB requires us to be compliant on — whether you’re a small craft brewery or a large industry leader. We’ve included the details on each requirement as well as some helpful pro tips!

The Basics of Malt Beverage Labeling Requirements:

1. Brand Name
2. Class & Type Designation
3. Name & Address of Producer/Bottler
4. Net Contents
5. Alcohol Content
6. Health Warning
7. Country of Origin (for imported beverages)
8. Draft or Draught
9. Disclosures for Specific Ingredients
10. Lite/Light/Low Carb

Additional Considerations:

Voluntary Nutrient Content Statements
The Voluntary Disclosure Initiative
Voluntary Independent Craft Brewer Seal
Voluntary Allergen Statement
Prohibited on Beer Labels
Preparing Your Label Images for Upload to TTB’s Online Application

THE BASICS OF MALT BEVERAGE LABELING REQUIREMENTS

Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements: Example of Jackrabbit brand name on beer cans1. Brand Name

The brand name must appear on the label to clearly identify the malt beverage in the market. Basically, this is the official name under which the beverage is marketed. In many cases, the brand name appears visually in the form of a logo or wordmark. Here are some specifics.

  • Placement: Must appear on the FRONT of the container
  • Logo/Wordmark Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers 8 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: Must be legible, appear on a contrasting background, altogether separate and apart from other supporting information
  • A brand name must NOT describe the age, origin, identity, or characteristics of the beverage unless it is complete and 100% accurate in describing the malt beverage and is absent of any misleading wording

Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements: Example on beer can of class and type designations

2. Class & Type Designation

It is required that you identify the specific CLASS and/or CLASS and TYPE of malt beverage on the label design. The TTB uses “malt beverage” as the general name for all products made at a brewery with malted barley and hops. This includes products like beer, ale, lager as well as flavored malt beverages. TTB’s Beverage Alcohol Manual is very detailed in defining all acceptable classes and types. Below is a chart showing the acceptable terms you can use.

  • Placement: Must appear on the FRONT of the container, parallel to the base of the container
  • Type Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers 8 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: Must be legible, appear on a contrasting background, altogether separate and apart from other supporting information
  • The term “malt beverage” is sufficient as a class and type designation
  • The more specific CLASS of malt beverage, e.g., “Ale,” is sufficient as the class and type designation
  • The even more specific TYPE of malt beverage, e.g., “India Pale Ale” is sufficient as the class and type designation
  • The specific CLASS and/or CLASS and TYPE must be taken from the TTB approved lists found in Chapter 4 of the Beverage Alcohol Manual

General Classes of Malt Beverages

 
Ale
Beer
Cereal Beverage
Lager / Lager Beer
Malt Beverage Specialty
Malt Liquor
Near Beer
Porter
Stout

Specific Types of Malt Beverages

Amber Ale Half and Half
Amber Lager Ice Beer
Barley Wine Ale Imperial Stout
Barley Wine Style Ale India Pale Ale
Bavarian Kulmbacher
Bitter Ale Munich
Black and Tan Munchner
Bock Beer Pale Ale
Brown Ale Pils
Cream Ale Pilsen
Cream Stout Pilsener
Dortmund Pilsner
Dortumnder Rye Beer
Draft Beer Salvator
Draught Beer Stock Ale
Dry Beer Vienna
Export Ale Wein
Export Beer Weiner
Golden Ale Wheat Beer
Golden Lager Wurtzburger

PRO TIP:

One very common mistake on beer label designs is using the abbreviation “IPA” by itself, which is not an acceptable abbreviation to satisfy class and type designation. Using “IPA” by itself is a sure way to get your label application rejected unless you also spell out the word “Ale” in the minimum type size somewhere. The requirements indicate it must be on the front, however on wrap-around designs we’ve seen TTB approve it placed on what might be considered the “side” of the can vs. front-view.

Breweries often prefer to use the abbreviation “IPA” large on the front but if you look carefully, you’ll noticed they’ve also included it spelled out as “India Pale Ale” in the minimum font size to satisfy this requirement, or at the very least they’ve included “Ale” or “Beer.”

