6 Steps to Product Packaging Design for Retailers

Graphic that says "Product Packaging Design" on the left. To the right is a diagram of a box ready to ship.

The joy of unboxing. 

Getting a package you’ve ordered through the mail is one of life’s simple pleasures. The rush of anticipation when you heave it onto the kitchen table. That snip as you cut the tape and squeak as you unroll the bubble wrap. 

That new-product smell, wafting through the air. 

And then you get to see what’s inside. A shiny new item, lovingly wrapped inside a protective cardboard construction, effortlessly gliding apart as you pull a tab. 

It’s enough to make you want to order again. This simple ritual can make a big difference for your customers, so it’s worth getting right. Good product packaging design is the way to make that happen.

This article will take you through the six basic steps to designing product packaging and show you how to make your designs more successful.

What is product packaging design?

Product packaging design is the creation of the outer containers that will house your products. It defines their look and feel, how they protect what's inside, and how pleasurable they are to open.

Why is product packaging design important?

If you’re running an ecommerce business, a customer’s first impression of your products is the moment when they open the packaging. It’s a major opportunity to give them a positive experience with your brand upfront.

Because your online business doesn’t have the opportunity to impress potential customers with store layouts or awesome associates, your package design is part of your brand.

In fact, according to an Ipsos poll, 66% of respondents stated that materials used to package a product often influenced the decision to purchase the product itself. This means that your product packaging design can significantly affect your bottom line.

packaging design
Greatergood / Seedlip

The 6-step custom packaging design process

There are a few things to consider for good packaging design, from research to testing. Here’s how it can be done in six basic steps.

1. Define your product and customer

Your first step is to define the specifications of your product and who will most likely want to buy it. This means answering questions like:

  • What size and shape is it? Take into consideration the dimensions and weight of your product. For example, if you’re selling curtain rods you’ll want to consider packaging that is conducive to long, thin objects. If you’re selling paperweights, you’ll need to consider stronger, more durable packaging options.
  • What is it made out of? Are your products fragile? Do they have a shelf-life? If your products are made of thin glass, your packaging considerations must include ways to prevent your products from being broken in transit. And if you’re selling something with a shelf life, like consumables, you need to ensure preservation methods in your food packaging, like ice packs or sealed bags.
  • Who is your target audience? Know who your customer is. For example, if you’re selling power tools to serious tradespeople, maybe a pink glittery cardboard box isn’t the best packaging option.

For Patrice Mousseau, Founder of Satya, a natural skincare brand, product packaging design starts with a conversation about her story and the things that are important to her. 

When working with a product packaging designer, she discusses with them, "what this product is all about and the values behind that."

"Usually they go away and they start to have a bit of an idea. Then they’ll give you say five or six options and then you can narrow it down to maybe your top one or top two." 

💡ACTION: Note down a detailed list of product and customer attributes to inform your decisions. 

2. Research the competition

The next step in designing your packaging solutions is to research your competition. See what’s already being used and figure out what might work best for your own products.

  • Take a trip to a retail store that sells products similar to your own and look at how things are displayed. Take note of the colors, shapes, and materials used to package products like yours.
  • Take a look at your favorite online retailers. Search for similar products and take note of the packaging that is being used. Read the customer reviews to see what people are saying about the packaging—it might be wise to look out for negative reviews to see where you can offer improvements.
  • Search YouTube for unboxing videos, if they exist for your product type. They’ll give you a great idea of what people like about the opening process, and it might spark some creative ideas. 
  • Search online for your product category + “packaging.” This will give you a good overview of the different approaches used. You can usually find good examples of different packaging ideas on sites like Pinterest and Etsy.

pinterest for design inspiration

💡ACTION: See how others are packaging their products and note how you could do better.

3. Identify your product requirements

Now it’s time to figure out what sort of packaging requirements your item needs, both physically and legally. This is the important stuff you need to research before the fun design begins—getting it right can save you a lot of trouble. 

Here’s where you define what kind of packaging material you’ll need to safely stow your products, taking into account the dimensions and weight of them, as well as how far they’ll travel.

Legal regulations must also be met when packaging and shipping certain products. For example, the FDA has strict laws and regulations when packaging, labeling, and storing beauty and food products. Make sure you research which regulations are in place for the products you’re selling in your location.

💡ACTION: Research the legal responsibilities you have for packaging your product type, and the material requirements for making it happen.

4. Create your package concept

Once you understand all the technical aspects of your packaging needs, it’s time to start the packaging design process. This is where your product’s logistical and technical needs combine with your creativity and brand identity.

You can always sketch out your package mockups with pencil and paper. Still, you need diagrams and box measurements to be exact before sending them off to a packaging company to be manufactured.

It’s a good idea to invest in software that will help turn your design ideas into professional-grade reality, with high-quality artwork and typography ready to print.

If you’re computer-savvy, you can go straight to graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to map out packaging dielines and choose the design elements and fonts you want to use.

