Let’s design perfect product packaging

Top-shelf package design: that’s what your client needs to make their product pop. Here’s everything you need to dazzle them with stunning product packaging.
Your client just ordered product packaging (score!) but you’ve got some questions. No fear, we’re here. Read on for specifications, design do’s & dont’s, and a glossary of design terms. It’s everything you’ll need to hand-off an awesome design.

Size and specifications

Box, bag or bottle? There’s no such thing as “standard” packaging. Products come in all shapes and sizes. Luckily, your client should already know what they need. Contact them directly and ask them to send a template from their printer that you can work off of. 
They should send you something that looks like this:
Use the template your client provides to complete your designs. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to your client or have them get you in touch with their printer directly.

If no template is available, contact your client to get as many specifications as possible, including packaging type (box, bottle, canister, etc.), dimensions and printing requirements. The more information you’re able to get, the fewer revisions you’ll have, and you’ll be able to deliver a better design.

Submitting to your client

Once your client has approved the final design, send them all of the design files. Here’s what they need:
  • An editable version of the final design (AI, PSD, PDF, or EPS)
  • All web preview images (JPEG or PNG)
  • A link to purchase any commercial fonts used in the design
Make sure all files are saved in the CMYK color mode and 300dpi resolution.

Components of packaging

While every product package is different, the following elements typically appear in packaging designs. Consider these as you put together your final design.
 
Can also include:
Certifications
Serving suggestions or recipes
Ingredients
Best before date
 
 

Barcode

Depending on the product or industry, you may be required to include a barcode in your packaging design. For details and specifications, contact your client. In the meantime, we’ve created a downloadable mockup that you can place in your design.

Need a mockup?

The design checklist

Great design never came from following rules. So, break ‘em! Except for these. They’re pretty important. Stick to these guidelines to ensure your text, images and layout are perfect.
1. Contact your client before you start designing to get branding guidelines (logo and colors), copy, dimensions and printing specifications.
2. Ask your client these three essential questions:
  • What’s the product?
  • Who’s buying the product?
  • Where are they buying the product?
3. Determine whether you're designing for one or multiple products and if you need to adapt your design to a pre-existing style.
4. Visualize the end product and think about how it will look in 3-D on a store shelf or in a consumer’s home.
5. Include all the design elements that you are legally required to provide (e.g. expiration dates, nutrition info, etc.).
6. Only include elements and terms that you’re sure of. For example, don’t put in “organic” unless your client provides proof their product has been certified organic.
7. Keep different packaging designs in separate files.

The dictionary of design

CMYK and RGB... Droids from Star Wars, right? Design lingo can be a little tricky, but we can translate. Here are some design and printing terms you’ll need to know.

Packaging types

The standard options for packaging
  • Box
  • Bag
  • Packet
  • Tube
  • Bottle
  • Canister

Color mode

How colors are represented in your design

  • CMYK: An ink-based mode used in print
  • RGB: A light-based mode used on-screen

Resolution

The amount of pixel detail in an image

  • High resolution: Many pixels make the image sharp.
  • Low resolution: Few pixels make the image pixelated.

Print guidelines

Measurements to ensure top-notch printing

  • Dieline: The flattened pattern of your packaging used during layout
  • Trim Line: Where the printer will cut your image
  • Bleed: The area beyond the trim line that extends printing to the edge
  • Safety Line: The border that contains all printable text

Barcodes

The machine-readable lines on a package that stores information about a product
  • UPC: Universal Product Code, the predominant barcode in North America
  • EAN: International Article Number, a global barcode

Printing techniques

How your design is printed
  • 4-color offset: A full color printing process for large volume printing
  • Digital printing: Great for small runs and short turnaround times
  • Foil ink: Specialty process that uses metallic foil rather than ink
  • Spot color: An extra layer of foil or fluorescent color (a great splurge!)

Finishes

The final touches made to your print

  • Foil blocking: Metallic, foil finishes applied with a heated stamp
  • Embossing: Raised textures applied to the material using heat
  • Spot UV: A glossy finish applied to specific areas on the print