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Label Management
Published:
June 7, 2024
Updated:
June 10, 2024

The ONLY Spec Sheet Guide You Need [+ free template]

Gouri Sasidharan

The ONLY Spec Sheet Guide You Need [+ free template]

Published:
June 7, 2024
Updated:
June 10, 2024
Gouri Sasidharan

Highlights

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your final product didn't fit in the packaging despite all your efforts or encountered issues with the barcode scanner? Here’s where you need a product spec sheet to put down your ideas precisely that everyone in your product development team can access.

A good spec sheet is the blueprint for successfully building your product. It outlines everything from the product’s functionalities to the materials used, and from labeling to even how many products go in a single container.

Now, this guide is your one-stop shop for building concise and effective product packaging spec sheets. Here, we’ll talk about each element included in a well-managed spec sheet, offering expert tips on creating one, and best practices to help you avoid common pitfalls. And oh, we have included a spec sheet template for you to get started!  

Steps to develop specifications for the product and its packaging  

A good product packaging is more than just a pretty box. From making sure the product and its packaging are user-friendly to ensuring its protection capacity during shipping, there are obviously a lot of aspects you need to oversee. A complete product spec sheet can help you cover A-Z activities of product development. 

1. Set your goals

To create a detailed spec sheet, it is important to establish goals that will serve as the foundation for ideation, creation, budgeting, marketing, and product distribution.

It starts with market research which helps you understand what you want to achieve with your packaging. This includes research on:

  • Target audience.
  • Existing competitors who have similar products.
  • Sustainability and whether the packaging can be handled under certain temperatures. 
  • Functionality and user-friendliness.
  • Distribution channels.
  • Supply chain and manufacturing.
  • Packaging costs.
  • Labeling requirements by regulatory bodies like the FDA, MHRA, FSSAI, and more. 

2. Identify the right stakeholders and gather information

Involve internal and external teams such as product, marketing, designers, legal and regulatory affairs, logistics, and supply chain from an early stage. It helps you to gain accurate information regarding each aspect of product packaging and avoid blunders in the packaging process. Here’s how each team in the new product development contributes:

  • Marketing: Study consumers and their buying habits, find marketing gaps, and conduct surveys for product feedback.
  • Product development: Define the project scope and reasonable deadlines and supervise the product launch.
  • Designers: Define packaging dimensions and physical attributes including color options, shape, weight, and more.
  • Legal: Ensure compliance with labeling laws and safety standards for your product category.
  • Logistics and distribution: Consider the packaging's quality and ability to withstand shipping and storage conditions.

3. Packaging structure and design

With the help of the packaging engineering team, define the packaging structure. Here are a few aspects that you have to cover:

  • Structural design: Define the packaging's physical form (e.g., box, pouch, bottle) and any opening/closing mechanisms (e.g., lid, flaps, inserts).
Packaging design of an Egg carton
Source: BoxPackaging Solution

  • Dimensions and weight: Ensure your packaging fits your product and is cost-effective by specifying the exact dimensions and weight.
  • Visual design: Develop the visual elements like logos, colors, fonts, and graphics that will represent your brand and product information. Consider including clear labeling and any necessary warnings such as flammable, hazardous, corrosive, and more.
  • Functionality: This section can include complete technical information about the product, including performance attributes, capabilities, and tolerance levels. You can specify details like tear-away openings, resealable features, tamper-evident seals, or easy-carry handles based on your product and target audience.

4. Documentation

Document all the specifications in a crisp format, including technical drawings, material callouts, and design mockups. You can either store them in a physical document or a digital file. A good documentation is an information repository for all team members and can bring new members up to speed. 

5. User experience

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes while writing your product's specs and packaging. Imagine how they’re going to interact with your packaging. See how they will open, handle, store, and dispose of the product. All-in-all, the packaging should be user-friendly and improve the customer experience.

6. Prototyping and testing

Create physical prototypes of your packaging design. Use these prototypes to test the functionality, durability, and visual impact of your design. This helps you identify any likely issues such as incorrect product size, recalls, print deviation, and more before mass production begins.

7. Revising the specifications 

Gather feedback from various stakeholders after testing the prototypes. This might include designers, product engineers, marketing teams, and potential suppliers. Review the feedback together to ensure no gaps are left and identify areas where the packaging specifications need to be revised.

What your ideal spec sheet should look like

A well-organized spec sheet is usually divided into 4 sections. It may vary depending on the industry you are in. Here’s a basic structure of a spec sheet you should follow.

What your ideal spec sheet should look like

1. Product introduction

  • Defining the product: This lays the foundation for the product specification. Write a clear summary of the product such as the category it falls in, what problems it solves, the target audience it’s designed for, and visuals. 
  • Features and benefits at a glance: Add the product highlights and its unique selling proposition helping internal and external teams understand why the product is created.

2. Prerequisites of the product

  • Technical functionality: This section dives into the technical details that make the product work. It details your product’s size and weight and specific functionalities. 
  • Performance: Outline the expected performance characteristics, such as shelf life, power consumption, or resistance (depending on the product type).
  • Composition: Include the procurement of raw materials and their use, as well as a safety data sheet for the product.
  • Design: Pick out the colors and visuals you want for your product and its packaging with respect to the brand guidelines. 