If you aren’t as confident and prefer dieline templates, you can always use custom packaging software with preloaded templates, like Pacdora.

pacdora for package design

During the design process, keep in mind the costs of each type of packaging you decide to use. Your costs will depend on:

  • The type of materials you choose to use: Are you going to use plastic? Cardboard? Corrugated cardboard?
    • The dimensions of your packaging: The more material you use, the more expensive it will be.
    • The type of packaging you choose: Is a box with a separate lid? Is it a box with two compartments? Is it an aluminum cylinder? Is it a box with one closure tab or three?
    • How big your logo/art will be: When manufacturing packaging, companies will charge by the size of the logo design you want to put on your packaging.
    • Where you place your logo/art: Will you put it just on the front of the box? Maybe a little message on the inside of the lid? Or are you going to put it all around your packaging?

        💡ACTION: Be creative and bold! This is where you get to add the “wow” factor that sparks joy with your customers. Your design needs to be both functional and eye-catching. You can also work with a professional packaging designer to create your finished package.

        I got a proper designer who is still with the company today who’s amazing. She did a fantastic job. I can’t express enough how important it is for packaging and for products how important good design is.

        Patrice Mousseau, Founder of Satya

        5. Pre-press and print your packaging

        Pre-press is when you finalize the packaging artwork and the exact colors you want your printers to use for your packaging. It’s also where you ensure your specs meet your printer’s requirements, so if your print company says it needs all files to be sent to as .psd or .jpeg files, you’ll have to provide them in those formats.

        If you can, request a test print to see how the color palette looks on your packaging in real life. Sometimes, a color on a computer screen can look very different when printed on different packaging materials.

        image of product packaging> 
<figcaption><a href=Greatergood / Minor Figures

        💡ACTION: Get a test version in your hands to see how your customers will experience your packaging.

        6. Test the package

        Once you get your packaging materials back from the printer, it’s time to test them. Test everything: durability, functionality, and even aesthetics. 

        Pack one of your products using your new package concept and materials and toss it around to simulate the delivery process. Be brutal—transit can be pretty physically demanding on items. 

        This means you can spot any potential issues during the test phase and make appropriate adjustments. 

        If you find that your merchandise is getting damaged, go back to the drawing board and adjust your materials so you avoid future bad reviews.

        After you’ve tested the durability of your packaging, it’s time to test how easy it is to get it open. If your customers need a sledgehammer and a blowtorch to open one of your packages, they’re not going to buy much from you again. In fact, try to get a friend or family member to simulate an unboxing video to see what parts of the packaging they like or have difficulty with. 

        Lastly, get opinions on your packaging design from others. You can ask friends and family, or even use polls on social media. 

        Instead of just asking people whether they like it or not, ask specific questions like, “Based on the design, what kind of product do you think is in this box?” and “If you saw this in your mailbox, would it make you smile?” The more information you can get, the better.

        packaging design example

        💡ACTION: Get as much intel as you can on your packaging’s performance before committing to a final design. 

        Product packaging design tips 

        1. Keep it simple. When it comes to product packaging design, less is almost always more. You want your packaging to be eye-catching and easy to understand, without being overly busy or complicated. Use clean lines and minimal graphics, and ensure your packaging clearly states what the product is and what it does. 
        2. Make it easy to open. Your packaging should be easy to open and use, without requiring special tools or effort. No one wants to struggle to open a fancy custom box or end up with damaged goods because it was too difficult to open. Keep this in mind when you’re designing your packaging, and make sure your target customer can open it easily. 
        3. Use high-quality materials. Regarding the perfect packaging, the materials you use are just as important as the design. You want your packaging made from high-quality materials that protect your product and make it easy to transport. Make sure to use durable materials that can withstand wear and tear and won’t degrade over time. 
        4. Consider the environment. More and more consumers are looking for eco-friendly, sustainable retail packaging, so it’s important to consider the environment when designing your product packaging. Use recyclable materials whenever possible, and avoid using excessive packaging that will end up in the landfill. 
        5. Test your packaging. Before you launch your product, it’s important to test your packaging to ensure it’s up to the task. Make sure your custom boxes can withstand shipping and handling, and that it protects your product from damage. 

        By following these simple tips, you can create eye-catching and functional packaging. Keep these tips in mind when designing your next product, and you’ll be sure to create packaging that your customers will love.

        Read More: 6 Amazing Unboxing Experiences and Ideas to Try

        Design your product packaging today 

        You’ve got a great product and a brand ready to get out there. The packaging you decide to use will be the physical representation of your online business. It’s important to consider both the logistical as well as the aesthetic components of your packaging design.

        Though it can seem like a daunting task, just follow the basic steps outlined above and you’ll craft something great. If you’re working in-house, you can always ask for external help from design agencies or freelancers. Just be ready to make adjustments to your packaging as you find better options and suppliers, and as your products evolve.

        Product packaging design FAQ

        What are the 7 types of packaging?

        • Paperboard boxes
        • Corrugated boxes
        • Printed plastic boxes
        • Rigid boxes
        • Chipboard packaging boxes
        • Poly bags
        • Foil-sealed bags

          What is packaging design for?

          Packaging design is a functional way to hold, transport, and store your products. Ideally, it should also appeal to your customers and speak to your brand.

          How do you do product packaging?

          1. Identify who your customer is.
          2. Research the competition. 
          3. Identify your product requirements.
          4. Create your package concept.
          5. Pre-press and print your package.
          6. Test the package.