Important design checks before your packaging design prints!

A colorful illustration by Laughing Popcorn showing an ink bottle and it is the cover image of a blog for tips on print checks before printing design files

If you might not already know this about me, let me just say it – I simply love packaging design! It is such a cool feeling as a designer to see designs come to life in print. And when it becomes the identity of a brand, and occupies space in shelves…..Ohh!! These are the kind of sites that I live for.

It is really true!

By the way, let me tell you a little story (or maybe a long one!) of how it all started! 

Once upon a time…

When I quit my job and started as a freelancer, the first thing I took up was designing merchandise, print and sell them to have a product range of my own. But as it happens with so many business ventures, this one failed too! Because I was too new to everything! I was too new to understand how the world of design operates, too new for business – everything.

But wait a sec, there are no tears! I think after a circle full of experiences, learnings and growing up, it is all came back to me. I am now heading in the same direction of specialising into packaging, merchandise and print design, but with so much more progress.

So I am glad that all this left me with so much experience about print!!

Yes. This is back in Mumbai. I was pretty much living by myself and my dreams. My targeted an exhibition of my paper products, printed with my designs. So I literally went across the city to try and get my products made. It started with going to print shops, understanding about print quality, understanding what I want, bulk orders, etc etc. And then the real adventure started when I ended up going to the printing hub of Mumbai! Somehow, my journey of exploration got me there! Ohhh! It was a little edgy but charming too! These were big mills, producing paper, printing 1000s of prints and some really big print machines!!!

My goals kept pushing me. I would stand in these places all day, talking to the printers, the workers and saw how things were made. I understood paper and started gathering knowledge about different print techniques. Also understood technicalities like what I need to keep in mind as a designer to print well.

And all of that hard work, struggle and experience comes in so handy now, when I sit here in my fancy little corner and get it all ready for packaging design and other print designs!

Ok! Ok! I am here! Back from my little nostalgic trip!

So whatever I share in here is all a bundle of my practical experiences and hope they help you make good print stuff too! Yup, it ain’t so easy! But when did we look for easy things anyway! We want it good right! 😀

Ok! Brace yourselves, as I jump into the essentials you need to keep in mind before you send your design files for print, be it for packaging design, merchandise or anything out of the blue!

Because, prints are god damn expensive things and do not come in with ‘undo’ buttons! And we do not want them to mess up our ‘creative fantasies!’ 

So here’s the checklist!

1. Proof read

Imagine you do some awesome, classy work with your packaging design and there!!! Grammatical errors take away all the charm! Huh! Who likes them! And I agree this goes without saying, but it is not so obvious either! I have to put this one on the checklist because I have done this mistake! Yup! It happened long back. I had done packaging design for a client and boom! When the prints came out, it had an extra ’t’ added to a word! I felt sooooo bad and my ears were surely red with embarrassment! I did not know what to do! Should I offer a refund?! Should I pay for the additional prints?!! Phew! It wasn’t the nicest day. But luckily they had printed a very tiny batch and we got away with it in samples.

But surely not the nicest thing to do as a designer! So its always cool to proof read your to-be printed stuff before it reaches its final destination! Especially, if you are working with a client who might not get into too many test prints or if there is no team/person allocated for proof reading the prints! I would say, then it is our job as designers to take care of it. Let’s not wash away our hands from responsibilities!

 

2. CMYK

You would say, Radhika! Seriously!!! You need to tell us such basics?! Obviously the packaging design files, or actually any print files for that matter need to be set in CMYK mode!

I get it! So obvious again right! But do not underestimate the power of ‘mistakes’! After all we are all human in here! (I would like to believe so! Or else, this is spooky!😯).

I hate it when I start developing designs and set colors only to realise – Ooooppss! The document’s color mode is RGB!! Ugh! It is surely such a frustrating feeling you see! So even though considered so obvious,  do not shy away from double checking if things are all well in place. Best to do before hitting the send button for the print files for the printer!

3. Bleed, fold, cut

Ok! I really had no clue about these terms when I first started dealing with print. But now setting these up has almost become a second nature! Here’s what it all means. Don’t worry, it’s easy-peezy to understand!

To cut what you print,  some ‘extra/extended’ design is always required on all sides. This is called a bleed. It’s needed because, although the cutting happens where it is suppose to, there could always be a tiny shift (Maybe like even .1mm or 1mm..whatever!).

An image by Laughing Popcorn showing how to setup design files for print

It is very normal. Even with the best of the machines, it happens. It’s almost like even when we cut anything with a cutter, the width of the cutter occupies a tiny area of paper too. So if there was no bleed, we would see the blank paper on the edges of the prints.

Goshhh! If this is too confusing, just check out this quick doodle shown above! 

Afterall, we surely don’t want our designs to look ugly with a white border right! And in general, printers recommend a minimum of 3 mm bleed on all sides  for packaging design files, and all others too.

Further, to tell the printer, the exact cutting spot, a tiny solid line is used and a dashed line indicates that the paper needs to be folded from here. Now, these interpretations, might differ from printer to printer and it is always good to check. But in general, most printers whom I have come across understand these marks.

Further, it’s our job as designers to mark if the prints require punching or anything else as per the style of your packaging design.

