A plain cardboard box sits on decking illuminated by the sun
Different sketches of an angular packaging box sit on a desk as a designer inspects them

What to Look for in a Packaging Box

When you’ve spent time making an excellent product, it’s the worst thing in the world to lump it in with terrible packaging design and even worse packaging material. After all, first impressions are vital in the retail industry: how your product looks stacked against all of its competitors is almost always a make or break.

So don’t skimp on packaging. If someone immediately feels your product to be high quality, the cost becomes a whole lot less relevant because, ultimately, what do we buy things for?

We buy some things, commodities, for basic survival, but almost all products that aren’t commodities (that is, anything that isn’t a loaf of bread or a bag of rice) are subject to the charms of quality.

If you buy an electric drill, you’re usually buying it because you need to drill holes or screw screws. If you’ve ever used a drill before for any length of time, you’ll likely be aware that the actual felt difference between using a £20 drill and using an £80 drill is the difference between feeling sore for days or feeling chuffed with a job well done. Once you’re at the level of understanding the point of buying the better product, the difference between an £80 drill and a £120 drill is not that much – so long as you can be reasonably sure that this more expensive drill will last longer as well as provide ergonomic benefits.

The same evaluation process applies with everything that’s a non-commodity.

One bar of chocolate may be 20p while another is £1.20, but you’re not likely to care all that much about the price difference if you trust or know that the more expensive bar of chocolate is going to satisfy your craving.

How, then, do you make sure your customers-to-be get the best first impressions of your product? Your packaging material.

But what do you need to look for in a packaging material? Let’s find out.

Ease of customisability

When you need to design packaging that’ll impress customers, you need to be able to design the packaging, not have the packaging design for you. In other words, you need to be able to customise the packaging to what you need it to look like.

Some materials help you do this much better than others do.

A factor worker tapes up a cardboard box on a stack of many
How well does it protect the product(s)?

Not all products need to be coddled, but they do need to be protected while in transit and when rubbing shoulders with those dreaded competitors. As a rule of thumb, the more difficult something is to customise, the more it protects the contents (think stone cottages).

But this rule is specifically and only a rule of thumb. The key is to get a balancing act between protection and ease of customisability. Plastic blister packaging, for example, can protect products reasonably well from scuffs but requires a whole lot of setup for efficient production – and this is practically off limits for small scale production.

Tactility – how does it feel

This is very rarely considered but is actually one of the most important parts of packaging. Think about picking up a book – and let’s just say that the book’s front and back covers are its “packaging” – how can you tell that the book is cheap? It just feels cheap, right?

But what exactly makes it feel cheap? The cover may have a gloss lamination that’s too glossy, too hard. The pages don’t feel quite right. The colours are ever so slightly off. The design isn’t quite cohesive and it’s missing common details that we expect (even subconsciously) of ‘quality’ books. In fact, the books published by established publishers are likely to be cheaper per book than the self-printed ones you immediately feel as “cheap”.

So, the difference here isn’t necessarily one of cost but of attention to detail. The feel might be soft matte paper if the intention is to give an ‘organic’ impression, or it might be a soft matte gloss that diffuses light while slightly holding on to you. How the book feels makes very little difference to what the book contains, but it makes you more likely to actually pick the book up and more receptive to what it contains.

With all other product packaging, this remains crucial. Blister pack plastic will always feel only like blister pack packaging.

Can it be visually varied?

In the same way that tactility is crucial, visual appeal is just as important. Before you’ve picked something off a shelf, it will have to have caught your eye. And in order to catch your eye, it needs to be more visually variable than competitors’ product packaging.

A blister pack packaging material will always look like a blister pack material. You’re forced to rely on printed paper inserts for visual appeal and things like dye in the plastic are difficult and only really serve to obscure the contents.

A material that can be visually varied gives you unlimited freedom to design to your eye’s content.

What material ticks all the boxes?

So the question, then, is what material ticks all these boxes?

In almost every case, paper-based materials give you near-unlimited freedom to experiment and create a real experience for your product. When you need a sturdy paper solution, especially for boxes, our paper honeycomb board gives you the best of all worlds.

4th September 2023