Go shopping. Start by researching the competition. Visit your client’s retail environment and see how similar products are packaged. Take photographs to record your observations. Think about what would differentiate your client’s packaging from competitors’.
Shop some more. Look at packaging that’s different from what would typically be used for your client’s product. Sometimes the freshest approach comes from using a package concept or container that’s unconventional.
Understand your client’s objectives and concerns. Be clear not just about branding objectives, but also practical considerations, like stock room or shipping concerns (such as whether boxes need to be stored flat and assembled when needed).
Clarify roles. Structural specifications, bar code designation, meeting FDA requirements, information for the nutritional panel, etc., should all come from the client. Large companies are usually aware of this and will supply you with this information. Clients with experience in package design may also direct you to their printer and supply you with die lines.
Know the quantity and production budget. Both play a large role in determining how a package is produced. These aspects determine whether a proprietary or stock container, or a stock or custom die, is an appropriate choice. In the case of printing, small quantities may be offset printed, whereas large quantities are usually printed using flexography (commonly used in packaging because it accommodates plastic, cardboard and other packaging materials).
Contact a packaging printer before you design. In addition to providing you with a die line for your job, your printer is a valuable resource for advice on paper or other substrates, as well as technical considerations such as file compatibility. If you’re unclear about the kind of printer or process that’s appropriate for your packaging project, contact a printer with whom you have a working relationship and ask for a referral to a packaging specialist. Remember to involve your printer at every stage of the design process to be sure that your concept is production-viable.
Keep point of purchase in mind. Design with the merchandising display in mind. Your concept should stimulate a purchase. It should increase product recognition, sway purchase decisions and stand in for the salesperson. It needs to do this quickly and concisely.
Create mock-ups. Designs always appear different when they’re translated from 2D to 3D, especially when they’re placed on a curved surface. Test your design by creating your own 3D mock-ups, or have your printer or fabricator make them. Create several and group them so you have an idea of what the shelf presence will be. Make revisions if necessary.
Leave room for starbursts and other “violators.” Clients will often apply labels promoting special offers or reprint your work with other elements that “violate” your original design. Work an area of negative space into your design to allow for these items.
Box basics. Before beginning a box design, it’s important to know that boxes are constructed in one of two ways. They are either: (1) set-up boxes or (2) folding cartons. Set-up boxes are pre-constructed, more expensive to produce and are typically used for more upscale packaging such as perfume or gift boxes. Folding cartons are less expensive to produce. Although they can be preassembled and glued, they can also be stored flat and assembled when needed. Folding cartons are used for a wide range of consumer goods including fast food (pizza boxes) as well as many supermarket products (detergents, cereals, baked goods and milk cartons).
Set-up boxes are constructed from industrial stock which is scored at the fold lines. Corners are cut away so that only bottom and side panels remain. The side panels are then bent up and fastened at the corners with tape. Paper is then wrapped and glued around the outside and the inside edges of the assembled box. Bottoms and lids are often constructed separately.
Folding cartons are printed before they are assembled on heavy stock which is then trimmed with a die, scored and folded. Folding cartons often include a self lid that tucks in or is otherwise sealed after assembly.
Bar code savvy. Keep these standards in mind when incorporating bar codes into your design.
- Bar codes must be positioned in a spot that is highly visible and easy to scan.
- A bar code must be printed at a scale between 85% and 120% of its original size.
- Bar codes must be printed in a dark color against a solid light colored background. The contrast between a bar code and its background must be high enough to allow the bar code to be scanned.
- Bar codes against a colored field must have a color-free area that extends no less than 3/32 inch beyond the printed bar code.
- Have your client provide you with their bar code number. A program like Bar Code Pro will enable you to generate an EPS file to place in your file. Be sure to have it scanned/tested by the client or print vendor before it goes to press.
Consult the Thomas Register for a listing of packaging manufacturers by category and location.