Product Packaging Guide: Everything Your Business Should Know

Have you ever seen product packaging that immediately caught your attention? What made it memorable and different from the other product packages?

Did you know that about 72% of American consumers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by a product’s packaging design? That same study found that 49% of consumers were willing to pay more for products packaged in paper rather than plastic. 

No matter the industry, there is always competition. So, how do you differentiate your brand in a crowded marketplace? Your package must be attractive and create a strong first impression. It’s challenging to develop the perfect packaging that can elevate and differentiate your brand, but it’s very achievable.

What is Product Packaging?

Product packaging refers to the physical and decorative design of a product’s container. Packaging protects the product from external damage (sun exposure, moisture, breakage) during shipping and handling, but its design and decoration can also make the product more visually and emotionally attractive.

The packaging of a product is a practical aspect that makes it convenient to handle, store, and carry.  It requires careful consideration and research to design a package that protects the product and reinforces the brand identity with information and inspiration for the consumer. Research, creative experimentation, and market testing may be necessary to bring the perfect design to life. 

In this ultimate product packaging guide, we’ll break down the essential points you need to know about creating and designing the best packaging possible. Let’s dive into it.

An Overview of the Different Types of Product Packaging

Whether it’s a box for a skincare product or a packet of chocolates, packaging is a necessary tool for keeping products protected. But packaging is more than just a container—it should represent your brand, inform what your product is, who should use it, and how it should be used. Before the design begins, packaging strategy should start with selecting the correct type of package for your product. 

• Folding Cartons

Folding cartons, also called paperboard cartons, are among the most common packaging types for products in retail stores. This type of product packaging consists of light paper-based materials. Think cereal boxes, cake boxes, and consumer packaged goods.  

As a subset of folding cartons, rigid boxes are sturdier and do not easily collapse as some folding cartons do. Rigid boxes are often used for luxury products that need more protection. The box used for iPhones is an example of a rigid box.

• Corrugated Packaging

Corrugated boxes are what some people refer to as cardboard boxes. These typically have three layers: two or more flat outer layers (the liners) and a wavy layer (the flute) sandwiched between them. Corrugated boxes can be used as shipping boxes, shelf-ready display packages, and point-of-purchase (POP) retail displays. Corrugated boxes are often used as secondary or tertiary packaging as multiple packaged products may be placed in a corrugated case or carton for transportation.

• Flexible Packaging 

This type utilizes various flexible materials that can take different sizes, shapes, and forms, including foil, paper, and plastic. Plastics include polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PPE), and polyester, which are typically not recyclable. Brands can use these to create pouches, bags, envelopes, and stand-up pouches for products that require versatile containers (e.g., sample products, cosmetics, and cleaning products).

• Shrink Sleeves 

Shrink sleeves are the type of product packaging often seen in beverage packaging. An example of shrink sleeves is the graphic design film-like packaging that wraps around an energy drink or water bottle. Many brands use sleeves for their design versatility, economic benefits, and customization ability. 

• Labels 

Many products must have a label to complete the packaging. Labels are standard among consumer packaged goods (CPGs), particularly in the food and beverage market, such as wine bottles or packaged meats. Typically, the label contains the brand logo, tagline, product overview, ingredients, nutritional information, and expiration and manufacturing dates. 

Notable Product Packaging Features

• Custom Inserts

Custom inserts can come in various forms, including foam, plastic trays, cardboard, and molded pulp. Inserts provide added protection and allow for better organization of the products inside. Foam inserts are great for fragile items; plastic trays protect the product during shipping; cardboards serve as partitions or dividers; and molded pulp is a sustainable option. 

• Outer Packaging

Outer product packaging is the box or container that encloses the product. Outer packaging may take the form of envelopes, folding cartons, or corrugated boxes. Outer packaging is essential for shipping purposes and often comes with handling instructions and labels. 

• Eco-Friendly Packaging

Environmentally-friendly packaging is not a standalone type of packaging. Recyclable, paper-based corrugated, folding, and flexible packaging can be categorized as eco-friendly. Its design considers material efficiency, while minimizing waste and redundancy. Paper-based packaging types, like folding cartons and corrugated packaging, or any packaging, may be considered eco-friendly when sustainable, recyclable materials are used and waste is minimized in the packaging design.

5 Primary Types of Printing for Packaging 

Different technologies and techniques are used to print product packaging. Below are the various printing processes to be considered. 

1. Offset lithography 

Also known as litho or offset, this printing process is a common technique that uses flexible (often aluminum) plates. The inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket and, finally, to the printed material or substrate. Litho printing uses a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks) color process, which renders accurate, sharp, and clean-looking prints. This lithographic process provides very high print quality and is intended for long packaging runs. The plates are reusable, so there are economies of scale for repeat jobs and long print runs.

2. Flexography 

Flexography (“flexo”) can be suitable for flexible and corrugated packaging and labels when printed in very high volumes. The process, which utilizes a plate made from rubber, can print on paper, plastics, metals, and other materials, especially for food and beverages. Flexo masters (or cylinders or stereos) are made of rubber or polymer material. Flexo printing can be high quality or low quality, depending upon the process, number of colors, and unit economics desired. Like litho printing, flexo plates are reusable, but the process is intended for much longer print runs (hundreds of thousands to millions of units). Flexo prints at very high speeds with low running costs.

