Beer label design

    I feel like the craft beer can or bottle has become the new canvas for illustrators around the world, much in the way that trains were “moving galleries of steel” (as said in a Buck 65 lyric) for graffiti artists a number of years back. I find myself often choosing which beer to buy based on how cool or fun the beer label is. Brand new PEI based, Upstreet Craft Brewing, were given my name by members of Hey Rosetta at a post show after party. There was discussion that the Upstreet boys wanted their beer labels to look like screen printed band posters, and lucky for me, I’ve made several posters for Hey Rosetta (Thanks HR!!!) among other bands.

    We got on the phone and the Upstreet guys gave me the low-down on why they were starting this new craft brewery, where the name came from, their individual histories and their game plan for what they wanted to do. They had so many great ideas I knew this was going to be one hell of a project.

    Their branding for the brewery had already been created, they had a logo, so that was one thing I didn’t have to worry about. Coming out of the gate they wanted to launch Upstreet with three beers – with lots more down the road. I was given descriptions of what the beers would taste like, where they got their names, and the stories that lead to how Upstreet settled on these names for the beers.

    I spent a week or so plotting out my ideas, no sketches yet, just written concepts to get my ideas down on paper. I picked up a book at my local book store on beer labels around the world, and took to the internet researching as much as possible. I wanted to make sure that the ideas I had in mind, hadn’t been done (or at least if there was something similar, it was exactly the same).


    My ideas were pretty simple:


    “The Commons” is an area on the outskirts of Charlottetown that has traditionally been open land, farms, etc. It is made up of a bunch of smaller pieces of land that all affectionately fall under the Commons title. It has a long history in the province.

    My label concept would be pretty straight forward. I wanted to depict an outdoor scene, green grass and a blue sky. Off in the background is a slight skyline of Charlottetown, to give us a sense of where we are. In the foreground will be a horse, standing tall and proud. This horse is meant to represent Upstreet Craft Brewing. Outside of the horse you’ll see an outline of a much bigger horse – which represents the history of the Commons, and all the amazing accomplishments the residents have made that lead us to this moment. The idea is that Upstreet are proud new members of this community, but they’re young, and hope to carry the traditions and respect the Commons to one day grow in to the larger horse. Upstreet want to be wave the flag proudly and hope the long term residents of The Commons will see them as welcome new neighbours. There would be a series of white lines stretching from the outer edges of the design to the large horse, these represent the various cut up pieces of land that all combine to become The Commons.



    Upstreet’s second beer, the “Do Gooder”, was a tribute to all the incredible folks who had helped get their dream of a brewery off the ground. Getting Upstreet off the ground was no small feat, the list of people that contributed time, advise, labour and more, was huge. They wanted to show their appreciation and created Do-Gooder for these folks.

    I came up with the idea of a super hero. But not a masked, hidden identity character, this guy looked like any of us. Scraggly hair, big smile… ok, maybe a bit more muscular than most of us, but a great all ‘round guy that is always there when you need a hand. My plan was to someday create a comic strip depicting our Do Gooder helping people in many different ways – carrying heavy groceries for an elderly man on his walk home; lifting the couch so you can vacuum below; saving a cat from a tree… but that would have to wait for now. I added a cat to the illustration, knowing it would be a little confusing for folks when they first saw the beer label, but we can always explain the relevance of the cat at a later date, and a bit of mystery never hurt anyone.



    Strawberry Socials are very popular. Folks dress up in their best suits or dresses and take to the outdoors for some fancy socializing. There are often times tables set up for pastries and cakes. Strawberry Socials are quite popular in PEI apparently. Upstreet’s third beer is a Strawberry Rhubarb Witbier called “Rhuby Social”. I played off the idea of the outdoor summer events, but with a twist. These traditionally wholesome events have a new host (Upstreet) and this new host is planning something devious. The first two beer labels were pretty safe, so I felt we could let our hair down a little with this third label – I made our event host a skeleton.

    In time I plan to have more fun and be less safe with the Upstreet labels. That will all depend on how far the guys will let me go of course, but I knew that we wouldn’t want to rock the boat right out of the gate. A subtle skull is our foray in to being a little bad-ass.



