The Truth About Silkscreened Wine Bottles & Thongs

A Two Part Series

By Paula Sugarman

As package designers, my team and I love the way silkscreened wine bottles look. We love the freedom from the confinement of a label and the ability to take advantage of the beauty of the glass itself. But there are pros and cons to silk screening on wine bottles.

Advantages: Screen printed labels can trump paper labels in three ways; the ability to use the entire bottle as a canvas, the textural qualities of silk screening, and saturated colors that can only be achieved with silkscreened inks. Less than 1% of wine bottles are screen printed today. With a clever design, silk screening can create distinctive, memorable branding that really stands out in the retail setting. Screened bottles are more durable than labels removing the hassle of scuffing and shelf wear.

Disadvantages: Silkscreened bottles cost more than paper labels and wineries have to pay twice to ship the glass, once to the screen house, then again to the winery.

But when the design is right, the return on investment makes it worth it. So, what makes a great silkscreened label?

Silkscreened wine bottles are kind of like thong underwear. On the right person, there’s something really cool and svelte about having no panty lines. But in the wrong conditions, thong wearing can backfire. Imagine slipping a short, miniskirt over a sumo wrestler… the fact that there are no panty lines does little to lessen the scariness of this image. It’s the same with silkscreened wine bottles. There are some beauties out there that create distinction for their brand. Other times the additional cost of silk screening is squandered due to unremarkable design. And some designs are effective simply because they are compelling design, not because of the medium in which they are printed.

The bottles shown on the left and below make my point:

Klinker Brick creates distinction with its brick pattern and full bottle coverage. The typographic elements are deftly handled with sophistication. The folks at BevMo say people come back and ask for Klinker Brick a second time, more because it is memorable, not because it is silkscreened.

Driven tells a dramatic story with its tire tread pattern contrasting in matte/gloss ink for texture. Sorry about the photo, I drank all the wine and threw the bottle away before we decided to do an article on silk screening. So much for the theory that silkscreened wine bottles get saved more often.

Terra d’Oro. I still prefer the original version of this label but the winery illustration they added was impressive to me because of its simplified and modern styling rather than the business-as-usual etching of a vineyard and chateau. Both are shown here. What I like most is the contrast of matte texture on the title block with the buildup of gloss on the vines.

Kenwood’s Jack London Vineyard Series. This art still mystifies me. Something about it must be working because the wine sells successfully between $25-$30 per bottle. But the design is unremarkable and the additional expense of screen printing adds nothing to it.

Valley of the Moon. This label gets divided opinions in the studio. I am non-plussed by the design, but two of my designers like it. I don’t see that silk screening has increased its elegance in any way.

There’s a lot of discussion about the merits of silkscreened bottles. Bottom line the question is still whether it does a better job to inspire consumers to buy wine. A killer label design will draw lots of attention to be sure, but I remain skeptical. In my next article, we’ll read about some silkscreen success stories.















Paula Sugarman is owner and creative director of Sugarman Design Group, a California graphic design studio specializing in brand identity, wine label design and food package design.

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