3. Gravure

Also called rotogravure, this is a high-volume, high-speed printing process where the image is engraved onto a printing cylinder and transferred onto the printed surface. Gravureis commonly used when printing newspapers, magazines, and other high-volume printing work that requires excellent print consistency.

4. Screen printing

Screen or silkscreen printing is best suited for smaller print production because it tends to be slower than the other techniques. However, it also has lower set-up costs and is an excellent option for pre-made packaging like bottles, cups, and shirts. Often, it is used for making prototypes, promotional items, and labels. 

5. Digital printing

This printing process requires minimal or no set-up costs or tool fees, with print quality generally comparable to lithography. Unlike the other analog printing technologies, digital print does not use a physical master or plate to produce the printed image. Instead, the ink (or toner) is applied directly to the substrate. Among the advantages of digital are that short runs are fast and cost-efficient to produce. Customization, serialization, late-stage design changes, and versioning of packaging designs are possible. Digital printing is commonly used for labels, shrink sleeves, flexible packaging, corrugated boxes, and folding cartons. 

  • Toner: Toner printing, a term used in laser printer technology, was the first generation of digital printing. This uses precision dot application; however, it requires constant calibration to maintain quality. Toner-based printers tend to be slower than inkjet and are typically limited to shorter runs of paper-based packaging.
  • ElectroInk (by HP Indigo): ElectroInk is a proprietary and advanced digital printing technology developed by HP. HP Indigo digital presses use a unique electrically liquid ink disbursed as a concentrated paste loaded in the cartridges. The small particle size in the liquid allows for high-quality printing, perfect for printing designs requiring a uniform and detailed finish. HP Indigo is the most commonly used digital printing technology for packaging. It is widely used for printing folding cartons, flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, and labels.
  • Inkjet: Inkjet printers and industrial presses transfer the image using small droplets of ink from the print heads. It’s commonly used for color and monochrome printing of corrugated packaging and folding cartons.

Putting Your Product Packaging Idea Together

Product packaging is the first thing that attracts customers and shapes their perception of the product and your brand in just a glance. So, it’s crucial to create a design that represents your brand well. 

Research. Before you start choosing the container for  your product, you must determine:

  • Your target audience 
  • Your brand identity, positioning, and what you want consumers to think of when they see your branded package
  • What your competitors are doing and how they present their products

Select the right container type. There are various container types you can choose from, such as boxes, wrappers, cartons, pouches, and more. When deciding which one suits your product best, consider the customer experience when opening the product. Is it functional? Does it represent your brand identity? Will it maintain its shape and protect the product during shipping?

Think about what else you may need. Will your product require a shipping box for ecommerce purposes? Do you want to use branded tape? Would the product require inserts or shredded paper to keep it in place? Think of these things to ensure your products will reach your customers safely and securely. 

Think creatively and strategically. Now that you have the basics figured out, it’s time to decide on the color scheme, typography, imagery, and overall aesthetic of the packaging. Many packaging solutions companies also provide design services. Consider working with professional packaging designers. 

Ask for feedback. Before you give the design its final approval, review the entire layout carefully. Check if there are formatting or grammar errors or other changes you wish to make to improve it. Ask what your target customers think. 

Start printing. Once everything is in place, find an experienced, reputable commercial printing service. Don’t forget to ask which technique would bring out the best in your packaging, and have prototypes made before printing the entire volume. 

Why Does Good Packaging Matter?

As a consumer ordering via ecommerce, how would you feel if the product you ordered arrived in a poor-quality shipping box and the packaging itself is damaged? No matter how good your product is, the package is critical to the brand and contributes to the overall customer experience. 

• Packaging promotes your product 

Packaging serves to protect the product from damages during shipment and display, but works to represent and promote the product within. It illustrates the necessary information and instructions to help the buyer better understand the product. This, paired with a functional container and visually pleasing design, can drive customers to purchase. 

• Packaging differentiates your product from other brands

When browsing related products online or in-store, what drives the consumer to select a particular product to check or view instead of the others? Innovative packaging designs will stand out against a sea of products. Even when the product shares the same size and shape of packaging as other brands, the color scheme and overall style will set your product apart from the rest. 

• Packaging makes a good first impression last

The importance of packaging goes beyond protecting the product itself. It’s also essential for securing a memorable first impression with customers and retaining brand loyalty. About 42% of shoppers say that their opinion of a shop depends on its overall design.

Get Your Packaging Right

The entire product packaging process, from choosing the container type down to the design, involves many discussions to ensure you can deliver the best customer experience possible. This can move your product to the top or push your brand away to the sides, so make well-informed decisions to create visually stunning and functional packaging. 

If you’d like to know more about your business needs and how you can better deliver your products, reach out to the experts from Meyers. Together, let’s turn your creative product packaging vision into reality.