    I sketched up some initial mocks, these were pretty archaic, but they helped illustrate a direction. I dove in and started creating the illustrations in Adobe Illustrator, with some textural work in Photoshop. I concentrated on the illustrations and fonts for each beer at first, not thinking about the rest of the label. I knew the client wanted these labels to look like screen printed band posters, so I chose simple colour palettes with four or less colours.




    I talked to the guys about changing their logo from green to black. They were using it green everywhere, but the green clashed with my designs and I knew that would always be a problem. I wanted to make the background of the Rhuby Social label red for instance, and that would make for a very Christmas looking colour scheme if we have a huge green logo. Thankfully they agreed to the black version of the logo for the beer labels, and we rolled on from there.

    All three illustrations were approved in record time and we proceeded forward on to laying out the full labels. There was a lot to consider here as we had to fit in a description of the beer, barcodes, some logos, icons that would depict flavour and beer colour, and so much more. The labels were small and every inch needed to be thought out perfectly. The biggest hurdle we encountered came when it came to deciding how to best fit all the content in to the die-cut we had chosen. See, we had to submit a die-cut shape to have it manufactured quickly at the beginning of this whole process, so we had come up with a shape long before we had started any illustrations or beer label concepts. Now we were hit with the challenge of making that label shape work with the content that had to go on there. It was mostly an easy task except for on the right side of the label where I had thought it would be fun to include a series of round circles that we could drop small icons. My initial idea was that these circles would bleed to the edge, but I found out later that the circles could not bleed off the label due to the label machine that would apply the labels to bottles. I’d have to move those circles in an eighth of an inch. Not the end of the world, but it certainly changed my design and forced me to rejig things – the die-cut couldn’t change, so I was just going to have to figure out a solution.


    I came up with a couple silly little ideas for the labels – a finger pointing at the bottom of the bottle that said “this end up”, and a “great minds drink alike” icon, just to add a little fun.


    The labels came together over a week or two. I spent much of the time making sure that we were coming up with a design that would be interesting, but also one we could use for years to come for new beers.



    My initial idea for these labels was always that I would screen print the final illustrations, and scan the screen prints to use for the final labels. Screen printing created all sorts of little imperfections due to the hand made nature of the process, I thought these little imperfections would add to the look of the art. At the last minute I decided to forego that step though, the illustrations were going to be small on the final beer labels, and I felt the screen-print textures wouldn’t have been easy to see, so it was an unnecessary process. The labels were approved by the Upstreet guys and we sent them to print with Maritime Labels in Halifax.



    Now, with the labels gone to print, it was time to have some fun and repurpose the graphics for all the other uses. We made t-shirts, growler bottle tags, and taps for draught in bars and restaurants. Lastly we printed posters. July was a hectic month for me, so while I would normally screen print the posters myself, I contacted my friends at Pink Eye Prints in St. John’s to see if they had time to hand screen print the posters for me. They did an amazing job. Jon Keefe is an incredible screen printer and after seeing the job he did on the posters I almost reconsidered doing any of my own printing ever again. Each poster was printed in an edition of 100, signed and numbered prints, and they are for sale at the taproom along with t-shirts.





    So that’s where we are right now. The first three beer labels for Upstreet Craft Brewing are out there in the world. The brewery has opened and their taproom/bar is packed every night. Their brews are available in dozens of bars and restaurants in PEI and, while I haven’t had a chance to taste one yet (since I live a couple provinces away), the reviews have been amazing! The launch of Upstreet Craft Brewing has been a success. We’ve already started working on label ideas for some limited edition beers, seasonals and more. I’m hoping this is a relationship that I’ll be involved in for years to come.

    I plan to get over to PEI this fall to sample the beers and see how it all turned out in person. If you are in PEI, stop by the Upstreet Craft Brewing Taproom, grab a beer, a shirt and a poster print.

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About the Author

Jud Haynes is an illustrator, graphic designer and musician living in St. John's, Newfoundland (Canada)


  1. I’ve not yet tried these new PEI brews but there is something strange familiar with the design of the Common and Rhuby labels. Maybe it’s just me but, at first glance, I’m thinking of Cow’s Ice-cream.

    • I just went and had a look at the Cow’s Ice-cream branding. Similar flat vibrant use of colour for sure. I bet an Upstreet Beer and cold Cow’s ice-cream combo would be a great way to beat this summer heat.

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