The Art of Package Design


There is more to designing a successful package than just making it noticeable. This book explores how to get the most out of the design process and the regulations and legalities required in packaging. It also explores the pitfalls people fall into when trying to create packaging in multi-languages for sale in other markets and cultures. Written by Mark Lehberg, a 30+ year creative professional, this book offers creative insights and tips to create that perfect package.

The Art of

Package Design

by Mark Lehberg

© 2019 Mark Lehberg

“Packaging can be theater,

it can create a story.”


For Mary, my muse.

About the Author

You may not know Mark

Lehberg, but if you’ve ever

shopped for toys or food you

may have seen some of his

packaging work. He is the

creative and entrepreneurial

force behind the promotional,

marketing and packaging

materials of clients across North

America, China, Hong Kong,

Europe and India. From U.S.

multinationals (such as Hasbro and Crayola) to small local firms,

he has, along with his wife Mary, founded Latitudes Marketing By

Design in Montreal, Canada. They offer their clientele a one-stop

shop that caters to all of their creative needs. He has taken his

30 years of passion for packaging and put it into this brief guide,

The Art of Package Design”.

Keith O’Donnell,

Animator, Illustrator and Computer Graphics instructor.

Montreal, Quebec

May 2019



Introduction............................................................................... 1


Packaging: Yesterday and today......................................... 5


Branding & Product Loyalty................................................11


Setting out the design objectives....................................23


Color, Imagery and Typography........................................31


Structure and sustainability...............................................49


The design process................................................................61


Multi-language packaging.................................................85


Inside a toy package..............................................................91


Regulations and legalities...................................................97


Conclusion............................................................................. 109


In the field of design, packaging is a unique challenge. Most

designers will create websites, brochures, catalogs, posters and

other forms of visual communications. While we may sit with

our cup of coffee and look through a website or read a brochure

or catalog, research has shown that the average consumer,

when walking down a store aisle, will give a package about 1

to 1½ seconds of their attention. Almost 70% of all purchase

decisions are made at the point of purchase. 1 That doesn’t mean

that packaging has to be “loud” but it does have to be straight

forward and clear as to what is inside and what the key selling

points are. That’s the challenge that a specialized packaging designer

needs to face.

As one of the most widely used forms of three dimensional

applications of graphic design, packaging serves as one of the

1. The Economic Times, December 2008



most influential forms of communication with consumers since

it provides a first hand experience for individuals. Because of

the numerous and varied quantities of consumer based products

that are produced in modern society it has one of the widest

range of applications of all the forms of graphic design. Millions

of products require unique and individual packaging to set

themselves apart from the competition when they reach their

retail destinations.


We can break packaging design into 4 categories:

1. a container to protect the product inside

2. part of the cost of the product

3. a marketing tool to promote the product

4. part of the actual product such as an after-purchase container

or an element of the product or toy.

Of all of these, #3, the marketing tool, will be the main focus

of this book. Many products in the same category, such as shampoo,

will be in similar shaped bottles. What differentiates these

products is the message and imagery on the package, in essence,

the package design.

There are many ways to engage the consumer and draw them

to a product. One is to create a range of products in the same

brand such as a line of potato chips, crayons or markers. This

creates a shelf of multiple products so that the consumer’s eyes

are drawn to the brand first and then to the product. In this way

we are creating a larger retail footprint than just a single prod-


uct. We can also create different facings of a single product in

varying colors so we create a patchwork of colors on the shelf.

This also increases the product footprint. This is known as block

merchandising or billboarding.

Another way to attract shelf attention is with recognizable

icons or visuals. For instance, the unique shape of a Coke bottle

or a Perrier bottle, the distinctive Crayola yellow or the black

and cream of a Guinness bottle. I’ll explain this in more detail in

the chapter “Branding and Product Loyalty”.

You can also attract shoppers with text or call-outs of key

features or benefits such as price, function, size, taste, etc. But

another element of the package is to appeal to the emotions. We

do this with colors and imagery evoking a “want” for the product.

Food packaging does this with high-quality images of the

prepared foods done in a commercial photo studio with a chef/

stylist to make the image on the package as delicious as it is in

the kitchen.

The packaging becomes the real value over and above the

product. For example, two competing brands of arts and crafts

markers and crayons, one from a major manufacturer and the

other made in China. If we opened the boxes, the products are

virtually the same. But the package with the “wow” design, is the

one that will sell more. The package makes all the difference.

We live in a consumer world of almost infinite packaging

choices. A well thought out brand that reflects a quality product

will beat out the competition almost every time.

But there are dangers to be aware of in package design, such



as the tendency to over-design and over-state benefits of a product.

Don’t use a beautiful package to hide a mediocre product.

Consumers may be fooled once but the goal should be for repeat

sales. Make sure that the product is worthy of the design and

vice versa.

Packaging design will have an effect on profit and loss. If you

treat it as just a cosmetic feature or just a secondary marketing

tool you won’t have the desired result. But if design is looked at

as an investment, used as a primary marketing effort and designed

by a professional then the results can be very profitable.



Packaging -

yesterday and today

What is packaging? Packaging protects the product from

physical impacts such as hitting, wetting, and bruising.

Packaging allows for the product to reach the consumer in the

most economic way possible and creates ease of storage. Another

important role of packaging is to provide the consumer with information

about the product, its benefits and the key marketing

message. This differentiates the product from the competition

and allows the consumer to make a choice. The weight, price,

production date, use by date, ingredients or contents, name of

the manufacturer and usage details written on the packaging

provides major convenience to the seller and the consumer.

Packaging should inform the consumer of all the properties

of the product. It speaks for the product. In regards to food

packaging, with the development of the modern age, decreasing

family size and increase in the number of single households,



the production of specially portioned packaging has increased.

Packaged goods are preferred because people have limited time

to eat, drink and shop in the fast tempo of today.

Looking at the history of packaging we could go all the

way back to ancient China and the development of cardboard.

When containers were needed nature provided gourds, shells,

and leaves. Later, containers were fashioned from natural materials

such as hollowed logs, woven grasses and animal organs.

The earliest form of flexible packaging can be traced back to

the Chinese in the Second century BC, when they used sheets

of treated bark to wrap goods. 1 Over the next millennium paper-making

techniques were developed in the Middle East and

Europe and finally in England. 2 This technique came to America

in the late 1600s.

But this was not paper from wood pulp as we know it today.

This was a product made from flax and other sources. Paper

from wood pulp was developed in the middle of the 19th century.

3 Why is this important in the development of packaging?

Commercial packaging needs to hold a variety of goods. It has

to be of a material that can be printed on and it has to be flexible

and durable. In other words, paper or cardboard. The first durable

paper that most would claim as the grandfather of modern

cardboard was invented in China in the fifteenth century. 4

1. Ohioline. Ohio State University Extension. A History of Packaging.

2. Papermaking, its introduction and manufacture in the Medieval Middle East: An Overview, by

Jessica Lafrance

3. Alkaline Paper Advocate. Volume 10, Number 2. October 1997.

4. How was cardboard invented?



Paper bags were developed in England around 1840 and

bag-making machines around 1850. 5 It wasn’t until the turn of

the century that automatically produced and printed bags came

onto the market.

The first commercial cardboard box was produced in England

in the early 1800s, about two hundred years after the Chinese

invented cardboard. 6 Corrugated paper and shipping cartons

(replacing wood) appeared over the next 50 to 75 years. 7

The Kellogg brothers developed the use of cardboard to

make their cereal cartons and when marketing to the masses, introduced

a heat sealed wax paper liner to protect the food from

the carton. 8

5, 6, 7. Ohioline. Ohio State University Extension. A History of Packaging.

8. History of Cardboard Boxes



Paper and paperboard packaging increased in popularity well

into the 20th century. Then with the advent of plastics as a significant

player in packaging (late 1970s and early 1980s), paper

and its related products tended to fade in use. Lately that trend

has halted as designers try to respond to environmental concerns

of using plastics.

A discussion of the history of packaging goes beyond just

the materials. Packaging has changed over the centuries to meet

consumer demands. The purpose of packaging is to transport

a product and to display it to the consumer while telling them

what’s inside. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century

packaging told a story of the product, what was inside, its benefits,

the history of the company, etc.

Packaging today has changed dramatically. Consumers lead

a busy and sometimes frantic lifestyle. Shopping is not a leisure

activity but a necessary daily function. So when shopping for an

item in a grocery store, toy store, electronics store, etc, consumers

will glance at a package for about a second to a second and a

half. Not a lot of time to tell a story.

So today’s packaging must attract the eye and appeal to the

senses in an instant. We do that with the use of colors, graphics,

images and wording. A far cry from the crowded story-telling

boxes of a century ago.

The rise of the digital world in the late 20th century has permitted

companies to grow rapidly and globally. Increased competition

required advances in packaging design to distinguish

products from competitors. But as packaging needs increased,



along with the search for new and innovative materials, the environment

was the loser. So today’s packaging, in addition to

holding and transporting a product, appealing to the consumer,

and being cost-effective, has to be environmentally friendly and


And consumer behavior has changed. In today’s digital world

information is everywhere. It is rare for a consumer to make a

major purchase without searching on-line for options. So unsubstantiated

claims or misleading statements on packaging are



easily uncovered.

The history of packaging is not just a history of the development

of paper-making, plastics and other materials, but it is a

history of societal development and consumer habits.

How will packaging be shaped by future changes? Many

events will effect this such as the changing needs of society,

competition, changing lifestyles, the development of sustainable

resources, and the discovery of new processes. Looking at the

past we see that no single event shaped the packaging of today

and the same will be true in the future. A variety of events will

converge to create tomorrow’s packaging.



Branding and product


Before we talk about branding we need to be clear on what is a

brand. Don’t confuse a brand with a logo. A logo is not your

brand and it is not your identity. A logo identifies a company

with the use of an icon or other graphic elements. An identity

is all of the creative aspects that form the overall brand such as

colors, package layout, and other elements. So a brand is a collection

of the logo and the identity creating an emotional image

of the company.

Where did branding come from and why? The name evolved

from the use of a “brand” burned into the hide of cattle to identify

their owner. At the dawn of commerce people shopped for

goods in a market selecting the best fruit, produce, meat and

household items. All of the products were similar but some

stood out above the rest. So the seller started to identify them

with their own mark or insignia to separate or differentiate them



from their competitors. And as word spread of their superior

quality consumers sought them out. The “brand” had arrived.

