How to Design Amazing Custom Packaging

Creating packaging doesn’t have to be scary. It’s a lot easier than ever to design custom packaging that looks amazing and won’t break the bank. But as a designer, you know that there’s still a lot of work that goes into the process. The best packaging doesn’t just incorporate a logo or brand colours. It tells a story and creates the overall aesthetic for a brand.

As a designer, you deliver a brand’s message through your work. 2D design skills can carry over to 3D products like product packaging. Even though these skills overlap, you need to be aware of the technical nuances involved in 3D packaging design.

Types of Packaging


Mailer Boxes are the go-to option for subscription boxes, new hire kits, promotional influencer mailings and are also great for gift boxes and retail packaging. Mailer boxes are made of corrugated cardboard in E or B flute to help them survive shipping while still arriving in style.

  • Price: $$
  • Durability: ★★
  • Presentation: ★★

Shipping Boxes (RSC – regular slotted carton) are the most common type of box. Shipping boxes use B or C flute corrugated cardboard and are good for shipping heavy or larger items such as food, books, and large electronics. The design of this box reduces waste making it a more affordable option.

  • Price: $
  • Durability: ★★★
  • Presentation: ★

Folding Cartons: One of the most recognizable box styles, folding cartons line many retail shelves. Made of paperboard, folding cartons are slightly more expensive to produce but easy to assemble. They range from 16-24 pt in thickness with 16pt and 18pt being the most common. An excellent choice for packaging tea, candies, beauty products, and luxury goods.

  • Price: $$$
  • Durability: ★
  • Presentation: ★★★

Two-piece Rigid Boxes: Typically the most expensive, rigid boxes are used for luxury goods such as perfume, alcohol, and high-end watches. They’re made from chipboard that is up to four times stronger than the paperboard used in folding cartons so they’re the strongest box style you’ll see on a store shelf. Two-piece rigid boxes are a common style and are great for high-end items like an iPhone or other electronics while trays are better for smaller items like candles or cosmetics.

  • Price: $$$
  • Durability: ★★
  • Presentation: ★★★


If your product needs extra protection, inserts are the way to go. Inserts improve stability and enhance presentation by keeping your product front and center when you open the box.

Foam inserts made from polyurethane, polyethylene, and polystyrene are durable, lightweight and provide excellent cushioning for your product but are more expensive than other types of inserts. Corrugated cardboard inserts are more cost effective and allow for custom printing.

Poly Mailers

Poly mailers are lightweight plastic bags that are weatherproof and often have sealing strips for mailing. They’re cost effective and help keep shipping costs down. In some cases, poly mailers can even be reused by customers who need to return products.

Poly mailers are often used to ship items such as clothing. However, they’re not good for shipping delicate or fragile items as they offer little to no protection. Because they’re made of polyethylene (plastic), they may rip or tear easily in the mail.


While some boxes don’t require packaging tape, it’s recommended that some form of tape is used to keep your product safe in transit.

Water-activated kraft tape doesn’t stick on its own and must be activated with water. It’s more expensive than acrylic tape (standard clear packaging tape) because you need a special dispenser in order to use it. Acrylic tape is a general purpose tape that can be used straight off the roll. You can apply custom printing to both.

Other accessories like custom tissue paper and crinkle filler are inexpensive ways to not only help protect your protect but enhance your packaging’s presentation.


Choosing the right material for your product is important because it not only enhances your design, it can help protect your product.

Paperboard SBS (Solid bleached sulfate)

Paperboard is a solid white chipboard that comes both coated and uncoated. It is lightweight and because the surface is flat when printed on, it produces excellent print quality. It comes in three weights, 16 pt, 18 pt, and 24 pt.

Paperboard is commonly used for folding cartons, trays, and sleeves. It’s great for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and retail packaging.


Corrugated board is composed of paperboard with fluted paper laminated to it. You’re probably most familiar with it as cardboard. You can choose single or double wall construction for your boxes. Single wall cardboard consists of one layer of fluted paper and works well for general purposes or shipping. Double wall cardboard consists of two layers of fluted paper and is better for when you need extra security during shipping. Single wall is cheaper than double walled construction but offers less protection.  

Corrugated boxes are commonly used for produce, subscription boxes, e-commerce packaging, and shipping cartons.

Overview of the Standard Production Process

You’ve picked your box style and now it’s time to get your boxes made. This is a big step and will require some basic understanding of the standard production process.

Prepare your artwork

When creating your design, you’ll be using either a 3D box designer or laying your artwork out on a dieline template. 3D box designers are great if you don’t have expensive design tools or knowledge in how to use them. Dieline templates allow you precise control over layout, fonts, colors, and alignment.

It’s important to follow industry-standard recommendations for typography, text, and line art. While your artwork may look fine on-screen, not following these recommendations can result in your design not printing properly.

Check your artwork to ensure there are no cut or crop lines, all transparencies have been flattened, fonts are outlined (saved as shapes or vectors), and all graphic elements from other files are embedded and not linked.


At Packlane, we recommend saving non-photogenic content (including graphics and text) as an Adobe Illustrator (.ai) file or vector based PDF. This ensures your design prints as clearly as possible and there are no hold ups during Prepress with low-resolution artwork.


Designing physical packaging does require some “thinking outside the box.” Remember, designing custom packaging is more than simply deciding what goes on your packaging. You’re telling a story with your brand’s message and communicating it on a physical product. Materials, shapes, and finishes will all add extra flair to your final product.

We’ve covered the fundamentals of designing custom packaging to help you better understand everything involved in the process. Here’s a brief outline of the main stages you’ll need to remember:

  1. Choose your box style
  2. Types of packaging
  3. Choose the right material
  4. Outline of the standard production process
  5. Prepare your artwork
  6. Prepress and Tooling
  7. Different methods of printing
  8. Finishing your packaging

We’re happy to help and guide you through the process at PCB so your design comes out perfect every single time

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