Packaging design for start-ups! Everything you need to know.

Your product matters but what’s outside matters just as much!

Have you ever picked up a box of chocolates just because the box looked so appealing?

If any of you have ever ordered a body shop product online, I’m sure you’ve kept that multipurpose box aside to be used later. How many of you shop L’Oreal because of the golden and purple bottles?

Best Packaging design

Did you ever have to choose between two brands that offer the same product and you chose to go with the “better looking” one?

Best Packaging Designs

Let’s sum up all the questions and ask just one. Why does packaging influence your purchase?

Customers will judge the value of your product by the way it looks and I’m not talking about the actual product here. How you cover it is what will ironically reveal the standard of your product. This world is all about first impressions buddies and your product packaging is what can either pull your first-time purchases up the ladder or push your brand down.

Let’s take a slow start here because it’ll be too much to take in. As a startup you need to know exactly what product packaging is and how it works step by step.

I know they’ve told you many times that covers don’t matter, but my dear brands they do….so much! That’s not just true for books, the deal’s even bigger for product packaging. That’s precisely what packaging is on surface level – anything that covers your products.

Did you notice I said “on surface level?”

When we dive deeper, product packaging means so much more than a simple covering. It’s what keeps our product-world from collapsing.

Customers can’t see it but we know it!

What customers can see though is how your product looks. For them, “seeing is believing”. You’ve got a product that outshines competitors in quality and manufacturing? Great! But, ignore the packaging design and customers probably won’t even get to the part where your product quality can be unveiled.  

Get what I’m saying?

Now I know product packaging isn’t an entirely novel concept.

I’m just making sure you’ve got all the facts straight before I begin my tour of the basics that every start-up needs to know about product packaging.

What is Product Packaging?

The most precise definition of product packaging is that it is in fact the exterior of your product. Product packaging design covers pretty much everything from your material selection, graphics, visuals, color schemes and the fonts you’ll be using on anything from a bottle to a large cardboard box!

Here are a few significant functions that your product packaging will serve:

The protectors: it sounds dramatic but I’m being completely realistic. Product packaging is your product’s ultimate protector. Whether it’s the box where you’re placing a glass bottle or the beverage that’s inside the bottle – packaging protects every aspect of your product.

Let’s pick up the example of a beverage brand. You see that bottle that stands on the refrigerator shelf? It keeps the beverage in one place and needs to be reliable and resistant to very cool temperatures.

Packaging Designs

Information desk: this applies especially to FMCG. That’s because you’ll mostly find these products at retail stores where you can’t really assign sales persons to each product.

Expiry date, ingredients, bar-codes and instructions. All these fall under the banner of information that only your product packaging can provide. This information will highly influence your customers’ purchasing decisions. So for instance, if someone is looking for sulfate-free shampoo, remember to include this on your packaging in bold letters and you’re sold.

Best Packaging Design

Similarly if your customer’s allergic to nuts or any ingredient in your chocolate bar, make sure you’ve mentioned it somewhere on your product packaging. Customers can even sue you for them uninformed so you need to be very careful with what you don’t tell them.

Packaging Designs

Source of attraction: packaging has the super power to change customer loyalty at times. Oh yes, you read that right. From luxury perfume bottles to a box of chocolates and even something as simple as a soap, a well-designed packaging can switch your consumer’s attention!

Best Packaging

Why do you think all those brands on top of the food chain are always changing their packaging with varying products? The competition is immense! For startups it’s more crucial because your product packaging needs to call customers without whistling (if you know what I mean).

Breathe. That’s a lot of pressure I know but hey! Hard work pays, right? Literally!

Differentiation: I’ve got two identical bottles. One has Pepsi the other one has Coca Cola. Can you tell me which is which without tasting each?

 I’m pretty sure unless you have some sort of special goggles, you can’t!

This is where packaging lends brands and customers a helping hand. It helps make your product pop out and be distinguishable amongst so many others.

Packing with perfection – how start-ups can benefit from packaging?

You’re new in the market. There are others who sell the same products, they’ve been around far longer and have already entered the hearts and houses of consumers. As customers reach out for their favorite shampoo or detergent what is it that can catch their attention and convince them to make a switch?

Your product’s packaging!

Even though I am not negating the fact that an attractive and competitive packaging is vital to every brand’s success – no matter how popular it is, as a startup you have a bit more pressure on you – okay a lot more!