In the 1660s, imports into England often cheated the public

and the phrase “let the buyer beware” became popular. Inferior

quality and impure products were disguised and sold to uninformed

customers. Honest merchants, unhappy with this deception,

began to mark their wares with their identification to alert

potential buyers. In the 1860’s cough drops were sold in glass

jars on store counter tops. To prevent generic versions of their

products being sold, the Smith Brothers, in 1872, started packaging

their drops in boxes branded with their name and images

of the two brothers. They had created a logo and the beginning

of a brand. 1


1. Time Magazine, September 24, 1934



In 1842, the state of Michigan required that logs have a special

mark and be registered in the county where the logs were

manufactured and cut into lumber. 2

The first trademark laws came into effect in 1857 in France

and in 1862 in the United Kingdom. And in 1870 the first registered

U.S. trademark was awarded to the Eagle-Arwill Chemical

Paint Company. 3 Today there are nearly three-quarters of

2. Government of Michigan, Michigan Log Marks

3. Ohioline. Ohio State University Extension. A History of Packaging.



a million (750,000) registered trademarks in the United States


We may not always be aware of it but trademarks are everywhere.

A trademark is another way of distinguishing brands.

Purchasing decisions are influenced by branding and also by

trademarks. We realize the importance of branding to enhance

product recognition and instill consumer loyalty. A trademark is

a legal tool to protect that brand. It is also an important part of

your entire communication strategy.

When we think of a trademark we usually think of a logo

but it can be much more than that. A package design or layout

can also be a trademark. For example a package design that uses

certain colors in a prescribed shape or form can be trademarked.

It can be any recognizable and unique element in a package design.

And a design trademark does not have to rely on language

or alphabet.

A branded or trademarked design is a valuable asset. It leads

to easy recognitions not just on the shelf, but on websites and

social media platforms. A brand is so much more than a logo.

It extends to corporate brochures, web site, company vehicles,

business stationery, signage, employee uniforms, product displays,

catalogs and product packaging. Quick brand recognition

enhances your overall marketing efforts.

The old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t always

apply. Certainly not when it comes to packaging. Branding

is an effective tool to help distinguish your products from com-

3. Ohioline. Ohio State University Extension. A History of Packaging.



petitors on the shelf, on line and in Social Media. It’s the first

thing the consumer sees and is a huge part of the purchasing


Branding is a way for companies to stand out from their competition

and be instantly recognizable in the clutter of products

on a store shelf. Who hasn’t walked down the aisle of a store and

spotted the Crayola products even before we were close enough

to read the name? The distinctive yellow package with the green

chevrons is part of Crayola’s brand and part of our subconscious.

And we all notice the brown delivery trucks of UPS without

having to see their logo.

When creating packaging for a brand we need to have a

wider view. As we design we have to ask ourselves how will we

create multiple products using this layout? Which elements will

encompass the brand and which elements will identify specific

products. We can use elements such as a specific font for the title

or header, as well as a section of the layout, such as a color bar, to

identify the product within the brand.

So we do not design a package and then say , “OK, let’s use

this for the brand or line.” We have to start that process before

we design and keep the brand prominent and recognizable and

identify those specific product elements as we design. When

we think of branding we automatically recall companies such

as LEGO, or Kellogg’s. But a brand doesn’t have to be a billion

dollar company or sold across the globe. A brand can be a series

of products or just one. A brand is a trade name for a specific

product, its identity and overall design. It identifies the seller



and differentiates it from its competition. A brand has come

to mean more than just the product. It can be used to define a

range of services or even a corporate philosophy. And it can get

confusing with over use.

On the subject of package design, a brand is more than a

name. It is also the style of design of the package and how it is

presented. A brand is meant not just to differentiate you from

your competition but also to have instant recognition for the

consumer. This will help you market a line of products based on

the success of a single item. People will associate your brand with

the quality of a previous purchase. Other elements that tie into

your brand after the package will be signage, advertising, store

displays, stationery, vehicles, employee uniforms, etc.

There are many terms associated with branding. Let’s explore

a few of these.


Naming your brand or product is the first step in the branding

process. It is a very involved process balancing objectivity

and emotion. First we need to identify the purpose and mission

of the product, the target audience, and then generate a list of

words that identify with the product, its category and its key

features. Brainstorm this process and discard nothing. Every

word or thought uttered should be written down. Now look at

your words and see if anything jumps out at you. Try combinations

of words, rhymes, alliterations. You may look at a word in a



different language, words that conjure up emotions or feeling, or

new words that you create. If you are selling in foreign markets

ensure that you are not using a word that sends a negative or

offensive message. The name you select should elicit a positive

image and a positive response from the consumer. Words that

appeal to the senses will work well in the food and beverage

industry and words suggesting fun, play or family will work in

the toy industry. Once you’ve found the three or four top choices

do a quick Google search to see if anyone is using it. If there is

no confusion, a word used in one industry can still be used in

another industry. But once you have your selection it’s time to

talk to a trademark attorney who will do a more exhaustive legal

search to see if the name can be used and protected.


Your brand identity are the elements of the brand such as a

registered or trademarked name, the colors used, the symbols or

graphics that make up the logo and other elements of the design

of the packaging, signage, etc.

The elements or “identity” separate the brand from other

companies in the marketplace. It also evokes an emotional response

in the consumer. We associate the brand with product

quality or specific ideas and feeling about a product. Consumers

will recall elements of the brand and recognize them on various

media (packaging, web site, etc).




Creating a brand and using that over a range of packaging

does not guarantee success. The products delivered under your

brand have to stand up to consumer expectations and deliver on

the “promise” of a trustworthy, reliable and quality product. If a

branded product delivers what it promises to the consumer, then

other products under that brand will benefit from the promise

associated with the brand.

But like any other promise, a brand promise can be broken.

And when this happens the reputation of the company and its

products are affected and consumers will choose a competitor.




In packaging, a brand promise can be broken by design

flaws such as:

1. Promising a product that is superior to a competitor but it

is not.

2. Copying of a competitor’s design to confuse the consumer

3. Packaging structure that is difficult to open or use

4. Type that is hard to read or poorly written

5. Images on the package that do not resemble the contents.


As you develop and deliver branded packaging people will

begin to recognize the different elements of your design and if

successful, will identify it with quality and value. This is a measure

of your legitimacy and reliability. The visual elements of

your brand have become tangible assets and become your Brand


In order to create Brand Equity you need to deliver on the

promises you make. This said, Brand Equity is not developed

overnight. You need to consistently deliver or exceed expectations

and never lose sight of the value of Brand Equity or how

easily you can lose it by not fulfilling expectations.


Brand Loyalty could also be translated as “Trust”. As you deliver

quality products that stand up to your marketing hype, con-


sumers will become loyal to your brand. They will have expected

and received quality products at a price that they feel is justified.

The shopping experience, the product quality and product support

met their expectations. They will talk to friends and family

in positive terms about your products and when shopping will

be drawn to your products again and again because of the satisfying


This preference for your products over your competitors,

even if more expensive, is your Brand Loyalty. You will be seen

as delivering a consistent product that meets or exceeds expectations.


Brand Positioning is when you identify specific characteristics

of your product that help it to stand out from your competitors.

Packaging design will call out different elements that are

superior or unique.

Brand Repositioning is part of the evolution of your brand.

After a period of time you will want to look at your brand identity

and update as your products change. One way to show consumers

that your products have improved is to redesign your

brand identity. That is a tricky process. You do not want to lose

the elements of your design that have become identifiable with

your product success but you want to show a growth in your

brand. This is a process that needs to call out new design elements

but keep the look and feel of your existing brand. These



changes can be small and subtle or more wide ranging. But never

lose sight of what you have built and do not lose your Brand




Setting out

design objectives

Before we start designing our package we need to define what

it is we want to accomplish. Is this a new product and do we

have to educate the consumer on what it is? Are we creating a

want or a need for an impulse buy or is this a branded product

that ties into an existing line. We need to define all of this so

that we can deliver the correct message in a graphic format that

communicates without crowding the package.

Another issue to consider is the size of the package. When

determining this many people consider how the contents will

fit but there are other issues that also impact this decision. One

is the retail price of the product. For example, a $20 item must

have the look, feel and value associated with its cost. Consumers

have a negative image of a small item at a high price. There are

exceptions. A product that is heavily advertised, has a strong

marketing campaign behind it, or is a licensed product does not



need to follow this rule. But an item found in mass-market, that

is either an impulse buy or a random purchase must have a perceived

value. Look at competitive products in your category and

judge what is on the shelf. Look at package size if you need

to get an idea of the perceived value. A $20 item should have

a certain size and feel. A minimalist approach to packaging is

becoming more popular but packaging your product in a larger

box has a psychological impact on a consumer’s buying decision.

A product in a large box has a perceived greater value than a

product in a small bag. These are two competing ideologies of

package size and you need to make that decision before you set

our your design objectives. European markets will reject unnecessarily

large packaging.

Regulations of the U.S. Product Safety Commission

(USPSC) affecting toy packaging require various warnings on

the front panel (the principal display panel or PDP). The size of

these warnings are regulated by the size of the PDP. The next

image shows the size of the Choking Hazard found on toys. As

you can see, as the PDP size increases, so does the warning size.

So when you are considering package size look at the size of the

warning box you need to use. For example, a box that measures

10” x 10” begins a new size category. If the item is slightly smaller

then the warning box is considerably reduced. The next size

category goes up to 400 square inches and that size warning on

a 100 square inch box takes up too much space. So in this case,

we would try to keep the box size down to 9-7/8” x 9-7/8”. That

missing 1/8 inch won’t affect the overall design but will give you









a less crowded box. So if you are making a board game for example

and deciding on the components such as the board, consider

the appropriate box size you are aiming for. In this case, the box

design starts with the design of the components.

Now that we have determined the optimal package size we

need to make the package stand out on the shelf and deliver a

clear message. We don’t want to crowd it with too many elements

or a confusing and distracting array of colors. So the challenge

is to grab the attention long enough to get the consumer

to stop and notice our message. If your design or messaging can

get shoppers to touch or pick up the product then you are closer

to making a sale. So with this in mind, we need to convey our

message on the package in a clear and concise manner.

Keep the message short and simple. You don’t need all of

your key selling features on the main panel. We need to say just

enough to get the consumer to stop and notice the package. All

additional information can still be used but on the back or side

panels. Once the consumer stops and picks up the package, if

interested, they will turn the box over and see your additional

selling points. By then, we are almost at the check-out counter.

Next we have to consider the message on the package. Break

down all of your key selling features and pick the two most important.

Pick the best features and make those strong and visible.

Make sure that the contents are clearly listed and displayed

on the bottom third of the package. Colors and imagery play

into the overall appeal and we will discuss that in a later chapter.

Now we have to consider structure and security. This is dif-



ferent from package size. What is the most durable structure for

this product? Most consumer products will travel great distances

before they are purchased and taken home. So the package material

must be able to secure the product and prevent damage. It

also needs to avoid wear so it appears new and fresh on the shelf.

This can be done with inserts to hold products securely. Also

the weight of the components must be taken into consideration.

