Packaging Design Guide: Essential Tips and Techniques
Packaging design is the process of conceptualizing and manufacturing packaging so it’s functional, appealing, and corresponds with the brand’s messaging and aesthetics. It includes designing a unique unboxing experience for customers using branded boxes, tubes, cases, packets, wrapping, and other shipping containers
Imagine you bought a sound system for a budding young artist in your family. You watch them excitedly rip through the wrapping to find an ordinary, unmarked brown box inside. The speakers, instructions, and charger have been haphazardly stuffed into the box with little to no protective packaging. The speakers appear dented, and the instructions are difficult to read from being crinkled during shipping. Disappointing, right?
71% of customers consider packaging design when making purchasing decisions for themselves, and 81% consider packaging design when buying gifts. Your packaging design is one of your customers’ first impressions of your product. It’s an important part of your marketing strategy, and can be the difference between a customer receiving a functioning product and one that has been damaged in shipping.
This article will explain the important details of packaging design and how you can design a creative and unique look for your products.
What is packaging design?
Packaging design is the process of creating aesthetically pleasing and practical containers for a product. This includes working with elements like packaging material, graphics, logos, text, color, and fonts.
For example, your favorite drink comes in a can designed specifically to hold the beverage. But it also conveys important information about the brand, the manufacturing, the expiration date, and the cost. It does all of this while also appealing to a target market! This is what the packaging design process is all about—creating a sturdy and good-looking container that tells the customer all about itself.
Designing appropriate packaging is important for several reasons:
- To protect the product, especially during delivery
- To identify the product contained inside
- To market and communicate your brand identity
- To attract the customer when they first look at your product
- To influence purchasing decisions
Let’s take a look at the different elements that make up packaging design.
The basics of packaging design
As you consider the packaging design for a new product, you should keep in mind some basic design elements.
- Dieline. A dieline is a template that indicates the layout of the package. Visually, it is a set of dotted lines that tell the printer where the package needs to be cut or folded to take its final shape. The trim and perforation lines are made separately and in different colors to avoid confusion.
- RGB vs. CMYK. Both are color spaces used in the design industry. While RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is typically used for digital images, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key) is used for printed materials. For packaging design, you would need to work in the CMYK space to render colors accurately in print.
- Design software. You’ll need to decide which software to use for design work. Most designers use programs like Adobe Illustrator, Canva, Adobe Photoshop, or Inkscape to create 2D artwork in vector format on which dielines can easily be created. If you’d like to render your artwork in a 3D format to see how it will look physically, you can use plug-ins like Esko to render 2D Illustrator files into 3D.
- Printing. Typically, you will offer two printing options—offset or digital. Offset printing is the most common style of printing for commercial bulk work. It is more true to CMYK colors and uses plates and rubber rolls to print images onto paper. Digital printing involves using inkjets or laserjets to print images directly onto the paper. While it is cheaper, its color fidelity doesn’t match that of an offset print.
How to get started with package design: 9 steps
With those key elements of packaging design shape in mind, you can begin designing packages for your products. To start, consider three factors:
- Your product. Is it solid, liquid, delicate, flammable, sharp, breakable, or perishable? Knowing this will help you choose the appropriate packaging material.
- Your customer. The packaging needs to appeal to your customer base, so you need to identify as many qualities about your customers as possible. This will help you design specifically for them.
- Your point of sale. If customers are buying your product online, you will need to design your packaging in a way that works in the delivery process. Alternatively, if customers will be picking your product up from an aisle in a supermarket, your design must be bold enough to stand out.
Once you have worked through these three factors, you can start the first step of the design process—picking packaging material!
1. Select the type of packaging
Packaging comes in many shapes and sizes. Styles are also functional and are suited to a particular product. In addition to cardboard boxes, you can also explore tubes, pouches, bottles, cans, poly mailers, and burlap bags.
Solid products work best in boxes, while liquids go in bottles or cans. Of course, you can always invert this logic to your benefit by packaging a liquid product in a flexible pouch.
There is, however, a fine line between a clever idea and a ridiculous one. Try to let the packaging’s form follow its function. You don’t want to end up with a clever idea visually that doesn’t work well practically.
