Packaging protects products, adds brand value, and improves user experience. As part of design and packaging projects, knowing the right packaging terminology will help you communicate with other teams and achieve the desired outcome.
Let's dive into the ultimate guide of packaging terms:
Artwork: Designs prepared for reproduction, that consist of illustrations, lettering, photographs with instructions on color matching during printing.
Artwork Management: Refers to the method of creating, approving, producing, and storing artwork files on a centralized system.
Assembly: Refers to the final assembly process of a product. During the process, the product undergoes several packaging services such as collating, filling, gluing, labeling, bagging, shrink wrapping, bag sealing, blister sealing, display, inspection, and bulk mail preparation.
Aqueous Coating: A water-based coating that is applied to seal the entire sheet, creating a smooth finish that is available in matte, satin, and gloss.
Adobe Acrobat: An application to create and view PDF files developed by Adobe Inc
Adobe AI: A vector graphics editor and design program developed by Adobe Inc
Alignment: Refers to the positioning of text flow or image to the left, right, or center relative to a page.
Bevel: A design effect that gives a graphic a raised appearance to create the illusion of 3D. It involves highlighting or adding shadow colors to the inside and outside edges of the borders of a text or an image.
Bar Code: An identification symbol encoding the product value in contrasting rectangular bars and spaces.
Bleed: A term used during printing referring to a space on design. It's the space until where the color is allowed to continue right up to the edge of the board.
Blind Embossing: Method of stamping (raising) a design element such as a logo, without the use of metallic leaf or ink. It involves placing the sheet of paper between two dies and applying pressure to create the effect.
Board Grain Direction: The orientation of fibers of a carton board found by bending it. The direction with the least resistance is the running grain direction.
Box Blank: A flat cardboard piece cut and scored, ready to be joined with other pieces to make a box.
Box Style: A category used as a descriptor regardless of box size or construction.
Bulk: In printing, this term refers to the thickness of the paper.
Blister Packaging: Securing a product between a preformed dome or bubble (usually transparent plastic) and a paperboard surface or carrier where attachment may be by stapling, heat-sealing, or gluing.
Blow Molding: A fabrication method in which a warm plastic hollow tube is placed between two halves of a mold and forced into the shape of the mold by using air pressure.
Bubble Pack: Type of cushioning process that is made by trapping air between two layers of plastic to protect wrapped products.
Branding: The process of creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through packaging and a consistent visual language.
Brand Strategy: A long-term plan for developing a successful brand to achieve specific goals. It affects all aspects of the business such as consumer needs, emotions, and competitive environments.
Brand Story: A narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings associated with a brand that must inspire an emotional reaction.
Brand Values: A set of qualities that a company wants its consumers to connect with through its products.
Brand Guidelines: A style and composition guide which governs the look and feel of a brand.
Brand Manual: The visual representation of what your brand conveys. It covers fonts, style of the logo, grammar, tone, and point of view. It clearly defines the rules to achieve consistent branding.
Caliper: The thickness of a sheet of board, measured in microns.
Carton: Any box style that can be folded and shipped.
Cardboard Carton: A carton board container used to package a variety of products.
CMYK: Refers to a color model where the letters stand for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (K).
Color Management System: A system ensuring that colors remain consistent regardless of device or medium used to apply or display the colors.
Color Mockup: A full-color rendering of a product’s packaging created for promotional purposes that enable the client to inspect and perfect the design before production.
Color Separation: Refers to the process where an image is separated into component colors for multi-color print production.
Creasing: A process where a die is used to create creases in a material so that it can fold with ease.
Cut and Crease: A process where a die is used to cut printed materials into desired shapes and creasing them to provide accurate fold lines.
Copy: Typewritten pages, word-processing files, typeset galleys or pages, and sometimes source materials (text and graphics) used in a publication.
Crop Marks: Horizontal and vertical lines that indicate the edge of the printed piece.
Corrugated Fiberboard: An industry term for cardboard boxes.
Curl: This refers to the distortion of a sheet due to differences in structure or coatings from one side to the other, or absorption of moisture on an offset press.
Combination Die: A plate or die which applies foil and embossed at the same time.
