Surprise! Our VP – Production Makes Prediction for 2019.

I count us really lucky here at Universal. Our design team has the benefit of being under the same roof as the production plant and has direct access to the production team & our VP Production, Richard Christianson. We can walk out to the production floor and chat about print design and screen-printing machines with him anytime. Okay, not anytime since he is usually found working hands on with a machine, innovating new production techniques or juggling any number of other manufacturing challenges.
So when there was a lull in the action I asked Richard -aka RC- to do a short interview. As 2018 comes to a close, I wanted to hear his prediction for our top technology or machine for 2019.

Ameliaup: How long have you been managing the Production Team at Universal?
RC: In a couple of different capacities, 30.8 yrs

Ameliaup: Wow, you must’ve seen it all! I have a million questions about what it was like here in the eighties but that can be for another post.
So in your expert opinion, which is the top new technology or printing machine we acquired this year?
RC: The new to us Fermac R100!

Ameliaup: How do you predict this machine will benefit our customers into 2019, and beyond? 
RC: Greater flexibility with our printing schedule by having another machine that will allow for faster overall turnaround times. It’s also able to print 8 colors which adds another 2 colors to our existing maximum of 6.

RC being interviewed

Ameliaup: What is the top challenge you see in the new machine?
RC: Having enough highly skilled operators dedicated to this specific machine. It takes lots of knowledge and experience to keep all our machines running smoothly, especially considering the added technical challenge of working with 8 screens at once.

Ameliaup: In your nearly 32 years with UP, what do you find is the best part of your day here?
RC: There are two bests. When a customer is happy they partnered with us and when our output is at the highest level it can be.

Ameliaup: Any closing thoughts?
RC: Every day is a challenge, just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new happens. It could be a customer request for something we’ve never tried before or even our evolving operational needs.

Really nothing surprises me anymore, maybe we can do it, sometimes we can’t, but we at least have to try. I think 99.9% of the time we make our customers happy and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Calling All Doodlers

Over our 30+ years of putting paint on bottles, our art team has seen and helped execute thousands of different designs for the beer, wine and spirit industries. You read that correctly. Thousands.

The art comes in to us from everywhere and in many forms. One day we’re gathering around a perfectly polished agency submission and the next we’re pooling our inner detectives to decipher a napkin doodle. In all cases, design requests go through our creative team, a little design agency right in house and at your service. The team is made up of designers that can take that napkin sketch, look past the water stains and create a design that translates into a stunning printed bottle.

The complement to great design is perfect execution- and do we ever love pushing our production capabilities to perfection! Led by your very own appointed designer, we meet weekly with our creative and production teams and brainstorm on your behalf. We look at all angles of the package, starting with the bottle itself. We examine it, identifying any areas of print limitation or even better, areas of print opportunity. Fun fact: It’s at one of these meetings we discovered we can print one and half times around a bottle.

Bottle with screen print 1.5 times around

We also look at paint and specialty treatments that will benefit the design and if we can’t do it in house, we partner with suppliers to create custom paints and finishes.

We’re passionate about design and getting it right, we’ll work and rework concepts until they’re production ready -and keep you involved at every stage. It’s all part of our collaborative approach that results in amazing printed glass.
Even if it’s a design that starts as a simple scratch drawing on a beer coaster.

Connect with us and we’ll put you in touch with your very own in house design expert.

Put Your Coat On!
3 Innovative Color Coatings to Elevate your Glass Packaging

I love this time of year. Longer shadows, saturated skies, orange leaves and a crispness in the air. It’s also the time of year when back in the 80’s my Mom would start shouting “put your coat on, it’s cold outside!”. She didn’t realize how uncool I thought coats were, literally. So uncool.

I’ve grown up and recognized that Mom was onto something, and I’m not talking about the high waisted jean that we all know and love. I came to the realization coats don’t have to be boring or purely functional. They can be chic, colorful or classic. The same can be said for the coatings we provide at Universal. Coatings can really elevate a glass bottle and give it that extra something that makes it, well, cool.

Here are the top 3 coatings that should be hitting runways next year. And by runway, I mean your glass container.

