Product packaging is somewhat of a complicated art. When someone orders an online package and it arrives—like a personalized present in the palm of a buyer’s hands—they might not fully consider all that went into the process of designing, printing, producing, and shipping that package. Every packaging design choice was made thoughtfully and scrupulously to ensure the best package imaginable.
Behind that package design were several prototypes, many improved-upon packaging designs, a detailed list of packaging needs and wants, and a painstakingly well-thought-out plan to make production and shipping run as smoothly as possible. Production dimensions had to be mapped out, artwork preparation had to be perfected to a tee, and several dielines (more on what a dieline is later) along the way had to help improve and stabilize packaging needs. Seriously—it’s a meticulous process.
So, for those looking to know more about the journey that is product packaging, or for companies looking to step up their packaging design process, we present to you: The Comprehensive Guide to Product Packaging.
What is Product Packaging?
Let’s cover the bases first.
Product packaging design refers to crafting the exterior of your packaging. Packaging design aims not only at making a consumer more willing to invest in a product when they see it on your website (or in an advertisement), but also at pleasing them when the actual product is in their hands.
Colours. Palettes. Copywritten text. Fonts. Production dimensions. These are all facets that will significantly impact your packaging design, and in turn, influence whether your consumer base comes back for more.
Your packaging design must inform people what your product and company are about, just as your product itself informs them. If your company has a specific focus on sustainable jewelry, your packaging design should say, in its own special way, “Rings and pendants are what we produce, and sustainability and environmental awareness are what we constantly think about.”
Packaging design matters. Significantly. In fact, as many as 41% of people around the globe say that product packaging matters to their overall buying experience. That’s a pretty gigantic number.
Now, before moving on to the actual packaging design phase, you must hammer out what your packaging needs are.
Figuring Out Your Packaging Needs
Your packaging needs will inform your eventual artwork preparation and packaging prototypes. You must look deep within the ethics of your business and ask yourself an intense series of questions, starting with: Who is my consumer base? What is my product? How can the values in my company be instilled in a packaging design?
Aside from those questions, you must also answer the following:
- What is the product we are packaging? How large or small is it? What production dimensions do we need to figure out beforehand?
- What is our budget? How much can we spend on artwork preparation? How much can we spend on the actual stages of production and shipping?
- How many packages will we need initially? 1,000? 2,000? 5,000? (You should have a rough estimate of total volume.)
- Is our packaging material environmentally friendly? Is it easy to open and close? Are there more box inserts than are needed? Is getting the actual product out of the box simple, or is it more complicated than it should be?
Figuring out your packaging needs means answering all these questions as thoroughly as you can. And doing so will make your initial packaging design easier to develop, and your production and shipping costs easier to calculate.
The Product Informs the Packaging
Production dimensions are nothing to scoff at. You need your product to fit snugly into its package—with minimal waste and optimal space.
When designing your package, consider the production dimensions as much as possible. Think of it as a perfect science. Measure the specific length, width, and depth of your product, then tailor your production dimensions so they encase your product perfectly.
In the long run, this step will save you a lot with production and shipping costs. If you can figure out your production dimensions beforehand, you will not waste money on extra materials and additional prototypes.
We recommend minimizing your production dimensions as much as possible. Smaller packages mean less production, less shipping costs, less wasted materials, and less of a carbon footprint.
Materials, Materials, Materials
Next up in the process of product packaging is selecting the proper materials. Again, look to your packaging needs for help when deciding on materials. Will you be using corrugated boxes (by far one of the most common materials used) for your product packaging? Will your materials be compostable? Recyclable? Returnable? Will they be made of cornstarch or mycelium-based materials? These are all further questions you must answer while working on your packaging design.
Corrugated boxes come in the form of pizza boxes, straight tuck end boxes, book wrap mailers, and much more. Once you’ve stamped down your production dimensions, you can select the appropriate size for your product (if you go the route of corrugated boxes).
Or perhaps corrugated boxes don’t fit into your packaging needs. Maybe you’d prefer something even more eco-friendly, like kraft paper manufactured from recycled materials. There are tons of options that can be catered directly to your packaging needs. Cellulose packaging, mushroom packaging, Green Cell Foam packaging—the materials for your packaging design are seemingly limitless. Here are a few others you might want to consider, depending on your packaging needs:
- Paper bags. These are sleek, cost-effective, lightweight, and environmentally friendly.
- Rigid boxes. While not as cost-effective as corrugated boxes, the packaging design of rigid boxes is perfect for brands that wish to present themselves as luxurious.
- Poly mailers. You can find this sort of bag in a variety of eco-friendly options, including compostable and biodegradable.
- Glassine packaging. This packaging material is great for those who want a transparent option.
The Printing Process
Once you’ve worked out packaging needs, perfected your product dimensions, and finalized the packaging materials you’ll be using, you can move on to the printing process. There’s a lot to know when it comes to printing.
It’s crucial that you first understand the different printing options. There are three main types used in packaging design: digital printing, offset printing, and flexography printing.