Collapse: Contraction of the walls of a container (e.g., upon cooling) leading to permanent deformation.
Consumer Persona: Also known as a buyer persona, this is a detailed semi-fictional representation of an ideal customer. The personas are based on market research and real data about existing customers, such as demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
Color Palette: The choice of colors used in designing the packaging range. Primary color palettes have 2-3 colors that represent the core of the brand. Secondary color palettes showcase complementary/supporting colors to the primary palette.
Deboss: An image pressed into a board so that it lies below the typical viewing surface.
Die: A type of tool that allows for customized branding of packaging products.
Die-Cut: Refers to the process that uses a metal die to shear through low-strength materials such as cardboard, plastic, or foil.
Digital Printer: An industrial scale-press with the ability to print in multiple colors simultaneously.
Direct Print: This is a type of printing that penetrates the surface of the packaging, instead of a label or laminate that goes on top of the product.
Drip Off Matt/Gloss: A printing finish that provides a spot-gloss finish and textured matt effect with high levels of detail. It uses standard inks and allows the application of gloss varnish via a plate followed by a matt varnish that creates a reticulation effect.
Drop Test: A procedure used to test the safety of package contents during shipping.
Design Direction: Combination of imagery, vectors, text, and colors in a mood board to suggest the visual style for a particular option. This stage follows the research stage and aids in brands visualizing.
DPI: The term stands for Dots Per Inch, which specifies the resolution of an output device, such as a printer or printing press machine. Print resolution runs from 300 - 1200 DPI on a laser printer and 125 - 225 DPI for photographic images on a print brochure. The desktop laser printers have an output of 300 dpi, medium-resolution printers have an out-put 600 dpi, and image setters have an out-put of 1270-2540 dpi.
Embossing: The process of raising letters or designs out of the typical viewing surface of the board.
Elements of Design: This refers to the color, shape, size, space, line, value, and texture of a design.
EPS: This is a short form of the term encapsulated postscript. It's a common file format for exporting Illustrator files. It also contains a bitmap preview of the image as well as instructions written in the postscript language that describes how the object is to be printed.
Expanded (font): A font in which the set widths of the characters are wider than the standard typeface.
Foil: A thin layer of metal applied to paper, board, or mylar carrier for hot stamping.
Four Color Process: Full-color printing that uses four constituent colors: Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black.
Flute Corrugation: The wave-like shapes that comprise the overall construction of corrugated boards.
Fulfillment Center: A facility where products are picked, packed, and shipped after customer purchase.
Fill Point: The level to which a container up to which it's usually filled or at which it has its nominal capacity.
Frosting: A crystalline finish or pattern on a glass surface.
Format Adaptation: Adaptation of a design from one format (for example, labels) to another (for example, mono cartons) is considered a format adaptation which includes the rearrangement of design elements and change of scale and ratios.
Font: A full set of characters in a specific typeface, at a specific point size, and in a specific style. A font also includes the design in various weights, such as bold or italic, and is more comprehensive and complicated to design than a typeface.
Font Weight: The font-weight refers to how thick or thin (bold or light) a font looks.
Grease Resistant Packaging: Packaging that has a special coating or a finish applied to it to repel grease, oil, and wax.
GSM: The term stands for Grams Per Square Metre that is the standard measure of board weight.
Gutter: The inside margins or gap between items is the gutter space allowance used to accommodate the unusable print area.
Grayscale: Application of black ink for print that simulates a range of tones where a grayscale graphic image appears to be black, white, and shades of gray, but it only uses a single color ink.
Glow: The opposite of shadow, it creates a surrounding highlight of an image. High radiance creates a soft glow while low radiance creates a hard, bright glow, such as a neon glow.
Gradient: A gradual transition of colors used to add depth, color the object, or render a shiny/ metallic look to a design element. A gradient is mostly linear (straight) or radial (fades from the center outwards). Web images that use gradient fills should be saved in jpeg format.
Hairline Register: In printing, the term refers to the range that lies within plus or minus 1/2 row of dots.
Hickey Printing: Printing defects such as spots/ imperfections in printed items due to particles of ink or board fiber getting “trapped” onto the printing plate or blanket.
