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How to Develop a Packaging Design

December 9, 2014|BY: Rob Helmke

Custom thermoformed thin gauge rigid retail packaging
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Developing the perfect packaging design is often a complicated process, but at PI, we believe it doesn’t have to be. Follow our Packaging Design guide as you work with your packaging team to help streamline your package design process.

Understand: Collaborate During an Ideation Session

An ideation session is crucial for the success of a product’s packaging design. This meeting will allow your packaging company to understand your goals and help you create a high-quality design. During this session, you and your packaging company should answer a few key questions to produce your design, including:

  • What is the end goal of your packaging?—Every packaging design is created for protection first and foremost. However, some need varying levels of impact resistance or strength. Where does your product fall into the protection spectrum? Establish the ideas you have in mind for packaging functionality, as well as appearance and aesthetic value.
  • How will your package be used?—This question will help you determine in what way will your packaged will be used. Will it need a packaging with higher level of security and tamper resistance, such as blister packaging? Is your packaging more for storage, like stock packaging for food? You may also want to discuss the gauge thickness you’d like for your packaging design.
  • How will your package be displayed?—Display is another key consideration for packaging designs. For example, food products that utilize the clamshell packaging design may be simply placed on shelves. Retail or cosmetic products, however, may be packaged in blister packaging with hook cut-outs to hang on shelves. Other products, like those used in the medical or pharmaceutical industries, may not be displayed to the public at all and will not require additional display considerations. Discuss the markets your products will be displayed in, and, if applicable, how you envision them in stores.

Proper Material Selection

Choosing the appropriate packaging material requires various considerations, including the following:

Temperature Levels

The packaging material you select must be able to withstand any sterilization and heat sealing. Additionally, if you know your products will be exposed to varying temperature levels, make sure to accommodate your packaging design as such.

UV Light Requirements

Some companies must take UV light into consideration when developing packaging designs. To keep their food products in sanitary condition and to prevent spoilage, many companies incorporate UV filters into their packaging designs. As you develop your packaging design, consult with your company about any UV exposure your products will have.


How thick does your packaging design need to be? Consider the environment in which your product will be used. Food products may need a thicker gauge of plastic to resist outside tampering and to prevent any chemicals from leaching, depending on what level of protection they need.

Determine Minimum Package Thickness

Thin gauge packaging must adhere to a few key considerations. The packaging gauge must be strong enough to keep products protected from impact and the distribution process, as well as maintain the functionality of equipment in end market. So, how exactly can you determine the thickness that your product’s packaging gauge should be?

Survive Sterilization

Sterilization is an important component for packaging, especially in industries, such as the medical field, that cannot risk the introduction or inclusion of outside contaminants. However, sterilization can be an intensive process, and if plastic packages are not composed of the appropriate materials—and in the appropriate thickness—they may become weakened during the sterilization process and ultimately compromise the strength and safety of packaging. To avoid packaging failure during sterilization procedures, your packaging team can select a customized solution of plastic substrates, as well as a design, for your product’s packaging.

Additionally, packaging for some products may need to be processed in a ISO Class 8 clean room facilities complete with a positive pressure HVAC system, proprietary trimming and 100 percent traceability from the beginning to end of the creation process to ensure no outside contaminants are introduced when specialists package products.

Survive Pressurization

For some products, the shipping process may require alternative methods for transporting products—such as by airplane—either because of time constraints or because of longer travel distances. Products that will be shipped through air freight services will need a packaging design that can withstand varying levels of air pressure that they will incur during the flight. Without a carefully planned packaging designed for air travel, the shifts in pressure could irreversibly damage products. If you know you will be shipping your products by air freight—or could be in the near future—ask your plastic manufacturer to develop a design that complies with aircraft shipping regulations.

Impact Strength

To hold up during the shipping process, be it by vehicle or plane, packaging must have high levels of impact strength to maintain product safety and integrity. Some products may require a thicker gauge packaging design to withstand challenges during distribution. Your packaging company may need to run various tests to examine the strength of your package’s gauge to determine if it is appropriate for your products.

Part Functionality in Equipment

Similarly, packaging needs to have high levels of impact strength to ensure products function as needed. For medical parts, this is especially crucial. Parts need to arrive to a hospital or other medical facility in the same condition as when they were sent to ensure the safety of the product in which they will be used. To provide the appropriate safeguarding, parts need to be packaged in a high-quality thermoformed design created specifically to their dimensions.


Plastic packaging stand out with clever a design balance with functionality.Colors should never be more than an afterthought when it comes to packaging for your product. When packaging for retail, it’s always important to remember that people often love to see bold and attractive colors used. A person may purchase a product after noticing it by its bright, eye-catching custom packaging. In fact, a survey found that 92.6 percent of people say they value visuals the most when choosing a product. This means that while your product may be fantastic, the colors used in the packaging to represent it could make the biggest difference in a sale.

For plastic, coloring is less common than a clear plastic, but it can be done. With some products, a fun burst of color can take the attractiveness to the next level, making consumers more likely to buy a product. Know your product when deciding what color your packaging should be. If the product itself is already a vibrant shade, perhaps using a clear plastic could showcase that best. Whatever option you choose, though, make sure it represents the product best.


Now, your team of designers can create a mock-up of what your packaging design will look like. These sketches will contain overall visions for the design, as well as functionality. This process could require multiple sketch revisions, but it is important that you address any concerns you may have here to avoid packaging failure in the final stages.


After you and your plastic packaging company have discussed your design ideas at length and you have approved final sketch ideas, they can get to work on creating your packaging design. Many companies will create a prototype design before completing the entire run so you can get a better look of what to expect for the final product. Once you approve this, they can then complete your packaging order in an agreed-upon timeframe, and you can send your products to their intended markets.

For more information on how to create a high-quality packaging design or to get started on your project, get in touch with a specialist at PI.