Why are food labels hard to read?

During an overseas holiday, I was asked by a fellow traveller what I did for a living. Because the term “prepress operator” is esoteric, my response was to say that I make food labelling and other printing. However, I was caught quite off-guard by the traveller’s response, which was “why do you have to make labels so darn hard to read?”.

That moment has stuck with me for some time now, and in this article I’d like to answer that traveller’s question comprehensively in an Australian setting.

In short: Limited real-estate vs too much information

That’s it in a nutshell – labels tend to be small in size, usually because the product that they contain is small in volume. Despite the small size, there’s also a lot of information to include within that size.

Details that have to be displayed by law

As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not constituting legal advice on all specifications for a label.

If retailing food, the code developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) details what should appear on food labelling. More information can be found on their site, but in short a food label should have:

  • A Nutritional Information Panel;
  • The ingredients and additives by ingoing weight, and in some circumstances the percentage of ingredients. For example, if the label is identified as strawberry jam in the branding, then the percentage of strawberries actually used in the product has to be given.
  • Allergen information
  • Directions for use or storage
  • What the food is (e.g. is it strawberry jam, cookies, kombucha, etc)
  • The contact address of the manufacturer
  • The measurement of the weight or volume of the product
  • Country of Origin label

Some information can be presented on the label but may be presented elsewhere on the container, such as:

  • Batch or run of the product being produced
  • Best before or Use-By dates

In addition, the position of where the measurement of the weight or volume of the product can appear on the label is rather rigid and structured.

Country of Origin

From 1 July 2018, food products sold in Australia must display a Country of Origin label. This label has a specific appearance that must be adhered to, along with guidelines of how the label must be phrased.

An example of the Country of Origin label

This is enforceable at law by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – the Federal Government’s consumer watchdog which can – and does – give hefty fines to corporations and individuals for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

There is an online generator to create such labels, so having to maintain an array of assets for this task isn’t required – simply generate a label as and when they are needed.

Details that may also be required

Barcodes

Note that in the above code, that a barcode isn’t required by law. However, if the product is to be stocked on a large scale through distributors in a logistics chain, then it will usually need a barcode. In Australia this will usually be an EAN-13 barcode but in North America a UPC barcode is more likely.

Barcodes also have limited scaling, and GS1 (a provider of barcodes and related logistic products and services) indicates that a barcode should be placed at no less than 80% of its recommended size.

Specifications from GS1 relating to EAN-13 barcodes at 100% size

In GS1’s more detailed instructions on their website, they also recommend specific locations and orientations for the barcode, so can’t just go anywhere at any size.

These recommendations sound strict, but are done with the best of intentions so that a barcode will scan first time, every time, regardless of where the product was purchased. Remember, it’s a retailer’s aim to get that product from their shelf to your pantry or refrigerator with the least amount of fuss.

The size of the barcode can also be influenced by the retail chain that is selling the product and may recommend not proportionally scaling the barcode at all but leaving it at 100% size. It is best to check with the retail chain’s specifications first.

Container Deposit Scheme

As at the time of writing, all states and territories in Australia (except for Victoria and Tasmania) have some form of container deposit scheme, usually for soft drink containers. These schemes encourage consumers to return the containers to a collection facility in exchange for a refund for each item returned.

There are no national guidelines as to how the deposit notification should appear, so check with the relevant authority in each state.

Three items commonly seen on flavoured milk cartons (from top clockwise): The Country of Origin label; The Australasian Recycling Label; and The Container Deposit Scheme.

Alcoholic drinks

While a Nutrition Information Panel is not required for alcoholic drinks, other information is required, such as:

  • Alcoholic content (ALC/VOL)
  • Standard drinks statement. This can either be a written statement i.e. CONTAINS APPROX. X.X STANDARD DRINKS or in the form of a graphic with its own requirements.
  • As of 31 July 2020 and to be phased in over three years – a pregnancy warning label.
Pregnancy warning label, phasing in began on 31 July 2020.

