McDonald’s Happy Meals, Tiffany & Co. robin egg bags, Amazon’s smiling cardboard boxes — just reading those words can conjure up images of each piece of packaging without any problem. That’s because each of them has something in common: They stand out in a crowded market by embodying the unique brands they represent.
Couldn’t you benefit from custom boxes or packaging that do the same thing for your business? Of course, it takes some work to create a brand as well defined and widely known as the examples above, but that’s no reason you can’t start using custom packaging to give your business a boost, setting yourself apart from competitors and building your brand in consumers’ minds.
So how do you go about getting custom product packaging made? If you’re new to the process, your problem will be too many options rather than too few, so it can be helpful to learn about the choices you’ll be making before you jump in.
By reading through this guide, you’ll be able to get a sense of what’s available and what you want for your custom packaging, making it easy to get started. We’ll start with some key questions you’ll have to answer before you dive in.
What kind of packaging will you need and how will it be used?
What did you picture when you thought about custom packaging for your company? Do you need better in-store packaging to catch shoppers’ eyes? Do you need premium promotional packaging to send to target customers or give away at trade shows? Will your packaging have to hold fragile or perishable items?
Your answers to these questions will frame the whole project, determining what materials and customization features you’ll have to work with.
This can be a good time to think about shape as well. Do you want something simple, like a basic box or bag? Do you need a tube to hold something long and thin? Would a more unusual shape like a triangle or star stand out more on a shelf? With the right partner and budget, your options will be extensive, so it’s good to figure out what you want early and go from there.
What is your timeline?
When will you need your new packaging? Are you planning something special for a one-off event or promotion? Or are you looking to create a new, permanent look for your products?
Generally, the fewer business days you have before you need your new packaging, the fewer bells and whistles you’ll be able to add and the more expensive everything will be.
Does your company have brand guidelines?
The brands we looked at to start this guide — McDonald’s, Tiffany & Co. and Amazon — all have very strong brand identities, which is how they were able to create packaging that simultaneously represents and strengthens their brands. Not many brands have the kind of reach and power of our examples, but any company will benefit from taking some time to think about and define who they are.
If you’ve already put some work into branding, you likely have guidelines like colors and logo usage that will drive what the packaging looks like and how it performs. A packaging vendor will be able to work with you to integrate those guidelines into your new packaging designs.
And if you don’t have brand guidelines? You’ve got a great opportunity to start creating a strong brand identity with this project! Most custom packaging suppliers have designers on staff who can help you determine the look and feel of your packaging, and these decisions can form the basis of your brand.
Alternatively, you could start by working with an advertising or marketing agency to develop your brand, creating your new packaging once your brand is more solid. While this design work will add to the total cost, creating an established brand identity now can pay off many times over down the road by building awareness and goodwill with your target audience.
What about the details?
If you know how your packaging will be used and your brand is well enough defined to start on the actual design, what decisions are left? Quite a few, as it turns out. You’ll have to decide on things like material, color, finish and more before your packaging is ready for production. Read on to start learning about the possibilities.
The material you choose will have a huge effect on cost, durability and the impression you’ll make on your audience.
Paperboard is a kind of strengthened paper (cereal boxes and playing cards are two common examples) that can be used in a wide range of packaging styles. If you go this route, you’ll have a lot of flexibility with things like color and material thickness.
Think shipping boxes: two layers of paperboard with a wavy, corrugated paper filling between them. The corrugation adds strength and cushioning without substantially increasing weight.
Plastic is incredibly versatile, capable of being shaped or molded into nearly infinite shapes. If you go this route, you’ll have a lot of possibilities when it comes to color, strength, size and more.
Poly bags (named for polyethylene, the simple plastic molecule they’re made of) are probably best known as the sleeves that protect comic books and high-end magazines on store shelves. A standard poly bag is clear, lightweight and easily customizable based on size and use. Additional options include strips or plastic zippers to make resealing simple.
Made from layers of paper or cardboard pressed and glued together, chipboard can feel similar to plywood. It’s easy to fold and holds its shape well.
Blister or Clamshell
Blister packaging is made of plastic bubbles that hold products against a backing of plastic or paperboard. Pens and mechanical pencils are often packaged this way, as are disposable contact lenses and some kinds of pills. Clamshell packaging is similar, but uses one piece of plastic, folded back on itself to form the front and back of the package, with the edges sealed shut. Many kinds of consumer electronics are sold in clamshell packages.