Example on beer can of the term IPA used correctly for style and type designation

Another common mistake is using a super stylized font for the class and type designation that makes it difficult to read. Avoid any crazy fonts for the mandatory info; these could get your label application rejected for not being legible enough. It needs to clearly communicate there is a malt beverage in the container.

3. Name & Address of Producer

The name and address of the producer/bottler or packer must appear on the label. This name would be identical to what is written on the brewer’s official notice. Optionally, it can be preceded by an explanatory phrase such as “BREWED BY”, “BOTTLED BY,” or “BREWED AND BOTTLED BY.” The address must be the city and state were the beer is bottled or packed.

  • Placement: Must appear on the FRONT, BACK or SIDE of the container (except when blown, branded, or burned, in the container)
  • Type Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers 8 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: Must be legible, appear on a contrasting background, altogether separate and apart from other supporting information
  • “Bottled” or “Canned” may be used to reflect specific container

Example on beer can of name and address of producer formatted correctly


4. Net Contents

The container size must appear on the label, expressed in American measure.

  • Placement: Must appear on the FRONT of the container, parallel to the base of the container (except when blown, branded, or burned, in the container)
  • Type Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers 8 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: Must be legible, appear on a contrasting background, altogether separate and apart from other supporting information
  • Must be expressed in American measure but may also be expressed in metric measure, e.g., “1 PINT (473 mL)” is acceptable
  • The words “fluid ounces” may be spelled out or abbreviated with or without periods

PRO TIP:

One common mistake on beer packaging is using “16 FL. OZ.” instead of “1 PINT” for 16 oz. containers. The only time a container can be expressed in fluid ounces is when it is LESS than 16 fl. oz. or to express a fraction of a pint for a container greater than 16 fl. oz. e.g., “1 PINT, 4 FL. OZ.” When it is exactly 16 fl. oz. it must be expressed as “1 PINT” or “1 PINT (473 mL).”

Example on beer can of net contents formatted correctly

Another common mistake is omitting “FLUID” or “FL.” from “FLUID OUNCES” and “FL. OZ.” respectively.

5. Alcohol Content

The amount of alcohol contained in a malt beverage is an OPTIONAL statement unless the beverage derives alcohol from added flavors. However, if you DO choose to state the alcohol content on the label, it must follow the regulations listed below. Some U.S. states have their own requirements on alcohol content statements so look into the states where you plan to sell the beverage.

  • Placement: May appear on the FRONT, BACK or SIDE of the container, parallel to the base of the container
  • Type Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers ≤8 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: All portions of the alcohol content statement must be the same style and size font and of same color
  • Must be expressed in percent by volume as well as written in one of the ways shown in the chart below (5% used as example)
  • “ABV” is not an acceptable abbreviation
  • Periods may or may not be included on abbreviation of ALC and VOL
  • Must be expressed to the nearest 0.1%

Alcohol Content by Volume

a) 5% ALC/VOL e) 5% ALCOHOL/VOLUME
b) 5% ALC BY VOL f) 5% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME
c) ALC 5% BY VOL g) ALCOHOL 5% BY VOLUME
d) ALC BY VOL 5% h) ALCOHOL BY VOLUME 5%

PRO TIP:

One common mistake when designing beer packaging is using the abbreviation “ABV”, which is NOT an acceptable method of stating alcohol content. So always use one of the options from the chart above or your label application may be rejected on your first attempt for approval.

Example on beer can of alchol content formatted correctly

Another common mistake is not measuring the font size correctly for the alcohol statement. This statement needs to be 2mm tall on containers greater than 8 fl. oz. The special characters contained in the statement — the percent symbol and backslash — always throw designers off when measuring. One tip is to always use the capital letter “L” and measure from flat edge of the bottom to the flat edge of the top of this letter. Additionally, don’t include the percent symbol or backslash in your measurements, since these characters often fall above and/or below the other letters, depending on the font.

6. Health Warning Statement

This is a mandatory statement for all alcohol beverages for sale or distribution in the U.S. containing not less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. No exceptions are made. Therefore, the wording must be exact and cannot be modified. Compliance is strict and if any of the requirements of formatting aren’t met, the label application will not be approved.