Hot Stamp: A printing method in which metalized or pigmented foils are applied to a sheet with a heated metal die or plate.
Hinge: Refers to the joint used to attach a lid to a base.
Heat-Seal Label: A label made of material coated on one side with a heat-seal coating, usually a thermoplastic resin.
Insert: Any shape of chipboard, vac-form, or foam placed or attached into a box to hold the product.
Inkjet Printing: Non-impact printing where tiny drops of ink are formed into letters, numbers, or other configurations and sprayed onto the surface of the material to be printed.
Adobe Illustrator: A vector program often used by designers to create logos and work on typography developed by Adobe Inc.
JPEG: The term stands for Joint Photographic Electronic Group. It is a common file format for full-color and black-and-white graphic images. JPEG images allow for more colors than GIF images and are usually smaller in size. Unlike GIF and PNG, JPEGs don't support transparent backgrounds.
Justified: Refers to the position of test or image aligned in a way that all the lines are of equal length.
Keyline: In artwork, an outline drawing of finished art to indicate the exact shape, position, and size for elements such as halftones, line sketches, cut and fold lines, and other design elements.
Kraft Board: Refers to Coated Natural Kraft (CNK) that provides a combination of product protection and brand impression. Engineered from natural and recycled fibers, the kraft board offers high levels of elasticity and tear resistance.
Kern/Kerning: In typography, kerning is the process of adjusting characters for a better fit between letters and white space.
In product display typography, kerning is an essential process because the white space between large characters is quite noticeable.
Lamination: A thin plastic film (either glossy or matte) used on the covers of a printed board to give protection.
Length: Dimensions of a label across the web direction.
Linerless Label: Made without any liner, this is a single piece of material that is both a label and a liner. It is applied similarly to the standard self-adhesive labels. They are commonly used on fresh meat & poultry products as a replacement for sleeves.
Liners (also known as backing paper or carrier): The material in which the label will be adhered to when delivered to the customer, ready for automatic application.
Lead Time: The amount of time necessary for certain stages within a supply chain to be fulfilled, such as packaging production or product delivery.
Landscape (orientation): A page or layout that is wider than its height.
Line Art: Black-and-white artwork with no gray areas. Pen-and-ink drawings, most graphic images produced with desktop publishing graphics programs, and positive halftones are treated as line art.
Lid or Cover: The top, or covering a portion of a set-up or rigid box.
Label Panel: That portion of the body of a container to which labels are affixed or printed.
Labels, Types of: Self-sticking, bar code, UPC, IBM, mylar, cloth, color, aluminum, wrap-around, spot, cling, sleeve, pressure sensitive, heat transfer, DOT, in-mold, expanded content, holographic, rotating, inverted vertical hanging, medical, shipping, international wordless, paper, booklet, production, inventory, and shrink labels. They can be customized with printing and decorating options.
Logo: A symbol, type, or design adopted by an organization to identify itself. Logos can be product-centric such as the Baskin-Robbins logo representing their 31 flavors, or experience-centric such as the Amazon logo that ensures customer satisfaction to buy everything from A to Z.
Logotype: A typography/font based logo brands adopt to represent its story and vision.
Matt Emulsion: A water-based finish that creates a flat finish with minimal sheen.
Matte Finish: A dull paper finish without gloss or luster.
Metalized Polyester Board (Metpol Board): Refers to a film that is laminated into a folding boxboard. The board can be printed and formed to create premium high-end cartons.
Master Packs: A type of packaging designed to ship retail products to stores in shelf-ready packaging, typically made of corrugated fiberboard.
Master Carton: A carton used to pack and ship smaller cartons.
Masstige: Mass-produced and relatively inexpensive goods marketed as luxurious or prestigious.
Master Design: Main design composition with all visual elements as per the packaging design checklist adapted for various sizes or formats. A master design usually includes front of pack and back of pack designs both.
Mood board: An arrangement of images, materials, and text intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.
Material Palette: Similar to the concept of a color palette, a material palette is a collection of various materials used in a packaging output.
Nesting: Placing trays or covers of the same size, generally for shipping, or boxes of varying sizes, one within another.
