Packaging Design Process

The packaging design process and why our package design process always leads to successful product sales.

When you click contact us I can personally speak with you about your packaging design and graphic design, and I am the designer of the packages you see above and other logo design and package design when you click Logos | Packaging | Print or here.

Our proven step by step package design process makes it almost impossible not to end up with packaging that sells.

The first step to any packaging design project is to have a 15 minute conversation with me, Tom, which is free and so we can get a good basic idea of the project and the package you plan to have me design. .

After the first 15 minutes we charge at our normal rate and further discuss the package design steps and details. We work very cost effectively as described here.

Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation and I will help you get started in developing a successful package design that meets all your needs as well as those of the various vendors and manufacturers you’ll work with.

We can offer any of the following packaging design services:

Provide a 1 hour consultation on how you might revamp a packaging design
Provide end to end service including vendor selection/coordination (see below)
Provide rough sketches and stop right there with just a few hours of time
Provide any packaging design service offered below including art production only

Structural details, properties and logistics are the first step in any successful package design, then we design.

If you already have a supplier and a package structure, please skip to Phase 1.

If you have never packaged this product before, please read on about the first steps.

After we discuss your project, the next step in the package design process is to get the product in hand which you ship to me, or at least initially show me photos of.

I then evaluate the product, your market, your goals and objectives.

If there are design approaches, design styles, structural approaches or other properties of the packaging design that you want to discuss we will do so at this stage.

In evaluating I consider structural properties of the package design, properties of the goods to be in the package and things like fragility and/or perishability.

I also assess how the paperboard or other material could be converted (folded, glued, sealed, manufactured), packing and packaging systems, marketing objectives for your package, distribution requirements for the package, retail outlet and retail buyer expectations of the retail packaging design, needs and desires of the end user, and how the end user will use the product contained in the retail packaging we design.

I also help determine and assess converting and package manufacturing issues, product manufacturer issues regarding filling and sealing, and consumer issues regarding convenience and packaging performance.

With the packaging manufacturer I consider how the packaging design will move easily through the packaging manufacturer’s converting plant, how the artwork will be best reproduced by the packaging manufacturer, the thickness of the paperboard or other material to compensate for creases, tucks, and other features of the package, ways to minimize spoilage, and the expected life cycle of the package.

I also take into account receiving, storage and handling of the packaging before packing, kitting or filling, product characteristics that effect the shape of the final packaging design, packaging line performance, feed, form and close requirements for hand package  filling or automated package filling, locking design (if applicable), packaging line speed, and the packaging line environment (cold, wet, dry, other). These aspects require myself and the company packing the product as well as the company manufacturing the product to engage in a conference call to be sure we work together effectively and without errors.

In addition I bring up and discuss retail outlet needs such as receiving and storage of your package, shelf facings, ideal packaging dimensions, and the display environment of your package (cold, wet, dry, other).

In the process I suggest and ask the manufacturer to suggest ways to make the packaging design less expensive yet serve the intended purpose, as well as greener and more eco-friendly solutions to retail packaging design and manufacture that today are very much desired and available from those I recommend as packaging vendors.

Of course if you already have a packaging printer, carton manufacturer, or similar, I will be glad to work closely with your existing vendors.

Your packaging design may also need to be tamper evident, and in addition we will discuss things like product visibility, easy open/close features. how and where the consumer stores the packaged product, and ease of retail packaging use by your customers, for example easy/open, easy/close packaging – and exactly how the retail package is opened and closed.

As you are probably all too aware, people will try a package once yet if it was a battle to open (for example) the consumer may never buy that product again.

Even the feel of the package often makes a huge difference is sales, and I can specify a variety of tactile coatings that are necessary as a rule anyway to protect the ink from scratching, yet give your package a unique feel, soft, rough, textured and in between.

We discuss other consumer matters as well including meeting practical as well as psychological consumer expectations, regulatory and informational copy required for the consumer to make an informed purchase, ways to enhance and promote the key features and qualities of the product, post-consumer use and ease of disposal, and both real and perceived environmental considerations.