Digital printing is a great choice for low-volume product packaging. Turnaround times are often fast. This printing option is fantastic if you’ve opted for corrugated boxes in your packaging design.
Offset printing is ink-based (rather than toner). This is the highest-quality printing option you can go with, as the ink will typically result in the clearest printed images. However, if you are a smaller business with lower-volume production, the costs can be a bit higher than the alternatives.
Finally, there’s flexography printing, which is ideal for high-volume packaging production. Flexography printing is very inexpensive, and the production is incredibly high-speed. It’s also best for simpler packaging designs, as only one or two colours can be printed using this style of printing.
Choosing the best style of printing will go a long way in improving your packaging design. It’s another part of the process that should be tailored specifically to your packaging needs.
A dieline is a basic outline of what your package and production dimensions will look like. Dielines can typically be created on any number of photoshopping programs, like Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator.
In the most basic of terms, a dieline is what your package will look like when it is completely flattened. You’ll see all the production dimensions laid out to the exact millimetre. Dielines are crucial in every sense of the word. Without them, your artwork preparation (the next step) would suffer dramatically, as would your overall packaging design.
Artwork Preparation Goes A Long Way
What catches the eye first? Colour? The boldness or sleekness of a certain font? A unique logo? If the artwork preparation behind your packaging design is as good as it can be, then all these factors should work together in tandem.
Before the prototyping phase of product packaging, artwork preparation goes a long way. Again, you’ll want to revisit your packaging needs. How do you want your brand reflected in the artwork behind your package? How can font and colour show your consumer base what your brand values are?
In the artwork preparation phase, you are essentially painting a picture on your dieline. You are choosing what colours to use and where to use them, where to place your font, and how large and central you want your logo to be. You can tinker with your artwork preparation for as long as you need, but just remember: the art will likely be the first thing your buyer notices. So, make it count.
Ah, prototyping. Now you are rapidly approaching the finish line. A prototype is a mock-up or example of what your exact product packaging will look like. This stage comes after you’ve finished stamping down your packaging needs, selected your materials, found out what style of printing is right for you, and spent a good chunk of time on artwork preparation.
Honestly, we strongly recommend always getting a prototype mock-up of your package. You can get a 3-D mock-up or a physical version sent to you. This way, you can see your finalized packaging design up close, and you can experience the unboxing of your product before anyone else has.
Most importantly, prototypes allow you to see if you’ve made any packaging design mistakes. Are there any spelling errors? Is the font too large or small? Do the colours you’ve selected look worse in person than they did on your computer? This is your final chance to change anything during the process of product packaging.
Special Finishes for Your Product Packaging
We’d be remiss not to mention some final flourishes you can focus on with product packaging. While this step actually comes earlier in the process of packaging design, now is a good time to mention it.
Foil stamping, also known more traditionally as hot stamping, can add a final punch to your packaging design. You can also opt for a UV spot varnish, which is a high-gloss print that can make a colour really shine. Or maybe you want to experiment with embossing (the process of raising text or images on your package for flair and depth), debossing (the opposite process, but with the same dramatic effect), or window patching (quite literally adding a window to your package so customers can see what’s inside of it before opening). Adding tiny details like these to your packaging design can go a long way.
Production & Shipping Costs
We had to have this conversation eventually. Once all the fun of product packaging design has finished, you will have to calculate production and shipping costs. There are several key indicators you will have to observe while calculating these costs.
First, the hard costs. The size of your packaging, the materials used, and the sheer amount of materials will all affect production costs. Do your due diligence here and get quotes for materials along the way. Paper bags and poly mailers vary in price. So too do compostable packaging and Green Cell Foam packaging. Remember, in the case of materials, small will be better for costs. The same goes for shipping. Smaller packages will require fewer shipping costs, both to and from warehouses and fulfillment centres, and directly to your customer base. Whether you ship via ground or air also impacts the price. So, it’s important to consider how you might avoid air shipping (for example: by selecting knock-down boxes over set-up boxes).
As for the graphic design aspect of your product packaging, recognize that flashier will likely mean higher production costs. But packaging designs do not always have to be flashy. Sometimes, minimal is best—especially depending on your clientele.
Finally, consider how you will store your unused product packages. Do you have room in a facility for thousands of product packages? Or will you have to rent out additional space?
Product packaging and packaging design can seem at times like incredibly complex concepts. But the truth is, businesses just need a little help along the way. That’s exactly why we designed this Comprehensive Guide to Product Packaging.
The journey to creating your ideal packaging design begins with selecting your packaging needs. Know your brand, know your product, and know your consumer base. After that, you can select product dimensions, the materials you wish to use, and what style of printing suits you. Keep production costs in mind during these stages.
Next, you’ll move on to the finalizing stages, which include laying out dielines, perfecting your artwork preparation, and prototyping. Just like that, you’ll have the ideal packaging design all set up for your brand.
If you’re ever confused about the process of product packaging, just return to this article and let it serve as your guide.