When you’ve just reached the shelf, it is crucial that your product grasps attention of a significant crowd of customers.

As I said earlier, it’s your product’s first impression and we all know how important that is for any brand especially one that’s just on the starting line of a long race.

Apart from the functions I’ve stated above here are a few more benefits that the perfect packaging can offer:

Creates a lasting first impression: an attractive packaging might mean “purchase at first sight”. A great product packaging has the ability to impress your customer the moment he/she gets a glimpse of your product.

If that first impression manages to jump right into your customer’s shopping cart, you’ve just conquered an immensely difficult level.

Gives your brand identity a boost: every brand has an identity of its own – Cadbury for instance has an identity that communicates “we’re a luxury chocolate that comes at an affordable price”. I’m not talking about the “actual” message here but the personality that a brand creates for itself. So what’s packaging got to do with it?

Pretty much everything!

The right product packaging will reinforce your brand identity, pasting it in the minds of consumers. Why do you think Coca Cola has those red labels or an iPhone box will always have the silver/black apple on top with a sleek, sophisticated box? That’s how their fan club identifies them!

From your logo and color scheme to your slogan, packaging reminds people of your brand identity and is actually a brilliant advertising campaign in itself – when used wisely of course.

Relationship with your customers: apart from being a customer magnet, your product packaging is mostly aimed at offering convenience.

The easier you make it for your consumers to hold your bottle or pour the milk, the more they’ll love you. I mean that quite literally. Customers establish a relationship with brands – it could be love or hate. And packaging doesn’t lag behind in significance here.

Packaging Designs

Your bottle’s difficult to grip or your chocolate bar isn’t well wrapped – minus points.

I think I’ve made my point quite clear. You can’t neglect your product packaging – the risk level is just too much! I might have scared you but it’s better to be aware than sorry.

Now that the fog has cleared up and you have a good understanding of just how important your product packaging is, it’s time to move a step further.

I call this:

A short guide of how startups can get the perfect packaging designed?

Before you get all excited about getting your very own product packaging designed, there’s a lot of homework on your to-do-list.

Do your research – know the industry

Whether your product is a burger or a beverage, a mobile phone or a perfume bottle – you need to do your research before the packaging goes on canvas. No matter how unique you want to be (which is good), you should be aware of common practices within the industry – the one you’ve decided to hop aboard.

There’s no need for any egos here. The industry leaders like Nike or Pepsi are on top of the pyramid for a reason. We all study notable figures in history to gain some perspective on life, right? Learning from the best in the field won’t hurt your self-respect, trust me! It’ll only give you a heads up and could even help you beat them at their own game.

This doesn’t mean you launch a packaging that replicates Mountain Dew because you too want to give your product an adventurous edge – oh no! You’ll stumble before you even start to run. The purpose is to gain competitive advantage while being in the know.

You can’t go off having cliché plastic bottles for instance if they’ve been replaced by glass ones on consumer demand. Therein lies the importance of effective market research.

Know your customers well – identify your target group

I’m not asking you to invite your customers over for tea. However, you need to know who your customers really are before finalizing a packaging design.  

Of course a coffee brand will cater to people who can’t get through their day without a cup of hot cocoa. The question here is: which segment does your brand cater to – or rather segments. From age bracket, locality to common preferences and income, you need to be aware of all the demographics that make up your target market.

Does your brand compete with a daily cup of Nescafe or the more elite Lavazza Super Crema whole grain coffee? Do you cater to those who can afford a Rolls Royce or to the masses who only think about affording one someday?

Think customer-centric. Don’t just go for what you think looks “good”.

Product Positioning – where does your product stand?

Your product needs to know its place. As offensive as that may sound, I mean it quite literally. You need to know where your product stands before creating the perfect product packaging. For that you need to understand your own vision first.

Do you want your product to compete with Cadbury or Ferrero Rocher? Are you battling against Apple or within the Android market itself?

These questions are all essential my friends – they will be on the decision making panel when you’re determining the right packaging design for your product.

So taking Apple’s example, you might be thinking about keeping your approach minimalistic and aimed towards providing a luxury experience. On the other hand if you’re penetrating the affordable Android market without any intentions to challenge the Apple game, you’ll probably have an entirely distinct persona to break the clutter.