Additional voluntary icons or graphics for marketing purposes

Health star rating

This is a voluntary system to aid customers in making healthier choices.

Third party endorsements

Endorsements from third parties that require an audit trail to guarantee the claims made about the product or its packaging, such as:

  • Organic certification, such as NASAA or Australia Certified Organic to certify that a product is organic;
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to certify the product or its packaging is from a sustainable source;
  • Cultural preparation certifications such as Halal or Kosher.

These types of logos won’t use a generic logo, but will usually contain a unique identifier such as a number that can be tied to the particular supplier.

These logos usually have strict stylesheets that have to be adhered to such as size, color, position in relation to other elements etc, and these guidelines have to be taken into consideration when juxtaposing the artwork for the label. The third party (or its auditing agency) usually requests to see the artwork prior to approval for print to ensure that the logo is used appropriately and within its guidelines.

Australasian Recycling Label

This is a private initiative to reduce landfill by informing consumers how the packaging can be disposed of once the product is used. The logos aren’t in the public domain and permission must be sought for use of this artwork.

And of course, our own branding

With all of the other details now on the label as required, it’s time to add the branding and design to the label… if it will fit!

This is just for food!

The details listed in this article are only describing what goes on a food label in Australia and aren’t exhaustive – this article doesn’t even mention regulations that concern pharmaceuticals or industrial products that may contain harmful chemicals.

Don’t even try being creative for cigarettes

While cigarette cartons aren’t labels, it is worth mentioning this as it is currently unique to Australia. Since 1 December 2012, any tobacco product (including labels on loose tobacco such as roll your own cigarettes) in Australia must follow the plain packaging guide, which – on a regular pack of 25 cigarettes – features such marketing gems as:

  • The brand and variant must be in Lucida Sans font in PANTONE Cool Gray 2C;
  • The pack surface must be in PANTONE 448C (a greenish-brown color);
  • A warning statement and graphic that covers at least 75% of the front surface without spaces separating the statement or graphic; and 90% of the back surface.

And this is just for Australia!

This article has focused on Australian food labels as they are the ones I am most familiar with and see on a daily basis at work. However, after spending time living in Canada, I recall seeing products that were sold nationwide (with exceptions of course) having to be in both English and French – good luck with getting all that information to fit now!

Can’t the label be bigger?

That can certainly provide more real-estate for the information to be displayed, but the size is often determined by:

  • Price of label production. Larger labels usually cost more than smaller labels that have otherwise identical print specifications such as stock, inks and embellishments.
  • Size of the package itself. An A4 page simply won’t fit on a cylinder that holds 100ml of a product;
  • How the labels are applied. For example, if machine applied, there may be specifications that a larger label can’t fulfill that a smaller label can fulfill.
  • Marketing. It may be more desirable for a consumer to see more of the product in the glass jar as opposed to a label that would obscure the contents.

Your thoughts

I hope this article has explained why labels can be hard to read – put simply it is to cram all of the required information into a tiny space. I’ve tried to cover as much as I could without trying to encompass all labelling, but no doubt there are items that I’ve missed or aren’t applicable in your part of the world. Leave a comment below on anything I’ve missed or if there is anything specific to labels in your country.

Reacting to bad Redacting

In early January 2019, a high profile case of “Redaction Fail” made the headlines when it was revealed that the redacted material could still be read if copied and pasted into a word processor. My initial reaction was of concern, because my first thought was that the redaction feature in Adobe Acrobat had a serious drawback. However, this was soon put to rest once I viewed the actual document in question, and realised that Acrobat’s redaction feature had not been used, but another low-tech method was used instead.

Low-tech method 1: Highlight

In Microsoft Word, it’s easy to change the highlighter colour to black to act as a redaction. Similarly, Adobe InDesign has a similar feature where an underline can be created that is the same colour as the text and adjusting the height of the line to the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender.

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Looks great on screen, and looks great on a PDF.