  1. Satin Black Coating- this coats your bottle like that black suede coat that you’ve worn a thousand times and refuse to let go. Super soft and touchable. Its matte finish makes your bottle a perfect canvas for glossy or brightly colored screen print.
  2. Gloss Black Coating – this is the biker version of that black jacket. It coats the bottle black with a subtle sheen but is still tough and durable. For real impact, add screen print over top in paints reminiscent of studs and buckles—think metallic silver or brass.
  3. Metallic and Pearlescent Coatings – with metallic colors staying fashionable into 2019, our coatings and paints are always on trend. Try your bottle coated in a pearl color. Then overprint it with any ceramic paint, I personally love screen print in metallic teal for a peacock feather feel.

So put your coat on and give us a call–we’ll discuss how to make your bottle fashion forward using the latest coatings and innovations in screen print.

Featured Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Interview with a Screen Legend

I recently had the privilege of interviewing our Screen Supervisor, Liam McConkey. Liam oversees all aspects of the screen making process at Universal Packaging. It’s a technical craft where Liam is an expert and- like all departments at Universal- he’s supported by a super skilled team.

Picture this: every day, anywhere from 15 to 100+ art files funnel from our art team, to the screen room and then out to the production floor. At every step, details and quality must be scrutinized before moving to the next.

So I had to know what happens after the files leave the art department and make their “pit stop” in the screen room. I invited Liam to sit and discuss screens with me.

Ameliaup: What is used to make a screen?

Liam: Stainless steel mesh, metal ends and plastic sides to clip onto the frame, nuts and bolts and washers, film emulsion, art positives and ultraviolet light.

Ameliaup: How long does it take to make a screen out of the art files?

Liam: A single screen from start to finish takes around 2 hours to make, but we make screens in batches, so 3 screens wouldn’t take 6 hours to make, they would collectively take about 2 hours because they’re all made at the same time.

Ameliaup: So “pit stop” was a good description. There’s lots of moving parts and it all has to be turned around quickly and at the highest quality.

Liam: You could say that. Emphasis on the quality part.

Ameliaup: Is it the same as making screens for T-shirts?

Liam: The materials used are different, but the principle is basically the same. I have silk-screened t-shirts in the past and it uses all the same steps.

Ameliaup: Do you have to go to school to be a screen technician?

Liam: No. But it’s really important that you know how to spell Gewürztraminer.

Ameliaup: Why can’t screen meshes be saved and reused?

Liam: Mesh is very delicate and once the decorators are done using the screens they look like they’ve been put through the wringer.

Liam inspects a screen
Liam Inspects a Screen

Ameliaup: Meshes are different sizes. Can you describe the meshes and how they affect the printed designs?

Liam: We have three main mesh grades, measured as threads per square inch. 180 mesh has the largest holes and lays down the most paint so it is good for a top layer and to make the paint stand out on the glass better. The second and most common is 230 mesh. It is middle of the road, it provides good paint coverage but still allows design details to come through. 400 mesh is our finest and most fragile. This mesh is best for picking up high resolution details like photographic halftones. Also, precious metals paints, which are more viscous, are best printed using this mesh.

Ameliaup: So if you were a screen mesh, which one would you be?

Liam: 400 mesh. I like to pay attention to the small things in life. I’m also very fragile.


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Tolerance 101: 3 Small Design Considerations for Big Screen Print Success

If someone were to ask you what tolerance means to you, how would you describe it? I believe tolerance is being able to accept people’s differences of opinion to work toward social harmony.

What does tolerance have to do with screen printing you ask. Well there exists a tolerance of another type. It’s less warm and fuzzy but still important. It’s technical tolerance and it can affect your screen-printed label.

Here’s the breakdown. Our printing machines have an allowable tolerance in screen (or color) shift. It’s 1mm. This means our screen-printing machines can reliably line up the colors to within 1mm of each other. However, get closer than 1mm and things get less predictable. It sounds minimal but this tiny shift can have noticeable effects on your screen-printed design. It can mean the difference between your bottle becoming a collectable work of art or just another recycled container.