Heavy items need a package structure that will not break when

moved around. Many packages will use a 24pt board, printed,

folded and glued. But heavier products may require more solid

structure such as corrugated or other materials. If you are displaying

products in a window make sure they are secure so they

do not move in shipment.

The question of security must be addressed. You do not want

the package easily opened in the store so that items can be removed.

But balance that with trying to avoid consumer frustration

with overly packaged goods that are difficult to open once

you take them home. You can use security tabs to close flaps or a

complete shrink wrap to enclose the entire box. Always consider

security when designing a package but don’t make opening the

package a frustrating experience for the consumer.

As you can see there are many things to consider before we

even start to design our package.



Work with a checklist so that you cover all of the points

as you begin your design.

1. Who are you selling to?

2. Who is your competition?

3. What are your products’ strengths?

4. What are its weaknesses?

5. Does the package have any use after purchase, for storage

or display?

6. How is the product used? Is it poured, squeezed, dispensed

in any way?

7. What is the retail price and is the package size


8. Have you taken full advantage of the principal display


9. Is the package structure appropriate for the product?

10. Have you defined your key selling features?

Now we can move on to considering the design elements and

starting the design process.




Color, imagery and


There are three basic elements that form the core of your design.

As the title of this chapter suggests they are color, imagery

(photos, illustrations) and typography (the style of fonts

used) and we will look at all three of them.


In discussing colors you’ll come across all sorts of terminology

such as hues (variety of a color), spectrums (similar to or a

combination of hues), tints (mixing a color with white to create

a softer color), saturation (intensity or strength of a color), etc.

We could probably write another book just on the subject of

color. But we need to simplify the design process and we can

define colors for your package without taking a course on color




When designing packaging we need to get the message

across (type) and show what the product is (imagery). But if we

had to pick one element that is the most important, it is color.

It is the first thing that draws the consumer to a product on

the shelf. To understand the importance of color, stand on the

sidewalk of a busy commercial street. You’ll see a lot of grays and

browns of the various buildings. You’ll see the different tones of

people’s clothing. But as you look down the street a large red

sign or a bright yellow light will stand out from the clutter. And

it’s the same on a crowded store shelf. So as we design our packaging

we need to decide on a color pallet. That means you are

not using a rainbow of colors which can be distracting. Select a

main color and then a range of complimentary colors. And how

do we do that?

Look at colors in your brand. You don’t need to repeat the

colors but you don’t want the main package color to fight with

the logo for attention. And look at the color of the product. So

pick a color that compliments these. You also need to consider

your competition. We don’t always know what will be on the

shelf beside your product but you do know who the key players

are. For example, if you have an arts and crafts product you know

that Crayola will be in proximity to your package. So you want

to avoid that golden Crayola yellow. Find a color and design that

will distinguish you from your competition.

You can research colors until you are more confused than

when you started. Studies will identify red and orange with



warmth, energy and enthusiasm; yellow with creativity, hope

and life; green with environmentally friendly; brown with a natural

product; and blue with dignity and loyalty. 1 In some industries

such as food packaging, we need to consider this. But not


A traditional color wheel shows three primary colors (yellow, red, blue)

and three secondary colors (green, orange, violet). Complimentary colors to

each are opposite on the wheel.

1. Color Meaning



as a hard and fast rule. If we did then a natural food store would

have shelves full of just brown packaging. Don’t get stuck on

these narrow color definitions. Maybe green or yellow or red will

work with your product. But look at your competition, look at

the store shelf you hope to be on and consider your product and

your message.

Explore a few different color pallets with your logo and

product image. Print them out and stick them all up on a wall.

Stand back, walk away from it, come back and look at them and

consider what works best. There is no formula for this. It is a

feeling you will get.

So as we select colors for our package remember that this is

the most influential and distinguishing feature. It will define the

emotion and feelings associated with your product. It will stand

out from the clutter on the shelf and it will compliment the


The package color can be part of your brand (such as Crayola

yellow). You can use it within a brand to distinguish flavors or

fragrances of a line of products (such as in food or cosmetics).

For example, the overall color of a line of packaging could be

orange. The brand might contain a line of products in different

flavors. So aside from the overall brand color (orange) each flavor

would have an identifying element in a specific color such as

blue for a blueberry flavor, red for a cherry flavor, etc.

Although we would like to avoid standard color definitions

(such as red for energy, as described previously) we cannot avoid

the fact that certain ranges of colors will define certain catego-



ries. Walk down the cosmetic aisle of a drug store and you will

see a pallet of soft colors, pinks, soft blues, etc. In the supermarket

the cereal aisle will have strong bold colors to appeal

to young children. This same color pallet can be found in the

pre-school aisle of a toy store. So you can design your product to

be part of this aisle or think outside the box for colors that will

stand out against what can become a monotony of similarity. A

good designer can give you options to stand out from the pack.

There are no easy solutions or a successful formula for selecting

colors that work. Red is defined as a strong color but if your

product is positioned next to another red package or an orange

box, then the effectiveness is lost. So what is the answer? You

need to look for a color that compliments your product. The

perfect color may vary from shelf to shelf. So look at your major

competition and focus on differentiating your product from


Don’t get stuck on trends. If the “hot” color one year is purple,

what happens to your product as trends change the next

year? Trend strategy is a recipe for failure. A successful color

strategy for your product will create a personality of your brand.

Consumers will start to associate your color with your product

and draw repeat sales through easy recognition. The color design

of your packaging along with your logo or brand is your

“trade dress”. Trade dress is the overall look and feel of a product

or service, which indicates or identifies the source of the product

or service and distinguishes it from those of others. It may

include the design or configuration of a product; the packaging



of goods; and/or the décor or environment in which services

are provided. 2 And this combination, in addition to packaging

will be used on catalogs, product sheets, web site, etc. So when

selecting color, it’s more than just the color on the shelf.

Key points when selecting color:

1. Select a color that compliments your product and brand.

2. If you are designing a line of products, select a coordinated

range of colors.

3. Make sure that your computer monitor is calibrated so

that the colors on the screen are reproduced on the printed


4. Use Pantone colors for brand colors. These are industry

specific colors, that are specially formulated to print exactly

the same in tone and hue, every time. 3


As discussed in the last section, we use color to draw attention

to our package and enhance our brand identity. Imagery

(photography, illustrations, characters, icons, etc) is used to provide

visual stimulation.

We use imagery in different ways on different parts of the

packaging. The main panel (PDP) will have the main image,

what we call the “hero shot”. This is the image that best rep-

2. International Trademark Association (INTA): Trade Dress

3. What are Pantone colors?



resents the product and is the most enticing. On a food package

it says “delicious or healthy”, on a toy package it says “fun” and

on a consumer electronics package it says “You want me”. It’s the

element that makes you reach for the box. We will discuss how

best to use that image but first let’s talk about how to create it.

On a food package the image has to be mouth watering

delicious. You can use an illustration created and rendered to

provide an enticing image. But most food packaging requires a

more realistic visual that the consumer can almost taste as they

look at your package. The best image is a photograph. This is

not an area where you want to be budget conscious. Use a professional

photographer in a studio and a chef/stylist to create the

incredible mouth-watering image. It’s not just the product you

wan, it is also how the chef will garnish the plate. You want the

consumer to reach for the box and imagine how delicious it will

be. A stylist can create that image for you.

On a toy package you want a detailed image of the toy maybe

calling out key features. The main image should show the toy in

play. For example an arts and crafts, cosmetic or fashion product

would have an image of a child using or wearing the final craft.

On the back of the box you may show children interacting with

it. But the setting has to be fun. Be sure not to show a messy

scene that parents will think will need monitoring or a lot of


The final photograph should not be what you use on the

package. A good designer will use extensive PhotoShop skills to

enhance the image, adding highlights, shadows, touch-ups and



color correction.

A food image should target the senses such as scent, taste,

flavor, etc. The hierarchy of the package (after the color) starts

with the hero shot. If you are doing a series of products, food,

toys, electronics, be sure to use the same styling in your images.

This is also part of your branding and is as important as color.

There are hundreds of different photographic styles (such as

lighting, angles, styling, perspective, color or black and white,

duo tones, etc). Selecting a style is as important as selecting a

color. It is part of your “trade dress”.

Once you have your main image, consider how it is placed

on the box. You need to leave room for the type and messaging.

Remember this is your main element so it needs to have

prominence and needs to “leap off the box”. You can use extreme

cropping to give the image size. You don’t always need to show

the whole item but can use a part of it suggesting what is not


The image should not be created to fit into the layout. The

layout or design of the package should fit the image. Prior to

photography or illustration, you should already have a layout of

the box with the image placed and styled in the best possible

manner. Then the image is created according to your design.

The image is not an afterthought. It is the main element of the

design. Crop and scale the image for the best effect.

Certain products will benefit from an illustration rather than

a photograph. It’s not a question of which category of product,

but rather what form of imagery best shows off the product.



Many illustrations can be photo realistic and give the product a

richer look. You can also use a photograph with heavy retouching.

It all comes down to what makes the product look the best.

Symbols or icons can be used to call out special features.

There are many stock images available that are easily recognized

by the consumer and are effective in identifying special features.

These are icons such as social media, recycling, ages, family fun,

etc. You can also create custom icons for additional features.

Some products will benefit from a character or mascot image.

These are particularly useful if you are creating a line of

similar products. A character can create a certain style and help

target a particular audience.

In addition to imagery, we also need to consider other graphic

elements; circles, squares and triangles (violators) to hold special

marketing information that needs to stand out. You can also

use color bars to hold special text, or to call out different flavors

or fragrances.

When considering imagery, remember these points:

1. Photographs and illustrations can be used in various styles.

Use the one that best compliments your product and brand.

2. Images should be clear and direct and never confusing to

the consumer.

3. Be sure to look at the entire design of the package and

make the image the main element.

4. The image should be the main point that the consumer

identifies with.




There are many rules in type design such as the use of capital

letters, alignment, line and word spacing. And these same

rules are relevant in package design. But there are also certain

factors that are unique to packaging. We are not using type on a

brochure or business card. The text we create is usually read at a

distance as the consumer walks through a store. And as we described

previously, it is only glanced at. So important text needs

to be short, concise and legible at a distance. The family of fonts

that we use has to be easy to read. Type also has to convey what

the product is and what the key features are.

When selecting a font (and there are literally thousands to

choose from) we need to take a couple of things into consideration.

What is the type of product and who is the audience? The

fonts used must have the same feel as the product, they must

compliment it. A serious electronic product for a professional

buyer would not have a fun, cartoon font that you might find on

a cereal box.

So what are we using the fonts for? We are using them for the

product name, a short descriptor, a list of contents, some marketing

call-outs and maybe a quantity or piece count. Limit the

typefaces that are used. Try to keep it to 3 different fonts. Usually

you’ll want to stay in the same family and vary the weight

of the fonts, bold, medium, condensed, etc. Too many different

fonts is very confusing and distracting to the consumer.