Neck: A tray or collar inserted in a base to form a shoulder box, attached by adhesive, and extending above the base into the lid when the box is closed.
Nomenclature: The devising or choosing of names for a brand/ product representing brand vision.
Negative Space: In design, it is the space where there are no elements placed, and in artwork, it is the background.
Offset Lithography: A printing process where a to-be-printed inked image is transferred (offset) first to a rubber layer before coming into contact with the board that takes up the inked areas.
Organoleptic Assessment: The test involves the assessment of flavor, odor, and appearance of a material.
Origination: All the graphical or text elements that are needed to put together and print the job. E.g, artwork, photography, and typesetting.
Outline: Tracing of the outer edge of text or a graphic image. If the outline is feathered, then the effect is generally referred to as a glow.
Pantone Reference: An international system that designates colors for printing reference.
Pearlescent Finish: A type of finish that creates a shimmering effect. It's achieved by dispersing iridescent material into UV or water-based varnishes often used for luxury, high-end products.
Perforation: Running a series of cuts (often small and close together) into the board to allow the two sides to be separated.
PMS: Pantone Matching System; see Pantone Reference definition.
Polyethylene (PET): Used for high-speed applications and to provide a ‘no label' effect on Filmic labels
Printing Plate: An anodized aluminum plate which has a light-sensitive coating applied. Once exposed (to the image) and developed, the image area is sensitized to receive ink. It's essential to realize that each color in a printing job requires a separate plate.
Proof: A printed sample of work to be checked for errors in the text, positioning, or quality of color reproduction.
POP Display: Point of Purchase displays are used for product promotion.
PVC: Poly Vinyl Chloride is a clear plastic used for making lids.
Partitions or Dividers: Slotted or folded pieces of boxboard fitted together to form compartments placed in a base without being attached or glued to the base to isolate sections.
Pad Printing: Direct transfer of ink utilizing a pad where the operation is similar to that of a rubber stamp. It is used on small areas and to decorate points on odd-shaped containers.
Pouches: Films are joined together for stock and custom pouches to create a flexible package for liquids, including chemicals, food products, and beverages.
Pre-Fill: Containers filled in advance before applying labels to them.
Packaging Architecture: A formula of various ratios of the design elements which constitute the signature element for the package that will relate with users.
Packaging Composition: The layout of all the design elements in a particular style and ratio, represented with line diagrams and shapes for initial stages of exploration.
Primary Packaging: Primary packaging is the packaging in direct contact with the product itself. The main purpose of primary packaging is to protect and preserve, contain, and inform the consumer.
PDF: Portable document format is a file type often used to send print materials to a print shop. It is also useful for the web when there are multi-paged documents, reports, and forms.
Adobe Photoshop: A design program used to create/edit raster (bitmap) images developed by Adobe Inc.
PNG: Portable network graphics format used for lossless compression and displaying images on the web. The advantage of .png is that it supports images with millions of colors and produces a transparent background without jagged edges.
Principles of Design: The principles of design are unity, balance, contrast, economy, direction, emphasis, proportion, and rhythm.
PSD: Adobe Photoshop document/file extension.
Resolution: Refers to the degree of detail of an image. It is measured in dots per inch (DPI) or lines per inch (LPI). A high resolution gives an excellent quality image and vice versa.
Reversed-Out: White text appearing on a black or color background that is either a solid or a tint.
Render: In design, rendering is a process of generating an image through a software program. That image is called as a render.
RGB: The RGB color model is an additive color model in which red, green, and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors.
Royalty-Free Photos or Images: Photos, graphic images, or other intellectual property that are sold for a single standard fee and may be used repeatedly by the purchaser.
Sleeves: A printed or plain sleeve that will slide over products to provide brand and product information.
SKU: Stock Keeping Unit generally refers to different packaging versions of related products.
Small Run: A limited order of packaging, the minimum amount of which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Soft Touch Finish: A water-based product that achieves a matte finish that is soft to touch.
Special/Spot Color: In offset printing, a spot color is a special premixed ink that requires its printing plate on a printing press. E.g, a corporate logo contains a special blue and included in a Pantone brochure with photographs and text. This is termed as a five-color job. (CMYK (pictures + text) + special blue = 5 colors)
Stripper Unit: As part of the cut and crease process, a stripper unit helps remove the waste board left after the die has punched the design through the board sheet.
