Custom Retail Packaging 101: How to Design Tissue, Bags, and Boxes for Your Shop

This is a guest post by Beth Owens.

Before you read on further, ask yourself this question: which makes you feel more valued as a customer; your product arriving in a generic cardboard box, or in attractive, specially branded packaging unique to that company?

Let’s say you purchase something in a brick and mortar store. When you take the product to the checkout, the shop assistant wraps it in bespoke packaging and puts it in a specially designed box or bag. You may not notice it instantly, but that simple action can have a massive impact on your likelihood to shop there again.

Custom branded packaging doesn’t change the product you purchased, it changes how you feel about your retail experience. As well as having a functional or aesthetic purpose, the product now embodies the care and attention put in by the brand.

There are two main takeaways that we’ll cover. Firstly, great packaging is key to a memorable customer experience. And secondly, packaging has become a powerful marketing tool in its own right.

Why custom retail packaging matters

Custom branded packaging is proven to increase sales and brand engagement

Packaging is often underestimated in the effect that it has on purchasing decisions. Although we like to think our purchasing decisions come about by rational decision-making, there is a strong emotional component as well. If you ask someone why they chose a particular product, it’s highly likely they will cite it’s ‘good value’ as a reason. But this doesn’t refer to price alone; ‘value’ is a much more subjective concept.

A study published in Psychology and Marketing in 2013, which measured brain activity as people viewed different packaging, showed that attractive packaging created stronger activity in the reward-seeking areas of the brain than plain packaging. So although we might not be consciously aware of it, what something looks like really does affect our purchasing decisions.

This is because packaging helps to develop that all-important perception of ‘value added’. Here, branding and packaging are two sides of the same coin. It presents another great avenue to get your brand out there and to cap off that ‘final stage’ of your interaction with your customers.

So if you’re currently stuck in a rut made out of brown cardboard, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to express your brand. Not giving your packaging design serious consideration is like writing a fantastic story, but not giving it a satisfying ending. It could leave your customers feeling unsatisfied and thinking ‘is that it?’ Providing a premium packaging experience helps develop long-term customer relationships and brand loyalty.

It will help you to leverage social media much more effectively

Social media has been instrumental in making packaging central to the customer experience. Whether you run an e-commerce retailer or a brick and mortar store, social media is likely key to your marketing efforts. On platforms like Pinterest and Instagram which are visually-oriented, clever and attractive packaging is like catnip to your audience. It’s a fantastic way to catch people’s attention and pull them into viewing what your brand has to offer. Rather the recipient being the only one to see your packaging, it can now be shared thousands of times and expose your brand to new audiences.

What we have found is that customers frequently share photos of their custom-designed tissue on social media. Some even engage professional photographers to get the insta-worthy shots they envision. The reason is that sharing experiences has become a modern trend, and these experiences range from the avocado toast you ate for breakfast all the way to the unboxing of your latest online order.

What great packaging represents is something much less tangible, something that simply pushing your product’s qualities can’t do. It demonstrates your brand’s commitment to quality, customer service and above all, high value.

How to design your custom retail packaging

Now that we’ve covered why it’s important to customize your packaging, let’s talk what you need to consider in your design process.

1. Consider your brand’s ‘story’

As we mentioned earlier, packaging is an integral part of telling your story. You want something that tells your customers who you are in a visual format which is easy to absorb. Especially for small businesses, success often comes from offering something different from the faceless e-commerce giants. Something unique and personable.

Before you even sit down with a designer, or to design your packaging yourself, you need to have a good think about what makes your brand unique. What are your core values? What is the ethos that drives your company?  What value is it that your product/service creates for your customers? These answers will help you to zone in on the key ideas that you want your packaging to communicate. Choosing a generic design which looks great but has little relevance to your company won’t allow you to leverage the full branding benefits of packaging.

2. Be consistent

In any form of marketing, the consistency of your narrative is the key to success. Choosing a design which doesn’t resonate with the rest of your branding is going to look confused and disjointed. More than anything, brand consistency breeds trust. You want your customers to see your packaging and feel that they know what you stand for. This is obviously a lot easier for companies who are just starting out. By launching all elements of their marketing at once, they can ensure that it’s totally cohesive from the outset. For existing companies, upping your packaging game can be a great time to review the rest of your branding strategy. Has the ethos of your brand or customer base changed over time? If so, your packaging design could be a jumping off point for a wider branding refresh!

