Custom Packaging Costs: A Breakdown of Packaging Design Fees

January 31, 2024

Custom packaging is more than just a box; it's the first physical touchpoint between your brand and the customer. In today's market, packaging goes beyond mere functionality—it plays a crucial role in branding and marketing.

However, many businesses overlook their packaging needs, missing out on a significant branding opportunity. This article will demystify the costs of custom packaging design, providing valuable insights for businesses of all sizes.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The comprehensive process from design to delivery in custom packaging.
  • Detailed breakdowns of costs, including tooling and artwork fees.
  • Strategies for cost-effective packaging without compromising quality.

The Design Process and Customer Involvement

Custom packaging design is a collaborative and creative process, tailored to meet the unique needs of each business. 

It begins with a vital choice: clients can bring their own designs. Or lean on the expertise of a skilled design team proficient in working with diverse materials like cardboard, foam, and wood.

This flexibility ensures that the packaging aligns perfectly with the brand's vision and practical requirements.

Here's a typical 3-step process we use at SmartShield:

  1. Client-Provided Designs: If you come with a drawing in hand, expect a comprehensive quote within 30 minutes. This approach is ideal for those with a clear vision and specific packaging needs.
  2. Design Team Collaboration: For those seeking creative guidance, our design team steps in to draft custom designs. Once provided, you can share feedback, with revisions typically completed in 2 to 5 business days.
  3. Sampling and Volume Considerations: Sampling is crucial, especially for high-volume projects. Fortunately, samples for these are often provided free of charge.

Costs and Considerations in Custom Packaging Design

Navigating the financial aspects of custom packaging design is crucial for the profitability of any business. However, packaging costs can vary significantly, depending on several factors:

  • One-off Project Fees: These may apply to unique, single-run projects. The fee structure reflects the bespoke nature of the design and manufacturing process, ensuring that each client receives a packaging solution that is as unique as their brand.
  • Material Costs: The choice of materials - cardboard, foam, or wood - plays a significant role in cost determination. Each material has its own pricing, influenced by its availability, sustainability, and production requirements.
  • Design Complexity: Intricate designs require more time and resources, thus influencing the final cost. A simple box may cost less compared to a complex, multi-dimensional package with elaborate graphics or structural elements.
  • Volume Impact: Bulk orders can significantly reduce the per-unit cost. High-volume projects often come with economies of scale, making them more cost-efficient than smaller runs.

Understanding these factors is vital in budgeting for your custom packaging, ensuring that you make informed decisions that align with your branding and financial strategies.

Sampling and Volume Considerations

Sampling and order volume play pivotal roles in the custom packaging process, influencing both cost and design refinement.

Sampling Process:

  • High-Volume Projects: For large-scale orders, the process often includes free samples. This step is crucial for testing the design, material, and functionality of the packaging before mass production, ensuring that it meets all specifications and brand requirements.
  • Low-Volume Projects: In contrast, a first-off is created for client approval for smaller orders. This approach allows for a hands-on review and adjustments before committing to the full order.

Volume Impact on Costs:

  • Bulk orders typically see a reduction in per-unit cost due to economies of scale. This makes high-volume orders more budget-friendly in the long run.
  • For low-volume orders, although the per-unit cost may be higher, they offer flexibility and are ideal for limited editions or specialized products.

Order Flexibility:

  • At SmartShield, most clients tend to be repeat customers, appreciating the ability to reorder as needed. The process for requotes is streamlined and efficient, accommodating quick turnarounds and adjustments based on previous orders.

Artwork, Tooling, and Additional Fees

Once the direction for custom packaging is decided, its time to discuss the costs that go beyond the initial design and materials. Two significant factors that impact the overall price are artwork and tooling fees.

Artwork Fees:

Artwork involves applying a custom design to the packaging, like logos or branding elements. This can range from simple ink stamps to more complex, multi-coloured designs.

The cost of artwork varies with the complexity and number of colours used. More colours typically mean more print plates, increasing the price.

  • In flexographic (flexo) printing, each colour requires a separate print plate, with costs ranging from $150 to $2,000.
  • Digital printing offers an alternative with no print plates, potentially reducing costs for complex designs.

Tooling Fees:

Tooling refers to the dyes needed for custom shapes and structures in packaging. This includes the cost of creating dies for cutting and shaping the packaging.

  • For a small box, tooling fees can range from $300 to $500, which is considered low to average. 

However, for more complex designs, the tooling cost can escalate up to $2,500, though such high costs are uncommon.

Making Cost-Effective Packaging Design Decisions

Finding the sweet spot between cost, quality, and brand impact is key in custom packaging. Here are strategies to achieve cost-effective packaging solutions:

  • Simplify Designs: While intricate designs can be eye-catching, they also increase costs. Simplifying the design can reduce both artwork and tooling fees without sacrificing the packaging's appeal.
  • Choose Materials Wisely: Opt for materials that offer a balance of quality and cost-effectiveness. Sometimes, a less expensive material can be just as effective, especially if creatively utilized.
  • Optimize for Volume: Consider ordering in bulk to leverage economies of scale. This approach is particularly cost-effective for businesses with consistent packaging needs over time.
  • Digital Printing for Complex Designs: For packaging requiring multiple colours or detailed images, digital printing can be a cost-saving alternative to flexographic printing, eliminating the need for multiple print plates.
  • Reevaluate and Iterate: Continuously assess the effectiveness of your packaging. Customer feedback and sales data can guide adjustments, helping refine the design and approach for better cost efficiency and market impact.

By applying these strategies, businesses can develop packaging solutions that resonate with their audience while maintaining a keen eye on the budget.

Want a custom packaging solution for your business?

Now that you're aware of custom packaging design costs, the next step is clear. Transform your product's first impression with custom packaging that speaks volumes about your brand. Don't let budget constraints hold back your creativity.

Reach out to us for a personalized custom packaging quote and let's collaborate to bring your vision to life with packaging that combines affordability, quality, and brand excellence.

Article written by SmartShield