See, what I mean?


Best Creative Packaging

Know your product!

You’re probably wondering – is this blog going upside down or what? Now that you’ve passed through all the research stages you can focus on this simple yet essential question.

What is your product? Everything from the material to your product’s dimensions will play a leading role in your packaging design. For instance if your product is fragile, you’ll need more compact packaging. Popcorn for instance requires heat resistant packaging.

Knowing your product inside out will also help you make practical decisions. It’s easy to get carried away with creativity but if affects the functionality of your packaging box, your product won’t make it in the market.

Mode of purchase – how do people buy your product?

Not all products stand on shelves in a supermarket. I’m talking about every product on the world map here so you can’t narrow it down to marts. Perhaps your product is only available online or you’ve got special franchises like Apple and Microsoft. There’s a world of difference for instance when your product is sold online as compared to off-the-shelf packaging.

A much more reliable, secure and compact packaging is needed for shipments as compared to products that reach the shelves.

Collecting relevant information – what your designer will need from you?

You’ve got to give the professional design team something to work on, right? Not just “something” in fact you need to provide every bit of information that they’ll need to craft a packaging that makes your brand a hit in the market. This isn’t restricted to aesthetics though and you’ll see why.

Here’s what you need to collect:

Colors: what are your primary and secondary colors? Which colors do you want to highlight the most on your product packaging? This information has more significance than simply being used in design. Your designer will gauge which color codes are used and whether or not they are print-friendly.

Fonts: what’s your brand’s typeface? Do you use a bold font for your headlines? What’s the font family your brand uses? You need to provide all your brand guidelines to the designer who is about to create an important aspect of your brand identity.

Logo: make sure you’ve got a vector file for your logo and that you pass it on to the professionals working on your product packaging.

Content: you’ve got to work when you need the work done well! Remember, your packaging is an advertising tool that you can use very wisely or quite foolishly – I’m trying my best to make sure you don’t run blind folded. Here’s what your designer/designers will need:

  • Images: these could be photography of your product – unless you’ve hired the same agency to click and capture as well – in any case all hi-res photography needs to be handed over to your designer.
  • The writings: this just as important as any image – perhaps even more for some products. People may not spend so much time reading books as they do reading a carton of milk – for anything exclusive, the health benefits etc. From any slogan that has a persuading power to instructions and ingredients, make sure you have the text prepared.
  • The essentials: these include barcodes or another markings that you just have to include on the packaging for legal or technical purposes.
  • Varying content: expiry dates may change so might barcodes – any content with the ability to vary between different batches of your product comes under this umbrella.

The Pre-design process – stay one step ahead

You’ve got everything you need? Phew! I’m getting to the more interesting part – some parts might be a little instructive but I’ll try my best to take you smoothly through to the end.

Now that you have all the relevant information, you need to be well aware of how exactly your packaging will be designed.

No, no I won’t be teaching you how to use the pen tool on Photoshop so don’t panic. Nothing very technical here except a few things that will help you cooperate with your designers and vice versa.

  • The 3 layers of Packaging designs you must know as a startup!

Don’t doubt your knowledge if you weren’t already aware of the three packaging layers. It’s normal. No sweat!

It’s alright that you didn’t know about these layers before you stumbled upon my blog, but you can’t leave everything to a professional design agency and not know anything yourself!

As a startup that’s ready to swim with the big fish, you must have ample knowledge about what you need to get designed. I’ll compare packaging to – onions! They both have layers and each one has its own significance.

Layer 1 – Primary Packaging

In a lay person’s language, this is the closest packaging to your product.

The glass/plastic bottles for Pepsi, a can of Coca Cola with a label, a plastic pouch inside the cereal box or the box itself.

A silver wrapper and the one we open partially to have a bite, saving the rest for later.

In technical words, it is the packaging that is directly associated with the product. Here, the packaging is in direct contact with your product.

Wrapper Design

These wrappers, boxes and pouches make life a lot easier for the end user. It’s always better to have a handy plastic cereal pouch rather than just the box, right? It keeps the cereal secure while providing convenience to consumers in term of reuse and easy handling.

Best Packaging Designs

This packaging is multipurpose. It is often the main source of attraction for customers, provides convenience, holds the product and is also your information provider. You’ll see everything you need to know about a fabric softener on the bottle label for instance while the bottle itself being a primary packaging keeps the product secure.

