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Packaging a Start-up, Part 1: Budgets

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 06/22/2017 | 5 Minute Read

A checklist for start-ups of all sizes considering packaging their product. By: Evelio Mattos

Ready to launch a start-up? Learn why to consider your packaging earlier, and collaborate with experts to cross the finish line on time. Start-ups must consider every investment’s impact on your launch date as well as your finances both short term and long. The earlier you consider packaging, the more time you’ll have for R&D (research and development), and to revise, learn from failed tests, and redirect goals—all of which are par for the course with every start-up. Here are 5 considerations to make when defining your start-up packaging budget.

What is automated machine-made packaging and why should I care?

Machine-made packaging is produced 100% on high speed equipment that will yield predetermined default structures. This may be the least customizable packaging, but it may also be the most cost effective to get you started. Today there are many automated machines able to produce beautiful bags, folding boxes, semi-rigid boxes, in either 1- or 2-piece constructions. By using default or pre-existing box designs you save on the high costs of tooling, and may be able to reduce your initial MOQ (minimum order quantities).

Using default packaging reduces costs for both you and your competitors alike, making brand differentiation possible through visual design.

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The benefits of hand-assembled packaging

Hand-assembled packaging requires skilled labor to hand wrap, fold, glue, and complete each package via an assembly line. The higher cost of manual labor will increase your packaging costs, require higher MOQs, and deliver completely custom structures. To ensure there are no delays in production, make sure your structural package design team is experienced in mass production methods of all materials.

Combine hand-assembled custom packaging with machine-made components such as inserts to get the best of both worlds and stretch your start-up dollars.

Build a foundation with structural package design first

Because each printing process from offset CMYK, to foil stamped embossed details, incur its own set of charges, it is critical to design your product packaging structures prior to visual design. Structural design will determine the end-user’s experience, materials, size and proportions, and the order in which the product is revealed. By starting with structure first, you can establish baseline costs of materials and tooling, timeline to manufacture, as well as maximize the user experience by creating a layered reveal to be supported by visual design. Note; that if your product requires inserts, you will incur additional costs for sample molds, and mass production molds, as well as increase your lead times.

By outlining 80% of your packaging costs, structural design provides the data to manage your budget.

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How will your product get put into your package?

Fulfillment is a critical detail to address early in the design process. Efficiently designed packaging can reduce fulfillment costs and allow you to repurpose those savings into the actual package design for a more memorable user experience. On the flip-side, packaging designed without consideration for the fulfillment process can incur extra costs to pack your product due to an overly complex user experience at the fulfillment center. Always connect your fulfillment center with your structural packaging designers so that process efficiencies may be developed from inception.

Fulfillment doesn’t just happen, it must be designed for.

Why you should leave visual design til the end

Understanding everything involved in determining a packaging budget allows you to speak intelligently to the packaging requirements in order to clearly guide your visual design team. Packaging design is broken into two phases: structural design and graphic design. Structural design is responsible for mapping out the user experience, product protection, and manufacturing details including materials, processes, and assembly. The final deliverable from a structural design firm will be dielines, samples, and baseline production costs. Structural prototype samples can be used to test fitment, product protection, fulfillment, and user experience. Graphic design is responsible for communicating the brand promise, guiding the consumer, visual artistry, and differentiation. By defining the key cost drivers in your packaging and establishing a budget early on, you maximize visual design’s ability to create a memorable unveiling experience by providing well informed parameters.

Once your budgets and processes are in place, visual design can create a more meaningful experience for the user by exploiting the unveiling process outlined by structure. Never leave your packaging to the bitter end, the earlier you consider it the more successful your launch will be.


Evelio Mattos
Evelio Mattos is the Creative Director of both Design Packaging Inc., and FORMA Structural Packaging. His reputation as one of the leading structural and visual packaging designers for international retail brands has led to collaborative partnerships spanning industries from tech, fashion & beauty, to include wine & spirits.

His team of directors, graphic artists, industrial designers, and Creative Production artists, are involved in the development of powerful user-centric branded retail experiences. Together they strategically identify packaging users to include distribution centers, fulfillment staff, retail associates, and the ultimate user…the consumer.

Evelio’s experience in streamlining and retooling manufacturing processes has led to launching the first ever “Creative Production” team. The team’s focus is twofold: Structural Functionality, and Print Optimization. By applying these two principles, his team is able to deliver the designer’s on-screen expectation to an in-hand experience.

“Good design creates opportunity, the parameters we set define the space in which we design.”

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