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Branding and Design

Principles of Great Packaging Design:
Design for Manufacturability (DFM)


Executive Director & CEO, Encept Brand Design

With packaging design, WYSINAWYG!

Ask any serious brand manager and she will tell you how time and time again, printed packaging fails to stay true to approved designs… Yes, the often-frustrating reality with packaging design is that What You See (on screen/ printed proof) Is Not Always What You Get (on printed packaging).


All those precious hours spent deliberating and debating colours, shades, imagery, and graphical treatments, come to naught the moment printed samples arrive. Two different printers, two different results. Two different pack formats, two different shades of the same colour… What follows, is a lot of finger pointing, frustration and heartburn. Often, rejection of packaging materials is the response and delayed product launches i.e., loss of revenue, the bitter outcome…

The Complexity of Multiplicity

So, what makes packaging designs complex to realize and implement? Multiple factors really. And no, not all of them relate to the design agency’s competence or the capabilities of print suppliers. Complexity is in-built into the nature of brand packaging; multiple pack formats & materials, multiple print processes, varying capabilities across the print supply chain and the need for packaging to stay visually consistent i.e., “on-brand” through the product lifecycle – launch, SKU extensions, promotions, regulatory pack changes and design enhancements…  Most complexity, however, stems from how brand owners work – processes they follow, expectations they harbour and the discipline or lack of it, in their planning. To worsen matters, different brands within the same organization follow different processes!

“Achieving brand management’s goals for on-time,
on-brand, on-cost
packaging demands a vastly
different, holistic, and evolved approach to
packaging design.”

The Phygital Chasm: Managing Designs for Manufacturability

Truly great packaging design accounts for constraints of manufacturing; print processes and media types. This is easier said than done!

Colour representation on digital media (computer screens) varies hugely from the physical world of ink on substrate. Different screens with differing pixel resolutions represent images and colours differently… Macs (what designers use) reproduce sharper images than a standard PC laptop (what brand managers use to review designs). Computer screens operate in the RGB (a richer) colour space while print uses CMYK… Image reproduction across gravure and flexo printing varies and so do ink systems. The variables at play in the translation of design from the digital to the physical world are endless really!  

Trouble, however, begins upstream when designs used to win client approvals are created using a wider colour palette than will be used in printing. For instance, a design may be set up using 10 colours but the print process limits to just 6 colours (carton packaging on litho printing). The same design when adapted to a laminate pouch will likely be produced on gravure with 8 colours…

Another significant challenge is that digital designs do not account for or accurately simulate textures, whiteness, glossiness, or finishes such as varnishes, foiling, metallic highlights… Expert simulations using colour-managed proofing, mock-ups or high-end CGI can bridge the gap but requires in depth understanding of reprographics and print management – printing, inks, optics, colour science and material chemistry. All of which, need to be integrated into the design through the highly expert yet ignorantly undervalued, and misunderstood process of artwork production.

Brand Implementation is Key

A vast majority of design agencies and brand owners mistakenly view artworks as “designs fitted into a dieline”. The print manufacturer is then tasked with interpreting the design, through “pre-press” into printed packaging. This procedure simply kills any opportunity for brand consistency:

  1. Multiple print suppliers may be involved in producing the same design (Ex: 200g carton of green tea). Each printer interprets the design as per their individual machine capabilities and constraints.
  2. One of the printers may choose to produce the design using one less or one more colour… So, we now have two different interpretations of the design (artwork) in the supply chain! Imagine the implications when the brand owner changes printer for the next print batch…
  3. When this design is adapted to a flexible packaging format where material, print process and print vendors change, the complexity multiplies…

Achieving brand management’s goals for on-time, on-brand, on-cost packaging demands a vastly different, holistic, and evolved approach to packaging design; one that reclaims control over the brand from printers and integrates a scientific, expertise-driven, standardization-led artwork implementation strategy. A fundamental principle of great packaging design is ensuring that the digital image (what you approve) accurately reproduces on the physical packaging (what you get in print). Irrespective of the print process, the packaging material, the manufacturer or when manufactured…

Yes, WYSMABWYG! What You See Must Always Be What You Get!

Have a point of view you’d like to share or discuss?
Write to us at biz@enceptglobal.com