I’ve identified 3 common ways tolerance can affect your screen print:

    1. Each paint color in your design requires its own screen and screens can be moody. They can be up one moment and down the next. If your design is using one color/screen, the shift would be imperceptible. As the color/screen count goes up the potential for shift increases quickly.
      The same tolerance holds true for shift along the horizon. Screens can get cozy or distance themselves side to side as well.
      3 brightly colored circles inside each other and shifted 1mm
    2. Some screen print paints don’t play well with each other. Especially shiny precious metal paints vs. regular ceramic paints.
      While they are beautiful to look at, these brilliant, 22kt prima donnas will chemically react with other paints that they touch – and then they will tarnish. This is where your shift tolerance knowledge is important and having space between the precious metal portion of your design from other colors is crucial. Precious metal paints also tend to be more liquid (they spread around easily) so more reason to give them room to breathe. Ah, tolerance.
      The word Brilliant! and shiny gold with shift showing tarnish
    3. With an apparent comeback of outlined fonts, we receive a lot of designs with type containing more than one color. Blurry font alert!
      Here’s how it happens: The outline and font are different colors (remember, different colors mean different screens). The screens shift 1mm toward or away from each other and it throws the outline off. At best the font reads as blurry, at worst it makes the viewer woozy. To get around this, it’s best practice to forego the outline. One color, no shift.

Check back often for tips on preparing your label design for screen print.

Staring Contest – Open Your Eyes to Screen Printing Color Opportunities

We creative types have all been there. You’re super excited to start designing the most beautiful wine label the world has ever. seen.

And then you feel it’s eyes on you, your blank canvas in the form of a bare glass bottle.

You’ve also made the savvy choice to go with screen printing but realize you’re working within a certain number of spot colors. Genius printing decision but is all this making you feel design or color inhibited?

Fear not, you already have your solution- and it’s in that inspiring glass bottle staring back at you.

The Glass.

Deadleaf. Antique Green. Flint.  These aren’t the names of the latest streaming documentary, they are the descriptors of glass bottle colors and they are your color friend.

Let’s take Deadleaf glass. It is yellow-green in hue, fresh & citrusy and looks amazing with a design overprinted in teal or blue green paints. Add a bright yellow or white paint and your design has an elevated aesthetic.

On the other hand, Antique Green glass is a lovely lush forest green color, rich and warm. Now let’s follow this bottle down the complementary color trail. Here you’ll find the paint colors that would overprint beautifully are pinks, purples and reds. Talk about making your design stand up and shout, “check out my use of the color wheel!”.

In less art nerd terms, your bottle will be unique among the sea of white paper labels that just hide the glass.

deadleaf green bottle with paint overprint
Dead leaf Green Bottle

Antique bottle with complementary color- paint overprint
Antique Green Bottle

The Wine.

Red, white, even orange, we love it. Wine is color . It comes in so many of them it opens up countless color opportunities. It’s the hue created from the wine inside the bottle that can affect your design in a bunch of cool ways. Try screen printing a halftone of 50% cream colored paint on top of a Rosé and you have a lovely warm peach tone. Reduce the paint down to 25% cream and the Rosé shows through more intensely, giving you an even darker nectarine-like hue. You’ve gained two new colors using just one spot color and gradient halftones. Nice work!

A dark Cabernet inside an Antique Green glass bottle looks dark and rich, nearly black. Use this dramatic black bottle for countless options: create your design with paints from the pastel palette, or even a glow paint, and they will jump off this dark bottle. Use the black as a backdrop for halftones, allowing more or less glass to show itself through the paint.

Why not halftone a light blue color onto this black surface? It will reveal increasingly darker hues of blue as the amount of paint over the bottle decreases and reveals more glass. In doing this you’ve created several colors using only one spot color blue.

Same thing for black and white or gray-scale design. Go for it! Half toning a design over the bottle, using white at 0% thru to 100% will give you the gradients you’re after.

Rose wine with cream colored paint, halftones of color
Rosé wine with cream halftones

Glass bottle with overprint of blue halftones
Antique glass with blue halftones

Bottle with screen printed halftones
Antique Bottle with Gray-scale halftones

The Coating.

