16 illustration tips for packaging

Leading illustrators who specialise in producing art for packaging tell us their favourite approaches and techniques.


As with any other illustration work, it is important to get a sense of the size and the composition first. Therefore, the first inevitable step is to create a sketch, and in this case, a small mock-up.

I built a tiny paper box to see which sides are going to be folded and how the illustration needs to be positioned. This allowed me to see that I had to arrange several characters upside down on some flaps.

While working digitally, I placed the box template as a transparent layer under my artboard in order to keep an eye on the folds when drawing and to avoid unpleasant cuts.

Lisa Tegetmeir (DE)

To raise awareness for Earth Day, the idea for the box design was to show various lifestyle scenarios with characters doing environmentally friendly things, such as planting a tree, changing a light bulb, and cycling.

The client had prepared a list of different acts from which I could pick or find new ideas by my own. It was very helpful to get all the input they gave me, especially photos of previous box designs and, above all, a folding video of a finished box helped to understand the structure and handling with the box template.

Lisa Tegetmeir (DE)


Ultimately, the easiest way to tackle this was to first create a large illustration, or actually a pattern, which completely covered and overlapped the box template.

It was necessary to pay attention to the position of every single box flap and how the characters had to be placed on it, to ensure that some figures don’t happen to end being upside down on the folded box in the end.

Lisa Tegetmeir (DE)

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It is always very helpful to get concrete ideas and a well-prepared brief from the customer. Of course this doesn’t only apply to packaging design - but to every design project.

From the very beginning I had a good sense what Causebox was looking for, and I think the collaboration worked out so well, because every detail, from the idea, through the colors, to the size of the characters on the box, had been agreed upon before.

Lisa Tegetmeir (DE)


It’s good to have some thoughts beyond the packaging in your back pocket, even if the brief is ‘design the packaging’. In some cases, you might be creating a brand identity form scratch, so all the other elements of an identity come into play as well.

There’s a big difference between a 10cm square box and a 6 sheet poster, but they both need to work, feel the same and work together.

BOLD Stockholm (SE)


It sounds obvious, but even for relatively simple packaging solutions, working with physical mock-ups is a must. It let’s you refine the physical design in ways you just can’t (and shouldn’t!) guess at.

And it’s exciting for both us designers and the client to see the project in three dimensions - especially after the first stages of a project are often seen flat, either printed out or on screen in presentations.

BOLD Stockholm (SE)

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It’s important to involve the client in the process more than just the regular sign offs. Especially with packaging, where the client has to produce and sell the product, it’s important that they feel an ownership and that the packaging represents them, their company and product.

We have sometimes done this by workshops or just taking the client though all the different sketches and directions. But always with a clear recommendation, as you need to guide and advise your client.

BOLD Stockholm (SE)


I think that illustration works well to visualise our thought and feelings around food. With The Mallows, every marshmallow is made by hand, and this means, well, that they look hand made.

They’re slightly different shapes and sizes, they’re not “perfect”, and they’re all the better for it. Hand drawn illustration simply visualises this; it has texture, a feeling that the product itself has. I think it’s letting the customer know what they’re getting.

BOLD Stockholm (SE)


It might be a bit of a cliche, but have fun. Don’t just blindly follow what has been done before, or let yourself be limited by production. Experiment and play, conceptuality, visually, as well as physically, in order to make the absolutely best product for yourself or a client.

BOLD Stockholm (SE)

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The way I see it, my goal as a packaging designer is to create an attractive piece of artwork/packaging that makes buyers want to pick it off the shelf.

I aim to create an impactful design with all the necessary information clearly readable on pack. Being able to create a design that can attract the eye on a packed supermarket shelf requires researching what the competitors are doing and figuring out how I can do something slightly different.

Steve Simpson (IR)


Having absorbed the brief from the client, the first step is getting the template and tech spec from the printer I can start thing about the limitations of the print process, the number of colours, die cuts, paper, foils and varnishes. Getting printed samples from the printer is vital and enables you to print and stick your final design to the packaging to get a better understanding of how it’s going to look.

Steve Simpson (IR)


I always start roughly sketching ideas out in my sketchbook - very quick thumbnails. If you go straight to the computer you can waste a lot of time going in a direction that ultimately isn’t the best option. It’s also very difficult to discard a design once you’ve invested a few hours into it. 

Steve Simpson (IR)

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Once I’m happy with a design idea in my sketchbook I’ll print out the template and sketch directly onto it. Before I show the client I will often make a copy, print it then cut it out and apply to the packaging - especially if it’s for a can or bottle. Getting the front face to contain all the important information is vital.

Steve Simpson (IR)


I believe the back of pack is just as important as the front. One of the ways I do this is with illustrated barcodes that are themed to reflect the rest of the pack.

Steve Simpson (IR)


In the last decade people’s eating habits have been drastically changing. Seeking a more healthy lifestyle, they are paying much more attention to what they eat, favouring products that are natural, whole, organic - the less industrial the better.

In other words, they are seeking to somehow shorten the distance between them and their food producers, jumping across the industrial food chain. In view of this scenario, handmade illustration and cues are indeed something to be highly valued in packaging design.

Casa Rex (BR/UK)

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Everything depends very much on each specific case. On one, hand illustration might need to be protagonists on a cover, telling a story of their own. They might also be just a detail amongst other elements, part of a more complex narrative.

In food packaging, they might need to convey an appetising appeal, or evoke values of craft, or simply used as a means to break through the clutter on shelf.

Casa Rex (BR/UK)


It is not enough that a design project be just 'adequate'. A good design project should bring something more, not merely communicating, but that somehow engaging with its audience. More and more people stop seeing a product as just 'a product', but as part of their lives — and so they look for brands that they believe are aligned with their values and lifestyle. And within this scenario 'more of the same' is no longer sufficient.

Casa Rex (BR/UK)