When we are designing a package, we start with the principal

display panel (PDP). We need to decide what we want the

reader to see first, second, third, etc. We do that by assigning different

weights and colors to the type so that the most important

text is read first and we guide the reader through the package

in the order we want. How we place type, how we weigh it and

how we align and color it are all tools we use to set up a type


We group items together that we want read together and

space out other items that we want to separate.

Alignment of type can be handled in different ways.

Centered type is positioned with each line having the same

space at the left and right margins so that each line is centered

on the line above and below.

Left aligned or Flush Left: Each line or word is aligned on the

left margin.

Right aligned or Flush Right: Each line or word is aligned on

the right margin.

Most type will be placed left aligned as we read from left

to right. But depending on your box layout and placement of

elements, sometimes right aligned may work better with your


Justified: This stretches each line evenly to the left and right

so that both of the edges are aligned. But this can create other

problems and create inconsistencies in spacing. All word processing

programs create justified space using algorithms. On

any given justified line, the software calculates the width of each



word (combining the width of the characters in the word) and

then calculates how many words will fit on each line. It then

takes the remaining space on the line and spaces out the words

evenly to fill each line. So the space between the words will not

be consistent on each line. The software compensates for this by

hyphenating words to create an average look for each line. You

can see this difference if you turn off hyphenation. Then the

spacing will look a bit off. Type that is Flush Left or Flush Right

has the same space between words.

Most design software lets you select the language of the type

you are using. Hyphenation is different in each language. So if

you are using text in Spanish and the type is specified as English

your hyphenation will be wrong.

Another term you will come across is “kerning”. This is the

adjustment of white space between letters. In regular text (such

as in this book) slight irregularities in spacing between letters is

not evident because of the smaller size of the font. But in packaging

when we use large type sizes you may want to adjust some

letter spacing. Look at the right edge of a letter and compare the

space to the left edge of the next letter. Then look at the whole

word and see if this spacing is consistent. In larger sizes, it may

not be and this is where you adjust the kerning.

Leading is another term. And this is the space between lines.

Design software will use a value of leading in proportion to the

type size of the font. But sometimes you may want to increase

or decrease this amount slightly depending on your design and

placement of the text. Print out your box layout and place it on



a wall to see how it looks. Then adjust your spacing (kerning,

leading, size, etc) until it has the effect you want.

Positioning of type also sets up a hierarchy. In Western societies

we read from left to right. So type elements on the left

will usually be read before something on the right. And type at

the top of the PDP will be read before type on the bottom. That

combined with type sizes and type weights help us prioritize


We do not design the entire package in the same way. Type

on the front (the PDP) is different that the other panels. Type

on the front needs to be seen at a distance. So we will use larger

fonts maybe heavier weights than we will on the back panel.

On the back, we can use smaller sizes. By the time that panel is

looked at the consumer had picked it up and turned it over.

One important rule to remember in typography is to always

be consistent. Once you have selected the fonts you want to use,

stick with them. Don’t suddenly throw in another font. You can

find enough variety with your font choices using color, weight

and size. Otherwise we are just confusing the reader.

When selecting the font for the item name (or header) remember

your brand identity and select fonts that work with and

compliment the brand.

After this we need to consider the descriptor which is a sub

head to the product name. So that font needs to be in the same

family of the product name in a lower hierarchy. This descriptor

is very important. It tells the consumer just what this product is

and what makes it stand out as different from the competition.



Then we need to place the marketing copy that calls out special

features or contents that give the product value. This type is

important and is usually read before the box is picked up. So we

make it stand out with use of color, weights and may place it in

a element such as a burst or bubble.

Lower on the scale of importance will be the list of contents,

legal and mandatory type. In many industries, such as food, toys

or electronics there are specific government regulations regarding

size and placement. We will cover that in the chapter on

“Regulations and Legalities”

As you can see there is a lot to consider when placing type on

a package. You can easily get lost in a maze of fonts as you try to

select which type to use. Don’t waste too much time. There are

thousands of fonts but only a few basic groups, serif, sans serif,

cursive, handwriting, etc. Decide which style suits your package

and concentrate on those fonts for your selection. You can customize

type with kerning and line spacing.

And most important, spelling and grammar. When you look

at a package with bad grammar or a spelling mistake, what is

your feeling about that product? We immediately devalue the

product based on our reaction to the packaging. So always check

spelling and use proper grammar. Read the text out loud and

check very carefully for any errors.

Let’s summarize some key points when selecting and designing

the typography for your package.

1. It must be legible from a distance (for the front of the




2. You must describe clearly what this product is.

3. Key selling points must stand out.

4. Select the fonts you want to use. Don’t spend a disproportionate

amount of time on this. Select a family of type

with a variety of weights.

5. Use the type carefully, paying attention to alignment and

how that relates to the other elements on the package.

6. Pay particular attention to kerning, leading and type sizes.

7. Look at blocks of justified type and see if the spacing between

words is consistent.



Structure and


Consumers look at packaging today with an eye on the environment.

Is it over-packaged? Does it use recyclable materials?

Is it “green”.


We have to weigh these concerns with some very real considerations.

Products are not manufactured in the back room of

a store and then sold at the front counter. Products must travel

great distances to reach their point-of-sale. So a package holds

many different functions. It has to hold the product and protect

it over long distances and through a great deal of handling. It

has to be as small as possible to fit the product to minimize

shipping costs. It has to be packaged, as much as possible, in

environmentally friendly materials and it has to allow enough



surface area to display the graphics and marketing statements.

With some products, the product itself is the package. You’ll

see this with health and beauty items and cosmetics, such as a

bottle of shampoo or a jar of face cream. For these products,

manufacturers try to use recyclable plastics and other materials.

A product can also be part of the brand identity. Think of the

shape of a Head & Shoulders shampoo bottle. That distinctive

shape is part of their brand. The same is true of the “peanut”

shape of the Coca-Cola bottle.

But in most cases, when we talk about sustainable packaging,

we are talking about the cardboard box or plastic pouch that the

product is sold in.

From the consumer’s stand point, the package should have a

function aside from just holding the product. In many cases it

has to open and close to dispense the product as well as storing


When we decide on a package structure and materials we

need to answer some questions:

1. What kind of product is this? ... toy, food, consumer electronics,

housewares, etc.

2. How do we need to protect it? What kind of packing are

we using to secure the product inside the package? How

will this packing affect the overall size of the final package?

3. What type of structure do we need? Is it a window box

to display what is inside? Will it hang on a hook or be

displayed on a counter top? Or will it be part of a display?



4. How will the product be shipped? Will it need to fit into

a master carton? Does the final package size need to adapt

to the master carton size?

5. Does the product have a shelf life (such as in food or cosmetic


6. Does the package have to be leak-proof? (in the case of


7. Will the package be used to dispense the product?

8. Will the package be used to store the product after its

initial use?

9. How does your competition package their products?

10. Do you have an existing die line or do we have to re-engineer

existing structures?

So how do we decide on the structure of a package? In many

cases there are two packages, the outer shell and the inner construction

that holds the product in place and protects it. For

example, the outer shell contains the graphics and marketing

material and the inner structure holds the components and pieces

in place so they do not break in shipment. A product should

be able to survive a drop test. In a drop test, the final packaged

product is dropped from a 30 inch height (basically table height)

onto a concrete floor. Then the package is opened and the product

is examined for breakage or any damage. At this point, inserts

and packing will be added, the package size adjusted and

the test repeated until there is no damage. Then we can finalize

the inside structure.




What does it mean for a package to be sustainable? This refers

to its environmental impact. A product must meet the needs

of the present generation without affecting the ability of future

generations to meet their needs. That means not just using paperboard

that can be recycled but using paper from trees that

are from a managed forest that controls harvesting of trees and

manages regeneration of the forest, in other words “sustainable”.

Not all products are packaged from these sources. It may be a

matter of cost or just education of the benefits. Most packages

using paperboard from managed forests will carry a designation

identifying this to the consumer. You can see some of these logos

and information on certification at

There are different products we can use aside from standard

paperboard. We can use recycled paper, wood pulp made from

sugarcane, hemp and palm. And when it comes to plastics, they

must be recyclable. We should avoid petroleum based plastics

as much as possible. Research is ongoing in this field and there

are bioplastics made from corn, soy, potato and other renewable

resources. 1

Unfortunately it is a question of costs, and none of these are

cheaper that the current materials. If you have a completely sustainable

package it will be more expensive. But this is a value to

many consumers and it should become a marketing call-out on

your packaging.

1. Corn Plastics to the Rescue.





The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has created

guidelines as to what is and is not a sustainable package.

1. Is it beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities

throughout its life cycle?

2. Does it meet market criteria for both performance and


3. Is it sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using

renewable energy?

4. Does it optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source


5. Is it manufactured using clean production technologies

and best practices?



6. Is it made from materials that are healthy throughout the

life cycle?

7. Is it physically designed to optimize materials and energy?

8. Is it effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or

industrial closed loop cycles? 2

You can find more information about sustainable packaging


In any discussion of sustainable packaging, it will ultimately

come down to choice of materials. And we need to understand

their differences and uses. Which materials are compatible and

which are sustainable? We can divide most materials into a few

categories: paper (or cardboard referred to as paperboard), glass,




metal and plastics. There are new materials being made from

plant-based products and from recycled materials but for this

topic we will stick to paper, glass, metal and plastic.


This material is made from wood pulp or recycled paper

products. It is classified by its thickness which is measured in

thousands-of-an-inch. Material less than 0.010 inches thick is

paper. Anything else is paperboard. Sometimes we hear of paperboard

referred to as a point size, such as 24pt board. This is

0.024 inches thick.

Paperboard is inexpensive and recyclable. It is also easily

formed and folded into almost any shape making it an ideal

product for most packaging. It comes in a variety of thicknesses

and finishes.

Walmart is the largest retailer in the world and they have

set targets for packaging referred to as the Walmart Scorecard. 3

This scorecard requires manufacturers to improve packaging

and conserve resources, such as greenhouse gas emissions, raw

material use, minimum packaging size, percentage of recycled

material, value of recovered material, renewable energy used in

manufacture of packaging and shipping of products (transportation

impact) and innovation.


3. Wal-Mart Scorecard.


This has created the “Seven R’s of Packaging”;

1. Remove - remove excessive over-packaging.

2. Reduce - maximum protection with minimal packaging,

for example, the use of corner boards will reduce the

thickness of corrugated packaging resulting in fewer materials


3. Reuse - products can be returned and reused in closedloop

systems to maximize multiple loads over time.

4. Renew - renewable resources such as water used in the

printing process is captured and reused. No heat is used

in the some processes reducing energy consumption.

5. Recyclable - packaging is created using recycled fiber of

which 80% is post-consumer waste.