  • Placement: May appear on the FRONT, BACK or SIDE of the container
  • Type Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. and ≤101 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers ≤8 fl. oz., min. 3 mm for containers >101 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: Must be legible, appear on a contrasting background, altogether separate and apart from other supporting information
  • The words “GOVERNMENT WARNING” must appear in capital letters and in BOLD
  • The remainder of the statement must NOT appear in bold
  • It is acceptable for the full statement to be in all capital letters
  • The statement must appear as a continuous, unbroken paragraph
  • May not be condensed too tightly; above all it should never exceed the maximum number of characters per inch; see chart below
GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.

Container Size

Minimum Type Size Requirement

Maximum Characters Per Inch

237 mL or less 1 mm 40
Over 237 mL (8 fl. oz.) to 3 liters (101 fl. oz) 2 mm 25
Over 3 liters (101 fl. oz) 3 mm 12

PRO TIP:

Designers often typeset the Health Warning Statement in a tall/condensed font, which is a good tip to help minimize the visual real estate this lengthy statement takes up on the label while still meeting the requirement for font height of 2 mm. However, one common mistake is using a font that is too condensed, exceeding the maximum characters per inch. When typesetting this statement, always carefully follow the requirements and count the characters per inch, including spaces. In the end, compliance is very strict on this one.

Example on beer can of Government Warning formatted correctly at less than 25 characters per inch

Another common mistake on the Health Warning Statement is to not put the words “GOVERNMENT WARNING” in bold type compared to the remainder of the statement. Basically, these two words must stand out.

7. Country of Origin

A statement of origin is required under U.S. Customs regulations for any imported malt beverage for sale in the U.S. Therefore, if your malt beverage was made in the U.S. for sale in the U.S., the country of origin does not need to be indicated although it may be included.

  • Placement: May appear on the FRONT, BACK or SIDE of the container
  • Type Size: There are no specific type size requirements
  • Legibility: There are no specific legibility requirements
  • “Bottled” or “Canned” may be used to reflect specific container
  • “Brewed” may be replaced with “Produced” in the wording below

Acceptable Statements

a) PRODUCT OF  insert country
b) BREWED IN  insert country
c) BREWED AND BOTTLED IN  insert country
d) BREWED AND PACKED IN  insert country
e) BREWED BY  insert name of brewer, country
f) BREWED AND BOTTLED BY  insert name of brewer, country
g) BREWED AND PACKED BY  insert name of brewer, country
h) insert country  ALE  (class and/or class and type designation)

8. Draft or Draught

The terms “draft” and “draught” indicate that a beverage hasn’t been pasteurized and that a different method of eliminating and preventing bacteria growth has been used. If this description is accurate for your beer, then you are permitted to use these terms. However, if your brew has been pasteurized, you can still describe it as “draft brewed” as long as you mention somewhere on the label that it’s been pasteurized.


9. Disclosures for Specific Ingredients

This requirement is only necessary if a malt beverage contains any of the ingredients in the chart below.

Ingredient

Mandatory Statement

FD&C Yellow #5 CONTAINS FD&C YELLOW #5
Saccharin USE OF THIS PRODUCT MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH. THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS SACCHARIN WHICH HAS BEEN DETERMINED TO CAUSE CANCER IN LABORATORY ANIMALS.
Sulfite CONTAINS SULFITES” or “CONTAINS (A) SULFITING AGENT(S)” or identification of the specific sulfiting agent(s)
Aspartame PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE
  • Placement: May appear on the FRONT, BACK or SIDE of the container
  • Type Size: Minimum 2 mm tall for containers greater than 8 fl. oz. (min. 1 mm for containers 8 fl. oz.)
  • Legibility: Must be legible, appear on a contrasting background, altogether separate and apart from other supporting information
  • Aspartame statement specifically must be formatted in all capital letters
  • Sulfite statement in particular does not need to appear separate from other information, simply substantially more conspicuous than surrounding non-mandatory info
  • If beverage contains 10 or more parts per million (ppm) sulfur dioxide, then the sulfite statement is required

10. Lite / Light / Low Carb

If you would like to include terms such as “light” or “lite” or make specific nutritional claims such as “99 calories” or “low carb” you must include a Statement of Average Analysis.