Now let’s imagine we want to take that Antique Green bottle and give it a cold, après ski look. Also, technically known as a frosted or etched look. No problem! Utilizing a color coating, we can make the bottle frosty, and beyond.

Coatings range from the semi-transparent frosted look all the way up to dark moody colors, like opaque slate and metallic pewter. Lightly coated bottles will allow the product or glass to show through, creating unique colors like beach glass. Now that we’re all excited about coatings, let’s also be mindful of the color contrast of the bottle / the wine with our overprinted screen print design. Enter The Window.

The Window.

A window is created by developing design elements intended to be “knocked out” from the coating, creating a window to the bottle color underneath. For example, our frosty, après ski bottle could have a window, say of a skier, and where the glass shows through would just be a darker version of where the frost is. Almost like the frost has been wiped off in the shape of a skier. The bottle could then be overprinted with blue, yellow or any other spot color(s).

The contrast of a window against the frost can have a subtle impact, but why not try a bolder version and design for a Chardonnay in a clear bottle? Have it lightly coated with a pink color and incorporate a window into the design. Maybe in a pineapple shape? The mix of pink and the gold colored wine will make the bottle appear peachy – except where the pineapple window is. Because there it looks golden yellow, like the wine.

Just like that, you’ve introduced an additional peach color without using up your spot colors-and a fruity and delicious tropical theme is born!

Frosted glass bottle, window
Frosted look bottle with skier shaped window

Sprayed bottle, windows with screen printed overprint
Chardonnay with a light coating of pink and a pineapple window

Simply put, use one or all of these ways to allow the glass or wine color to show through your next screen-printed design.
And congratulations, you have just won the staring contest!

Bottle silhouettes sourced from Freepik.

Make Sure Your Supplier is Complying with Regulations

steveWhen you hire a packaging vendor, you are hoping that your vendor is 100% up-to-speed on all health, environmental and labor issues. Nothing could be more disastrous to your brand or reputation than if you were caught in some type of a “sting” operation put forth by an over-zealous lawyer/regulatory agent who wants to make a name for him/herself. Or perhaps your Purchasing Agent has assumed your vendor was properly following regulations – and they weren’t. It has happened before and it will happen again.

In the world of decorated bottles, there are many different vendors from many different countries. Oversees vendors might not be as diligent, concerned or up-to-speed as to what is and what isn’t acceptable in North America. Think of toxic toothpaste or contaminated baby formula as relatively recent examples. For instance, in North America we have strict regulations such as Proposition 65 which must be adhered to by all companies that sell into the California marketplace. In California, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) administers the Proposition 65 program. OEHHA, which is part of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA), also evaluates all currently available scientific information on substances considered for placement on the Proposition 65 list. As per OEHHA’s website “Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. By providing this information, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to these chemicals. Proposition 65 also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.”

If your company is selling anything into California, it is imperative that you are aware of these regulations or your vendors are. As a customer, it is your right to ask your vendor if the products that they sell to you are “Prop 65 compliant.” If they look at you like you are from Mars then I would strongly suggest that you find another vendor! It is simply not worth the risk to your brand or business if your vendor doesn’t have your back when it comes to government regulations.

On a national scale, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is granted with consumer safety over-sight in the United States. As per their website “CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products.” In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) oversees consumer health and safety regulations.

At Universal Packaging, we make sure we stay on top of all the regulations that could impact our customer’s products. We err on the side of compliance by periodically testing our paints, sprays and glass and by being active members of the SGCD (Society of Glass and Ceramic Decorators). Specifically, we don’t use any lead in any of our inks or sprays. Additionally, our BPA-free paints and sprays are used on many brands, thus removing this as a potential flash-point issue in the future. In the end, our customers know that we are fully versed – and compliant with – all regulations across North America. This allows them to sleep well at night.

The Advantages of Applied Ceramic Labeling

steveIn the world of wine and spirit label design, there are many different options available to the brand owner. Traditionalists will likely stick with glue applied paper labels, while those who are more adventurist might venture into pressure sensitive film labels (PSFL), heat transfer labels or shrink sleeves. However, for the truly visionary package designer or brand-owner, there is another option – applied ceramic labelling (ACL).

