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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Packaging and Presentation Sell Products

Presentation sells. It’s as simple as that. If you went to a thrift store, and a sales clerk dumped out a box of miscellaneous used goods and a selection of diamonds, you’d probably assume the diamonds were costume jewelry.

Conversely, if you were to go to a diamond store—particularly one that made you set up an appointment first—you’d probably assume the store sold the highest quality diamonds. In both cases, you could be right or wrong. Regardless, you’d probably agree that presentation mattered a lot.

A Sample Cosmetics Box

My fiancee brought home three tins of eye shadow the other day. They came in a laminated stack of corrugated board formed into a slab (for want of a better word). Picture a chunk of cardboard (eight layers deep) with three holes drilled in it. At the bottom of each is a finger hole. You push up and the eye shadow pops out.

On the front of the packaging (i.e., the topmost 4” x 6” piece of fluted board) is the name of the cosmetics company, along with the name of the product, the product weight for each tin, and one- or two-word descriptions of the colors. Around each of the 2” holes for the tins of eyeshadow, there is a black circle.

On the back of the corrugated packaging the company logo and product name have been repeated, along with lists of directions, ingredients, manufacturing information, and disclaimers (no animal testing, etc.). Each finger push-hole (for releasing the tins of eye shadow) is surrounded by another small black circle, and the color of each eyeshadow is printed beside each of these holes.

When you consider that all of the type is printed in black ink on the brown, sulfate corrugated board (except for white lettering on the front displaying the color names), the type/art is rather minimal. It looks like it was produced via flexography using rubber plates.

In contrast, the thick white ink displaying the names of the colors jumps off the brown page. I looked at this type under a loupe and tried to scratch off a little bit with the edge of a knife. My educated guess would be that the white ink was an example of custom screen printing due to its thickness and the slight pattern in the ink. In fact, it’s so thick that it even looks like press-on vinyl lettering.

Why Does This Matter to a Graphic Designer or Printer?

First of all, I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s like a box, yet unlike a box. It’s kind of gritty and casual, with the patterns of the fluting showing through the brown covering sheet of the corrugated board. The edges aren’t perfect where they have been glued together (laminated) and then cut and drilled into the final shape. In fact, it’s almost like a block of wood that has been shaped into a display case.

That’s what makes this work for me. It’s completely unique. Regarding the banged-up nature of the packaging, this goes with the earthiness and environmental look of the piece. The custom screen printing white ink labels jump right off the page, since their simple, sans serif, all-caps design in thick white ink are in such contrast to the background. And the eyeshadow tins sitting in the three little wells look pristine in contrast to the surrounding packaging.

If you found the three tins of eyeshadow on a shelf in a store, would you buy them? Maybe. But maybe not as quickly as if they were in this cool little display case. And everything that catches the eye of a potential buyer draws her, or him, one step closer to the final purchase.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Flexography is a particularly good alternative if you’re printing on corrugated board, particularly if you’re seeking a distressed, or gritty, look. After all, flexography doesn’t crush the fluted center of corrugated board. It also lends itself to a less than perfect ink application. For some products, this works better than perfect ink placement.
  2. Consider contrast in your packaging. Black type on brown cardboard will look subdued. Adding white, however, will draw stark contrast with the background. Consider where you want your viewer’s eye to go first, second, third.
  3. Do something dramatic. This designer did not put this packaging in a second box, so all of the rough edges are still visible. You know immediately that eight pieces of cardboard were laminated together. If you’re aiming for a hard-edged, high-fashion look, perhaps this won’t work. If you want a gritty look, it’s perfect—and unique.
  4. Choose the right technology for your design goals. In this case the designer knew the white ink would be more dramatic if it were thicker. It looks like she/he chose custom screen printing as the best way to do this. Another option would have been white foil stamping. (However, this would have required a die, and that would have added cost and time to the process.)
  5. For good or ill, it’s all about selling. So make a physical mock-up, and think about whether you’d buy a product in that particular packaging. This mindset makes you even more valuable to the marketing department and all other business development departments in your firm. After all, you’re making them money with your graphic design and custom printing.

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