Ultimately, choosing a packaging product depends on a number of factors and must fulfill several functions.
- Product safety. The ultimate function of product packaging is to ensure that it protects the product fully. This means it should hold, secure, and safely accommodate the product to keep it safe—especially during delivery when it runs the most risk of damage. The packaging should allocate enough space around the product for fillers like styrofoam and packing peanuts to keep it safe in case of a fall.
- Shipping affordability. The larger and heavier the product, the pricier its delivery becomes. The packaging should be sleek, minimal, and lightweight so you don’t spend excessive amounts on shipping and delivery.
- Stackability. Your design should ensure that your products can be stacked on top of each other, aiding storage. This helps reduce the amount of space they would take in a warehouse, shipping container, or shop, thereby reducing the amount of money and effort you have to spend to store and transfer them.
- The ability to fulfill advertising goals. As discussed earlier, packaging is also a great medium for a brand to communicate its identity and ethos to its customers. The packaging material you choose should be able to deliver your logo, brand colors, fonts, written copy, imagery, and other product-related information authentically and accurately.
- Sustainability. Many brands are now committed to the goal of sustainability and aim to limit their carbon footprint. For this, you need to choose packaging material that is environmentally friendly or recyclable. Such options include corrugated cardboard, glass bottles, aluminum cans, jute or burlap bags, and compostable mailers.
2. Create a dieline
Dielines are cutlines that indicate where to cut and fold to achieve a particular shape of the packaging. You might have noticed these on pizza boxes. Once you’ve finalized your packaging material and the shape you want to give it, you will need to add dielines to instruct your printer where to cut (trim line) and fold (fold line).
If you are generally good with design software and understand how to structure packaging material, you should be able to create a dieline on your design software easily. However, beginners can look at a similar product and replicate its dielines on the packaging design. You could also spend some time observing the structure of a similar box, measuring its dimensions, and determining where to add dielines. Alternatively, you can also ask a professional printer to help you.
3. Create a brand identity
If you’ve ever bought a bottle of perfume, you know just how important packing design is to communicating brand identity. Can you imagine Chanel’s iconic N° 5 perfume without picturing its minimalistic box and gorgeous transparent bottle showing off the amber-colored fragrance? Impossible.
The packaging solution conveys everything you need to know about the brand and its luxurious and sophisticated identity. For your product’s packaging design, you need to consider what you want to communicate about your brand. It’s a great way to communicate aesthetics, history, and values.
Additionally, good packaging is a great way to market your product. With superior design and high-quality materials, you can take your product to the next level and differentiate it from competitors. Customers give a lot of importance to packaging. In fact, one-third of customers’ decision-making is based solely on packaging.
4. Apply color theory
Color theory suggests that colors evoke feelings. Warm colors like red, orange, and yellow produce feelings of brightness, happiness, and activity, while colder colors like blue, green, and purple produce feelings of calm and peace.
You can keep this theory in mind when picking colors to use in your packaging design. This can help you achieve the desired effect on your target audience. You should also keep your brand colors uniform across all packaging and marketing. Uniformity helps customers associate certain colors or combinations of colors with products. For example, royal purple is commonly associated with the brand Cadbury.
5. Select appropriate fonts
The font you choose for your product’s packaging is important. You want to communicate essential product information to your customers without overpowering the aesthetic of your packaging. To do that, you must pick a readable, unique, and memorable font.
Typography, or the art of arranging letters in a way that is legible and appealing to a reader, is crucial to designing packaging. The right font can help strengthen your brand identity and maintain a balance between the textual and visual elements on the packaging.
6. Include product information and instructions
Product packaging allows you to flex your creative muscles—but there are also guidelines to follow. It’s important to do your research and comply with the appropriate packaging regulations for your product and area. Based on the country you’re producing your product in, these guidelines can differ.
Based on your area, you may find regulations on things like food products—such as needing to list net weight, allergens, nutrition information, ingredients, and more. You may also have to meet certain standards to list your item with a label like “natural.”
There may be guidelines that state you need to ensure the manufacturing, packing, and distribution companies are listed as well. Some countries also require information to be listed in multiple languages.