6. Revenue - minimal packaging allows more products to

be shipped in a container. Strategically located plants

save on transportation costs.

7. Read - education about the best-practices in sustainable

products increases their use. 4

Walmart, with its commanding position in the retail market

is able to push the industry towards a cleaner environment.


Plastic used in packaging can be clear or opaque, white or

colored. It can be heated and shaped (thermoformed) making it

ideal for creating innovative shapes of packaging. Distinctively

4. Sustainable Packaging Industry: The 7 R’s.



shaped plastic packaging is part of a brand strategy and increases

brand awareness on the shelf. Plastic packaging can be screen

printed directly on the plastic or have a label applied.

Different resins are used in the manufacture of plastics and

these are represented by a number on the package. This number

is surrounded by the continuous arrow (recycling) and it does

not indicate the number of times it can be recycled. It is simply

to identify the resin to enable easier sorting when processing

recycled plastics.

Bioplastics are made from renewable plant resources such as

corn, potato, soy, etc. They are easily renewable because they are

not petroleum-based.

Glass is a material that is widely used in packaging. Similar

to plastics, it can be shaped and formed into distinctive shapes.

Its advantage over plastic is that it will not interact with the

products it contains. The downside is that it is more fragile in

shipping and requires extra protection and packing. It also costs

more to manufacture than plastic and because it is heavier, adds

to shipping costs. But the perception is that products look, smell

and taste better in glass packages.

Metal packaging is made of tin, aluminum or steel. It is inexpensive

to produce and is used for beverages, aerosols, paints,

health and beauty items, and food packaging (aluminum foil


Consumer awareness is building on the use of sustainable

materials in packaging. Some manufacturers are making dubious

claims about sustainability on their packages (referred to as



“greenwashing”) and this can lead to consumer distrust. Also

the use of uncertified logos suggesting environmentally friendly

products or resources devalues genuine efforts at sustainability.

If you are committed to sustainable packaging, consider

these points:

1. Look at the entire cycle of the products you use and

their closed-loop life cycle.

2. Use recyclable or renewable materials

3. Promote proper disposal and give consumers instructions

on how to dispose of properly.

4. Avoid over packing and the over-use of inserts.

5. Look at the overall size of your package and use materials

to reduce that, such as corner board to reduce overall

corrugated size.

6. Explore which are the best materials for the product

considering the content and shelf life.

7. Look at the overall manufacturing process and its environmental





The design process

There are different ways to approach package design. You can

simply start with a blank piece of paper (or an empty computer

screen) and start placing elements. But that will lead to

innumerable starts and stops in the design process. You need

to approach package design with a clear idea of where you are


Before you start designing, you need to ask yourself a few


1. What is the product?

2. Who is buying this product?

3. Where are they buying it?

4. What is the suggested retail price? This is important because

of “perceived value” which we will discuss later.




This is the phase where we look at the product and decide

on the structure of the packaging. Is this a breakable product?

Does it need sturdy packaging or inserts to protect it during

transport? Is it a unique product that might benefit with a window

box or open box to touch and feel the product? If it is a food

product, then what shape are we looking at? What do competitors

do and how will our shape stand out on the shelf.? When

looking at certain shapes, such as tubes or other circular formats,



be aware that they reduce the front panel and limits the area for

your message. If this is a large product then we may look at odd

shaped dimensions. There are a lot of options to consider and at

this stage you might want to mock-up some different options.


What demographic is buying this product... men, women,

adults, children, seniors, etc? What is the market? Is this marketed

to environmentally aware people, then we need to con-


sider materials and graphics that appeal to that audience. If an

item is targeted at seniors, we might consider larger type or even

less type. If it is an upscale item then we will want to consider

certain packaging materials that suggest quality. If this product

is being sold in North America, we look at a more colorful design.

If this is for the European market, the design will have a

cleaner more minimalist approach. It is not always possible to

have one design that appeals to a wide range of consumers in

many different geographical locations. So if you are only doing



one package for a wide market, then pick a design style that is as

wide ranging as possible but with elements that appeal to your

largest demographic.


Are people buying this on-line, in a supermarket, a big-box

store or a small mom and pop boutique? Each outlet requires

different solutions. Can you afford multiple packages? If not,

consider all of the variables and design a package that meets

those needs. If this is sold on-line, then we need to consider

the smallest package possible to minimize shipping costs. But

not too small as we need to add internal elements to hold objects

securely to prevent breakage. If this is sold in a big-box

store as opposed to a smaller boutique, then we need elements

and graphics that can grab the consumer’s attention in a busy,

competitive environment. If sold in smaller mom and pop stores

then we need to capture the buyer with a cleaner, more minimalist



Some products, toys in particular, require packaging that conforms

to a consumer’s perceived value. What does that mean? If

a product has a retail price of $20, then shoppers will expect a

box of a certain size. A $20 item should not be in a small box

where products might usually sell for five dollars. Sometimes we



are selling “air’, placing products in packaging that may be bigger

than needed to meet that concept of perceived value and have

more shelf presence. This does not apply to high-end products

such as consumer electronic where the box size has no relation

to price. It depends on your market. This concept of “perceived

value” is unique to North America and would not be acceptable

in Europe where wasteful packaging is frowned upon.

Food items are another case. A trend in food packaging has

been to reduce quantities while maintaining price... sort of a

hidden price increase. Two example, ice cream used to be sold in

a 2 liter container. Now the same item is 1.45 liters. Pasta used

to sell in 500g packages, now is packaged in 450g or 454g boxes.

But the size of the packages in these instances stays the same.

They are selling air. We don’t support this concept of “selling

air” but in certain industries it has become a trend. You have to

decide how you want to compete in this market, or abandon this

approach for environmental concerns.


There are specific phases in the process that we need to identify

and elaborate on. They are:

• Research and analysis of current market and competitor’s


• Creation of a design brief outlining strategy

• Preliminary design or concepts

• Creative development of the package design



• Adjustments and revisions of design to meet all goals of the

design brief

• Finalization of the design and pre-production checklist

• Submission of all files to the pre-press provider.

So let’s discuss each step in this process.


In this phase we need to define what is currently in the market,

where we want to position this product and how will we

stand out from the crowd. First we need to define what category

this product will fit into. If it’s a food item, what aisle will it

be in. If it’s a toy, what is the age-range. Is it a craft toy, is it

electronic, etc. Then we look at the competition. How do we

compare in price and package size? Is there a dominant color in

this category and do we want to mimic that or stand out from

it? We will visit retail outlets and see what is offered on-line.

Identify your primary competitor and list their main product

advantages. List your products key features as points to call out

on the packaging either matching the competitor or surpassing.

Maybe your product is similar to the competition but offered at

a lower cost. This would be a key feature.


This is where we define the brands marketing strategy. The

design brief defines the product and the key features. It lists all



of the main marketing text you want to emphasize on the packaging.

It also defines the final package size and where you’d like

to position the product (in what specific category). If it’s a toy,

then we identify the age range. If it’s a food item, then we list

the nutritional features such as gluten-free, lactose-free, vegan,

etc. What are the elements that need to be on the front panel?

What is the main image? What is the single most important

statement that you want to make? What is on the secondary

panel (the back)? The back panel can highlight more marketing

text or a more detailed explanation of the product and its uses.

Some packages use the back panel to present a range of complimentary

products within the brand. This is a “cross-sell”.

We need to answer a few more questions. Is this a one-off,

or stand-alone product or is it part of a brand. That is a line of

products sharing certain similarities so the consumer develops

a loyalty and recognition for these products. As we discussed in

the chapter on Brands, we have certain elements of commonality

in the packaging that ties them all together.

One of the main elements of this, aside from the logo, is the

colors we choose. Most colors printed on a commercial printing

press are created from the 4 basic colors, cyan, magenta, yellow

and black referred to as CMYK. That sounds simple enough

but sometimes can cause problems when you want one color to

identify your products. Printing presses are constantly adjusted

during the length of the print run. The pressman checks the

pages as they come off the press and tweaks the press adjusting

the ink flow. So if your main color for example is red, then it is



created with a mixture of magenta and yellow. A line of products

on the shelf all using that color may have slight variations in the

tone or density.

How do we overcome that? When using a specific color

for your brand, we move away from standard 4 color printing

(CMYK) and go to 5 colors. So that’s CMYK and a special ink

for the red so it is constant. This is called a SPOT color and we

use what are called Pantone colors to identify the specific ink. So

the press will be set up with 4 colors (CMYK) plus one spot color,

such as Pantone Red #185. This ink is mixed before printing

according to a specific formula and will be constant throughout

the press run. Pantone has hundreds of colors and we can pick

whatever color matches your brand. And then we will have consistency

of the shelf. This is for packaging printed on a commercial

press. If you are printing on a digital press the technology is

different and you should get consistent colors printed CMYK.

But digital presses are not cost effective for large print runs.

Whether you are creating this work yourself, in-house, or

using an outside agency, the Design Brief ensures that the direction

that you’ve outlined is followed no matter who works on

your packaging. So you want to make sure you cover all of the


Here’s a list of what should be in the brief. Add to it as

you customize and create your own brief. But start with

these points:

1. Project overview




2. Marketing strategy

3. Design goals

4. Brand strategy (if applicable)

5. Product USPs (unique selling points)

6. Target audience (age range if a toy)

7. Product category

8. Identify key competitor and their product USPs

9. Key marketing copy for package

10. Legal and mandatory information that needs to be on

the package (see the chapter on Regulations and Legalities)

11. Printing option, CMYK or additional SPOT colors

12. Packaging structure (die line) and preferred materials

13. Timeline and scheduling

14. Budget


The next step is to start the actual design. But first we need

to know if this is a new stand-alone product? And if it is, does it

need to relate to the existing brand? Is the package part of a line

of products and does it need elements that have a commonality

with other products in the line? Or is it a new line or an extension

of an existing line? If this is a new stand-alone product,

we should take into account the possibility that other products

may be added to create a line of products at a future date. So

in the initial concept we should create elements that could be


part of a line. One of the items on our checklist concerns legal

requirements which we will discuss in another chapter. But specifically

with toys, there is a consideration that needs to be addressed

before we start. We always look for the optimal box size

for maximum shelf appeal and for minimal shipping costs. But

we can make small adjustments to this size that will not affect

the product. For toys, there are requirements for the Small Parts

Warning. The size of this warning is based on the size of the

PDP (principal display panel or front of package). There is one

size for boxes of 30 to 99 square inches, then the size changes

for 100 to 400 square inches, etc. And the warning box is significantly

larger. So if your box is 10” x 10”, you need to use the

larger size warning box. If the components inside will permit,

consider changing the size to 9.875” x 9.875”. This allows you

to use the smaller warning and give you more space for graphics,

images, text, etc.