Other packaging design considerations include Food and Drug Administration (FDA) health and nutritional claims (if applicable), Nutritional Labeling Education Act (NLEA) guidelines, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) environmental and advertising claims, Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) requirements, National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) requirements, and other specifications and requirements specific to your product and industry – as well as international requirements (if applicable).

I can point you to the regulatory sites listed above or work with you, your marketing team and/or your attorneys to be sure we are in compliance. If you’ve never had one I can also explain how to get a UPC bar code which you apply for at

Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation.

A package design includes structural design, graphic design as well as mechanical packaging coordination as described above, and all must work together.

Once we have discussed and made some decisions on the structure we determine the first run quantities for your packaging and where the package will be printed as well as where the package will be filled or kitted. In many cases the choice of where to print the packaging coincides with where the products are manufactured to reduce freight costs.

I help evaluate the packaging vendors and work with the package manufacturing vendors with you by email and conference calls.

The packaging vendors I suggest are those I believe will work best yet we make no commissions while we do charge our normal hourly rate to set you up directly with those who will print and manufacture your retail packaging. You may also have or choose your own retail packaging vendors.

In conference calls and/or emails I also help you understand the packaging design and package printing and converting process and terminology, and help you understand how to make the right choices with the packaging vendors that will manufacture based on the package design and package design artwork specifications we provide.

We then send the product to the packaging printer to design the structure of the packaging, meaning how the packaging is cut, folded, how it opens, and other features if a paperboard package or other material, and/or how the label(s) will be applied if the package is a bottle, jar or other type of container.

Containers (bottles, caps and jars) use labels or direct-to-container printing which is often referred to as decorating.

I may decide to create some preliminary initial package design or label design sketches to send to the packaging or label printer or decorator if we have a good idea of what we’re looking for in your package design or label design. A packaging printer is also known as a carton manufacturer if a paperboard package.

If you have multiple components or require it, the packaging printer/vendor makes an insert or platform that may be a clamshell or made of corrugated or other paperboard (if applicable) or a dieline for the product packaging and we discuss various packaging options from a cost perspective as well as many other aspects like how the case packs and master cartons will be configured and shipped, and packaging shelf space, and other details like paper or other material.

In our discussion we ask for and the package manufacturer often offers some other suggestions which we make decisions on, then provides a dieline that becomes the ‘blank’ that we place the package design artwork on, and this dieline is precise down to the millimeter.

Some products already come from product manufacturers in boxes and in that case we can create a sleeve package design that slips over the corrugated.

Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation.

Writing up the packaging design and package manufacturing specs:

We next write up package printing and manufacturing specifications with the printer and after we have the approval of the manufacturer and filler (if applicable).

Aside from some other potential options, these often include product information, name weight, size; package design data including packaging design style, package size, special features; material substrate, type, caliper, window film type and gauge; graphic design data including graphics type, format, mandatory and legal copy for the packaging design art; colors and coating; number of colors; types of inks; color matching; printing process selection – litho, gravure, flexo or a combination. We can get samples and I, along with the packaging manufacturer, can explain the differences.

We also consider special features related to windowing, embossing, hot stamping and foil stamping, shipping and receiving, specifications as to how the converter should pack, mark and palletize the empty packages for shipment; customer receiving, warehousing and distribution, and other additional information related to your specific package.

The printer then sends me a blank dieline of the final packaging design (an Adobe Illustrator file) and sends you and I a three dimensional blank mockup of the package normally in the exact stock or packaging material specified and which you approve.

With the blank packaging design and package printer/supplier finalized and approved we can move on to the next phase, taking a close look at competitive package designs.

There are three phases to packaging design:

Phase 1: Research and rough package design concepts
Phase 2: Refinement
Phase 3: Production

Click to see actual package design costs
Click the General Guide to Our Pricing to see the cost.

Phase 1:

Research and competitive package design evaluation:
(A part of Phase 1 in our General Guide to Pricing)

These days you simply cannot risk designing packaging ‘on the fly’ without a careful assessment of all competitive packages.

Therefore I visit the retail store(s) or outlet(s) and take photos of the aisle and all the competitive products and product packaging design in the aisle – or ask you to provide all competing package design as a jpg or PDF or as links to websites.

