Picture of Block Printed Beer Labels
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I don't want you to get the wrong impression-- I'm definitely not a master at either homebrewing or printmaking. But, I am pretty darn good at figuring out how to make food and beverages look nice. And after relegating my homebrews to plain brown bottles, (yawn) I decided it was time to figure out how to make a label that was as attractive and carefully crafted as my beer. This is a project that can totally be tackled by a first time printmaker, and still get beautiful results. I might also add that nothing about this technique limits it to beer-- I can imagine custom soda labels, wine bottles or even jam jars would have beautiful results.

For those of you who are uninitiated to the hobby/cult of homebrewing, making labels for beer poses a few logistic challenges. First, the ink must not be water soluble.  The first drop of condensation on the bottle will turn your label into a bleeding mess. So absolutely no ink-jet printing, and no water soluble inks. The oil-based inks and relatively ease with which you can make prints led me to block printing.  I'll be the first to admit that my block printed design is not the easiest solution. (Printing labels with an laser printer definitely seems like the easiest.) But I loved the idea of a handmade label-- it seems to suit a handmade beer particularly well. And if you do go to the trouble to cut a block for printing, you can then print your design on all sorts of things-- cardboard (for coasters!), fabric (beer-themed canvas bags! T-shirts!)  And best of all, you've got the block already made and will be able to quickly churn out new labels the next time you brew a batch of that particular beer. And if you know a home brewer and make them a custom label as a gift... Well, then you've made a friend for life.

The second obstacle is adhering the label to the bottle. If you plan on reusing your bottles (as most home brewers do) then you'll want the label to come off the bottle without leaving a messy residue. But obviously, you want the label to stay put on the bottle while you store it, chill it and serve it. I did a bunch of reading, and a few experiments and found a solution that works great: milk. (Yes, really!) Lots of brewers use milk straight from the fridge. Skim milk is the preferred choice, at it has all the adhering proteins, but none of the fat that could potentially make dried milk smelly. I don't regularly buy skim milk, so I made a glue using nonfat dried milk. Not only is this glue solution more concentrated than plain skim milk, but (because of dried milk's shelf life) you can whip up this glue even if you don't happen to have extra milk in the fridge.
mgilbertsen2 years ago
I'm feeling a little dumb here: did you print on white paper or on strips of magazines? I think that would be how you got the variations in the finished print and how they look on the bottles. Am I mistaken here? All the same, it's a kick-ass idea! I have a friend who would love this as a gift... thanks for sharing!
kbarb mgilbertsen11 months ago

That was on "Step 1 Materials"

"Paper- Whatever you want to print on. I tried out a couple of different colors and combinations for prints. In the end, my favorites were 3 1/2" by 8" strips cut from non-glossy magazine pages printed with white ink."

Whoops...read the first page again and figured it out!
MeeksMomma1 year ago
Awesome idea! Just bottled our first ale and needed a start on labels. Will be trying this!
Milke19912 years ago
Nice instructable!, I have a few designs that i would try to make
poofrabbit3 years ago
First, I love the design! Second, I just plain love this idea! I have a HUGE soft spot for woodblock prints, and what a great way to show off the print! Great 'able! 5 stars and you have my vote!
kitchentablescraps (author)  poofrabbit3 years ago
Aw, shucks. Thank you! XD
D_ROBO3 years ago
The part about using milk as the adhesive is amazing! I never would have thought of it. How well does the glue mix hold up to condensation though?
kitchentablescraps (author)  D_ROBO3 years ago
The more glue you use, the less likely it is to peel off prematurely. So far, my labels have stayed stuck. But they definitely wouldn't stay on if you planned on leaving them in a cooler with ice.
Awesome! Such a clean cut design and wonderful printing!
lmnopeas3 years ago