The Designer’s Guide To

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A guide to help new designers manage their packaging projects. Advice provided by industry professionals, edited and curated by Richard Baird.

Requesting production quotes

When requesting a packaging quote make sure you’re exact with regards to specifications, seemingly small changes can often have a significant impact on costs.

  • Do you need any post-press treatments such as foils or varnishes?
  • What inks do you plan to use? CMYK, spot colours, water based etc
  • What substrate or off-the-shelf-packaging do you plan to use?
  • Does the printer/manufacturer need to include assembly in the price?
  • Does the printer need to include delivery?
  • Does your design have folds, cuts or gluing required?
  • What quantities do you require?
  • Do you need colour/press proofs?

Provided by @richbaird

Don’t be afraid to do something out of the ordinary

When designing a new package or packaging system, you might be inclined to design something in the same style as what’s out there already. However, for a new product that doesn’t have much or any brand recognition, you need to capture the customer’s attention. Go to stores where the same type of products are sold and see what’s on the shelf. Look at colors, type, label or packaging stock, and form. Let your findings guide you in creating something that is unique and will call attention to your product. You want your product to stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to do something out of the ordinary.

Provided by @MTravisDesign

Understanding conventions

While it’s important to defereniate your product from similar, it’s paramount that you understand and appropriately leverage established industry conventions, these could be structural choices, print finishes, material choices, language or colour. Unfamiliarity may well set the product apart but basic messages such as quality could be misunderstood. Purchases are frequently made on an instinctual level, it’s the designer’s job to take advantage of this.

Provided by @richbaird

Saturation of materials and print processes

It’s important to identify and understand the conventions that have, over time, lost their effectiveness through widespread saturation. Gold foils, which have become increasingly affordable, appear across a variety of products at a multitude of price points, the print finish no longer communicates the premium quality it used to. As much as consumers have become desensitised to certain techniques, they have become more sensitive to new materials, finishes and forms.

Look to other categories with values similar to those you want to convey and cross pollinate materials, structures and print finishes. Raised surface treatments utilised in the spirits category are currently making their way into fruit juice bottles, creating what is described as a super-premium aesthetic. Originality and communicative effectiveness really comes in the way you remix established ideas.

Further reading: The Accessibility and Saturation of Material and Print Technologies in Brand Identity Design

Provided by @richbaird

Environmental considerations

When designing packaging it’s important to consider its full life cycle. Can it be reused? How easy is it to recycle? It’s a designer’s responsibility to, at the least, inform a client of the opportunities to use water based inks and recycled or sustainable substrates.

Provided by @richbaird


Consider how a consumer will interact with your packaging solution both on the shop floor and at home. Is there a clear and understandable hierarchy of information? Is the packaging easy to access? Are the instructions legible in both contrast and size? Bare in mind, a brand is a complete experience and as such the packaging should express positive values such as inclusivity and accessibility.

Suggested by @Knotrune

Resource: Material identification codes

Resource: Material identification codes

PETE - Polyethylene terephthalate

HDPE - High Density Polyethylene

V (PVC) - Polyvinyl Chloride

LDPE - Low Density Polyethylene

PP - Polypropylene

PS – Polystyrene

To download this set as a vector file click here.

Provided by @RichBaird


To acquire a barcode for your packaging you or your client will need to register at an official number supplier such as GS1 or one of its member organisations. These numbers can be used with a barcode generator ( these can be found online) to create an EPS file that can be used on pack. Be sure to check the type of barcode you require before outputting any file, in Europe these are typically EAN13. The recommended size for barcodes displayed on international packaging is 16mm high.

Barcode terminology:

Ladder – placed vertically.

Gate – Like a fence, set horizontally.

For more information visit the GS1 website.

Free online barcode generators:    Terryburton    |    Barcodesinc    |    Barcode Generator

Provided by @RichBaird

Batch numbers

When working on pharmaceutical or cosmeceutical products you will need to make sure you include space for a batch number. These are mechanically stamped onto the packaging during assembly to trace specific groups of products. Ask your client to include this specification in the brief so that you can work it into your designs.

Provided by @RichBaird

Resource: Back of pack symbols

Resource: Back of pack symbols

RoHS Compliant – ‘Restriction of the use of Hazardous Substances’ (The materials used don’t pose a health risk)

CE Mark - European Conformity – The product satisfies legislation set out by the European Union, essentially meeting a basic level of quality.

Green Dot - The Green Dot is a symbol that allows consumers to know that the manufacturer has covered the cost of recovery and the recycling of a product. This is typically a license fee that varies between countries and the materials utilised in the manufacture of a product.

Bin – Don’t throw the product into a conventional household waste bin.

On opening, use by – This symbol denotes the months a product will remain effective prior to opening.

Möbius loop – This indicates that the material can be recycled (sometimes accompanied by a material ID number).

To download the set as a vector file click here.

Make that you and your client understands their responsibility when using any of these marks.

Provided by @RichBaird


When working with clear materials make sure you are aware of the contents and that your design compliments this and has enough contrast to be legible. You may need to consider putting down a base layer to enhance similar colours or tints.

Provided by @RichBaird

Resource: Association marks

Resource: Association Symbols

Leaping bunny - The products haven’t been tested on animals

Soil Association - The soil association has a wide range of standards covering a number of industries read more here

Vegetarian Society - The product is deemed suitable for vegetarians.

To download the set as a vector file click here.

Make that you and your client understands their responsibility when using any of these marks.

Provided by @RichBaird

Working with bottles and curved surfaces

Consider that a straight on technical drawing won’t take into account the curve of the bottle which can make up a significant amount of additional space. Ask the manufacturer for a print guide to get an accurate measurements and consider how you layout out your copy, a user shouldn’t have to keep turning the bottle back round to read the next sentence.

Provided by @richbaird

Colour guides

Invest in a good colour guide; it applies to any work that will end up printed. Colour accuracy is key to creating a consistant brand and family of products, an up to date colour guide will help to avoid any surprises once the job has been run. Expect the colours to fade over time and with heavy usage so update your guides at the end of each year.

Provided by @leonforthewin


Be sure to mock-up your design in 3 dimensions regularly at full size as you make changes, the difference between a flat image and a made up pack is huge. Remember to factor in any costs you may incur from this process.

Provided by @richbaird

Spot check large batches

Once your packaging has been printed make sure you or your client does a random spot check. Keep and eye out for plate slippage (slight changes across what should be straight artwork) and consistent colour (this can change slightly across separate print runs or when the ink becomes low). Hiding less than perfect pieces under the good ones has been known to happen so do be thorough and don’t be afraid to pull the printers/manufacturers up on any inconsistencies.

Provided by @richbaird

Keep it simple

Keep your design work as simple as possible. The more complicated the packaging becomes, the more costly it is to produce and the chances of errors increase. Remember not to forget the cost of assembly and delivery.

Provided by AloxiaUK

Conical warp

Compensate for any conical distortion on curved/cone shaped labels using the Warp command under Effects in Illustrator.

Provided by @deniscarroll



If you are a designer and have any advice you would like to add to this article, please submit your contribution as a comment below and remember to include your Twitter ID so I can credit your tip.


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