I study the potential shelf placement and try to determine where your product will be placed, top, eye level, or bottom.

I analyze the color scheme of your entire category of retail packaging and decide if there is a hole in the category that your product can own.

Color is very important with package design, for example, when you think of Coca-Cola you instantly think of red, and when you think of Pepsi, you instantly think of blue. It’s our goal to get the consumer to have this same brand recognition with your package design in colors and design elements.

I also study and evaluate who your consumers are and how we can capitalize on any niche in your brand category that is not being met to its full potential.

I take photos of and look at competing package design for two reasons (1) to make sure the package design we create stands out on the shelf, and (2) to be as sure as possible that our packaging design will not create trade dress problems.

Amateur designers make two fatal mistakes, they attempt to imitate famous packaging design, or they simply do not look at competitive packaging design – both of which often lead to trade dress infringement claims. In these cases retail package owners receive a cease and desist letter and generally deal with an opposition or a law suit.

You should realize that even if your product is not identical to a competitor yet is considered “related and complimentary”, and your retail package design is “similar” you may be subject to trade dress infringement.

For example if you make dishwashing liquid and another party with a similar package design makes scrubbers for dishes in a package that appears similar, the two are “related and complementary since the same type of consumer is likely to buy both products in the same aisle at about the same price and be confused and misled as to the maker or brand. Confusion or likelihood of confusion is the basis of a trade dress claim as it relates to package design.

Trade dress is explained a bit more on this page yet the simple explanation is that if your packaging design looks confusingly similar to that of another party’s packaging design you could be sued for infringement, potentially owe monetary damages, and have to destroy and recall all of the infringing packaging.

To save some time and money, or if you are located where I am not near the stores you sell in, you could take these photos of competitive package design for me, send me JPGs, PDFs, or links to analyze.

One way or the other, and also by searching the Internet, we need to see and analyze all the competitive packaging design before we begin your packaging design.

The things above we charge for at our normal rate and the time required depends on what you need. We then start the design.

Our General Guide to Our Pricing gives you an idea of the package design time and cost:

The initial design phase: (Phase 1 in our General Guide to Pricing)

The package design and design elements I use in the initial rough package design PDF sketches are based upon research and an understanding of your goals, objectives, and target market – plus my review of competitive packaging design.

Based on the research and evaluation of competitive retail packaging I choose the Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors for your branding and retail package design. I also avoid imagery and graphics that are too similar to those of your competitors, yet at the same time stand out amongst your competitors making your retail package design appealing, and unique and distinctive.

PMS colors are a worldwide standard color matching system that insures the PMS color specified looks exactly the same whether the packaging is printed in one location or many worldwide, and the color is consistent throughout all media.

Due to different printing and reproduction processes, I need to choose PMS colors that have a CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) match since most ‘full color’ commercial package printing is done with CMYK colors. However, some packaging design includes both CMYK colors and PMS (solid) colors. And on your screen or TV colors are RGB. So I have to choose package design colors that translate in all media accurately.

I also choose the potential fonts and graphics to stand out and be unique and distinctive.

When I know a line or products will follow the initial package design, in the first package design sketches I create I am careful to  place the different elements in such a way that all packaging that follows the initial package design, even if in different sizes and configurations, can appear consistent and uniform. This method also dramatically reduces the costs of packages that follow the same basic package design format and use the same package design elements.

In the Initial Design Phase I also may use stock photos or illustrations as placeholders, however ultimately these should be photographed as original photography or original illustration you own all the rights to since use of stock photos, stock illustration, or clip art can result in others using the same stock images, and can easily cause trade dress infringement problems. For the same reason I also normally make design adjustments to fonts to make the font and type treatment unique to your product as well, especially when I design logos and other brand elements.

If original photography or stock illustration is required, I sometimes do the photography in my studio if simple. For food photography or complicated photography I art direct a photographer that I help you choose, and also use a food stylist to prepare the food for the photographer. I then handle any required retouching.

I develop the concept sketches in a printer-friendly way so that when we are ready to move on to the production phase, the printer and manufacturer can easily print the product we’ve designed without much greater additional cost.

