TTB Public Guidance

September 5, 2017
TTB G 2017-2

Personalized Labels

What does this guidance cover?

This guidance document supersedes TTB G 2011-5, but does not substantially change the underlying policy. This document clarifies the process for applicants seeking label approval to receive permission from TTB to make certain changes in order to personalize labels without having to resubmit the labels for TTB approval.

To whom does this guidance apply?

This guidance applies to alcohol beverage industry members, including importers, bottlers, and occasionally wholesalers, who submit applications for approval of labels that will be personalized for customers.

What is a certificate of label approval (COLA)?

A COLA is a certificate issued on TTB Form 5100.31 that authorizes the bottling of wine, distilled spirits, or malt beverages, or the removal of bottled wine, distilled spirits, or malt beverages from customs custody for introduction into commerce, as long as the product bears labels identical to the labels appearing on the face of the certificate, or labels with changes authorized by TTB on the certificate or otherwise.

TTB receives COLA applications from industry members either on paper (TTB F 5100.31) or electronically through COLAs Online. TTB reviews the application and will issue a COLA if the label and application comply with the applicable regulations.

In case changes to the label are required, applicants for label approval are encouraged to not print labels until they receive a COLA.

What is a personalized label?

A personalized label is an alcohol beverage label that meets the minimum mandatory label requirements and is customized for customers who want to have a special label appear on the container. These labels may contain a personal message, picture, or other artwork that is specific to the consumer who is purchasing the product. This information applies regardless of the material used or the manner in which it is applied to the container, i.e., paper labels, etched labels, etc.

For example, a winery may create a personalized label for a bottle of wine that individual or corporate customers will use to commemorate a special event, such as an anniversary, a wedding, or a grand opening. For this reason, the names and dates on a personalized label may change based on the event that is being recognized (for example, "Happy 50th Birthday, Mary" or "Congratulations to Jim and Sue on their 40th wedding anniversary, April 25, 2011").

Personalized labels should not be confused with customized private labels created for purchasers other than the ultimate consumer. Such private labels may bear a brand name or artwork that is specific to the purchaser, such as a retail store or restaurant, who is buying the product in order to sell it to consumers.

This guidance document does not apply to private labels, which are subject to the same requirements as other labels. In addition, this guidance does not apply to changes to approved labels that are made after the container bearing the label has been removed from the bottling premises or from customs custody and shipped in interstate commerce. Such changes are generally prohibited, subject to limited exceptions set forth in the regulations at 27 CFR 4.30(b), 5.41 and 7.41.

What is TTB's legal authority?

TTB's jurisdiction over the labeling of distilled spirits, wine, and malt beverages comes from the labeling provisions of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) at 27 U.S.C. 205(e) and TTB regulations found in Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations (27 CFR parts 4, 5 and 7). The statute and regulations generally require applicants to obtain approved COLAs prior to bottling, or removing from customs custody in bottles, alcohol beverages for introduction in interstate commerce. Furthermore, alcohol beverage containers are required to bear a health warning statement in accordance with the provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act of 1988 (27 U.S.C. 215) and the regulations in 27 CFR part 16. Finally, distilled spirits, wine and beer containers must comply with the labeling and marking requirements of Chapter 51 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and the implementing regulations in 27 CFR parts 19, 24, 25, and 27.

What is TTB's policy regarding use of personalized labels?

The COLA covers only labels as displayed on the COLA form as well as allowable revisions as outlined in Section V of that form. However, for label approvals that include permission to change personalizing information, the holder of the approved COLA may make adjustments to items such as salutations, graphics, artwork, names, and event dates on the label without applying for a new COLA. Although TTB offers this option, it is not compulsory. Submitters have the option to obtain individual COLAs for each personalized label.

How do I apply for approval to make changes to a personalized label?

Applicants who wish to obtain approval from TTB to make changes to personalized labels must indicate this intention on their application for label approval. The applicant must submit a template for the personalized label with the application for label approval, and must note on the application a description of the specific personalized information that may change.

    • Initially, applicants should apply for a COLA that will act as a template label and will include a label or labels that, at a minimum contains:
      • All mandatory information required by the applicable regulations; and
      • Any other information on the label that is not part of the personalized label.
    • The application must contain the following information in item 15 of the paper application, or in the special wording section found in Part II/Step 2 in COLAs Online:
      • A description of the specific personalized information and/or graphics that will change; and/or
      • If a blank area is present on the label, the information that will appear in that specific area; and/or
      • If the label is etched, the information that will be etched on the bottle.

This information must be part of the approved COLA and so must appear in the special wording section of the application and not as a Note to Specialist or as an attachment.

    • Example Wording

"The graphics, salutations, dates, and artwork presented on this label may be changed to personalize this label."

    • TTB Qualification

The following qualification is included by TTB upon approval of a COLA for personalized labels:

"The approval of this COLA covers this label and any additions, deletions or changes in graphics, salutations, congratulatory dates and names, and artwork to personalize the label as indicated on the application. This approval to change the personalizing information does not permit the addition of any information that discusses either the alcohol beverage or characteristics of the alcohol beverage or that is inconsistent with or in violation of the provisions of 27 CFR parts 4, 5, 7 or 16, as applicable, or any other applicable provision of law or regulations."

    • Changes Authorized by TTB Qualification

As previously stated, a COLA generally covers only labels that are identical to the label submitted with the form, as well as allowable revisions as outlined in Section V on TTB F 5100.31. When you receive approval for a personalized label, with the qualification shown above, you may also make changes consistent with the qualification. The personalized label qualification does not authorize you to change any of the mandatory label information, such as the brand name or the class or type designation, when you personalize a label.

What is prohibited from appearing on a personalized label?

Personalized information and artwork on labels are subject to all the same regulations, including the regulations regarding prohibited practices, as information and graphics on non-personalized labels. You may not add personalized statements, graphics, pictorial or emblematic representations that are not allowed on labels that undergo TTB review.

Generally labels may not contain false or misleading information, including misleading health claims, or other prohibited items as specified in 27 CFR 4.39, 5.121-5.130, and 7.121-7.130.

The personalized information on a label must not conflict with or qualify the mandatory information appearing on the label. Furthermore, labeling information that in any way discusses the alcohol beverage product or its characteristics is not considered personalized information, and thus the addition of this type of information is not authorized by the TTB qualification.

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Page last reviewed: September 5, 2017
Page last updated: September 23, 2022
Maintained by: Alcohol Labeling and Formulation Division, Regulations and Rulings Division