To develop different design possibilities we always suggest

brainstorming, conceptualizing and experimenting. This can

inspire new concepts and approaches. Similar to how we brainstormed

brand names, no ideas are discarded, and everything is

considered. After a while a concept will begin to emerge. Keep

notes, start a journal or do all of your conceptualizing digitally

.... whatever works best for you and your team.

Concept and strategy rely on each other. The specific design



or main idea is the CONCEPT and it should communicate a

design STRATEGY. Different design concepts can result from

your brainstorming sessions. Several design concepts can develop

from a single design strategy. Each design concept should

be creative, innovative and ultimately get the consumer’s attention.

And where you place the primary message is paramount. It

should be in the top 1/3 of the front panel. When consumers are

shopping, aside from a brief glance they will give your design, if

they only look at one element, it will be the primary message. So

it should be well thought-out. Consumers will look at this and

maybe up to 4 elements before either picking up the product or

moving down the aisle. So never clutter the design. Use the 3

C’s. Be clean, clear and concise.

If this is part of a line keep to your brand design then identify

elements that you can use to call out different products. It

could be something as simple as a color bar, or a different image.

Consider different elements in your design. Is there a repeating

pattern as part of the brand identity? Can you use this pattern

with color changes to differentiate products in the same line?

Can you layer different elements to create depth? A problem

with shelf placement, is many packages do not pay enough attention

to the side panels. Very often products are placed on the

shelf lying down and this is the only panel that is visible to the

consumer. So pay attention to the sides!




As you begin to design the package pay close attention to

the hierarchy of the design and design the elements as they are

meant to be read. Maybe you want to start with the brand name

then the product name or category, the key selling feature and

the imagery. The size, color and positioning of each element

determines how the consumer’s eyes move through your design.

Important information must be easy to distinguish. In the case

of a food item the flavor, variety, ingredients etc. must be easy

to see. So for hierarchy, the eye will move through the product


Large images will be seen before the text. The key elements

on the PDP should be:

1. The brand name or sub-brand

2. The product name or descriptor

3. The product type (flavor, variety or fragrance for a food


4. Package size, product count (or net wt. for food or beverage)

5. Marketing text or main benefits

6. Imagery

This is in no particular order. It is up to you to decide on the

hierarchy and design accordingly. If this is a line of products,

the difference must be evident without losing the brand look.

Otherwise the consumer will not realize that these are different



products. For a beverage item, if a consumer likes a particular

brand of juice, then other flavors in the line must be different

enough to call out the other but still adhere to the brand so that

brand loyalty is not lost.


We need to consider the retail environment for the final

package. Products are rarely placed by themselves and will be

displayed in groups. Do you have an end cap or a 4-foot section?

Don’t get stuck designing with blinders. This is not a single

package front but will be a package of multiples. Do design

with repetition in mind. This is billboarding and you should

design the single package with this in mind. How will the elements

work together? Can images run together? An image on

the front panel can be split and repeated so that when the packages

are placed together on the shelf the images come together

to complete the design or pattern. A banner can extend across

the whole shelf? Will products be jammed together next to their

competitor? Use the multiples of packages as a design element.

Once all of the products are placed together they can have an

overall creative impact.


We discussed imagery in the chapter, “Color, imagery and

typography” but we need to revisit them in relation to the de-



sign process.

Always be aware of copyright and infringement. If you are

using stock images read the terms and conditions and ensure

that you can use the images for the purposes you want. You may

need to buy additional rights depending on what you are using.

The danger of using royalty-free stock images is that the fantastic

image you found for your package, that you based your whole

design around, could turn up on another product on the shelf,

pop up on a billboard or in a magazine layout. It is royalty-free

therefore you have no exclusive rights. But if you really love that

image and want it exclusively then you may be able to negotiate

an exclusive use price. So depending on your budget you can buy

an exclusive image, create your own photography or artwork or

develop your own imagery.


Once you have completed the concept phase it is time to

present it for review. These designs need to be examined to ensure

that the brand strategy has been followed and that it meets

the marketing objectives. During this process the design is

tweaked and adjusted, elements are added or discarded, and the

most successful designs can move to the next phase. We usually

start with 3 approved concepts. Then we tape then to the wall

and compare the elements. Which message stands out, which

colors pop? Which design immediately attracts the eye? Look at

elements and see if the size relationship gives you the hierarchy



you intended. Look at type styles, colors, images and graphic

elements. Do they all work together to create the message and

direction in the original Design Brief?

These presentations should invite an open dialogue about

concepts and direction. What can be modified in order to increase

impact? What is weak on the package and not working?

Is the design what you are looking for but maybe a color needs

to be changed? Try different tweaks of the same design until you

see what you are looking for.

Once the preferred concept is agreed on, we can move to the

next phase. We can refine the font selection, the font sizes. Maybe

we will tweak or replace the main image. We will change or

finalize the colors. Decisions are made regarding studio photography

or original artwork. How are we relating all of the items

across the line to this new design?

We need to consider the final color pallet and ensure that

we are communicating the product message. How do our colors

relate to the competition. Does the color identify the products

across the line? But this process is a double-edged sword. Sometimes,

too many cooks can spoil the soup. All ideas need to be

considered but as in any creative project there comes a point

when you need to make a decision. Perfectionism is a character

trait of a good designer but it can be difficult to decide when a

design is complete. It takes experience and a feeling in your gut

to know when you have taken the design as far a you can. And

always keep the agreed timeline in sight!

We worked with Hasbro Games and they had a great strat-



egy. With a large design team and a lot of people involved in a

project, there were many comments and revisions. But once we

had revised and changed and tweaked a design and everyone

had their say, we sometimes found that we were going in circles.

So they had an expression, “OK everyone, pencils down!”

The process needs to have a conclusion and we need to pick the

design that works best and move forward. Some designers and

clients can get stuck in the review process with no end in sight.

So at some point, “Pencils down!”


At this point we need to finalize the messaging and design

and tie in the side panels with the design of the PDP. What

about the legal considerations, warnings, ingredients (food),

product count, nutrition (food), etc?

The final design elements are refined, such as the shapes of

letter forms, banners and call-outs. We look at fonts for tracking,

kerning and leading. We look at final placement of elements.

We look at the die line and make sure that all elements

are within the die and do not overlap a crease. We can be a bit

anal at this point and have been known to zoom in at 1000% to

line up elements. A little bit crazy, but a good designer should be

a perfectionist.

It is very important, to proofread, proofread and proofread.

At this point you have been looking at the text for a while and

you begin to read what you think is there and may miss what is



actually written. We were at the New York Toy Fair in February

2019 and saw a poster outside a booth of a major toy manufacturer

with a glaring typo. Preparing for a trade show can be a real



pressure cooker but the end result was an embarrassing error. So

have someone who has not worked on the project proofread all

of the text. Then do it again.


The design is complete. The layout is approved. You’ve

checked all of your images and fonts. You’ve looked at your spacing

and hierarchy. It all looks OK. But there is another partner in

the process that needs to be considered .. and that is the printer

or box manufacturer. They will be taking your files, and setting

them up on the press for mass printing. Speak to any printer and

they will tell you horror stories of problems they have seen with

a designer’s files not prepared properly. It’s one thing to create

a great-looking design file, it’s another to create one that prints

without problems.

Are we using a SPOT color to identify the brand or the

product in the line? Is this a 4-color print process or using 5 or

6 colors? Will we use a gloss or mat varnish? Will we use a spot

UV to call out a main element? We need to pre-flight our files

so that it moves through the pre-press stage without problems.

This is where you check your files ensuring that you have addressed

all possible printing issues. There is software that can do

that or your printer can provide a checklist of what to look for.

There is nothing worse than creating a design that has problems

on the press. Go through a checklist to make sure you have covered

all printing questions. Do this and the printer will become



your best friend.

Have you set up the file using layers? All design programs

allow you to “layer” the elements to easily identify and click on

an element. Never create a file in one large and crowded layer.

And very important, label your layers. No one can figure out

how to navigate through a file with a layer pallet labeled, “Layer

1, Layer 2”, etc.

There is software out there that will check your files for you

(pre-flight software), but you can do this yourself. So after all of

the design and revisions, what sort of things are you looking for?

In any software that you are using for design; Adobe Illustrator,

Adobe InDesign, Corel Draw, etc. there are multiple versions

and upgrades. You may be using the latest version but is

the printer using the same version? You can ask the printer or

you can supply multiple versions. Adobe Illustrator uses Creative

Cloud (CC) as their current version but many companies

did not switch over from Creative Suite 6 (CS6) due to the

change in price structure. In CS6 you could buy the software. In

CC versions, you need to have a monthly subscription. So you

can simply supply a file saved in two different versions, and tag

them “CC or CS6”.

If you are using Adobe InDesign when you use the “package”

feature (which collects all of your images and fonts into a

single folder), it also creates an IDML file (InDesign Markup

Language) which allows users to open the file in older versions.

Be sure to include the IDML file when uploading to the printer.

Similarly Corel Draw has multiple versions so check with the



printer because not everyone uses or can open Corel Draw.

You can also create a high resolution PDF file. Hi-res is 300

dpi or higher. Any printer can open and print a PDF file. The

only drawback is that it cannot be edited or manipulated easily.

Include lower resolution PDFs as proofs for the printer. Create

the PDF and open it checking to make sure that the file

looks exactly as you want it to look and that nothing has shifted.

Make sure to include all of the fonts you have used. For example

if you used the Helvetica family, everyone has that. But

there are different versions of Helvetica and if the printer does

not use your version then spacing and line breaks may change.

So include the fonts you used.

Make sure that all of the images you are using are imported

into the file. Sometimes they can be on your computer and the

file will open properly but if the images are not uploaded with

the final files then it will not open with the images when the

printer accesses it. So check your image folder.

There are alternatives. You can turn all type into outlines so

the text becomes a graphic element. Then there is no need to

load fonts but the file cannot be edited. You can also embed all

images in the file so individual image file are not needed but the

design file will be very large. So we always suggest sending fonts

and images with the files.

Large images can make a file slow to open and print. Sometime

we have a very large image that we reduce a great deal to

fit into our layout. Some of our clients have requested that the

image be sized outside of the design file (in PhotoShop) so that



it is imported at 100%. The problem with this is that if you want

to enlarge the image you have to go back to the original larger

image. If you want to use this method, it is done at the final

stage after all corrections have been made.

Check that the file is in 4-color process (CMYK) and not

RGB (Red Green Blue). RGB is used for digital work, websites,

etc. CMYK is used for commercial printing, and some colors

will have slightly different hues. So always work in CMYK and

make sure the final file is CMYK. Check your color pallet and

make sure that all colors and images are converted to CMYK

and not Spot colors. Only use Spot colors when you are requesting

special inks. If you created your file using Pantone colors but

are not printing them as Spot, then convert them to CMYK.

You can also look at your Swatches pallet and delete all unused

colors. This makes the pallet less crowded and confusing.

