The Real Dirt on Packaging

We’re all extremely familiar with product packaging. We’re surrounded by it at home, with our food products, grocery items and sporting goods. Nearly any time we go to a store there’s all those boxes staring us in the face, we don’t even question their existence. Kid’s toys, beverages, furniture, pretty much anything we buy starts out in a package. Or does it?

Once you think about it, of course not. Most of these products begin their life on a mass production line, and the packaging is the last step in preparing the product for you, the consumer, to see. The packaging itself is a piece of artwork that was created by a Packaging Designer during the period of the initial production process. Here’s how it generally works.

When a product is concepted, the Marketing Department is contacted fairly early on to start the design of the packaging. The Packaging Designer is given a prototype of the product to use as a visual representation of how the final mass-produced version of the product will look and feel. Then the Package Designer designs a small folded version of what they envision the package to look like, usually with no graphics on it at this point. This mock-up is a rough concept of the package, to present for approval on the general package design. There will typically be several mock-ups presented, all of which are slightly different ideas on how to best present the final product on the shelf.

In order to develop these mock-ups, the Packaging Designer must create rough dielines, or flat drawings, of these folded boxes. To do this they take measurements of the product prototype and decide how much room is needed inside of the package for the product to fit comfortably. Once one or more of the mock-ups have been chosen, then the dielines are finessed, to ensure that the measurements are fairly accurate, for the next round of small presentation mock-ups.

The second round will generally incorporate graphics on the folding dummy. Again, several options will be presented, and one or more will be chosen for further refinement. For the third round, the Packaging Designer may choose to create full-size mockups. The dieline at this point will be finessed to very tiny measurements, taking into account the thickness of the cardboard it will be printed on and any additional materials that may need to be contained within the package. These details become very important as the package design gets closer to actual production, to ensure that the final product feels perfect to the consumer.

Once all of the rounds of mock-up presentations have taken place and an approved package design has been chosen, the package is mocked up one last time at full size. Ideally this final mockup is printed on the material that the actual packaging will be printed on, and folded to the exact dimensions of the final package. Then the product itself is put into the package so it is a clear representation of what the consumer will see on the shelf of the store. Often several of these mockups will be placed on representational shelves within the Marketing Department (these are called planograms) so the agency can create a recommendation to the retailers on the best way to display an entire product line.

After the final package design is approved and the dieline layout is refined to the tiniest measurement and the graphics have been approved by several rounds of proofreading, the final layout is sent to the printer for printing and folding. The Packaging Designer has one last opportunity to review the package when a packaging prototype is produced, then the entire order is printed and sent to the factory that is making the product. Next thing you know those packages are on the store shelves – perhaps next time you see a package you’ll take a second look at it!

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