If you’re looking for a way to really make your packaging stand out, think about materials like fabric, wood, metal, leather or pleather. These will almost certainly cost more than paper or plastic options, but you’ll have a better chance of grabbing customers’ attention.
Once you’ve got an idea of what you want in terms of packaging, it’s time to think about the texture, or finish. Again, these decisions will influence how much you’ll pay and how customers will perceive your new packaging.
Matte and Glossy
Popular finishes for business cards, matte and glossy use a chemical coating to alter how ink is absorbed and how the final product looks. Glossy finishes have bright, vibrant colors and a shiny look. Matte finishes are more subdued, with a slight sheen.
Similar to matte and glossy, metallic finishes treat the material to give it a rich, 3D look with a metal-like shine.
Linen finishes use a kind of embossing to give paper a cloth-like look that’s popular with stationary and cards.
Laid paper mimics older manufacturing techniques to create a handcrafted, vintage look. Using this for your packaging can impart a legacy or prestige feel to your products.
Similar to laid, felt finish has a lot of texture and can create an old-timey, hand-crafted impression.
Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you might want to use more than one kind of material and texture. If you’re thinking about packaging for promotional purposes, or if your product is high-end, creating packaging that is unique and high-qualify can pay off, even if it’s more expensive.
Customization and Printing
Your printing options will depend on the material and finish you choose, but some of the most common options are explained below.
Full Color UV Printing
UV printing uses ultraviolet lights to dry ink as soon as it’s laid down, which means designs can be printed quickly and with high detail, even on surfaces that wouldn’t normally hold ink well.
In foil printing, a metal die with your design is superheated and used to bind foil to your packaging in the shape of your design. Different foils can give you different effects, but they will usually give your design an eye-catching sheen.
Emboss and Deboss
Often used for business cards, embossing and debossing involve raising or lowering the surface of paper or other material to create designs in relief. An embossed or debossed logo or name can add a classic touch to packaging.
If you’re working with more exotic materials like metal or wood, you’ll be able to engrave your design, carving it directly into the material for a luxurious, long-lasting feel.
Flexography allows you to print on flexible material like chip bags.
Peel-away labels can be used to hide extra information about your product (as with some medicine bottles), and can also strengthen calls to action by getting the customer to interact with the packaging.
You’ll also be able to make decisions about construction and quality. As with every choice you make, there will generally be a trade-off between durability and cost, with lower-cost material best for disposable, lower-cost products. Pricier stitching will usually last longer, and may be more visually striking, excellent for packaging that is intended to impress or even be kept.
One of the simplest kinds of stitch, a running stitch is created by a needle moving in and out of fabric at regular intervals.
Best known for embroideries, cross-stitch can be used to create designs in fabric.
A sturdier kind of stitch, backstitches overlap on the back of the fabric, making the stitch less likely to come undone compared to simpler stitches.
Whipstitches loop around the edges of the fabric, creating a smooth seam to bind materials together or create a decorative edge.
Ladder stitches are used to create invisible seams, creating a more elegant look than finishes where the seams are showing.
As you’re thinking about all the options you have when designing custom packaging, don’t lose sight of what you’re really trying to accomplish: creating something that will build your brand and make your products stand out.
You may be able to do this with simple designs and common materials like Amazon does with its ubiquitous boxes, or you might want something closer to Apple’s iPhone packaging, with its puzzle-box of quality material creating a feeling of luxury before the device is even switched on.
But it’s your product and your brand — it’s up to you how to get where you want to go. Use this guide to get an idea of what’s possible, but the best thing to do is get in touch with a packaging producer and start figuring out what’s possible for you and your brand.
Finalizing the Design
Once you’ve figured out what you want your packaging to be made out of and how it will look, your production partner will generally put together an initial design and a quote for the price of the whole project. Depending on how involved your needs are, the initial design may come with a design fee, with subsequent revisions generally adding hourly fees.
Once that design is ready, you’ll get a final quote on the production run, and your new packaging should be ready on the timeline you chose!
Are You Ready to Create Successful Packaging?
We hope this guide has helped you get a better sense of what you can do with custom packaging. If you’re inspired to get started, just put together a quick explanation of what you want to make and reach out to a vendor like CustomUSB. Great branded packaging is closer than you think.