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Be assured though that this is NOT REDACTED. I know this because I can reveal what was written in several ways:

  • By highlighting the text and copying into any text editor;

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  • By using an accessibility feature that will allow the line (or page) to be read back

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  • In Acrobat Professional, using the Edit feature to change the colour of the type

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  • Editing the PDF with the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in in a similar fashion to the last method, or even remove the redaction itself or view the type under the redaction using the wireframe view.

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  • By highlighting the text, opening the tags panel and selecting Find Tag from Selection

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  • By highlighting the text, opening the content panel and looking up the content by its page location

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  • Via the print production tools in Acrobat Professional, go to the output preview and in the Show portion of the dialog box, select Text from the dropdown

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(The above method can be circumvented if the redaction character style has a type fill of [None] and the underline coloured [Black]).

To be fair, no security settings had been applied to this test file. If I apply password security so that copying, pasting and accessibility is off, the last three methods can still be employed to see this text, albeit with many options greyed out:

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Low-tech method 2: Redact Font

Fonts (such as the redacted font by David Walsh) give the type a redacted look without the need to create a highlighter-style effect.

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Again, rest assured that this document is NOT REDACTED.

Park the fact that the copy has now reflowed after the style has been applied, many of the previous methods can still be employed to read this text.

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Yes, there is also the drastic action of employing this technique, adding security AND converting all text to outlines using a method described over at InDesignSecrets, but doing so will make a PDF that is:

  • Unsearchable and unprintable;
  • Has no accessibility features;
  • Involves manipulating the original artwork, rather than a file that has to have redactions applied.

If you need to redact the file, use Adobe Acrobat’s Redact feature, and make sure to read the instructions to be sure that is being used properly.

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The instructions on the Adobe Acrobat help site for using this feature are quite useful.

A related redaction warning

If photographs also need to be redacted, note that if unredacted versions of the images exist online, chances are that Google’s Image search or Tineye may be able to find the unredacted originals.

Take the following image that was used on this site two articles ago. I’ve done a basic redaction our faces and run the redacted image through exifpurge to remove any metadata.

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If I drag and drop this image into Google’s image search, it is able to find the unredacted versions of this photo that are currently online:

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While this example was a light-hearted example, much more serious examples can be found via ABC Australia’s Media Watch programme.

 

Housekeeping Scripts

You finally have an approval on that print project you’ve been working on for the last few months. All that’s left to do is make a PDF for the printer and be done with it, right?

Nope. It’s time to do some housekeeping on the file. Let me use this metaphor, once you’ve made dinner, you don’t leave your dirty pots and pans in the sink, do you?

It’s time to do some housekeeping, and in this episode of “must haves” on the Colecandoo Youtube channel, we’ll look at several scripts to keep your files nice and tidy.

Disclaimer

One word of caution with any of the scripts shown in the video. They are all destructive in nature. That is, they intentionally remove items from a document. Make sure you save your work prior to running these scripts, just in case they have a catastrophic impact on your artwork. I’m showing these scripts for educational purposes only, this is not a tutorial on how to use these scripts.

Images and Frames

Cleanup Pasteboard

The first script removes items from the pasteboard. Run the script and select the distance from the trim edge and importantly whether threaded text on the pasteboard should be removed.

I can hear some of you now saying “but what if I’ve left important notes on the pasteboard for the next person who works on the artwork”? Well, either don’t use this script, or put your notes on after you’ve run this script.

Empty Frame Remover

This script removes any purely empty frames, that is no fill or stroke that have no special settings applied such as text wrap or text on a path. Once run, it scans the document and removes all of these empty frames.

Trista DPI

The next script resamples all images over a given resolution to a more appropriate resolution. It’s great for projects such as yearbooks where the resolution of images is often far greater than it needs to be.

Now, I was in two minds to whether I show this script or not. Out of the scripts being shown in this video, this is both the most powerful and potentially most destructive of them. Ultimately, read the instructions before using this script, and make sure you have access to backups in case things go wrong.

Colour

Next, let’s address some colour issues that may have come about from selecting registration by mistake, or left-over swatches from a Microsoft Word import.