Substrates: In printing, the substrate is the base material on which the designs will be printed on.
Shrink-Wrapped: Products are wrapped in thin clear plastic. Then heat is applied, shrinking the plastic tightly over whatever it is covering.
Scoring: Making an impression or crease in a box to facilitate bending, folding, or tearing.
Slide Box: A type of box with a shell-formed lid into which the base is inserted at the other side or end.
Seamless: Made in one piece without a joint.
Secondary Packaging: A type of packaging that serves branding and logistical purposes along with protecting and collating individual units during storage. Commonly used by beverage, food, and cosmetic sectors for displaying primary packs on shelves.
Size Adaptation: Adaptation of design from one size (For example Label for 200ml) to another (For example, a label for 500ml) is considered to be a size adaptation which includes a rearrangement of design elements and change of scale and ratios.
Tint: A mixture of a color with white that reduces darkness.
Thumbcuts/Thumbholes: A semi-circular or other shaped cut made in the sides or ends to facilitate the removal of the lid from the base or the contents from the base.
Tooling: Physical equipment used to create custom packaging elements such as a die or mold.
Trapping: When preparing digital artwork, it is the process of overlapping adjacent colors to eliminate the white lines that could appear between them during the print process.
Tag Line: A short, memorable phrase used with the brand logo and for marketing purposes.
Typography: The technique of arranging letters and text for printing upon a package. The study of the design of typefaces and how the type is laid out on a page to achieve the desired visual effect and convey the meaning of the reading matter is a part of typography.
Target Audience: A target audience is a group of people identified as likely customers of a brand.
Tertiary Packaging: Packaging that protects the product and the secondary and primary packaging. For example, when one orders an item from an online shopping site, the sealed cardboard box is the tertiary packaging.
Telescope Box: A box in which the sides and ends of the lid are cut the same depth as the sides and ends of the base. Also, the lid fits over the base. Thumbcuts are recommended to avoid a loose fit.
Tamper Resistant Seal: A seal that cannot be opened without partially destroying the cap or otherwise showing evidence of tampering.
Tolerance: A specified allowance for deviations in weighing and measuring.
Translucent: A material or substance letting through some light, but not clear enough to be seen through.
Transparent: A material or substance capable of a high degree of light transmission (e.g., glass, some polypropylene films, and acrylic moldings)
UV Gloss: A gloss service treatment that is cured using ultraviolet radiation. This finish is a high-level gloss that dries instantly under UV lamps and is suitable for use on all board types.
UV: A high gloss liquid coating that is applied offline as a screened process. Although UV coating appears quite glossy, it is not as durable as film lamination.
UPC: Universal Product Code is a code printed on containers and other forms of packaging that provides information about the product for purposes of inventory control and retail pricing.
USP: Unique Selling Point is a feature or characteristic of a product, service that distinguishes it from others of a similar nature and makes it more appealing.
Varnish: A coating that applied for protection to a printed sheet. Varnish is available in different finishes and tints. It's applied to specific areas to create subtle effects or to coat the entire sheet.
Visual: A preliminary layout, indicating the general design and the position of the various elements.
Virgin Board: A brown board that has not been bleached white or dyed another color.
Variant Adaptation: Designs adapted according to flavor, fragrance, or taste variants. It involves rearrangement of design elements and change of scale and ratios in addition to the creation of fragrance/taste/flavor related visual elements in a similar style as that of the master.
Vector Graphic: A graphic image drawn in shapes and lines called paths. Images created in illustrator and freehand (graphic design software) are vector graphics. They are scalable and usually exported as bitmap images.
Web: An unbroken sheet of paper or paperboard.
Web Direction: Direction of the web on the machine (always running from left to right)
White Lined Chipboard: A grade of paperboard made from layers of waste paper and recycled fibers, it is composed of recycled grey matter with white coating layers over the top.
Width: Dimension of a label across the web direction.
When involved in packaging projects, don't get stuck on technical packaging terms, just bookmark this page So, the next time you are unsure about a packaging term, you can use them as your cheat sheet.