Items can be recalled or countries may refuse their sale if the packaging doesn’t meet the required standards—which can be an expensive mishap. It’s of the utmost importance to do proper research and make sure your packaging meets the necessary regulations.
If you need additional help, Upwork has many qualified legal consults on its platform.
7. Choose packaging graphics
Adding graphic elements to your design can bring a lot of visual appeal to your product. While the logo is a central graphic element that should be used strategically to bring attention to your brand, you can use other graphic design elements to tie the whole concept together.
For example, cereal boxes often use wacky cartoon characters or sketches to grab eyeballs. Similarly, natural and organic food products often use botanical graphics on their packaging.
The use of such graphics can help send subtle messages to customers that can signal emotional, joyful, or aspirational feelings meant to nudge them toward making a purchase. The important thing is to keep your target audience in mind when designing your packaging and include graphic elements that might appeal to them.
8. Ensure the packaging is printed properly
Based on your budget, you can decide whether you want a digital or an offset print. You can also talk to a professional printer and pick a print finish that works for your design.
Here are some of the finishing types available:
- Spot varnish. This option allows you to choose areas of your design to print in a glossy finish.
- Lamination. This adds an overall layer to the packaging for sheen and extra protection.
- Hot and cold stamping. This adds foil to your printed materials, giving them a metallic finish.
- Embossing. Embossing raises certain areas of the packaging to give depth.
Additionally, some things to remember include:
- Use only high-quality 300 dpi images for the clearest quality
- Convert any RGB-colored graphics into CMYK for better color matching
- Export your vector file into PDF/X-4 format before sending to print
9. Test the product and collect feedback
Collect feedback from key stakeholders and those who aren’t familiar with your brand or product. This will help you understand whether the packaging design communicates what you want. You can always print a few testers or use a mockup to see how people respond to it and make changes based on their feedback.
5 Things to consider when designing packaging
Now that you know how to plan and execute custom packaging for your product, let’s take a look at some useful tips to keep in mind that will help you navigate this process.
Ensure your product is clear and understandable
The packaging should clearly communicate what the product is. You will likely confuse your customers if you put face wash in a giant shampoo bottle. Not only must you use appropriate containers and packaging material, but you should also mention clearly what the product is, what it does, and how to use it.
Consider what the product will look like in stores
If your product primarily sells at stores, you need to consider how your product will look while sitting on a store shelf. The final design must take this into account.
For example, if you design your shampoo bottle in shades of white and blue, like Head and Shoulders, it likely won’t stand out. However, if you used brighter colors or colors that your competitors haven’t used, you might be able to give yourself an edge.
Other questions to ask yourself with regard to visibility in stores include:
- How can I ensure important packaging elements aren’t hidden or blocked when on the shelf?
- Will the packaging design enable easy storage?
Allow space for extras
Stores often place stickers, barcodes, and other promotional materials on products to attract customers. This means you should leave some blank space on your packaging design so stores can use it if necessary.
Know your customer
Is your customer a high-end shopper or someone shopping on a budget? Are they children? Are they young or elderly? Do your customers care about plant-based packaging?
These questions can guide you in great packaging design for your target audience. For example, if your customers are generally elderly, you will need to use a larger font size on your packaging. Similarly, if they are people who seek high quality, they will likely choose products that look elegant.
Keep it simple
While it is easy to run away with out-of-the-box ideas, it is important to remember that keeping your label designs clean and simple is key. Overwhelming the customer with unnecessary information or excessive design elements can lead to confusion.
Keep the design uncluttered but eye-catching and you’re more likely to have customers fawning over your packaging.
Hire a professional package designer from Upwork
Designing packaging can be a fun project, but not all business owners have time to dedicate to such creative endeavors. Many would rather leave it to packaging design professionals.
If you want to hire a package designer for your product, we’ve got you covered. Upwork has a large pool of freelance designers who have years of experience in the field. Simply review their portfolios and connect with them if their aesthetic works for you.
If you are a designer looking for a project to work on, you can use Upwork to connect with dozens of potential clients who need designers for their businesses.
Register on Upwork today!
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.