Unlike many scripts I’ve shown previously, most of these scripts are buried in forum posts, so it’s a matter of reading the post, finding the script, copying and pasting into a text editor and saving as a .jsx file.

It’s worth noting that all of these scripts only affect colours generated within InDesign, so won’t fix colour issues in links such as PDFs or photoshop files.

Add unnamed colours

Let’s start off with this easy one-line script that adds all unnamed colours to the swatches palette. True, it’s just as easy to select this from the swatches menu. Regardless how it’s run, this should be the first step to cleaning up the swatches. You can cut and paste it from below:

app.menuActions.item("$ID/Add All Unnamed Colors").invoke();

Reduce Colors

This script launches a prompt that allows you to search for colours that are a given percentage different from each other and merge them to the swatch that appears higher in the swatches panel.

If you’re using a special knockout black swatch and don’t want it to become the default black, perhaps make it a spot colour while running these scripts.

I explain the differences between these colours in more depth in Episode 14.

Registration Fix

This script converts all registration colour applied by InDesign to its respective tint of Black.

RGB/LAB GREY swatches to Shades of Black

I’ve written a script that converts RGB and LAB values that appear as shades of grey to equivalent shades of Black, while leaving other swatches alone to be dealt with by another script.

RGB/LAB swatches to CMYK

There’s another RGB/LAB converter, though this script converts all RGB/LAB swatches to CMYK values.

Faux Black fixers

There are two scripts that can take faux black values and convert them either to 100% black or rich black. The faux black is determined by CMYK values beyond certain percentages. In this case, any swatch that is over 70 Cyan, 60 Magenta, 60 Yellow and 90 Black will be converted to either 100% black or rich black. You can dig into the script if you like, and redefine what constitutes a rich black or faux black.

Remove unused swatches

This will remove any swatches not used in the artwork.

Styles, Master Pages and Layers

Let’s make sure that we only have the necessary styles, master pages and layers that are required for the artwork.

Remove unused masters

This script removes any master pages that have not been used in the artwork.

Remove unused layers

Next is this script that removes any layers that contain no artwork.

Remove unused styles and groups

This is a series of scripts that removes any styles not used in the artwork, as well as unnecessary style groups that may have been left, whether deep in folders or not. In the video it is combined into one “catch-all” script for convenience, but it is the work of many authors, so it’s not right for me to host it. Links to the originals can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Delete guides

Lastly, this script removes all guidelines in a document. I can see that there would be some use for guidelines to remain in a document, but felt it was worth demonstrating.

Preflight

To be sure that the artwork is completely free of issues, we want to make sure that there are no prepress issues. To make sure that the artist complied with the preflight that was associated with the document, there’s the preflight enforcer.

As shown on the Colecandoo Youtube channel before, I’ve prepared two scripts that will either warn or prevent a user from printing or exporting to PDF until all preflight issues are resolved.

So there you have it, over ten scripts that will help make housekeeping of InDesign files a lot easier. If there’s any that I’ve missed or you feel would be worthy of a future video, let me know via my contact page.

Pre-Sort Mail Pressure

Many articles on this blog feature advice for creating Variable Data Printing (VDP), but this post will focus on preparing VDP letters using Australia Post’s Pre-Sort Mail service. While the advice may not apply to everybody, there may be some information within the article that could still be relevant. With that out of the way, it is important to discuss what the Pre-Sort Mail Service is.

What is Pre-Sort Mail?

Australia Post offers many mailing services such as Clean Mail, Print Post and Acquisition Mail, but Pre-Sort Mail specifically refers to the delivery of barcoded mail throughout Australia.

What is the significance of Pre-Sort Mail?

Ultimately it is price and speed. As of 1 August 2014, an individual posting an addressed DL sized envelope under 125g from one Australian destination to another will pay 70 cents to post that letter (full rates of mail can be found at http://auspost.com.au/parcels-mail/pricing-updates.html). Pre-Sort Mail offers businesses a discount on their postage, provided that:

  • There are more than 300 items of addressed mail within Australia in one lodgement;
  • That the mail has been barcoded and lodged according to Australia Post’s standards.