  • Statement of Average Analysis must include serving size (12 fl. oz. for malt beverages), together with calories, carbohydrates (g), protein (g), and fat (g)
  • You can use the term “low carb” only if your brew contains no more than 7 grams of carbs per 12 fl. oz. serving
  • FDA Nutrition Facts panel is presently prohibited on malt beverage containers
  • Alternatively, Serving Facts Statement may be used in place of the Statement of Average Analysis

Example on beer can of Average Analysis formatted correctly

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS


Voluntary Nutrient Content Statements

  • A Statement of Average Analysis may be used to communicate nutrient content. As noted above, it includes serving size (12 fl. oz. for malt beverages), together with calories, carbohydrates (g), protein (g), and fat (g)
  • A Serving Facts Statement may be used as an alternative to the Statement of Average Analysis. They are merely the same statements but a Serving Facts Statement has the addition of a title, a serving size that reflects how the product is typically consumed, information about the number of servings per container, and the option of providing information about alcohol content. For more information, see the specifics on TTB’s website.
  • FDA Nutrition Facts panel is presently prohibited on malt beverage containers

Example on beer can of Serving Facts formatted correctly, meeting TTB requirements

The Voluntary Disclosure Initiative

Launched by the Beer Institute in 2016, the Voluntary Disclosure Initiative asks brewers to voluntarily include a serving facts statement and freshness dating on their products as well as disclose ingredients on either the label or secondary packaging via a list of ingredients, a reference to a website with the information, or through a QR code.

Among the Beer Institute members that have agreed to the initiative are industry giants Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, HeinekenUSA, Constellation Brands Beer Division, North American Brewers, and Craft Brew Alliance. Together, these companies produce more than 81% of the beer sold in the United States by volume. Specifically, one example of how Anheuser-Busch currently discloses this information online for all their flagship brands is the “Guide to Our Beers” section of their website www.tapintoyourbeer.com.

There currently is no legal requirement to include this information, however, if you can jump ahead of the curve and include it before it’s mandatory it may win you points with consumers who care.


Voluntary Independent Craft Brewer Seal

In 2017, the Brewers Association — a non-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers — launched the Independent Craft Brewer seal. This graphic was quickly adopted by independent breweries around the country, and it was proudly added to packaging and on brewery websites. This graphic not only allows breweries to display their independent spirit but has also become a way for consumers to be 100% certain that the beer they choose to drink is from an independent craft brewery. In addition, it gives consumers a quick and easy way to seek out this beer on the store shelf and support independent brewers.
Example of Brewers Association Certified Independent Craft Brewer seal on a bee canAccording to the Brewer’s Association, in 2019 more than 4,700 brewing companies had adopted the independent craft brewer seal, representing nearly 80% of craft beer brewed in the U.S. Also, in October 2019 Delaware became the first state with 100% adoption of the seal with all 21 of its independent craft breweries displaying it.

Although including the seal is not mandatory, you may still choose to display it if you meet the requirements of what defines an independent craft brewery. In this case, the recommended size of the seal is 1.575w x 0.887h and the minimum size is 0.786w x 0.443h.


Voluntary Allergen Statement

You may make voluntarily disclosures of the major food allergens; milk, eggs, tree nuts, crustacean shellfish, soybeans, peanuts, wheat, and fish. However, a TTB notice of proposed rulemaking was recently posted, which may lead to making allergen disclosures mandatory in the future.

  • Placement: May appear on the FRONT, BACK or SIDE of the container
  • Type Size: There are no specific type size requirements
  • Legibility: Must be legible and appear on a contrasting background
  • Must be specific as to the type of tree nut or crustacean shellfish
  • If one allergen is disclosed, then all allergens used in production of beverage must be disclosed
  • Voluntary statements must be formatted as follows, including the word “Contains” with a colon: “Contains: wheat, eggs, pecans”

Prohibited on Beer Labels

When you’re trying to push the boundaries with your beer label design to grab the consumer’s attention, it’s important to make sure your design doesn’t include any prohibited items listed by the TTB. Any of the following prohibited items can lead to the TTB denying your label design.

