Whether you want to change vendors, redesign existing packaging, or start a new line, prototyping—or sampling—is the moment of truth; it is the seminal inflection point where your brand can win or lose.
One of the key steps in the decision-making process, sampling serves as a checkpoint for size, color, materials, textures, copy, and everything else your future packaging will include.
When you receive your packaging prototypes from your supplier they should invoke the same unboxing experience that you wish to provide to your consumers, giving you confidence in your retail packaging decisions.
However, the road to the perfect prototype is rarely linear.
Edge2Edge comes from generations of retail packaging experience. Having mastered the prototyping process and pinned down the best practices, here we share our expertise to help you reach the perfect prototype efficiently and on time.
A retail packaging prototype is a sample of what your packaging will look like.
It is important, however, to differentiate between what the prototyping—or sampling—process looks like for off-the-shelf versus custom solutions.
Off-the-shelf prototypes help you evaluate a pre-made product with a limited set of customizations you request.
Custom retail packaging prototypes help you evaluate every component of your product, from fiber to handle.
When developing a truly unique product, prototyping becomes paramount to achieving your vision.
You may have come across the terms “prototype,” “sample,” “mock-up,” “vector files,” and “dieline,” used synonymously. However, in retail packaging terminology, we do distinguish between them. Here is a quick overview of each:
Unlike off-the-shelf products, custom packaging prototypes do not come with ready-made templates where you can add your logo, select colors, order a sample online, and call it a day.
You cannot cut corners in custom design, therefore distinguishing between these and other concepts in the sampling process becomes essential to its success.
However, worry not! Our team of specialists will equip you with invaluable insights along the way, communicate with our supply partners, and make sure you approve everything before production starts.
In general, there are three types of packaging prototypes:
The type of sample, process, timing, and associated fees depend on your project and can be greatly impacted by the materials and processes necessary to fulfill the requirements.
Retail packaging prototypes put the supply chain in motion.
They help brands make informed decisions about their packaging before placing the order as well as align all parties involved in the production process under a single vision.
For brands, retail packaging is an extension of their identity. It is often the first interaction a consumer has with a brand.
This is particularly true in eCommerce where unboxing experiences are gaining popularity.
Considering that the share of eCommerce in total US retail sales grew from 11.1% in 2019 to 14.3% in 2020, brands are increasing their investment in distinctive, custom packaging to achieve a better impact with their online consumers.
Prototyping helps brands evaluate the functionality and the impact of their retail packaging.
Prototypes can also serve as a proof of concept or tool for gathering customer feedback and presenting concepts to investors, managers, and other stakeholders.
For suppliers, packaging prototypes help them define, evaluate, and align on every nuance of the requirement including materials, adhesives, threads, tags/labeling, shipping, and more. In essence, a prototype serves as the supplier’s “unboxing” moment with the client or prospect.
Vendors/factories need prototypes to ensure:
To deliver on the most challenging requirements, packaging experts like Edge2Edge work with a diverse base of global suppliers. This allows us to source the most innovative solutions as well as large volume orders, however, perfection takes time and effort.
At Edge2Edge, the process starts with a consulting session and a sample request.
With an in-depth understanding of your vision, timeline, volume, and budget, we identify the manufacturer that can deliver on your requirements.
During this process, you can request complete samples or request drawdowns. Drawdowns work if you only want to see selected colors or specific inks rather than the whole item.
A color drawdown is a swatch of specific colors printed on a specific material to see how the colors look on the material of your choice.
An ink drawdown is a sample of ink on a piece of material to accurately show the final look for printed packaging. This is important because the same colors may look different on different materials.
For example, if you want to try Pantone colors of the year 2021 to see how Ultimate Gray and Illuminating fit your branding style, and experiment with sustainable materials to introduce a new, eco-friendly line, your request may include:
Of course, for the example above, your specifications will be much more detailed for each of the packaging items, including:
The process of sampling may seem simple on the surface, yet there are plenty of complex moving parts behind the scenes.
Factories need to source substrates and ensure color matches, print quality, design execution, attachments, test processes, and make plates, which can be costly and time-consuming. Additionally, execution on a small quantity is more difficult than on a large volume run, where factories can make adjustments.
To meet your requirements, optimize cost and quality, and deliver on even the most challenging orders, a vendor will match suppliers with your requests.
Matching each point of your specification document with the packaging prototype can be daunting. Understanding the process behind it is key in producing that perfect sample.
Let us dive into some of the most common hurdles and scenarios you may encounter during the sampling process.
The biggest issue during a sampling process is the timeframe.
Typically, a retail packaging prototype takes anywhere from 14 to 21 days.
How can you mitigate this?
Keep realistic expectations about the time needed, try to prepare everything upfront, and leave room for unexpected situations.
To avoid delays on your behalf, gather as many details as possible about the packaging items. For a bag, this includes dimensions, color codes, the weight of the paper, the length of the handle, the way the handle is being inserted, finishing effects, and more.
You may receive a packaging prototype that does not match your requirements.
Perhaps the color hue is not right, the dimensions are a few inches off, a box cannot be folded the right way, a handle does not fit, a material texture is different than you expected, etc.
How can you avoid this?
Keep in mind that even when you send the same specifications to various vendors, they create samples based on the raw materials and machinery they use along with other factors.
This is why having expert product developers by your side to guide you through the process of getting the perfect sample is a smart move and exactly what Edge2Edge can help you achieve.
If your brand is about to launch a completely new line of retail packaging, whether it is new to your business or a new packaging concept in your industry, creating prototypes can be discouraging.
How can you manage this?
If you want to bring something new to the table, the research, ideation, and conceptualization phases can take a lot of time and resources. Be prepared.
Also, know that you do not have to do it alone. This is when working with experts through innovation and development of distinctive designs and materials can really pay off.
This is where the Edge2Edge experts shine. See how we created an innovative, sustainable retail packaging solution for DECIEM that became their visual trademark.
We want to be strategic partners with our clients and devote the time and resources necessary to fully understand and grow your business. Decades of practice have taught us that communication in the prototyping process is key.
These are the steps Edge2Edge takes to optimize and streamline the sampling process:
Wrapping it up, these are the key takeaways about retail packaging prototypes and getting the perfect sample for your brand:
Planning and communication are paramount. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
Creating new retail packaging, redesigning existing items, or starting a brand-new line are not projects to take lightly especially knowing that the unboxing experience is so important to your consumers and crucial for your brand to grow.
Having an experienced vendor to help you navigate all of the specifications, requests, rounds, communications, and expectations can save you time, energy, and resources, and ensure a perfect retail packaging sample.