For most package design, I develop the packaging in an application called Adobe Illustrator. This program allows me to develop layout, illustrate, work with photography and prepare your files for print. Along with Illustrator, I also use Adobe Photoshop to retouch photos and finesse photo layouts. The PDFs I send you come from these files.

Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation.

Phase 2:

The design refinement phases:
Options, alternatives, revisions and changes. See our General Guide to Pricing

After we select a desired packaging design from the packaging design options to proceed with in Phase 1, we normally have a few refinement phases to make minor changes and get much closer if not arrive at the final package design. We might also make revisions and refinements based on feedback from people you show the package design to or from consumer research. And lastly, we might see text that needs to be changed. Some revisions are usually part of the packaging design process.

Consumer Package Design Testing (optional yet highly recommended):

For those on a budget, it is possible to get the opinion of the packaging design concept sketches from family, friends, and associates.

However I also recommend that you have your preliminary packaging designs tested in front of an audience before you spend a significant amount of money on producing your package design. Preferably a diverse audience or at least an audience most likely to buy your packaged goods.

Testing your product’s package design with a focus group is a great and long proven way to get non-biased opinions on your product and your package design.

There are different ways you can go about testing your package design. The first is face-to-face product testing focus groups. This testing is done behind a one way mirror, and uses a moderator to elicit honest answers from a specific audience of about 8 people. The whole time you can watch from behind the glass and see first hand what people think of your product and its package design(s).

Also, there is a less expensive alternative to face-to-face focus groups, and that is testing your product packaging design online. Market specific consumers are chosen based on your criteria, are shown your product packaging online, and give their feedback all through the Internet. This is a great way to get real opinions about your product’s packaging design(s), yet without as much of an investment.

From the results of the consumer testing and research phase we most likely will make refinements to the packaging design to reflect consumer opinion, comments, and suggestions. The more people you poll the greater your chances that your packaging design will readily accepted by retail buyers and consumers.

There are two ways to test, showing people a two dimensional packaging design we create that appears to be three-dimensional, or, the better way, creating realistic mock-ups of the package design so that people can touch, open and try the retail packaging design. See below.

If you have the budget and really want to test, I can create multiple variations of multiple designs, with different colors, shapes, elements, configurations of elements, relationships of elements, and other variables so in your test the audience has the opportunity to truly compare multiple variations. It has been proven that just a 1% change in a package design can dramatically increase or decrease sales. For larger companies with more at stake I highly suggest multiple variations and mock-ups and focus group testing.

Selling to Retail Buyers before printing:

Normally a retail buyer needs to see a three-dimensional and very realistic version of your packaging design. These are called packaging design mock-ups. The printer can make these for you or we can make them if in limited quantity. For a greater quantity, though more expensive, you could do a small packaging production run.

Phase 3:

The Production Phase: (the last phase):

Once we finalize and approve the package design, I then create the final artwork with all the specifications and I work with the packaging printer or other vendor to have final quantities produced/manufactured being sure my specifications are met.

For at least the first printing I suggest a press check, which means you or I physically go to the printer and approve the printing on press to insure it is exactly as we want it to be.

Other things to consider and a recap of the packaging design process:

There are many aspects to package design production that most people just don’t know about. Not only does packaging design have to look great and be marketable and sell, we also must make sure that we design your packaging with these aspects in mind::

• For food products packaging design we must follow the legal guidelines of the FDA in most cases. This includes making sure all the nutrition facts, ingredients, and legal information is displayed in the appropriate way. For cosmetics products another set of rules and regulations apply.

• To the best of our ability, we make sure that your new package design is not infringing on any other party’s copyright or trademark or trade dress. Most people that are new to package design don’t realize that you can be sued for trade dress infringement base on packaging design. Trade dress infringement means the basic look of your product is similar to or stolen from another product. This can get very complicated, but thankfully Cummings Design has over 20 years of experience dealing with copyright, trademark and trade dress issues. While we cannot guarantee your packaging design will not face trade dress or other infringement issues, we go to much greater lengths than nearly all others to avoid them.

• We must find a qualified printer and manufacturer to be sure your packaging design prints well and is functional, and I will guide you along every step of the way to make sure that you have a successful and timely production of your product packaging.