Layer 2 – Secondary Packaging

This is mostly where several of your products will come together as one family. In technical language, secondary packaging holds many small products in one place. These are utilized mostly for shipments and e-commerce deliveries. This packaging always needs to be sturdy – it’s got a great responsibility to carry (sorry for the bad pun). For example the secondary packaging for 100 bottles of fabric softener would be a corrugated card box where all these bottles are snug and safe.

Secondary packaging may be a blend of several components such as separators, plastic bags, padding, paper etc.

Box Designs

Brands with a reputation for customization will often brand their secondary packaging with their logos or color schemes.

Layer: Tertiary Packaging

It supports all the other layers, keeping the secondary boxes or cartons secure, safe and “packed”. Also known as bulk or transit packaging, this packaging makes sure that all those cartons with products (fragile or not), do not have to encounter any tragedies when they are being shipped from one point to another (and that could be within the city, outside or even internationally).

Box Design

  • Perfectly packed – choosing the perfect packaging for your product

If there was one simple answer to this it would be “it depends” but that’s just too vague. Achieving perfection in packaging actually depends on:

Your product – it matters everywhere

We always have to return to our product. Your packaging will primarily depend on what you are selling. Is it an electronic device or perfume? Chocolates or detergent? They say you’ve got limited options to be creative with liquids – I disagree. When you’ve got maestros at work, there’s no such thing as creative block (pun intended).

See the example of Zumox. They have carved their juice bottle like an orange but it’s still in a shape that can actually stand on a shelf or table top.

Best Bottle Packaging Design

Know your competition – what are they doing?

Never hesitate to know the trends. You don’t always have to follow them but they can give you good insights on consumer behavior – likes and dislikes. Plus, as I mentioned earlier knowing what your competitors are doing, gives you a competitive edge.

Everyone’s been using boxes for juice? Why not create something that’s a box but looks like a fruit? (Refer to the Zumox example above)

The budget – what’s in your “wallet”?

Unfortunately, it all comes down to this. How much can you spare for packaging? Ideas rely on budget and your price points. It’s not just about how much you can spend but also about how much you will get in return? You don’t want to spend $50 on a juice box that’s going to sell for $5 for instance.

  • Ready to Print

Before you are almost packed and ready to print, remember to prep for the finale. You need to be prepared before you print.

This is the info you need to collect so you can pass it on to a designer:


These are made up of:

A dotted perforation line

A cut line

A fold line

These need to be created before printing. When printed, these lines will be your machine’s guide on how to pack and fold the products.

Who makes dielines?

Die cutters or printers can provide you with relevant templates – it is important to note that these are not part of the design package (your designer won’t give you any dielines). These dielines are essential to prevent any errors in folding your product packaging which may not always be very easy – you’ve got a creative packaging idea? The dielines might be more complex.

Luxury Box Packaging Design

VVIP: Remember to get a ready-to-print vector file from your designer.

  • Judge your own packaging – is it right or is there room for improvement?

A checklist to evaluate your product and whether you’ve made the right choice in packaging.

  • Clarity – Does your packaging speak for the product?

You’ve not gone too out-of-the-box have you? You’ve got to be very clear about your product to customers. They need to understand what your product is without having to open the packaging.

  • Honesty – can customers believe your packaging?

You haven’t used images from other brand, have you? Everything on your packaging needs to a represent what you are selling. Misleading customers creates a bad reputation for your brand.

  • 3 Dimensional mock-up – how does it look in real life?

The design looks terrific but how does it look in 3-D? Your designer needs to provide you with a mock-up that shows you the 3-D version of your product packaging.

  • Flexibility – can you design adjust to changes?

Is your design adaptable? You might want to introduce a diet version of your beverage in the future or another flavor. Is the current design versatile enough to be used with minor adjustments of color or text?

  • Shelf-worthy – does your product look great on the shelf?

Evaluation is important. Research never ends and it shouldn’t. You need to be your product packaging’s best critic. See how your product looks with competitor products? Does it stand out? Think like a customer not a brand owner. Take a load of your customers’ reactions to your product as well. You need to be certain that 80/100 people have a positive reaction to your product packaging!

And then you can relax!

  • A Picture of Waqas D.

    Waqas D.

Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.

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