No, no! This won’t feel so overwhelming once you jump into it and it becomes a habit! 😌

4. Paper quality

I totally believe that the quality of print depends a lot on the quality of paper too! Personally, I always preferred printing on completely white sheets and not the ones which might have a slight tint of yellow or grey. I feel they always gave better color output. Further, it is good to understand GSM, which stands for thickness of paper. I always find it handy to think about possible ways to print when I design. And so this knowledge comes in handy and it is always good to communicate them to the printers and the clients. 

For example, are you imagining your designs on a glossy sheet or a matte one? What will look better for the brand? Will a coating help to safeguard the prints? I would not leave these decisions only on the printer and would have a communication about it as it is likely to affect the quality of packaging design and hence, I would SURELY CARE ABOUT IT!

5. Readability of fonts

Again, as designers from design schools or being self-taught, we know the rules right! But here’s what I learnt in the real world. Generally, clients want to ensure that above all creative fanciness, the things that matter to their brand and business should be clearly visible to the customers! 

Let me give an example!

Let’s say the packaging design has a warning about the product, like a patch test is important. We might consider it so ‘not needed’ and put it in a tiny font at some place! But maybe this is really critical for the client, in terms of the brand rules or the business requirements of the product! So it is always important to design in a way to ensure that all required information can fit in and be well read, as required.

After burning my fingers in the past, I now ensure to ask the clients upfront to give me all the possible information and I set it up only in the right print size, to ensure the readability of the text does not go for a toss! It is also important to remember that sometimes, things like names of the product need to be in a neat font so that they are clearly visible to customers even from far, when they sit on the shelves in stores!

Overall, maintaining a balance of practical things and creative, visual aesthetics is really needed and helps to make the best of packaging design!

6. Outline text, embed images

We all have our fancy font libraries and access to Adobe fonts, fancy licenses and all that. So cool! But, but but, our fellow printers might not have them all! And we surely do not want that we are in for a surprise! We set the designs with some beautiful fonts and when the prints come out, it is a default Arial or Comic Sans, just because the printer’s system got the error of missing fonts, and decided to auto-update as per its own ‘design skills!’

Ouch!! This will hurt!

Further, this goes the same for images. If your files are set in Adobe Illustrator and it has some images, then it is important to embed them before sending for print. Otherwise, it will show a missing image link to the printer. And again, talking about practical experience, I neglected doing this for a print job earlier in my career, and a beautiful texture that I had applied to my design, went missing! And all the rugged feel that I was expecting went missing and the prints came out crystal clear! ☹️

So, always good to ensure that ‘nothing goes missing’ in your pretty packaging design and stuff!

 

7. AI worked better than PS

This was an accidental discovery for me! I have been a design partner for couple of events and as it goes, some really big size prints were needed for some events! There were billboards, stage backdrops and many more things. So after a while it became really challenging to deal with Photoshop files! The large files would run slow, crash and their transfers were surely not the easiest thing ever!

Anyway. Things were going on. Then one day, there was an urgent requirement and I realised how much time is being eaten up, just because the file handling is oh such a pain! So I tested it all by taking the file to Illustrator and the file size surely became a breeze!!! Surely, some effects had to be adjusted, but if you can, really use Illustrator for big size files! I personally feel it makes working soooo much easier!!!

Phew!

8. Drive permissions

Let’s say your files have been shared on Google Drive and you are working for a client in a different time zone. Cool! Your designs have all been approved! (CELEBRATIONS!!!😌😌😌)  And very conveniently you shared all the files and ended the day, slipping in your comfy clothes and falling asleep like a baby!

And guess what! Your day ended but your client’s day just began! He wants to print the files but simply sees a message – “Files can’t be opened as the access is restricted!!”” And there you are sleeping, dreaming about how cool you did, when on the other side your client is getting frantic, trying to reach you urgently and ending it up in a mess!!

Oh! You get the point, don’t you! So simply ensure, you have really finished your job till the very last bit! Don’t hide it away!! Let the right people have access to your packaging design files, fancy files and all files that need to be printed!!!

 

9. Encourage test prints

Although almost every client does it, but some tend to ignore this. A lot of the above can be covered, even if any mistake has been done, if we see a test print!

There, there!! But, this is not like a solution to all problems!

I would still ensure that all above things are well taken care of. Because even though test prints are done, what if you are unable to see them! You as a designer might be the only person who can closely judge if it is right or wrong, but what if it beyond your access for some reason. Like maybe you are remotely situated! 

I would surely not leave this as a gamble and would go ahead to ensure that all of the above are surely taken care of to ensure your packaging design looks like a charm when printed and when it sees the light of the day.

Ya, ya. There could be complaints about oh goodness! This is so much work!! But, it is all a part of the whole package. It’s our job not just to design pretty, but also ensure it serves the required, pretty purpose too! So gradually I just learnt to love this process too.

And hence, if you ask me, how do you make a good packaging design?


My answer would be, of course you do your job as a designer. You understand the brand, put in your creative best, put in all your design skills. But really really do not underestimate the importance of all these practical implications! I know they sound oh so boring! And uff such a technical mess! But these are as critical for your designs are your creative skills are!

A little bit of all this tactical, laborious work could go a long way in helping you do a really good job with your packaging design!

Think you want to leave it all on the shoulders of a designer to handle?
Of course I would be excited to know more!

If you would like me to be the Creative Director and Designer for your next packaging design, book your call, using the link below!

To view all my services, go to Services.

On that note, good day! Happy printing well! 🙂

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