Packaging is more than just a way to get your product from A to B — it’s also an incredibly valuable customer touchpoint. In today’s age of “Instagrammable” moments and unboxing videos, your retail product packaging is also a great way to get extra marketing mileage for your brand.
Here, we’ll take you through the process of creating stellar product packaging for your product, from creating materials that make sense for your brand all the way through the shipping process.
Step 1. Know Your Brand
If you’ve already have a well-developed brand, then this first step is in the bag. If, however, you still haven’t settled on a solid brand identity that includes a logo and color palette, it’s important to choose a direction before you start investing in product packaging.
The last thing you’d want is to shell out for an investment in product packaging up front only to decide a month in that your investment no longer aligns with your brand.
FURTHER READING: Need a little help building your brand? Check out Shopify's guide to starting a brand from scratch.
Step 2. Know Your Customer
Now that you have your brand in place, let’s take a look at how your brand identity applies to your product’s packaging. Your target market will greatly impact the type of experience your customer will expect on receiving your product.
For example, Amazon customers expect a no-fuss approach to packaging. They want a well-priced product that arrives quickly and unscathed. Amazon’s approach? Surround the product with protective packaging like bubble wrap, and put it in a plain cardboard box printed with Amazon’s name and logo. This is packaging in its most basic form.
Chances are, you’re not following the same strategy as Amazon, but if you’d like to add more personalized touches to your product packaging, make sure that they’re in line with what your customer might expect from your brand.
Is your product handmade? Including a handwritten note or tying your package up with twine can help to add to the handmade feeling of the overall experience. Stamping your brand’s logo onto your package rather than using a pre-made label could also better align with your branding.
Is your product an exclusive luxury item? Your customer might expect custom-printed packaging with a sleek feeling and minimal design.
Step 3. Consider Some Practical Variables
Image: Archie Brindleton
You’ve got a solid brand, you’ve mapped out a bit of your customer experience, now it’s time to make your vision a reality. So, what are the tangible aspects of product packaging that you need to consider before finalizing your design and placing that order?
- Durability: Even the most beautiful package won’t make a good impression on your customer if it arrives damaged. Consider your product and what kind of protection it might need. Is it breakable? You’ll definitely want to include elements to protect your product either in the packaging itself or in a separate envelope or box outside of your branded packaging.
- Function: Is your product perishable? If so, then your product packaging might need to include an airtight component. Or you may need to consider using insulated packaging like RawCo does for its frozen raw meals for dogs.
- Shipping costs: Size, weight, and shape all affect the cost of shipping your product. Of these qualities, size will have the biggest impact. Especially if shipping costs are included in the price of your product, it might make sense to invest in a packaging solution that’s as space-effective as possible. Test different packing configurations for your product to ensure you’re keeping your costs as low as possible.
- Scalability: Are you shipping many smaller orders or fewer large orders? Hand stamping your labels may seem like a great idea in theory, but if you’re going to be shipping 500 orders in a week, the time spent stamping will quickly overshadow any costs you saved from not having labels printed. Consider the scalability of your shipping processes — what will realistically work in the long run, and what might need automating?
Step 4. Think About What You’ll Need
Generally speaking, the elements you’ll need as part of your packaging are:
- An outer box or envelope to keep your product secure during the shipping process.
- A label or tape to keep the package closed during shipping.
- Protective elements, like bubble wrap, inside the box to keep your product in place while shipping.
- Tissue, or another more delicate wrapping option, to wrap your product inside of the main box.
- A sticker, or twine, to keep the tissue paper in place.
- Any additional inserts, such as your brand’s card, a thank-you note, or an upcoming promotion you’d like your customer to know about.
FURTHER READING: For more tips on creating an unforgettable unboxing experience for your customers, read our guide.
As discussed in the last section, if your product requires packaging beyond the box, then this will bring another item into your packaging experience.
Step 5. Get Inspired
Doing a little research into what’s current in your industry, or what other brands are doing, can help you to think about ways to stand out from the crowd. You can also make sure you’re following any industry standards.
Here are a few of our favorite small- and medium- sized brands that are really pushing the packaging game.
Dollar Shave Club: In line with the practical, functional, and economical brand, Dollar Shave Club has simple packaging and their aesthetic gives a nod to branding often found in neighborhood pharmacies, or bargain stores.
Image: A Cup of Joanee
Glossier: This beloved cosmetics brand’s identity is all about making makeup fun and easy, and their packaging reflects that. They use bright pops of color, and include text like, “Skin First. Makeup Second. Smile Always.” Plus, they include a pack of Glossier branded stickers to show the playfulness of their brand.
Brooklyn Candle Studio: This Brooklyn-based candle company uses their packaging to emphasize the hand-crafted nature of their products. Candles themselves are poured into mason jars with custom labels. To ship their product, they use simple boxes fastened with twine. Their label is printed on a gift tag, and instead of using bubble wrap, they use straw-like packaging to cushion their candles while they ship.