• We initially work with a production specialist to develop a dieline for your new packaging. A dieline is a very specific engineering file that tells the designer and the manufacturer the exact measurements, folds and die cuts of your package design, including but not limited to how the package is sealed or glued.

Whether you are developing a bottle for a beverage, or a multi layered box to house electronic accessories, we have the experience, knowledge and resources to help you efficiently and effectively complete the entire packaging process from beginning to final printed packaging.

Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation.

Things I also consider and that many overlook in retail packaging design:

Before even turning on my Macintosh I head to the retail store and do some real-world research. I bring a note pad and a camera, and I document all the package design that is in the same aisle as my client’s future package design. I assess everything, including:

• Shelf placement (will the package be shelved low, high, or at eye level)

• Noting if there is an overwhelming color scheme used in other package designs in the category so I am sure not to use that color scheme in your packaging design.

• Who the consumers are buying the products in the category, and are they different than I thought they would be?

• What are the other package designs doing right? What are they doing wrong?

• How can I capitalize on some element or niche that is missing from the other packaging design in that category?

• I always put myself in the consumer’s shoes. For example, if I’m designing a women’s deodorant, I look at the package design as if I were a woman.

• Sell the sizzle, not just the steak. People buy with their impulses first and their minds second. Think about it… Gatorade is basically just flavored water, and Skittles are just round discs of sugar. What made these brands a success is creating a package design that gives the brand a personality. Whether it’s making your packaging fun, inspirational, exciting, or bursting with flavor, these are the things that consumers can associate with. Before they even realize it, the product is in their shopping cart.

• I study what package designs have been successful and which have been failures. Just because a package “looks cool”, doesn’t mean it’s going to sell. For example, if you have an exceptionally tasty lasagna package, you want to use that aspect to its full potential. Show a beautiful photo, with melting cheese and ripe flavorful tomatoes. If you have a kids’ product, make sure to make it fun, energetic, colorful and captivating. It’s all about finding the appropriate message for your specific brand and audience.

• Realize what can be new and exciting about the package design. There is always something about a product that will make it stand out against its competitors. Whether that is a healthier version, a new spin on an old recipe, or going after a younger consumer in a dated category, your product has something new to say. This should be called out and used to its full potential on the front of your package design.

• Get their attention. Most consumers scan the store aisle very quickly. There is a good chance that your package design will be seen and looked over in a fraction of a second. For this reason, it’s important to make your message clear, and to grab consumer attention in any way possible.

• A small facelift, can mean a huge increase in sales, profits, and brand recognition.
This tip is for the product owners who have had the same package on the shelf for 3-4 years. The truth is that consumers subconsciously can tell when a package is outdated, and an outdated package design can elicit feelings of the goods being unfresh, bland and even unhealthy. A small change to the photography, a refreshed logo design or a new dynamic color scheme can bring new life to your product, and send sales soaring!

If sales are slumping, you need to be proactive and have a professional packaging designer show you how to refresh your package design..

I help and guide you every step of the way and everywhere in between, especially if you have never worked with a packaging designer.

For those who have already designed packaging most of the steps explained are common knowledge.

However, if you have never designed retail packaging, I can set up the meeting with one or more trusted vendors, and will conference call with you, or meet with you and the packaging vendor or the filling or kitting vendor in person at my normal rate

Printing and package design manufacturing can be a confusing process with many variables, options and possibilities, mistakes can be serious and costly, and that’s why I prefer to help you every step of the way, explaining and guiding you through the whole process.

After I guide you through the first packaging design process you should be able to do the next package on your own, or with minimal help from me.

Of course if you are on a budget you may need to take some risks and eliminate some of the steps described in this packaging design process article.

You may see our General Guide to Pricing and should note that the extra help and consulting mentioned is additional and charged at my normal rate.

As you have probably realized packaging design is a much more complicated process than just making a good looking package design.

I can lead you through every step of packaging design process, including research, design, consumer feedback, and ultimately package production.

Contact me today for a free 15 minute consultation and I will help you get started in developing a successful package design that meets all your needs as well as those of the various vendors and manufacturers you’ll work with.

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