In terms of not allowing obscene material, undoubtedly it’s not always clear what the TTB will consider off limits. This type of ruling is one of the most difficult to navigate where the line is because it depends on what a TTB representative who is reviewing your submission finds obscene or indecent, not you or your customers.

NOT ALLOWED:

  • False or misleading information
  • False or misleading statements that are disparaging of competitor’s product
  • Obscene or indecent material
  • Representation of a guarantee
  • Claims about nutritional value or health benefits of alcoholic beverages, such as curative or therapeutic claims
  • Implication that it is a distilled spirit or contains a distilled spirit
  • Specific calorie or carbohydrate claims, including “low carb” and “low calorie” unless accompanied by a Statement of Average Analysis that lists numbers of calories and number of grams of carbs, protein, and fat contained based on a single serving size (1 serving of a malt beverage = 12 fl. oz.)
  • Misleading information or visuals that suggest it is endorsed by or affiliated with any living individual of public prominence, private or public organization, municipal, state, or foreign government. Specifically, this might include a celebrity’s or a company’s brand name, logo, symbol, trademark. (although actual endorsements may be permitted with proper documentation).

Preparing Your Label Images for Upload to TTB’s Online Application

COLAs Online allows registered industry members to apply online for a certificate of label approval (COLA). It also gives registered industry members the ability to track the status of their electronic label submissions and it reduces the time and cost associated with filing paper label applications.

FILE PREP REQUIREMENTS:

Number of Files If there are multiple labels on a container, save a separate jpeg for each individual label. For example, for a bottle, that might mean you include separate files for the front, back, and necker labels. For content or graphics that are burned, embossed, or blown into the container itself, this would also be uploaded as a separate file.
File Type Save files as jpegs in RGB mode.
File Dimensions Dimensions of the jpeg must be at 100% actual size. Crop file to actual trim size of the label. Specifically, do not include any bleed in the jpeg. Know what the physical dimensions are of the file size/trim size because you will need these numbers when you upload files.
File Size Each jpeg needs to be less than 1.5MB (as of July 2020). In order to achieve this, export from Photoshop using a jpeg compression/quality ratio of Medium (7 out of 10).
File Resolution
Resolution should be at least 120 – 170 dpi
Elements to Eliminate Do not include any vendor dieline marks, templates, or rule lines on your label artwork. For instance, only include what will be visible to the consumer on the final product. Finally, do not include any extra white space surrounding the label.

PRO TIP:

If your image quality is too low, then the online system will detect and give you an error message to try again. Therefore, be sure your small text is legible in the files being uploaded. If the text is blurry in a jpeg, then TTB recommends to try saving it as a PNG. For reference, you can find Q&A for how COLAs Online works on TTB’s website.

Below is what the artwork looks like when exporting the jpeg for TTB submission.

Photoshop export settings for TTB jpeg with image quality of 7 (medium)

For comparison, below is what the artwork looks like when placed on the vendor dieline or template — which looks different than the file you’ll upload for TTB in that it includes all the extra template lines that will not print, extra bleed on the artwork, template notations, and extra white space surrounding the art.

Example of beer can graphics on a Ball vendor dieline

In this example above, we’re using a direct-print design template for Ball. The following list includes some of the common industry templates you might be using for your packaging, including direct-printed cans, shrink-wrapped cans, or labels for cans or bottles.


Additional Resources


In conclusion, we hope our Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements has been an informative and useful tool. If you have any additional tips or questions, then please leave us a comment below!


closing image for design guide to beer label requirements: Bad Hare Day Lager beer cans

Need help from the creative experts?  CONTACT US — We’d be happy to discuss your next packaging project! In fact, we’ve done it all; beer, spirits, wine, hard cider, hard seltzer, and more.  LEARN MORE — Check out our packaging design services.

Disclaimer: This Design Guide to Beer Label Requirements does not contain every official regulation that may apply to your malt beverage. Therefore, please check with full federal and state regulations before labeling any product for sale or distribution.

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