A Compass guide to designing custom stickers

Vinyl Stickers

One of the fun things about being a branding designer is that not everything has to be so literal, or even formal, when designing the brand of a company.

Take stickers for example:

Stickers are a great way for you or your company/clients to extend the reach of your brand.

Take my friend Justin’s tweet here as an example —

Stickers are a unique form of advertising because they have the opportunity to go viral, capture someone’s interest (either for their collection, or purely because of your design), and they are like a pay once banner ad (rather than pay per click or view that some online advertisements get to deal with).

For my own laptop (below), you can see that it’s not just big brands but things you probably don’t even know who or what they are. (and I have put even more on here since this photo.

Stickers are a unique form of advertising because they have the opportunity to go viral, capture someone’s interest (either for their collection, or purely for your design), and they are like a pay once banner ad (rather than pay per click or view that some online advertisements get to deal with).

For my own laptop, you can see that it’s not just big brands but things you probably don’t even know who or what they are. (and I have put even more on here since this photo.)

Stickers are a great way to extend your brand’s reach because they stick around for a long time.

How do you create a successful sticker design?

In a previous post, we talked about sketching your designs before jumping on the digital bandwagon.

I still recommend sketching your ideas out. I don’t think I can ever recommend this enough because the way your brain processes ideas when sketching moves quicker than you can probably fiddle with on a computer.

My process above was just to get as many ideas of where to start. I had carried over some of the ideas for my pins as stickers and used a good portion of ideas like icons, hand lettering, and even a soda-can graphic.

These designs can be almost anything you think of, because the best ideas are often a different take on something you’ve seen. Usually they can be anything you want, or even just a version of logos used to represent the company.

You can even begin taking two ideas and smashing them together like good-ol’ fidget Garfield here.

Actually, I’m sorry I forced that upon you. haha

But in seriousness, you can take simple designs you have done in the past, or smash ideas together like above. Maybe even taking existing elements of your brand and making stickers out of them.

These are two that I put into the sticker pack, some icons I’ve used once on my website.

The process

Heres where we talk about settings again:

Sticker manufacturers use modern printers that don’t really rely on special colored dyes or pigments anymore. So the realm of what is possible is much like making a print of a photo.

With stickers, however, there are things to consider once more.

In our first article of the series, we showed things like Die Marks and Cut Lines. Both of these would be important to someone who has done a lot of print work or wanting much more control in the process.

However, a lot of these printers are more experienced with these, so even if they get just the base file or image, they should be able to prep the document. These tips below however give you more control and give you a faster turn around time, going to the printers with print ready files.

Human beings are incapable of objectively perceiving absolute value. So that’s like telling how big something is without something relative to compare it to.

So when designing these stickers, we have to work with your native (or the printer’s native) units, either Inches (like 0.65”) or in Millimeters (like 19mm).

Since we are also working with a printer and vinyl materials, to maintain quality designs, your settings must be at 300dpi or higher.

You should be working in CMYK color, or working with pantones if applicable from the printer.

There is usually a minimum edge requirement which can vary in certain millimeters that allow the design to not get cropped off.

Designs that have a full color background need to extend that color beyond the cut lines.

If you’re doing a sheet full of stickers like mine at the top, there’s generally a gap requirement that all items have to be at least .25” away from each other. The best way is to make a circle that small and run it inbetween the edges of your design (that includes the width of the minimum border).

Some of those requirements are here below.

  1. We are desgining physical objects.
    These objects are going to have actual dimensions, so instead of working in pixels, you will want to select the right unit (Inches or Millimeters) depending on where you’re getting these made.
  2. If you’re curious about what the common settings are, check with the printer or search online.
  3. You must eliminate things like Overlay/Blend Modes and gradients
  4. These type of effects aren’t really possible to achieve consistently for mass production unless your printing company says that it’s possible. You might be able to get clever how you represent that with your sticker, but know that you might have to rasterize the image beforehand or you would have to bake that into the vector or psd
  5. Your color profile should be in Pantone or CMYK
    Usually, your printer can work on this with you with your proof, but knowing right off the bat which pantone color or CMYK setting you want your color to be will help you save time and get quicker to production.
  6. If you’re wondering what color profile you’re already in, you might be able to see at the top of your document like in Adobe Illustrator. It has the file name and then the profile of color being used.

  1. For those who have no idea what a pantone color is you can check out this converter here (for RGB, HSL, etc) or this guide to pantone.
  2. My friend Manuel in the Compass of Design community also reminded me that the colors panel in your adobe programs also allows you to use “Spot Colors” which you can see more about here in this guide.

Make sure you’re outlining complex shapes and fonts. It would suck for something to shift or render differently when the printer opens the file to load into their workspace.

With StickerMule, you can have several options on how your designs are cut. I used both methods here, but here’s the difference between Kiss Cut and Die Cut

And here’s a smaller print shop’s video on how these designs are printed and cut.

A lot of what you pay for is setup: The paper, vinyl, the die or lazer, the settings…

The materials to produce are run later in the process and essentially aren’t as expensive.

The other modifiers to cost are:

I made a run of 150 custom stickers of two designs, and both were about $1.40 per sticker to produce.

The companies that make them:
The companies are spread out all over the place, and there’s a huge amount that are produced through China and Korea, like, a lot. So you should always try to do research with who you want to make them.

Here is just a few big companies available for printing these stickers. There are countless more small shops that do this too.

Double check everything.

Don’t send your file off or approve your design proofs without checking these things

And on top of checking all of that, sometimes the printing company will send their own proof before going to production. Always double check those with the original design. Make sure that you check off the list again there too.

The people that prepare everything are human, and though they are professionals in their field, they make mistakes too sometimes. It’s okay.

You will usually have some time in between to check your proof before it’s sent to production.

For my proofs, though I went through and spaced everything out, I had forgotten the minimum border around it, so everything ended up slightly smaller than I had hoped on the sheet of stickers.

The process took less time than I thought and these came within 8 days. Fast compared to the other orders which took 1–1.5 months to come back to me. (:

How did they turn out?

Awesome. I have several types here from StickerMule:

I would recommend grabbing some stickers if you are doing freelance work or run your own agency just like you would with business cards.

They make a really unique way of having physical memorabilia to working with you and your brand that you can send as a thank you for doing work.

You could also get further into the space for stickers and actually sell them on the market or share with friends.

If you have specific questions about the sticker making process, let me know! I’d be happy to answer any about this process I went through. (:

See you next week!
— Darian Rosebrook, Compass of Design


How do you know what design skills you should focus on?

If this is a question you need an answer to, come join other like-minded designers who are also working at becoming masters of their craft.

Every week we go over ways to market yourself better by improving your design skills, your personal brand, and other topics to further develop as a great designer.

Tap either picture to get started investing in your design skills (:

Tap on either picture to get started at compassofdesign.com

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.

Darian Rosebrook

Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.

Compass of Design

Some of the best design articles written by members of the Compass of Design Community to help you strengthen your skills in design, business/freelance, and marketing yourself.

Let's Get in Contact

* All Fields Required

Thank you!

I'll review the responses here and respond to you as soon as I can. Thanks!