Good Packaging Design: Do's and Don’ts of Packaging Graphics

Good packaging design does more than add aesthetic appeal for the end user.

It also plays a key role in the efficiency of the overall supply chain. Clear communication at every juncture of the packaging design phase will help contribute to its success as both a functional package and as an efficient packaging production run. Communication is also critical for brands that outsource their packaging production, as designers might not have the printing background to understand how their packaging concept gets produced in real life, or if their designs are even doable for mass production.

Of course, “good packaging design” is a giant topic in and of itself, especially if you consider the multiple functions packaging serves for multiple departments across the organization and throughout the packaging supply chain. That’s why this article focuses on just one element of well-designed and fully-optimized packaging: graphics.

Depending on your level of experience and familiarity with packaging design, these dos and don’ts may either be relatively obvious or surprisingly eye-opening. In either case, our hope is that this article highlights the importance of carefully considering the impact packaging graphics has on users, manufacturers, shippers and anyone else that interacts with packaging throughout its lifecycle.

Elements of Successful Package Design

There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to graphic design, however, there are best practices that contribute to successful graphic design projects. When designing graphics for packaging, a few of these best practices include:

  • Choose a brand-consistent, visually appealing color palette. Be aware of the emotions that color can evoke. Blue and green tend to be calming, while red can spur action.
  • Limit the number of fonts. Sticking with two fonts is generally advised.
  • Less can be more. Don’t try to fit too much information into small areas. Make strategic use of white space to avoid clutter.  
  • Ensure that the design is appropriate for the company, the product (or product line) and the target customers.

Source: Kissmetrics / Neil Patel

Note that the guidelines for successful packaging design are slightly different for e-commerce versus retail packaging.  

All packaging must protect the product and communicate product information clearly. However, these features are slightly different depending on whether the product is meant for retail or e-commerce. For example, e-commerce packaging needs to be designed to stand out for a digital audience and communicate value and benefits in seconds before the consumer scrolls on. E-commerce packaging should also be designed in a way that when delivered to a doorstep it doesn't attract unwanted attention or encourage theft. Whereas, retail packaging must be eye-catching so that it stands out on display, while also any meeting size restrictions posed by retailers to ensure packaging is appropriately sized for the shelf.

For e-commerce brands, packaging design can have an influence on whether or not consumers make additional purchases in the future. A survey of premium adult e-commerce shoppers (customers who spend more than $200 per month) found that 42% are “very likely” to notice custom-designed packaging when they first receive an item. Premium shoppers are also 15% more likely to make a repeat purchase because of custom packaging.

Don’t Sacrifice Functionality

Good packaging design should take into account more than appearance. Watch for design elements that push the limits of print and could jeopardize reproduction quality. Fine or very detailed illustrations, as well as processes that require multiple applications, should be avoided.

It’s best to steer clear of design elements that leave a narrow margin for error in the production phase. For example, intricate patterns that continue across a panel that will be die cut will likely lead to production challenges.

In addition, many industries adhere to regulatory requirements that could impact packaging design. If you are designing retail packaging graphics for highly-regulated products, make sure you are fully aware of all applicable packaging regulations to avoid costly delays in the design verification stage (or worse, costly recalls and redesign of packaging graphics that violate local, federal or international regulations).


Streamline Your Collaboration Process

Efficiency on the front end of the packaging design process will eliminate unnecessary expenses later. Successful packaging design begins with an understanding of the goals it is intended to achieve. Collaboration between the designer and key stakeholders within the company will ensure that the packaging design meets everyone’s expectations — before it’s finalized. Skipping this important step could result in wasted time, energy and other resources.

creative brief is a valuable tool that can efficiently guide the packaging design process. In addition to helping communicate the brand’s objectives, a creative brief will provide a timeline, milestones, approval points and metrics for measuring its performance.

Include printers and quality assurance team members in the collaboration process to ensure that your design meets their specifications and requirements as well. Printing samples and submitting them for approval before running full orders eliminates unpleasant and expensive surprises.

During the collaboration process, these questions can help you objectively discuss the suitability of the packaging design for a specific project:


  • What is the intent of the design?
  • What type of feeling should it evoke?
  • Does the design accomplish what it set out to do?
  • What is the budget for the design phase of the project?
  • Is it fixed or flexible?
  • How can you maximize the amount you have to spend on design?
  • Will the budget limit the number of colors used in the design, or the type of print process it will require?
  • Is the packaging design manufacturable?
  • What machinery and equipment will the client be using?
  • Does the design adhere to federal and industry standards?
  • Are there any regional, state or local regulations that need to be followed?

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How Can We Help You?

Design is an integral part of successful packaging solutions, but ensuring printing quality and consistency can be a challenge when working with vendors who are overseas. Ultimately, good color and graphic management in packaging is a matter of quality control. If you don’t have the people or processes in place to manage the systematic creation, evaluation and verification of color and graphics in packaging design, Billerud can help.  As a leading provider of sustainable packaging materials and solutions, we advise on printing practices and maintaining color management and print testing programs for clients around the world, including Southeast Asia. Contact us to find out how we can become your single point of contact for all your packaging needs in Southeast Asia.

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