Step 6. Consider Your Budget
Just because you want professional looking packaging, doesn’t mean that you have to go full steam ahead with custom designed packages all at once. Getting custom packaging created can get expensive and usually requires larger orders. Only you can decide if this investment is worth it for your brand, but if you’ve just started out, a good way to go is to order some standard packaging online and then add custom labels or other elements that bring in your brand’s personal touch.
To give you an idea, placing an order for 100 plain white mailer boxes might cost $0.88 each, for a total of $88 (through uline.com). Not bad. For similarly sized, custom-printed boxes, the cost is closer to $2.29 per box for a total of $229 (through packlane.com). Depending on your budget and customer base, you might decide that opting for custom-printed packaging is worthwhile, but in your brand’s early days, you might want to opt for the plain boxes with a label.
Here are a few options to consider for ordering packaging online:
- ULINE: This is a great one-stop shop for unbranded packaging and carries everything from boxes to clear plastic bags to bag tags.
- Packlane: This vendor offers affordable custom printed packaging, and also allows for smaller orders so that you don’t have to worry about ordering 1,000 boxes right out of the gate.
- Soopak: Soopak is another custom printing option that caters to a broad range of product types with a wide variety of packaging shapes and sizes.
- Fantastapack: Fantastapack is a Seattle-based custom packaging vendor with no minimum orders and a 7-day turnaround time. Plus, with every order purchased, a portion of the proceeds goes towards planting a tree.
- Canva: Canva is a popular and inexpensive online service to create professional-looking branded images and labels. You can insert your logo into a pre-set label design, and change to the colors to reflect your branding. Or, if you don’t have a custom logo yet, you can simply enter your company name in the font of your choice. It’s probably one of the easier do-it-yourself services to use if you don’t have any pre-made brand elements.
- Moo: Moo is another popular online service for high-quality printing. The site is easy to use, and if you’re also planning on ordering other inserts for your packaging, this could be a good one-stop option.
- StickerYou: What if you need a label for packaging that doesn’t come in envelope or box form? StickerYou does reasonably priced custom labels for everything from jam jars to lip balm tubes.
Step 7. Get Your Designs Ready
Now that you’ve priced out a few different options and decided what to customize and what to order as a standard product, it’s time to get your design elements ready to order.
There are two different routes you can take here — either work with a professional to design your packaging elements, or if you’re feeling confident in your design skills, you can also take on this task yourself. Whichever option you decide on will depend entirely on your own comfort level with design, and what you feel you can afford. If this is your first time stepping into a design role, it might be worth it to consult with a professional.
If you do decide to hire a professional, make sure that you check their portfolio for examples of packaging design specifically and not just straight up graphic design. There are subtle differences, and if you’re going to spend the extra money to hire a professional, it should be someone who has the right skillset to make your packaging pop.
If you’re not sure how to get connected with the right person, there are a few ways to find the right packaging designer to meet your needs:
- 99designs: 99designs is a website where individuals or businesses can fill out a creative brief with their design needs, and then different designers on the site will pitch their ideas; you can also browse each designer’s previous work. Their entry-level services are very reasonably priced, and they have a section of their site specifically devoted to package design. Keep in mind, that once you receive your pitches, there’s not much room for editing; but if you have a simple idea in mind, this could be a good approach.
- Upwork: Upwork allows you to search freelance design professionals with specific areas of expertise, and take a look at their work, rates, and reviews in advance. Because you’re working with the designer from start to finish, this approach will allow for a little bit more flexibility.
- Behance: Behance is a platform owned by Adobe that allows creatives to showcase their portfolios. Of the three sites we’re including in this post, it is probably the most designer driven of the the bunch. Your cost will vary more than the two sites above, but if you’re interested in the full design experience, this might be the way to go.
- Just ask: This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s also a good idea to ask around. See a local company that has great packaging? Get in touch and ask them who their designer was; chances are that they’ll be more than happy to give you a referral.
If you’re branching out on your own, but don’t have much design experience, you can always keep it simple. Any of the sites listed above will allow you to upload your company’s logo and select a custom set of colors.
If you’re using a website to order packaging, make sure that you check their file requirements before uploading your logo or any other images. This will help you ensure that they look their best when printed. If you have any other questions along the way, many companies are happy to help you to navigate their system to place your order.
Talking to someone at your local print shop might also be a great way to ask questions if you’d like a little more guidance. They’re often happy to help guide you through the process of ordering with them, and can also provide real life proofs of your packaging elements before you finalize your order with them.
Step 8. Place Your Order and Get Shipping
You’re ready to go! Now that you’ve aligned your packaging with your brand, and have everything that you need to give your customer a great first experience with your product, there’s nothing left to do but ship out your product.
Have you designed your own packaging before? Share your experiences in the comments below.