Check your die line and make sure that everything fits within

the die. Always leave a bit of a margin. All printers will have

preferences on how close to the edge they like to print. Check

with the printer or leave at least an 1/8 to 1/4 inch (3-6 mm)

margin. Indicate how the box folds - which is the front panel,

back, etc. Is there a window on the box? Make sure that it is indicated

on the die line layer and include dimensions on the box

in a non-printing layer.

Are you using a special varnish or coating? If so, indicate that

in a note to the printer. And if you are using a Spot UV (ultra

violet coating) or varnish, put that on a separate layer. A Spot

UV, is a section of the layout that will have a shinier finish so



that it can stand out. This is treated as a separate color when set

up on the press so you need to check with the printer if they can

do this or need to do a special, more expensive printing.

A quick re-cap

1. Software version

2. Hi-res PDF for printing

3. Lo-res PDF for proofing

4. All fonts included, or convert to outline

5. All images included or embed images in file

6. Check all colors for 4-color printing (CMYK)

7. Check for Spot colors

8. Check all die lines, windows and margins

9. Identify box architecture (front, back, etc)

10. Include a note to the printer with dimensions and special

printing such as coating or varnish.






As companies look to expand they look to other markets. But

how will your brand be marketed in different regions and

in different cultures? Will you create uni-lingual packaging in

the language of the region or will you retain English and add

additional languages?

Cost is a major factor. How much inventory do you want to

keep in multiple languages? Do you want one global package

that can be sold in any region? That would be ideal, but difficult

to do and not practical. Consumers in the United States

prefer one-language, English packaging. Some companies will

add Spanish and French to create a North American version but

in the U.S., English only packaging is preferred. Canada uses

bilingual packaging in English and French. In the U.S. English

may be a preference, but in Canada, two languages is a legal

requirement (see the chapter on Regulations and Legalities).



In the European Union it is common to have packaging using

4, 5, 6 or even 7 languages. But the key to multi-language

packaging and the one word we need to remember is “simplicity.”

In the past products distributed around the world would

be in one or two languages changing SKUs depending on the

region. Today with multi-regional distribution and the need to

keep margins tight, manufacturers are reducing SKUs and inventory

to cut costs. Packaging that contains three or more languages

is an efficient way to reach a broader audience.

So how do we create a multi-language packaging strategy

that is cost-effective? Check out the competition in each region.

How are they identifying their brand? How will you stand out

against their design? Do you want to use your current brand or

will you need to adapt it to the new market? Are you are going

to be printing new packaging? Is this a good time to re-evaluate

your brand based on the new market and the competition or

do you want to continue with your current branding? Are you

looking to create a global brand or keep it regional? Look at the

competition. Is their branding straightforward, addressing the

local audience in a way that meets their needs and understanding?

Identify ways that you can differentiate your brand to stand


Are you expanding your current product line to a new market

or is this a new global product launch? How familiar will this

new market be with your product and its benefits? What key

features need to stand out? Look at your brand name and ensure

that when it is pronounced in another language, it does not have



a negative meaning. Parker Pen intended to use the slogan “it

won’t stain your pocket and embarrass you,” to emphasize how

its pens wouldn’t leak, translating it into Spanish as “no manchará

tu bolsillo, ni te embarazará.”

But embarazar means “to be pregnant” rather than “to embarrass.”

So the slogan was understood as “it won’t stain your

pocket and get you pregnant 1 .”

So how many languages should you use on a package? There

1. The Tale of the Vulgar Pen



are many factors to consider such as distribution, inventory,

manufacturing costs and market preference. And keep in mind

that languages change by region. French is different in France

and Canada. Brazil and Portugal use different terminology in

Portuguese. Some regions in the South Pacific will accept U.S.

packaging in just English. So study the regions, check the competition,

and determine what you need to do.

Don’t forget the “simplicity” rule. The more languages we

use the less we can say on a package. So decide what the main

message needs to be. There is limited room on the PDP. So if

you could only say one or two things about this product what

would it be? Decide on the hierarchy of your messaging and

layout the package so it reads properly in each language. You

cannot say everything on the front of the package. You can put

additional information on the back but keep the front as simple

and uncluttered as possible with a strong message to entice the

consumer to pick up the package. Once in their hands, they will

turn it over and look at the back. But you need to encourage

them to pick it up in the first place. A crowded, cluttered front

panel will not do that. There are legal requirements in each region

of what needs to be on the front. Check out the next chapter

on “Regulations and Legalities”. If the product has complex

information or a fold out panel with a great deal of text then

consider a QR code that will take the consumer to a web page or

include an insert inside the package.

The simple rule is that you may not be able to say everything

on a multi-language package that you would on the single lan-



guage design.

You can use your design to support a multi-language message.

Different colors or tones can be used to identify languages.

Certain features can be called out with icons instead of text.

Another reason to keep your messaging simple is the length

of translated text. Most languages use 25% to 30% more space

than English. Korean and Japanese will use less.

If your package contains more than one language then you

will need translation. Use a company with professional translation

services. They should have translators that are native to each

language and preferably live in those regions. As we mentioned,

the same language can be different in different regions, such as

Spanish in Europe vs. Latin America, Portuguese in Portugal

vs. Brazil, French in France vs. Canada. Expressions and words

can be different. For example, when translating “markers” into

Spanish, some regions will use “marcador” and some will use

“rotulador”. So use a translator that is a native speaker in the

language and region you are targeting. Ideally a translator creating

French text for Quebec will live in the region, and not, for

example, in Kansas!

Don’t simply give the translator a Microsoft Word document

to translate. Let them see the final English box in its entirety

so they can understand the context and meaning of what they

are translating. Sometimes, when we receive a translation we

may have trouble fitting it into the space needed. A short English

phrase may become a long multi-word sentence in another

language. So we send it back to the translator showing where



this is going and ask for different text that fits the design more

efficiently. In any language in any translation there are different

ways to convey the same message. So work with your translator

to have the clearest terminology for your design.

The use of color is different in many cultures. 2 For example,

in western culture we use red and green to express negative and

positive elements, such as in icons, safety issues, charts and diagrams.

In China, when showing a profit and loss chart, red is a

positive color and green is the opposite. In a business environment

in the U.S. we would use green (the color of money) but in

South Africa, we would use blue. There are many more example

of color and culture. Do your research to avoid being “color

blind”. We need to be sensitive to different cultures. No one

wants to be the next “Parker Pen”. Do your research. Use native

language speakers to translate and proof-read text. Know what

colors are best for each region and stay away from those with

negative connotations. A native speaking translator will advise

you on idiomatic expressions, slang and pop culture. Some images

or visuals may have negative cultural misunderstanding.

There is no set formula for multi-language packaging. But

remember your goal. You want to communicate with another

market or culture and have them interested and excited about

your product. Remember the “simplicity” rule and be creative in

how you present your message but don’t clutter the package. Use

a professional, regional translator and be culturally astute at all



2. Even Graphics Can Speak With a Foreign Accent


Inside a toy


So once you purchase a product, specifically a toy product,

what is the experience when you open the box? This book

has been all about the outside experience, how we design a package

and make it attractive to the consumer so that they purchase

your item

But we should not just be looking to sell one item. We want

to create a positive customer experience, grow our brand, and

have repeat business. So we need 100% satisfaction when the

box is opened.

Most important deliver what you promise. If you make a

marketing claim on the package make sure this is exactly what

the consumer gets. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. For

example, don’t promise “bright vibrant color markers”and then

include low quality products that don’t perform well.

Pay attention to how the product presents itself when the



box is opened. Is it just a jumble of products in a plastic bag or is

there a printed insert with the components laid out? Obviously

there is a cost for the insert but what is the best result? Do you

want this to be a box that is reused with storage for the components

or is it a throw-away box? Even so it needs to be attractive

and a simple printed insert with dividers for components in different

resealable bags would have be more engaging experience


for the consumer. Look at the cost of an insert and depending

on quantities you may only be talking about extra pennies per


One of the most negative experience a consumer can have

with a product after purchase is the product instructions. Many

companies focus all of their attention on the outside of the box

and ignore the customer experience with the product. How

many times have we opened a toy package or consumer electronics

product and struggled to understand what to do next.

The ideal toy is one that a child can open with instructions targeted

at their age group and level of comprehension. Instructions

with long drawn out sections of text, poorly written from

another language is not fun for anyone. We’ve always believed

that people prefer to look more and read less. So instructions

that are heavily illustrated with step by step images and limited

text are preferable to a long page of words with few illustrations.



But as with everything else there is a cost factor. Illustrations,

especially original line art will add to your costs. But if you take

the larger view of enhancing the experience and simplifying the

process you will be one step closer to a repeat purchase.

Let’s look at a case study. We had a client who was selling

drones. That’s a popular toy and a great present under the tree at

Christmas. So when a child tears off the wrapping on Christmas

morning and finds an exciting drone, what do they want to do?

They want to fly it right away. So they open the box and are



usually confronted with a thick booklet with pages and pages of

instructions on set-up, flight instructions, battery information,

charging, etc. It can be a very discouraging experience. So we

developed a simple, single page Quick Start Guide, with the

very basic directions of how to turn it on, fly, hover and land.

That’s all that the child usually wants in the first experience.

Then there is a booklet with more detailed and heavily illustrated

step-by-step instructions for more complex features.

For Arts and Craft items with a multitude of components

it is important to clearly show what is supposed to be in the

box. We want the consumer to be clear on what is included and

what may need to be added from household items such as scissors,

tape, etc. And be sure to show what is the final goal to be

achieved. Is there a single result such as in Origami or making

a bracelet? Are there different options or just a suggestion of a

creative direction?

We are all consumers. Put yourself in the position of a parent

or child. What would you want to see and experience when you

open your product? Make the experience enjoyable, clear and






and legalities

So you’ve created a great product and designed crowd-stopping

packaging. You’ve presented it to a major retailer and

they are as excited about it as you are. They place a large order

and you go into production. You’re a great success! But wait!

You ship to the major chain and about a month later you get

a call from the buyer, the same one who was so excited about

your product. And he’s yelling at you over the phone. The product

had to be pulled from the shelf because the packaging is

non-compliant. He’s in trouble with his boss and he’s really angry

with you. Your product is returned to you and you will never

get back on that shelf again. So what happened?

There are a myriad of regulations specifying what needs to

be on a package, what cannot be on a package, where it must be

placed, and what size it has to be. There are regulations in every

industry regarding packaging but in this book we will concen-


trate on two major sectors, the toy industry and the food and

beverage industry. These regulations vary in the United States,

Canada, the E.U., and in every region around the globe. An

attractive, creative package is only one part of the process. So if

you want to avoid that screaming buyer then pay close attention

to regulations and legalities regarding packaging.


