Packaging a product for market is something that needs to be anticipated. Don’t wait until your product is ready to be shipped to realize that you don’t have the proper packaging for sending it safely and at a reasonable cost. Packaging can also influence the product itself (shape, weight, solidity), so think about it early.
The 4 rules of product packaging:
- low cost
- attractive: your packaging is your first impression. You don’t want to miss it.
- regulations compliant
Before going more in-depth into the magical world of packaging… Let’s play a little game:
Which one of these two packagings for the Rasberry Pi do you prefer?
Most people prefer the one on the left.
The name of the product and the logo appear in big and look great. The box on the left seems to protect the product much more than the one on the right. The brown color is also much more noticeable. It gives you the feeling that it’s Christmas time – you finally got your Rasberry Pi! – while the one on the right is very neutral and makes you think the product is pretty cheap.
This simple example shows you that product packaging matters. It’s your client’s first impression and it might influence their general appreciation of your company. Many users love to share unboxing videos on YouTube. Yes, your product packaging should be THAT exciting.
Product packaging has multiple layers.
For one single product, there is often many layers of packaging. First, the product is put into a consumer packaging, which can be directly used in the household (soap in a jar, pills in a plastic box, screws in a toolbox). It can look like this:
A secondary layer is the transport or distribution packaging. It’s the packaging in which your product is stored and shipped to you. It can look like this:
The last layer is the warehouse packaging. Packaged products are gathered into big boxes so that they can be transported on pallets and or in containers. It would look more like this:
In this article, I’m mainly focusing on the first and second layers of packaging: the ones your customer will actually receive at home.
The 4 steps for deciding on a packaging:
- A first good step is to do a market survey: look at what your competitors are doing (materials, shapes, colors)
- Then, choose a type of packaging (and keep in mind there will be changes)
- Find a local packaging supplier for a test on small quantities
- Test and tweak until you find the right fit
What types of information need to appear on a product packaging?
Packaging is not only a box or an enclosure. Many extra information have to appear on it. Your packaging has to be “marked” (symbols like recycling or poisonous) and “labelled” (text, numbers…). Most of the information is required by law, but it varies from a country to another. The required information has one goal: informing your customer about safety, health and environment. It’s important!
Don’t forget: Name of your company, Name of your product, Weight or Volume, Instructions for use (including safety hazards), Country of origin.
Resources for consumer labelling and packaging regulations:
United States – Fair Packaging and Labeling Act
Let’s take a look at some of them and how they differentiate.
The classic boxboard packaging
Many open hardware products come in a box made of recycled cardboard. It’s actually a simple sheet of cardboard that is folded in the shape of a box and close by tape or sticker. A big label with information about the company, the product and a link to find more information (instructions, documentation and more) can be sticked on it. This packaging idea has many advantages: it’s cheap, green and easy.
Seeed Studio went from shipping products in small plastic bags to using customized green boxboards. The box is usually plain color and the information is directly written on the box, not on a separate tag. It’s a bit more costly, but looks very professional.
I Heart Engineering is a typical example of a good use of boxboard packaging. It’s simple, green and looks cool. The great benefit of choosing to stick a label on a the box is that they can use the box for any other products.
BeagleBoard offers us an other example of the boxboard, this time with a colorful sticker. Classic but definitively efficient.
Vacuum-formed plastic packaging
If you want to sell your product in the big retail stores, you will have to follow some extra rules before to see your product on shelves. One of the most common packaging is the vaccum-formed one with a little handle on top. I’m sure you have seen it many times. This could be your open hardware product!
Sparkfun packages its products so that they can be sold at RadioShack. The components are placed inside a vacuum-formed plastic container that is stapled on the sides. A piece of strong paper is also placed inside, giving details about the brand, the product and how to use it.
Mitch Altman’s TV B-Gone can be found in many types of packagings. One of them is this vacuum-formed plastic pocket with a fun illustration made on a piece of paper and put inside the box.
Static-free plastic bags packaging
It’s a very easy packaging that doesn’t cost much, but is also not very good for the environment.
Open hardware kits are very commonly packaged in small static-free plastic bags. They don’t cost much and are easy to handle by the users. They also don’t take much room and can be stored easily in a big box. The negative point is that they are not friendly for the environment.
Environmentally friendly packaging
To go green, reuse old packaging (upcycling) or choose materials such as wild grass paper, mulberry paper, hemp paper.
The first DIY drones were send in… pizza boxes. It’s a story that Chris Anderson loves to tell and a great example of how creativity can drastically lower the costs of your packaging.
Adafruit packaging is recycled from other companies’ packaging that they receive every day. The team stores the boxes and reuse them for sending Adafruit products. That’s why Adafruit packaging come in all kind of shapes. It takes more time than using new boxes but it’s a very environmental-friendly move.
MintyBoost kit is packaged in a old box of Altoid candies.
Think outside of the box… Beautiful packaging ideas for your open hardware products
A few ideas to make your packaging stand out:
- Handcrafted packaging are more personal
- Packaging with functionalities: it becomes part of the object itself (i.e. Printrbot comes with an extra lasercutted screwdriver)
- Packaging as story-telling: share your vision, tell how it’s made directly on the box
Arduino packaging is… beautiful! Arduino Uno comes in a very cool little box that is a simple sheet of strong paper. The design has been created by Todo studio, an italian firm run by Giorgio Olivero a former student of Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi.
Concoctory Kits created this clever packaging for selling LEDs. It’s as cool as it’s simple.
Inside the packing box
What you put inside the box defines how tight and protected your product is. You don’t want it to move around and break inside the box. Many filling options exist, and it’s sometimes good to have multiple layers of boxes each filled with a different material. Let’s take a look at it:
Useful resource: Check FedEx General Packaging Guidelines
Bubble Wrap (Air-Cellular Cushioning)
In addition of being very fun to play with, bubble wrap is a great protection for your hardware products.
Packaging filled with shredded paper is good solution as it’s light and green. If you only have a few packages to send, shred old letters and magazines and fill the box with it.
Loosefill Foam Peanuts
Light, protective but sometimes hard to manage! You’ll need a special equipment.
Antistatic sponge is the material you want to protect your electronic material and precision instruments.
Extra Tips & Tricks
- For lowering the cost, customize the label, but keep the packaging plain an simple.
- Putting your label on the bottom of the box promotes the reuse of it.
- Don’t forget to take beautiful pictures of your packaging as part of your press kit. If your packaging is sexy, you have more chances to get media attention.
Happy packaging everyone!