3. Labeling and packaging requirements

  • Packaging requirements: This section defines the specs for the packaging materials, design, and functionality. A well-written spec sheet would communicate the details to the packaging suppliers.
    1. Material:
    Specify the type of material used for the packaging (e.g., cardboard, plastic, glass, and steel) and its desired properties (e.g., durability and sustainability).
    2. Size and shape:
    Detail the dimensions of the packaging to ensure it accommodates the product and provides any essential protection. 
    3. Design elements:
    Outline any visual design elements like logos, colors, or graphics that will be printed on the packaging. This might also include information about closures, inserts, or any special features (e.g., resealable pouches and returnable shipping boxes).
    4. Destructive test:
    It is essential for packaging reliability. Tests like drop, environment, and corrosion testing are done to find the points of failure of materials. 
    5. Transportation guidelines:
    If relevant, consider specifications for how the packaged product should stack for storage and transportation to ease managing or shipping it. 
  • Labeling information: Just as with any other specifications, labeling specifications are also important. This section focuses on the content displayed on the product label which is also the key to informing your target audience about your brand, and product including the manufacturing date, weight, price, expiration date, and more. It has to be created carefully by following the industry regulations. 
    1. Mandatory elements: Include details about any legally required information such as product name, ingredients list (for food products, skincare, and dietary supplements), safety warnings, manufacturer details, and location.
    2. Marketing and branding:
    Specify the brand elements to be included on the label, such as logos, slogans, or marketing messages.
    3. Clarity:
    Ensure the label is designed with clear and concise wording, using easy-to-read fonts and suitable font sizes.

Nutrition Facts graphic requirements
An example of graphic requirements for the Nutrient Panel

4. Standards & certification

  • Adherence to guidelines: Follow the specific format and terminology mandated by regulatory institutions that ensure legal compliance and avoid misleading consumers.
  • Meeting the standards: Include valid details regarding safety standards (e.g., handling medical devices, cooking meat) for your target market in compliance with both local and international market standards.

Also read: How to Ensure Food Safety Through Product Packaging & Labeling?

  • Certifications for market access: If specific certifications are required to legally sell your product in certain markets, they'll be outlined here (e.g., CE marking for Europe, and FDA certification for the US).

Build your ultimate spec sheet

As we mentioned earlier, spec sheets can differ from brand to brand or from industry to industry. Some elements of a spec sheet are not necessary for a specific industry, while the rest are. Considering that in mind, let’s analyze each division of a complete spec sheet for different industries.

1. Overview of the product

This section identifies the brand under which the product will be sold and the specific product name that appears on packaging and marketing materials. You also summarize your product and any unique selling points here. 

Here’s an example:

(i) Name of the product: “Spicy Tomato Pasta Sauce” or “Aspirin Tablets” (depends on the product).

(ii) Description of the product (This is a consumer-facing description that highlights key features and benefits): "Delicious and spicy tomato pasta sauce", or "Pain relief tablets containing 325mg aspirin").

2. Product specifications

Include the target weight and dimensions of the finished product, visual characteristics, texture and sensory experience, and shelf life (with storage conditions i.e. Refrigerate after opening), along with any other technical details relevant to your industry. 

For instance, let’s take a mascara tube. Here’s an overview of the product’s specifications:

Case weight 10 ml mascara tube
Raw materials used Carbon black, beeswax, castor oil, glycerin; Propylene plastic for mascara tube
Colors Black mascara; black tube with white lettering
Shelf life Mascara should remain usable for 3 months after opening

3. Labeling and packaging checklist

For keeping customers informed, accurate labeling and packaging are absolutely crucial. It gives them a choice to buy the product and informs them what ingredients or materials go into it. 

  • Nutrition facts panel: F&B and dietary supplement brands must include this section in their labels. For that, in the spec sheet, you must mention calories, fats, vitamins, minerals per serving, and such. 
  • Marketing claims: Ensure all health claims (gluten-free, sugar-free, good source of calcium, etc) are valid and compliant with regulations.
  • Product packaging: Detail the specifications for the packaging that will hold the perishable or non-perishable product including materials used, product packaging design and size, and labeling requirements set by the regulatory bodies for each region and industry. 

4. Regulatory compliance

Specify the relevant industry regulations and standards your product needs to meet for safety and quality. It varies depending on which region you choose to manufacture and distribute your products. Here are some regulatory compliance requirements you can brush up for your specific industry:

Note: If you’re a U.S. brand looking to expand distributions to European countries, you should specify and follow their requirements as well in your spec sheet.

Check out the free template above to get a clear vision of a product spec sheet and customize it your way!

Additional tips for creating a spec sheet

Now that you know how to write a spec sheet, here are some practical tips you must apply while creating one for a smooth transfer of information and collaboration between various teams and departments.

1. Set SMART goals

When creating your packaging spec sheet, define SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based) goals that are clear and measurable.

