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Print design

#Packaging design

A Guide to Product Packaging
Print design

#Packaging design

The Ultimate Guide to Product Packaging Design

July 15, 2021
12 MINUTES
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Danica Popovic

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With our ultimate guide to product packaging design, you’ll learn all the tips and tricks to make your packaging design a success.

Can you judge a book by its cover or a product by its packaging?

Well, the verdict says yes, as this US nationwide study suggests 67% of people have reported their purchase decisions were influenced by packaging.

However, there’s a lot more to this type of print design than meets the eye. Successful packaging design is eye-catching, sustainable and helps you promote your brand’s mission, vision and values.

Here’s everything you need to know about creating effective packaging for your products.

Why is packaging important?

Before we get into the ins and outs of design, it’s important to understand exactly why taking a strategic approach in package design is much better than choosing whatever is easiest or cheapest.

Here are the main reasons.

It protects your products

It’s kind of a no-brainer, but then again think of all the times you got a damaged item because the packaging solution didn’t protect the contents adequately. On the other hand, good packaging also helps to preserve contents, which is especially important in the food industry. You need to choose packaging materials carefully to ensure the product reaches the end customer in its intended form.

It builds a brand image

Packaging is a key step in building brand awareness. We’ve used the example countless times but just think of Coca-Cola. Whether it’s the iconic bottle, or can design which, admittedly changed over the years, people can always spot a Coke from thousands of other (similar) drinks. The red color, the perfect font, Coke sticks to the same design principles which is why their brand is so recognizable today.

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It promotes your values

Sustainability is a huge part of the public discourse as of late, and people are increasingly aware of this topic. For example, a recent study found that an overwhelming majority of consumers (74%) are willing to pay more for sustainable product packaging.

Reducing plastic waste and making your packaging process eco-friendly are an investment into the future of us all. But on a more prosaic and, well, profitable level this can also mean more customers for your business.

Even more importantly, 56% of customers are loyal to brands with shared values. So a sustainable approach to packaging doesn’t just mean raising profits in the short term. It means connecting with your customers and building long-lasting relationships.

Questions to answer before designing your packages

At the stage where you’re thinking about packaging design, you should already have developed a brand identity. That means answering some key questions about your brand’s mission, vision and values, understanding who you’re catering to and why.

It goes without saying that you should already have a logo and have chosen a color palette that best represents your brand.

So, when it comes to the packaging itself, here are some of the key questions you need to answer.

What type of products are you selling?

Are they products for everyday use like food, or luxury items? What form do they come in (e.g. liquid or solid)?

These questions will help you understand how, when and why people might be influenced by your packaging design.

Who is buying your product?

A buyer persona is the personification of your ideal customer. Ideally, each (set of) product(s) will have its own corresponding buyer persona.

How and where are people buying your product?

An item found in a supermarket will have a tough competition to beat when it comes to catching people’s attention. On the other hand, a product bought exclusively online should retain a strong sense of brand identity and probably focus on graphic design over materials the packaging is made from.

The packaging design process

There are some graphic design assets you can attempt to DIY, such as social media posts. But when it comes to custom packaging, you should definitely hire a professional.

This is because packaging design involves a lot of technical considerations that you might not be aware of, or won’t be able to optimize for your particular.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the packaging design process in 4 steps.

Understanding package design layers and package types

Choosing the best type of packaging in some cases is a pretty easy choice (e.g. bottle over box). However, thinking outside the box can sometimes help you create unique designs and help you stand out from the rest. For example, check out this juice container that’s box-shaped instead of the classic bottle.

square bottle juice package.png By Samridihi Sharma

It still serves its purpose perfectly thanks to the screw-on cap at the top but gives the well-known design a modern twist.

Of course, there are many types of package materials including natural materials like wicker or glass. As well as simple solutions like nets, film covered trays or plastic punnets.

However, if you want to create a more aesthetically pleasing solution, these are some common package types that allow you to print your designs:

graphic-resized.jpg

  • Paperboard: most commonly used lightweight cardboard that’s strong; used for packaging milk, cosmetics, frozen food and more. It can be used as in the kraft variant (or CUK - coated unbleached kraft), for a more natural and environmentally-friendly packaging option.
  • Corrugated boxes: in everyday language, this is what we’d call a cardboard box; they’re sturdier and often used for shipping, storage or shoe boxes.
  • Plastic boxes: contrary to popular opinion plastic packaging itself is not an environmentally unfriendly option, so long as you use recycled plastic and create containers suitable for multiple uses.
  • Rigid boxes: used to package luxury products such as iPhones or watches; they are actually made of cardboard that’s 4 times thicker than regular paperboard, so these boxes are much more durable, but also expensive.
  • Chipboard packaging: a cost-effective option, chipboard is essentially reclaimed paper stock; it’s lightweight and used for products like cereal, tissue paper or crackers. If you have heavy products or need to store products in a humid environment, note that the chipboard will easily weaken, lose form and color.
  • Poly bag: made of thin plastic film, they are used mostly for wrapping food items or clothes.
  • Foil seal bag or stand up pouch: used mainly for packing, peanuts coffee, teas or any other product where it’s important to keep the moisture out to increase shelf life.

In addition to these package types, it’s also important to note that packaging comes in 3 layers: outer layer (what customers see), inner layer (e.g. a bag of cereal inside the box) and product packaging (just one layer, e.g. a candy bar wrapper, bottle or can).

Printing techniques

Choosing the material you want to use is important, as it may also have an impact on the printing process. You might need to choose what printer you want to/can go for and then see what type of printing they offer before you settle on the final design.