With many items of post being substituted for email, one would ask what the importance of printed mail:

  • Conventional mail is tangible, something an individual can hold.
  • It confirms the street address of the receiver (e.g. letters that are marked return to sender will indicate if the receiver has moved).
  • It can’t be blocked with a spam-filter.

How does it work?

On the surface, “barcoded mail” would imply that the only process is to add a barcode to the mail… if only it were that simple. In fact the procedure is more complicated. The full procedure can be found here http://auspost.com.au/media/documents/presort-letters-service-guide-jun14.pdf but a summary of the process that mostly involves a prepress operator is as follows:

  • The use of dedicated barcoding software to compare the client’s database to the Australia Post database. This applies a barcoded Delivery Point IDentifier (DPID – effectively an 8-digit number that represents a street address… think of it akin to a phone number, without using the actual phone number of that address) to clients’ addresses that match Australia Post’s addresses, and leaves the remainder unbarcoded. That should be the end of it, but sadly no… there is more.
  • Using this same dedicated software, creating a manifest that lists what letters are to be sent to specific mailing locations (not postcodes – one of 54 specific locations that receive the mail and then distribute the mail to their postcodes). The software then creates mailing tags for the cardboard or plastic tubs that will hold the finished articles for mailing. This is to identify the tubs to Australia Post employees who then send the tubs to the appropriate mailing locations.
  • Once the data is exported from the dedicated software, the data then has to be “mail merged” (or Data Merged via InDesign) but it must be in the same order as the manifest. This creates many production headaches such as how to split the merge for the appropriate destinations, dealing with “spoils” (letters that are damaged during their production) etc.

What are the pressure points?

  • The dedicated barcoding software. It isn’t cheap, and this leads to many businesses reconsidering the idea of barcoding their own mail in-house, given the return on investment of mail savings is eaten by the subscription fee to the dedicated software. The software tends to be Windows Operating System specific and requires ongoing updates from Australia Post to maintain current address data.
  • Quality of a customer’s database. Items such as soft returns, address fields where the suburb-state-postcode details are in one field instead of three separate fields can hamper not just the dedicated barcoding software, but its import into InDesign. Similarly, values that need to be presented in a set format (such as dollar values, or names needing to be title-cased rather than UPPER cased) need to be resolved before importing the data into InDesign. Another trap is the length of fields – for example, a design feature that allows for most full names that would be 15-25 letters long, but names in the database that can be 35-45 letters long may not fit the space required, unless the square peg round hole trick is used.
  • The strict rules set down by Australia Post for lodgement, such as the height, width, clear zones and allowable skew of the barcode. These rules also apply to the appearance of the envelope, particularly if an address is being printed onto the envelope instead of using a window-faced envelope.
  • The speed of the lodgement. This will determine what postage paid imprint is to be used on the items to be mailed.

The last pressure point is the one that will catch out many customers and sales representatives alike. Since its introduction on 2 June 2014, Australia Post has introduced two speeds to business mail: Priority and Regular. Apart from the lodgement, the other way that this is indicated to Australia Post staff is the imprint graphic on the top right hand corner of the envelope.

What this effectively means for customers is that instead of having one variety of business envelope stationery, they now need to have two varieties for the different delivery speeds, unless the customer wants to stick to one variety of stationery, and this will lock them into a set delivery speed. At the same time, printers and mailing houses have to be aware of this when asking clients for a delivery deadline, especially if envelopes supplied by the client are at a different delivery speed to the requested lodgement speed.

What do I need to remember?

It is possible to save money on your postage by using the Pre-Sort Mail program via a Printing company or Mailing House. My employer offers this service, but it is worth asking a few questions in advance:

  • Can they barcode letters from the database I’m using, and what is the best way to supply the data?
  • If I have a set date I would like the letters in the hands of customers, when should I have my data and letter ready to begin the campaign?
  • What items can be variable on the letters that I send? Is it just type, or can I have graphs, barcodes such as QR codes, or images tailored to each letter?

 

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