Regulations in Canada require that all packaging, either food or

toys,be bilingual (in English and French). And requirements are

different depending on where the product is sold. Regulations

in the Province of Quebec require that all text on the package

be in both languages and be of equal size and prominence. Regulations

in the rest of Canada are more lax and state that you

bilingualize only the product name or descriptor, the list of con-



tents (or ingredients), the country of origin, and in the case of a

food item, the net weight statement and the nutritional panel.

All marketing text can be in English only. This is OK if you are

selling across the country but not in Quebec. But what happens

if a buyer from Quebec or a national chain becomes interested?

Then you will have to revise your packaging. So we always

suggest that all packaging for Canada follow the more stringent

Quebec requirements.




CHOKING HAZARD - Small parts.

Not for children under 3 years.



Ne convient pas aux enfants de moins de 3 ans.


PELIGRO DE SOFOCACION - El juego contiene partes

pequenas. No es recomendable para ninos menores de 3 anos.


Back in Chapter 3 we talked about the size of the package

and how it affected the Small Parts Warning (the choking hazard).

Regulations in United States and Canada require a boxed

warning on the front of the package calling out certain hazards

such as small parts choking, small balls or marbles, latex balloons,

magnets, etc. This warning box must be a certain size in relation

to the proportion of the PDP. Basically the larger the box the



larger the warning. In Canada you are also required to duplicate

the warning in French. In the United States, Spanish is sometimes

used although it is not a legal requirement but more of a

marketing decision companies make depending on the market

they are serving. There are specific requirements for the size of

the “Warning” text and the size of the caution triangle, also the

space between the triangle and the first word is regulated. There

are specific sizes for the hazard statement (“Choking Hazard”)

and another size for the remaining text. And all of this varies

according to the size of the box.

Other regulations stipulate that it must be placed on the bottom

of the front panel and that the color of the warning box

must be in contrast to the background that it is placed on. For

example, if the background of the front panel is a gray tone then

the warning box must be in sharp contrast so it would be white

or another contrasting color to gray. It cannot blend in with the

background and be another gray tone. Depending on the color

you choose you may have to add an outline stroke to the box.

The intent of the regulation is that it must stand out and be

visible to the consumer. You cannot hide it in the clutter of your


What exactly is a small part? It is an item that can become

lodged in the throat of a small child under 3 years of age. The

illustration here is of a Small Parts Tube. It represents the throat

of a young child. This is used by the toy industry to determine

what is a small part or can become a small part. If an object fits

entirely inside this tube and does not stick up past the rim, then



it is deemed to be a small part. If

the items extends above the rim,

then it is assumed that the small

part, if lodged in a child’s throat,

can be grasped and removed.

Some parts may not fit in

the Small Parts Tube but can

still be classified as such. For

example, a felt marker about 5

inches long obviously will not

fit in this tube, but take off the

cap and see if that fits. If it does,

then you have a small part. Also,

if an item can become dislodged

or broken off, it may become a

small part. Testing labs will do a

1.00 in

25.40 mm

1.25 in

31.70 mm


2.25 in

57.10 mm

drop test to determine if packaging protects a toy. This same test

will also determine if an item can be broken or come apart and

be classified as a small part.

Companies will sometimes classify a toy as “6 years and up”.

This is done if the toy is legitimately meant for older children,

but sometimes it is done to avoid having to use the small parts

warning. But as a manufacturer, ask yourself if you can guarantee

that your product will not come in contact with a younger child

in the home. A toy marketed to older children may appear to

avoid these regulations but we live in a very litigious society and

you can avoid these issues by labeling all toys with Small Parts



Warnings if such parts exist in the toy.

Regulations in Europe and Asia are different regarding

Small Parts. We still determine what is a small

part in the same manner but the packaging requirements

are not as stringent. In the E.U. it

is not required to have a large warning on the

front of the package. The Choking Hazard

warning, shown here, is placed on the back of

the package with the text “Warning: Choking Hazard, Small

Parts”. The size must be legible and does not have to be as large

as in the U.S. The size of this symbol is regulated to be no smaller

than 10 mm. You will see this on the back of European packaging

with the text in multiple languages depending on where it

is sold.

Many retailers will insist on seeing certification that your toy

has passed safety testing. This relates to its chemical composition,

contents, etc. ASTM International formerly known as

American Society for Testing and Materials, is an international

standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary

consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials,

products, systems, and services.

There are various ASTM standards relating to toys, such as

ASTM D-4236, relating to art materials and crafts, and ASTM

F-963 which is a mandatory overall safety standard for toys. Retailers

will ask to see this certification before placing an order. As

toys pass through a testing lab for certification the lab may also

evaluate the packaging to confirm that it meets regulations. But



they may not verify everything on the package and the ultimate

responsibility is still yours.


This industry is much more regulated than the toy industry

and requires more mandatory information on the packaging.

These regulations are enforced by the Food and Drug Administration

(FDA) in the United States, the Canada Food Inspection

Agency (CFIA) in Canada, and the European Commission

(EC) in the European Union. All of these regions have similarities

but enough differences to preclude using the same label-



ing in multiple markets. Unfortunately, this means that you will

need to create different packaging and labeling for each market.

So do the FDA, CFIA and EC test all products for compliance

before they hit the shelf? They will do random, spot testing

but the vast majority of food products will make it to your table

without any testing. That sounds like a wide open market but

it is actually much tighter than that. The people who will take

your product in hand and verify if it complies are much more

stringent observers. They are your competitors who will look

at your product and report it to the appropriate agency if they

suspect you are out of compliance. It doesn’t get any tighter than


So what do you need to look for? To start with there are regulations

regarding the Net Weight statement on the front panel.

It must be in the bottom third of the package and the height of

the numerals is regulated in proportion to the area of the front

panel. The calculation to determine this size is different in the

United States and Canada and on certain package sizes the U.S.

type size will be too small for Canada.

Ensure that your net weight statement is accurate. The Bureau

of Weights and Measures has been known to do spot tests

in stores and found that a large number of products are delivering

less weight than specified on the package. Those products

were removed from the shelf and trashed. It is your responsibility

to ensure that the package reflects an accurate weight.

Beware of using words like Organic or Healthy on your

product. To qualify as healthy you must meet certain standards



and certain nutrition requirements. There are benchmarks that

you have to meet to make certain health claims on a food package.

For example, in the U.S. if you want to say “Sugar Free”

there must be less than a half a gram of sugar per serving. 1 Different

standards exist for claims such as “Sodium Free” or “Good

Source of Fiber”. Some of these benchmarks are the same in

various markets, and some require you to reach a different level.

Basically you can not make a health claim without adhering to

the specific regulation.

To label your product as Organic you must be certified as

organic and meet specific requirements. If not you can still list

specific ingredients as organic ingredients but not the entire

product. The USDA specifies that your logo or brand name cannot

contain the word “organic” if you are not certified but the

company name can say “organic” in the information panel just

not in the logo or brand. 2

The largest changes that have been made to food packaging is

the Nutrition Labeling. This is the box on the side or back of the

package that lists all of the nutrition facts per a specified serving.

In the United States, about 20 years ago, the FDA changed the

nutrition labeling to significantly call out the amount of fat in

foods. As a result, manufacturers not wanting to be identified as

producers of unhealthy foods, started changing the formulation

of their products to reduce fat. So the regulation to identify fatty

foods lead to healthier choices on the shelf. Now the FDA wants

to target foods with increasing levels of natural and artificial

1. Watson, Inc. Nutrient Claims

2. USDA clarifies the use of “organic” in brand, company names.



sugars in an effort to encourage producers to lower this ingredient.

New FDA regulations require the addition of a new line of

the Nutrition Label identifying “Added Sugars”. The new label

also requires that the calorie count be much larger and bolder.

Some manufacturers will look at major brands of similar

products and copy what they are doing on their packaging assuming

that if the big guy is doing it then it must be OK. Two

problems with this is you do not know the exact formulation

of the food you are copying so your claims may not match and

more importantly, do not assume that the other package is complaint.

You may be copying a package that does not meet standards.

Do your own due diligence and verify that the claims

you are making, the nutrition panel and ingredient list meet all


But the major change on packaging is in the serving sizes.

This used to be a “recommended” serving size, what the industry

suggested you eat in one sitting. The FDA has now regulated

that it must be a realistic amount. For example, in the past, if you

were consuming a 12 ounce bottle of soda or a 20 ounce soda,

the servings were different. The smaller bottle was one serving

and the larger bottle was two or more servings. Now the FDA

says that regardless of which bottle you buy, realistically you will

consume the entire bottle in one sitting. They are both deemed

to be one serving. So even though the ingredients are the same

the larger bottle has considerably more calories, sugar, fat, etc.



Serving size changes: What’s considered a single serving has

changed in the decades since the original nutrition label was created.

So now serving sizes will be more realistic to reflect how much

people typically eat at one time.













Packaging affects servings:

Package size affects how much people eat and drink. So now,

for example, both 12 and 20 ounce bottles will equal one

serving, since people typically drink both sizes in one sitting.















Packaging is part of our everyday lives from the time we wake

up and use personal hygiene products until we open that late

night snack at bedtime.

The average consumer has little if any awareness of the

lengthy, costly and involved creative process to develop product

packaging. Many people are involved in bringing your product

from conception, to manufacturing to the store and ultimately

into the home. But consumers do recognize brands and specific

products that they have had a positive experience with. Whether

people realize it or not packaging does affect their purchasing

decisions. The retail marketing environment is crowded and

competitive and the only way you can succeed is with effective

packaging. Many great products are lost in the clutter with mediocre


The consumer product industry is one of the largest sectors



of the global economy with about $2 trillion of sales annually 1 .

Package design and other marketing efforts are key to having

your product stand out in a very busy aisle.

For a product package to be successful it must meet consumer’s

needs on a multitude of levels. Don’t wait until your product

is ready to launch to start package development. Integrate the

creative development into the product development cycle. Start

looking at packaging size and packaging structures as you develop

the product. One benefit we pointed out in an earlier chapter,

for toy packaging, was that if you can determine or adjust the

size of the product before the manufacturing or mold stage you


1. Consumer Packaged Good (CPG)


can use a smaller box size to lower shipping costs and allow you

to use a smaller warning label.

A consumer products company may have a single individual

or an entire design team responsible for packaging design. Or

it may outsource all design work. Many large companies have

in-house design teams comprised of several packaging designers

yet outsource certain design services. It’s hard to have top creative

people in every aspect of design. A specialized packaging

design studio will have all of those resources at hand because

this is what they do every day.

As you develop your packaging and find your spot on the

store shelf keep in mind that package design can be a very fluid

experience. You don’t want to be constantly re-designing but you

need to be current on market trends, keep an eye on your competition

and look at a package refresh every 5 years. A refresh is

not a re-design but rather an opportunity to tweak your packaging

and stay current.


The Art of Package Design

by Mark Lehberg




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