Here are a few of the most commonly used printing techniques in packaging design:

  • Offset printing or lithography: allows for high color contrasts and retail print quality; most commonly used in cardboard boxes for food, cosmetic boxes, etc.
  • Digital printing: similar to offset, however not suitable for bulk printing, as it’s more expensive; it’s also used for folding cartons and labels, as well as flexible film packaging and corrugated boxes.
  • Flexo printing: provides lower quality results, but the turnaround time is fast and is also less expensive; it can also be used for stand-up pouches.

In addition to the size requirements for every package type, you’d also need to know how to optimize color modes and what type of materials you want to use for your packaging.

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Package design

Finally, it’s time to examine how to create the look of your packaging. With a brand guide in place, you’ll already have an idea of what colors, fonts and graphical elements you may want to include so that you can maintain a strong brand image.

Of course, it goes without saying that any package design should include your logo. Here again, a brand guide will help you optimize your logo for different purposes (e.g. different sizes, scales, color variations or how it looks on a different background).

For example, we don’t allow the use of our logo on busy backgrounds, which may be a real challenge with package designs, so you’ll need to define a set of guidelines to make sure your logo is still visible.

how to use logo.png

Next, make sure that the colors you want to use are optimized for printing purposes, or that you’re using the CMYK color mode (instead of the digital RGB).

A final point here that may not be extensively covered in your brand guide is the use of photos. Whether or not you decide to use photos and what kind of photos should be a careful and informed decision.

If you have a luxury product, then a product photo might take away some of the mystery and excitement of a simple branded box (think about brands like Tiffany’s, Hermes or Rolex).

rolex packaging.png Watchmaster

On the other hand,if product design is an important feature of your brand, then the package should include an appealing product photo, such is the case with iPhones.

Another example is the food industry, although in recent years people are more aware of the retouching of photos and photorealistic illustrations, which usually don’t match the reality of what’s inside.

In that sense a more modern approach might be using illustrations paired with a “sneak peak” of the product itself if possible as a way of avoiding misleading customers but also creating packaging that’s appealing and catches the eye. Of course, this might be easy with intricate cupcakes and other bakery products, but what if the product simply doesn’t have the most attractive look?

Well, good design can always find a way around it. Something to learn from is this very creative dried fruits packaging that incorporates the product into the overall design. Instead of using huge letters to write “natural” or “organic” this design conveys the message perfectly in a visual manner. Moreover, the idea is that you can stack multiple cans on top of each other to create a fun experience for yourself, and become like a squirrel looking for snacks in the woods.

nuts packaging 1.png

nuts packaging 2 (3).jpg By Pchak

Information architecture

Information architecture is an important part of user experience designs, and concerns itself with the way information is organized and presented in the best interest of the user.

Information architecture

Information architecture is an important part of user experience designs, and concerns itself with the way information is organized and presented in the best interest of the user.

For food, it’s imperative to list all the ingredients and possible allergy hazards as well as the expiration date or use-by date. It goes without saying that these pieces of information need to be legible and easy to find, however, this is not the first thing, usually, that users want to know about a product.

They will of course remember the brand or tagline, and if your product has a specific feature you want to highlight, this should come higher in the information architecture hierarchy. For beauty and makeup products this might be the fact that they are “organic” or “cruelty-free, while for technology it might be a specific feature like the quality of the camera or processing speed.

What makes a successful product packaging?

If you’ve already gone through the packaging design process and know about the different printing techniques and specifications, you might be wondering how to improve your package design?

Well, here are the 4 golden rules of good packaging:

Simplicity

If you’re excited about your product, you might be tempted to put excessive information on the packaging: your brand’s origin story, information about the production process, an elaborate copy provided by your marketing team.

The result could be a busy, confusing packaging concept that people will avoid. Simplicity is a crucial element of effective package design and also good information architecture.

Originality

Remember that originality comes in many shapes and sizes. A bold approach might mean intricate designs with beautiful details and illustrations, but it can easily mean simple kraft paper (if the industry is overcrowded with colorful designs).

Research into market competitors is a critical part of the design process, but make sure that your package designer of choice is bringing something new and fresh to the picture.

Shelf impact

Consumer goods of a wider use usually have the toughest competition to beat: walk into any supermarket, and you’ll notice that each product can be found in several brands.

Not only does your product packaging need to be different, but it also needs to stand out: whether it’s on an actual supermarket shelf or online store. A successful package design will help you get noticed. Again, this can be a colorful box or a catchy tagline that is featured prominently on your packaging.

Shelf impact also refers to the fact that your product rarely (or never) stands alone on a shelf. Effective package design means that as a group of products, your packaging materials will still get noticed.

Relevance

No matter how beautiful, original, or striking your design is—if it doesn’t relate to what’s beyond that label or package, it will fail to generate loyal customers in the long term. Perhaps ironically, this is even more important in e-commerce. If something looks like a bar of soap and is actually chocolate, people might be more reluctant to buy it online (in a supermarket, at least they will have found it in the food aisle).

Of course, it’s the packaging designer’s job to make your product look as good as possible. But if they try to pitch a design concept that’s totally different from reality, you need to intervene.

As designers, marketers, and company owners, we all have a responsibility to the customer (after all, we’re also someone’s customers). Use package design to lure customers in and then communicate clearly what they should expect.

Check out what you can create with ManyPixels!

Check out what you can
create with ManyPixels!

Check out what you can create with
ManyPixels!

Download our design library to see our latests creations: illustrations, brand guides, ads, logos and much more!

Download our design library to see our latests
creations: illustrations, brand guides, ads, logos
and much more!

Download our design library to see our latests creations: illustrations, brand guides, ads, logos and much more!

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Danica Popovic

July 15, 2021

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.