3. Choose the right color palette

There are more considerations here than how your packaging looks. Color has a lot of symbolism behind it which is critical to be aware of in your branding. When between 60 to 90 percent of consumers make decisions based on color, it’s important to understand what different shades represent. Of course, color psychology is not an exact science. Our personal experiences are far more likely to influence us than what branding experts tell us. However, here are some broad guidelines to help with your decision-making:

Red: It’s a great color if you want to stand out, which is why sale signs in stores are almost always red. It also makes a bold statement in standing for passion, energy and excitement. However, this strength means it should be used selectively; too much red can be overwhelming and aggressive, which may not be in the interests of your brand image.


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Green: As a very relaxing color, green is great for injecting a dose of freshness into your branding. Its broad themes of life, health and growth is positive symbolism to pretty much any business. For brands that have sustainability as a core value, green is very symbolic of these efforts, especially if used for motifs and logos.


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White: Great for a clean, minimalistic look. However, this only works if carefully executed. The plainness of white can come across as lacking imagination and creativity, especially since it runs the risk of looking a bit Apple-esque and unoriginal. To avoid looking too sterile, try combining it with an accent color or bright pattern that shows a bit of character.


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Black: Black is a barrier color because it’s heavy and absorbs light, which makes a powerful statement. It’s sophisticated and timeless, which is why it’s commonly favoured by brands aimed at the premium end of the market (think Nespresso and Nike). Black can also come across as oppressive and serious in some settings, so it’s worth considering breaking up with the addition of a lighter tone.


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Blue: As one of the most soothing colors, blue gets used very widely in branding because it indicates reliability and steadiness. Naturally, this is something every brand wants to communicate with its customers. However, it can come across as generic and boring because it is so unobjectionable. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, it’s not your best bet. Instead, try using it as an accent color rather than the base of your design.


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Yellow: As such a bright and cheerful color, yellow can help to give your brand warmth and character. Because it’s very in-your-face, it can be quite overwhelming when used in a solid block in packaging. Paired with something darker and used as a motif or text, however, is a great way to grab attention. The shade of yellow you choose is also very important; darker shades of yellow can often look dirty or faded, which is not a good look for product packaging.


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It’s important to remember that context has a strong role in color psychology, such as cultural variations. Red, for example, is considered a lucky color in many Asian countries, rather than symbolising passion. Depending on where your customer base is located, this could be something important to consider. You can also send a strong message by intentionally bucking traditional ideas in your branding, such as how blue and pink are considered heavily gendered colors in the West.

4. Use the right materials

The materials you select for your packaging generally boil down to a combination of these considerations:

Functionality: Does your packaging simply need to be attractive and well-branded, or does it also need to accomplish another goal? For a lot of companies, packaging has a functional purpose as well as an aesthetic one. For the former, the material you choose needs to reflect this as well as your brand identity. For example, packaging fragile products in paper or tissue looks attractive, but will do your brand no favors if the customer receives damaged products! If this is a risk, you’ll need to choose something which is durable and protective, or else package your aesthetic wrapping within something stronger.

Cost and time effectiveness: These are definitely the least exciting considerations, but also some of the most important. Practicality needs to be central to whichever material you choose, or you can have serious issues further down the track.

If you’re an e-commerce company that has to ship products, choosing a heavy material is going to add a lot of cost to this process, especially if your customers are based around the world. This can mean passing on that cost to your customers, which could harm your ‘valued-added’ efforts. Your timeline is equally important; how long will it take you to source your materials, and how reliable is that service? How long will it take to put together? This is really the make or break for your design.

Sustainability: Consumers care more than ever about the impact of packaging, and they will make decisions accordingly. A 2017 survey by consumer giant Unilever found that over one third of consumers chose products whose brands they saw as being environmentally friendly. Here, your packaging has the ability to be a key selling point for your product and part of your branding narrative. It shows customers, rather than just telling them, that you take social and environmental responsibility seriously and want to set a good example.

To round up, packaging is successful when it achieves these things:

  • Exciting your customers
  • Creating a ‘value added’ perception
  • Building on your existing branding
  • Making your brand stand out from competitors

Do you feel that your current packaging design is achieving all of these things? If not, it’s worth giving some thought to how you could better leverage this area for the benefit of your branding and marketing strategy.

Author Bio

Beth Owens is a digital marketing assistant and content writer at noissue. Her main topic areas include e-commerce, social media marketing and the art of excellent branding.