In a world where there are millions of products competing for your attention, product packaging has perhaps never been more important.
Almost all products come in some type of packaging, whether it’s beautiful and delicately crafted, or strictly utilitarian. Some packaging needs to protect the item, and some is there purely to catch your eye. All packaging begins with a design, although it hasn’t always been about making the buyer choose a specific product.
Packaging began as a way to transport food and water more than 3,000 years ago. Egyptians developed colored glass water pots. Ancient Chinese civilizations used mulberry bark to transport food (and later invent paper, the first flexible packaging!), and by the early 1800s, the French were experimenting with tin packaging. As technology has advanced, so too has packaging and design. The barcode, which was first used in 1974, and the nutrition facts label that became a requirement for all packaged foods in the 1990s, are among the most reproduced packaging design elements of the 20th century.
These days, consumers want more eco-friendly and recyclable packaging, which means glass and different types of plastic are becoming popular, especially for brands and products who have a longer history with other types of packaging, like cardboard cereal boxes.
What is Packaging Design?
It’s pretty easy to think of a memorable piece of packaging, perhaps on a piece of clothing, a beloved food item, or an electronic device. What’s less clear is what the packaging design industry is as a whole.
According to O’Reilly Media, Inc., the purpose of packaging design is to “create a vehicle to”:
- Distinguish a product in the marketplace
Product packaging is an important part of how businesses get goods to customers. It’s not just a pretty design; it’s also strategic.
How Package Designers Use Illustrator
Every product comes in or with some type of packaging, whether it’s beautiful and delicately crafted, strictly utilitarian, or part of the product itself. No matter what role the packaging plays, it all begins with a design.
Intricately designed packaging might include patterns and illustrative typography. Simpler packaging may only have a logo or a stylized label. Either way, Adobe Illustrator is a great tool for creating these designs.
A few common Illustrator tasks in the packaging design industry include: patterns, typography, detailed illustrations, dielines, and labels & hang tags.
Patterns are a straightforward way to grab your attention when you’re looking at a product. Sometimes patterns can even become iconic to a brand, such as the curves on a glass Coca-Cola bottle and paisley print on Vera Bradley merchandise.
Adding even simple patterns to a packaging design can make it feel more interesting and set it apart from competitors who’ve opted for plain packaging. After all, what’s more likely to catch your eye when it’s sitting on the shelf: stripes or a plain colored package?
Illustrator excels at tiny details like outlined text, and makes it easy to create beautiful patterns with the Pattern Tool. Using the Pattern Tool, designers can create unique patterns and have them seamlessly repeat throughout the design. Even after the pattern is applied, there are still options to further customize with color, size, and direction of the pattern. These advantages make Illustrator an excellent tool for industry use.
Typography is the style and readability of the text. It includes the way a font looks—whether it’s serif or non-serif, beautiful script, plain text, or even a fun theme. It’s all designed to convey a message alongside the values of a brand.
Typography plays a large role in packaging design. Ideally, text will be not only aesthetically pleasing but also easy to read. While fancy scripts might look pretty on the box, customers are less likely to buy if they can’t identify what the product actually is or is supposed to do.
Illustrator is the “king” of typography for Adobe products. Packaging Designers can hand draw or design fonts and Illustrator will vectorize it and turn it into sharp, clear text. There’s also a massive stock of Adobe fonts available, which leaves no shortage of options for creating the perfect packaging for any product.
Another way to make packaging more appealing is to add graphics. Some of the most popular illustrations for packaging include cartoons or artistically styled people, objects related to the object (like fruit on an alcoholic beverage), and funky abstract artwork.
Illustrations, especially in combination with typography and patterns, are a great way to create memorable packaging for products. Think about the brand Burt’s Bees. Its iconic yellow packaging with illustrations of both bees, and often of Burt himself, appear hand-drawn. They make the brand feel personal, and even without the bold red text you could probably tell based on the illustrations what the brand is.
Illustrator was built to do these kinds of drawings, so if you’re designing a package and you have a specific goal in mind (for instance, a cartoon woman washing her hair for a shampoo bottle), you can draw it in Illustrator where it will become a crisp vector image you can use on any shape or size packaging.
Dielines are important to packaging because they tell you where the packaging needs to be cut, perforated and folded. They’re used on the outside shape of the packaging, and anywhere that needs to be folded or perforated like the stub of a movie ticket.
When creating highly designed packaging, dieline placement is critical to making sure your package looks and functions the way you want. After all, you can have the most beautiful presentation of words and illustrations, but if the dielines aren’t done correctly, it will look like a lopsided mess when you go to actually use it.
Illustrator’s ability to create layers and color code the dielines is critical to creating accurate markings on your design so it will turn out correctly when you print, cut, and/or fold it.
Labels & Hang Tags
When you purchase an item of clothing or accessories, you see labels and hang tags on each product. The label usually gives information about the brand, the size, and sometimes the materials used to create the product as well as how to care for it.
The hang tag is the one you see with the price and barcode. Although we take for granted that these are staples of most products, at least in brick and mortar stores, they’re all designed specifically for each brand to convey a message to the customer.
These simple designs require precision because of the small space they have to communicate such important information. Illustrator is an effective tool to create these items because of the ability to manipulate typography and small details for any size design.
Where to Learn Illustrator for Package Design Skills
If you love graphics and admire the many kinds of creative packaging around you, packaging design might be a great new career. Illustrator is one of the most foundational graphic design skills you’ll need to master, and there are plenty of ways to learn in-person, live online, and even complete comprehensive certificate programs in graphic design.
Noble Desktop offers several options for in-person, live online, and certificate learning options. Popular Illustrator courses include Illustrator in a Day and Adobe Illustrator Bootcamp. If you’re looking to grow your skills quickly, Illustrator in a Day could be ideal. For a longer, more foundational look at the program, Adobe Illustrator Bootcamp may be a better option.
If you’re interested in graphic design courses and certifications, Noble has those, too. The 78-hour Graphic Design Certificate, which includes training on Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, is a great place to begin getting a baseline knowledge of the programs you’ll need in a career as a Packaging Designer. In addition, there’s an advanced Graphic Design Portfolio Bootcamp that focuses on providing projects you can use to showcase your skills to potential employers and/or clients.
If you’re not quite sure you want to be in the classroom, don’t worry—the classes are offered live online as well as in-person so you can choose to learn where you’re most comfortable.