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So you want to be a Packaging Designer?

December 15, 2016


It’s a sense of pride and joy when a designer sees his or her packaging design on the supermarket shelf. But this critical function in the Packaging Artwork value chain does not come easy. Some companies maintain an internal Artwork Studio while others outsource the work to one or more agencies. A few have a combination of internal and external design teams.

Since Pharma labels and artworks are not graphics heavy, typically an internal designer does all the packaging artwork design work. Food and Cosmetic companies with their high dependence on graphics, tend to outsource the concept design and the packaging artwork design to external agencies. With growing number of SKUs and global market expansions, external agencies are being brought in to complement the internal design team and to handle the increase in volume.

Irrespective of where the designer is located, each one has to deal with the following as part of their role

Concept Design

This can range from the whole packaging design to something like graphic work for a new product or brand.


Conceiving the packaging as an integral part of the overall brand, creating logos and style guides, all in line with the vision of the product or brand.

Structural Design

As a designer you will encounter different ways in which you need to create a structural design. Typically its about creating a Dieline,pack

  1. from a box of another product
  2. from the container (bottle or jar) for the product
  3. from a packaging material specification document, or
  4. by looking at the product itself

The Dieline is the template for a package. If you took apart a cereal box and flattened it, you are looking at a Dieline.

Typically, labels and other two dimensional packaging designs are easy and you can generate a Dieline for these using basic measurements.

Boxes are a bit more complicated and may require knowledge of closure types or tucks to get it right. The easiest way is to change the dimensions of a similar Dieline (from another product) to suit your requirements.

If you have access to structural packaging software, you have endless possibilities to create a Dieline from scratch in the most perfect way as possible.

Graphic Design

The Graphic design part consists of all the graphics work involved with packaging design like logos, illustrations, layouts, typography, etc.

If the structural design is being given to you, please ensure it’s the right size, has all the folds, trims, bleeds, glue areas and barcode areas specified. If you are making the structural design, make sure you have the right approvals before you move to the Graphic design part. The last thing you want to be doing is recreating your artwork due to a Dieline discrepancy. Lock the Dieline as a separate layer and place it on top of the Artwork Layer in Illustrator or a similar design tool.

What differentiates designers is their understanding of how the packaging may be produced and printed. This can range from

  • knowing the printing process
  • understanding or preparing for the materials being used (know if a certain paper or cardboard will rip more easily than others)
  • understanding material costs
  • making sure they know if the colors they see on their monitor will match those that the printer creates (know that one material will not take ink in the same way as another would)

Working with a printer from the start can reduce or eliminate many of the print execution issues which might require re-design at a later stage.

Finally, regardless of the product, a designer knows that the packaging design they create has the power to make or break the product.

Image Credits: Pakfactory.

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