The Life of a (Craft) Beer Can

Starting in 2010 more and more small craft breweries began to follow the footsteps of the big guys like New Belgium Brewing and Oskar Blues Brewery (their Dale’s Pale Ale is the first ever canned craft beer) and began moving towards canning versus bottling. In 2008 and reported around 80 U.S. craft breweries were canning or contract canning at least one of their beers. If one were to visit today you’ll find that their database hosts 602 beers, from 202 breweries, across 46 states at the time of this post.

Canning has caught on amongst large and small breweries alike over the past few years for a number of reasons such as:

  • Cans are cheaper for breweries to ship and they don’t break and cause waste like bottles.
  • Cans are easier to take with you while doing outdoor activities such as camping trips, hiking, fishing, rafting, etc.
  • Most importantly cans lock in the flavor of the beer even better than dark glass bottles as no light can penetrate them and a can seal is tighter than a bottle cap.
  • Finally, it’s more environmentally friendly as cans are easier to recycle.

Even with all these benefits it took a skeptical industry quite a long time to give into the can. Now it’s all the rage and in addition to breweries canning the hard cider industry is jumping into the game too.

All this is great for the craft beer industry but this still begs the question, how does a brewery make the jump to canning their beer and what are the steps needed to make the plunge.

Yes, there is purchasing all the canning line equipment and actually canning but first and foremost is getting your cans designed and produced. We’re familiar with this process and believe there are 6 steps involved in producing a craft beer can. These steps are as follows:

  • Ideation/Strategy
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Digital Design
  • File Separations
  • Drawdowns & Final Proofs
  • Production


During this initial phase of the project we meet with our clients to discuss the essence of the brand, the market position they’vestaked out, who their consumers are, the tone of the brand, the look and feel their brand has and also any key messaging that exists. We also like to hear the back story of the brand, how it began, what the people who work for the companies passions are, etc. Inspiration can be found anywhere and sometimes this is the best place to find it. In some cases none of these things exist and we start from scratch to help the client build a strong brand strategy and position that will differentiate them within the market. This ideation phase helps set the tone for the entire project. It’s the basis for what the final can designs will look like. In order to get the correct look, feel, and tone for the brand and its customers, we must work together closely to get this right and start off on the right foot.

Rapid Prototyping

This is the time to keep the layouts rough in sketch form and keep the ideas big. A computer comp can polish an idea to a fine finish, but it can make it harder to see if we have a good or bad idea (or layout). Rapid prototyping is an efficient way to get through lots of ideas fast. It allows our clients to get in on the creative process early. The collaborative nature of rapid prototyping gives us more immediate and direct client feedback. We can see what works and what doesn’t work sooner rather than later without investing a large amount of time into a particular direction.

Digital Design

In this phase we bring the design to life by giving it depth and texture on the computer. We also experiment with colors, design elements and imagery. In this phase we also layout the design according to the can producer’sspecifications within their templates. Several can mock ups are laid out and presented to clients for review and feedback at this point in the process. We go back and forth to tweak and make changes to get to the final approved artwork.

Final File Preparation

After final designs have been approved by the client we pass them along to a vendor that has over 25 years of experience in developing and preparing art for application onto aluminum cans. They pioneered some of the first usage of screen and wet on wet builds that are still in use today, while maintaining the highest level of printability and reproducibility during press time. They work with some of the largest beverage producers in the world and all of the major can manufacturers on high-end projects ranging from beer and soda to the growing energy drink and natural foods markets.

Drawdowns & Final Proofs

Once final file preparation is completed and signed off on by the client, files are passed along to the can producer that has been selected. Once this happens we work closely with the client, producer, and their graphics department to obtain color drawdowns (PMS swatches on aluminum) to select the final colors to be used. This is an extremely important process to work through, as colors look different when printed on aluminum than they do on paper and even a computer screen. We also work with the client, producer and their graphics department to approve the final artwork proof before production.


It is highly recommended that the client and designer who worked on the can artwork attend the initial production run, which usually happens at the plant that is geographically closest to your location. These representatives are charged with and should be authorized to approve all aspects of this initial run. If the client and or designer are unable to attend the production run a waiver must usually be signed and sent to the Graphics Manager for the project. A pre-production meeting also takes place to establish and understand the client’s goals and expectations. A plant representative of Production and Quality, as well as an ink company representative and the client will be present in the meeting.

And there ya have it. Six steps to successfully designing and producing a craft beer can that’ll be ready for canning and retail distribution.

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