According to the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), applied ceramic labelling (also known as silk screening) is “a process where ceramic inks are printed directly onto bottles and then heated to adhere the ink directly to the bottle, creating permanent decoration. ACL graphics can be up to 6 spot colors with potential for 360 degree graphics on the body and/or neck areas.”

So why would a winery, brewery or distillery consider silk screening their bottles vs these other labeling options? Below is a list of 8 advantages associated with silk screening your bottle:


1) The bottle becomes your canvas. Get creative and think outside the box! You can print virtually anywhere on a round bottle. 360 degree wraps, necks and even the shoulders.

2) The ability to stand apart from the rest of the crowd. The vast majority of beverage alcohol labels are confined to a traditionally shaped label on the front and back. With screen printed labels, your label is guaranteed to look different compared to your competitors. Be unique!

3) Enhance your brand imagery with a premium, high-fired screen printed label. Use precious metal gold, platinum or cooper to elevate your brand in your consumer’s eyes. With an ultra-premium design and application, you should be able to charge a higher price point for your brand and generate more profit for you!

4) The best durability in the marketplace. A ceramic label won’t scratch, tear, rip or wrinkle during shipping and handling. As well, you can confidently put your high-fired silk screened bottle in a freezer or a cooler full of ice water and the label will not come off.

5) Production people love screen printed bottles! The bottles arrive and then they get filled – simple as that. No more time (or money) wasted operating/tinkering with a finicky labeling machine. No more hand applied labels! Printing directly on a bottle eliminates labeling issues that are common with tapered or non-round bottles. Production line efficiencies soar with screen printed bottles!

6) Very low set up costs compared to traditional printers. With screen printing, you don’t have to pay for expensive plates and dyes. This makes screen printed bottles particularly cost effective in smaller quantities.

7) The flexibility associated with screen printed labels is outstanding. If you want to tweak your design for your next label run, no problem. If you need to adjust your numbers at the last minute, this usually can be accommodated.

8) Many bottle decorators have no minimum order quantities.

Brand owners and package design firms are faced with many different labeling options. I believe Applied Ceramic Labelling (ACL) is a great option for those that want to really differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Give it a try, even on a small run. I think you and your customers will be very happy with the results.

Creating a bottle design? Give Nicole a call at (541) 980-2124 or visit our website @ and let us help you out.


Hire a Pro!

steveUniversal Packaging is a leading bottle decorator in North America to the wine, spirits, beer and food categories. We have been screen printing, spraying and decaling bottles for 31 years. We see literally hundreds of new bottle designs
every year. We see the success of our clients, and sometime lack of success, and we have learned to connect the dots between bottle design and success.

Most of the bottle designs we see are nothing short of inspirational. Some, however, fall short of excellence and we have learned that those are typically the bottles designed by someone other than a professional. The high-quality and effective designs almost always come from a professional packaging design agency. Here at Universal, we have three in-house designers who are experts at
working with our bottle decoration techniques. Our designers collaborate with your agency professionals to maximize the possibilities and broaden the range of tools
your designer has to work with. All of this is in the name of making your bottle, and your brand, stand out behind the bar and on the shelf.

It is true, professional design firms cost money. For many small or mid-sized wineries, breweries or distilleries, I can understand the allure of having a family member (or friend) design your new label or package. Chances are it won’t cost you very much money and they have a personal interest in your brand. While having them design your package is a very noble gesture, it probably isn’t a wise business decision. This is your brand, your business and probably your livelihood that we are talking about. If your bottle isn’t selected off the shelf, it doesn’t matter how the product inside tastes. My Dad once said to me “you get what you pay for.” This is true when it comes to purchasing a bottle of wine, buying a car or designing your brand and bottle.

Thus, I would strongly encourage all breweries, distilleries and wineries to hire a package design professional. I am confident that you will end up with a far better looking package and a more successful brand. You may have the world’s tastiest beer, vodka or wine. Don’t you think it deserves to be showcased to the world in its best possible light?

What are some of your experiences working with design firms?

Creating a bottle design? Give Nicole a call at (541) 980-2124 or visit our website @ and let us help you out.