For example, instead of saying "Make the packaging eco-friendly", a SMART goal might be, "Use 85% recycled content in the packaging by Q2”. This clarifies your expectations and allows you to track progress. 

Also read: How to Set SMART Goals For Your Marketing Team in 2024

2. Create workflows

Establish a clear workflow for creating, reviewing, and approving the spec sheet.

This might involve designers, engineers, marketing, and suppliers all contributing their expertise. This avoids delays between teams and holds one accountable. You can adopt project management tools like Artwork Flow, Monday.com, Asana, and more for easy collaboration where everyone has access to the latest version of the spec sheet.

3. Integrate specification management tools

Tools like Artwork Flow are dedicated to the specification management of any product or its packaging. You can store, organize, and track changes to your spec sheet throughout the development process.

They often offer features like version control, file sharing, and workflow automation, streamlining collaboration and keeping everyone updated.

4. Use clear language

Each team has their own terminology. For projects that include various teams along with collaborators and suppliers, it is best to use simple language for better understanding. Ambiguity can lead to misinterpretations and costly mistakes during production.

5. Update the spec sheet

It’s good to keep in mind that a spec sheet is not a static document. As your product or packaging design evolves, it is crucial to update the spec sheet to reflect the changes.

This ensures everyone involved is working with the latest information and helps to avoid production errors. In such cases, a version control feature helps you track changes and identify who made them.

6. Include visuals

Visuals like diagrams or wireframes can come in handy, especially when you’re tackling complex packaging structures or innovative features. Relying completely upon text descriptions might cause a delay in communicating your idea.

Don’ts in creating your spec sheet

Don'ts in creating your spec sheet

When creating your spec sheet, here are a few pitfalls that you should avoid doing:

1. Use unclear or confusing language

Write the spec sheet in simple language. This means avoiding using technical jargon that your supplier might not understand. Where you need to use technical terms, define them clearly within the document.

2. Forget to keep specifications up-to-date.

The spec sheet is the bible for your team for any new product development process. So, as your product develops or new information becomes available, update your spec sheet to reflect the changes. An outdated spec sheet can lead to chaos and production errors.

3. Overload spec sheet with unnecessary details

Instead of documenting everything straight on the spec sheet, focus on the essential information your supplier needs to manufacture your product. Too much clutter can make it difficult to find important details.

4. Base your specifications on assumptions

Relying solely on theory is risky. Conduct thorough testing to validate your specifications and ensure they are realistic and achievable. Testing can help identify potential problems before production begins. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What if I have an unfinished product specs sheet?
    In case of damages or injuries, lacking accurate product specifications may affect the usage of the product and your company may be sued.
  1. Can cosmetics product specifications be managed with the help of digital tools?
    Yes, there are various digital software solutions designed specifically for creating and managing product specifications in the cosmetics industry. You can use tools like specification management, project management, collaboration, documentation, and workflow automation to streamline the product development process.
  1. In which format can I export the product specification sheet?
    You can create product specification sheets in either Word or Excel and export them in the same file format. However, when you send the spec sheet to a supplier or other external party, remember to send it as a PDF that cannot be edited. 
  1. What are some best practices to include while creating a spec sheet for eco-friendly packaging?
    A few of the best actions you can adopt are,
    • Choose recycled and sustainable materials.
    • Use minimal material while ensuring protection.
    • Select eco-friendly printing methods (water-based inks and minimal printing).
    • Include disposal instructions and relevant certifications.
    • Design packaging that can be reused. 
    • Promote transparency about eco-friendly choices.
    • Partner with suppliers who engage in sustainable practices.
  1. How does product specification influence consumer trust and transparency?
    Product specifications serve as a medium to provide consumers with detailed information about a product's design, production and formulation methods, and quality standards, building trust and confidence.

Get started with your spec sheet

A well-defined product spec sheet is the linchpin of successful product development. It would include details regarding the product, materials used, nutritional information, design, packaging details, allergens, regulatory adherence, and more. Basically, it helps you create a product from scratch to adhere to industry standards and consumer preferences.

By following this guide and downloading the free template above, you'll be able to develop compact spec sheets that help your team streamline the entire product packaging design process. Remember, a strong spec sheet isn't just about listing features; it's about encouraging communication, ensuring everyone's on the same page, and ultimately, building a product that exceeds expectations. 

To simplify things, Artwork Flow’s label management platform has launched Artwork Flow Docs to help you gather information and ideas in one place, including project specifications, packaging copy, creative briefs, and more. With this tool, you can select a specific section or text, such as allergens, and create rules directly which is integrated with our ComplyAI rulebook.

You can also create rules for images, including logos and safety warnings on labels. ComplyAI runs AI-powered label compliance checks to flag missing allergen info, images, or typos on labels.

This saves you and your team a lot of manual work during the product development process. From the initial briefing stages to the planning, it would improve the quality of work with fewer errors allowing you to arrive in the market on time and in style!

Discover how Artwork Flow can ease your product development and launch process by talking to our experts.

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