How to Design Cosmetics Packaging: The Ultimate Guide
There are few industries out there with as much potential to develop loyal, die-hard customers as beauty and cosmetics. Beauty products are a staple in bathroom cabinets around the world; whether a person is going for an “I woke up like this” look or the avant garde “makeup is art you wear on your face” feel, just about every woman (not to mention tons of men!) use beauty products on the daily.
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Which means if you own a beauty or cosmetics line, the potential for some serious business is there. But it also means if you want to grab that business and take it for yourself, you’re going to need to find a way to break through the clutter, jump off the shelf at Sephora, and tell your ideal customer “THIS is the lipstick for you!” And the best way to do that is your packaging.
Your packaging is the first thing the beauty die-hards you want to turn into customers are going to see. If your packaging grabs their attention and speaks to what they’re looking for, they’re likely to take your product home and give it a try. If not? It’s likely to gather dust on the shelf.
But how, exactly, do you design the kind of packaging that makes your ideal customer scream “I need that blush yesterday?” Never fear, 99designs is here with all the information you need to design packaging that stands out on the shelf and gets your product into your customer’s bag (and, eventually, on their face).
Prime before you design
Before you get started with your packaging design, there are a few things you want to clarify:
Define your ideal customer
It’s important to know who you’re designing for. Who’s your ideal customer? Are they tween girls just as obsessed with sparkles as they are with boy bands? Are they women of color who want makeup that actually (finally) matches their skin tone? Are they men who are masculine… but also want baby soft skin? And once you know who they are, what are they looking for in a cosmetics brand? What’s going to grab their attention?
Define your brand personality
Just as important as your customer’s identity is your identity. What’s your branding? Are you dark and edgy (like Urban Decay)? Simple and classic (like Bobbi Brown)? Luxurious (like Dior)? Accessible (like Wet n Wild)? Who you are as a brand—and the personality you want to portray to your customers—is going to determine what design elements you use in your packaging.
Define how your ideal customers are buying your product
You’ll also want to consider how you’re going to sell your products. Are you selling online or in store? In small boutiques or in large retailers? Your design strategy might change depending on where you’re shelling your goods.
Create a mood board for your brand
A great thing to do before you start designing is to create a mood board for your brand. Pull together images, colors, advertisements and whatever else you feel embodies your brand personality; these will act as inspiration as you go through the design process.
Let cosmetics packaging trends inspire you
If you need a little inspiration for your packaging design there’s no better place to start than looking at the latest cosmetics packaging trends. Once you know what’s currently trending, you can create packaging that caters to what’s important to your customers right now and that speaks to them in the right way.
Remember that you want to pick a look that’s both modern and on trend, but also timeless and universally appealing, so your packaging design looks up-to-date for as long as possible.
Here are the cosmetics packaging trends we’re seeing everywhere right now:
1. Intricate line drawings
Intricate drawings using fine lines and lots of detail are a timelessly beautiful trend for cosmetics packaging. Particularly floral and hand-made drawings work well, either cleverly placed in select areas or covering the whole product. If you’re going for something less feminine but still want something elegant and detailed, a more geometric, clean and cool drawing-style may be right for you. This trend is perfect for you if your brand has an eye for detail or if you’re looking for a subtle yet beautiful way of showcasing what’s inside your packaging, by drawing the ingredients you use.
2. Unique custom fonts
The bold font trend we’re seeing across the board in graphic design naturally extends to packaging as well. Unique fonts can give your packaging a whole lot of character. Typography is the perfect way to express who you are as a brand, and a handlettered font can be just the thing to set you apart from the crowd. Whether it carries a retro vibe, a bold statement or a quirky flair, a unique font is sure to stick in people’s minds.
3. Bold, eye-catching patterns
With loud stripes and wild color combinations the bold pattern trend is going to make your packaging jump off the shelves. Well-placed, eye-catching patterns make your packaging pop and give your brand a confident, young look that sets you apart from everyone else. Especially irregular patterns are a reoccurring trend that can give your packaging a certain edge. But that doesn’t mean that your brand has to be young and loud to be able to use this trend: abstract patterns can work for any brand, as long as you get the colors and shapes right.
4. Cool black packaging with a twist
Black and white cosmetics packaging is a timeless trend we will never get tired of. What’s new in the packaging designs we’re currently seeing is that while white used to be the overwhelming choice for cosmetics packaging, it’s black that seems be dominating monochrome packaging right now. To add an interesting twist, these designs use subtle patterns and tiny pops of color to catch the eye. Packaging that is mostly black looks luxurious and has an air of mystery and coolness. What’s more, if you pick a classy monochrome design you can be sure that your packaging will never go out of style.
5. Lush florals and warm, earthy colors
A stylishly-vintage trend we can’t get enough of is cosmetics packaging covered in rich, warm florals and natural, earthy tones. While this trend has a feminine and sometimes even sexy vibe to it, it can also feel warm and comforting. This combination of lush, rich floral illustrations with simple typography results in a classic style that creates an approachable yet luxurious look.
6. Modern minimalist pastels
Pastels and minimalism are a match made in heaven. While pastels will soften an otherwise harsh looking minimalist packaging design, a minimalistic and clean design will ensure that your pastel packaging looks modern and grown up. Play with both concepts to find the right mix for your brand. You can keep it simple and stylish by picking one pastel shade that speaks to your customers and brand or you can work with a combination of pastels to achieve a playful and dreamy look.
When it comes to cosmetics packaging, anything goes. Dare to be different! Play around with designs that speak to you and that express what your brand is all about. It’s unique designs that stand out from the crowd. Need more inspiration? Check out our article on packaging design trends.
Create your perfect cosmetics packaging
Now that you’re feeling inspired, it’s time to start designing your beauty packaging and cosmetics labels.
Set your brand design standards
The first thing you’ll need to do when designing your packaging is set your elements of design.
There are a few different elements you’ll need to consider:
The first thing you’ll want to consider is the mood and personality you want to bring to your packaging. Are you going for a minimalist vibe in your design? Or do you want to go more over-the-top and stylized?
Knowing what style you want to move towards will help lead the rest of your design and ensure you make packaging decisions that are in line with your overall design goals.
Locking in your style will also help you determine any additional design elements you need to consider. Are you going for a pop art feel? Then you might need some illustrations done to lead the design process. Are you incorporating natural elements for your natural cosmetics brand? Then maybe you’ll want to pull in some nature photography to include on your packaging. The point is, when you know what style you’re going for, you know what design elements you’ll need to get that style to come across in your packaging.
When choosing colors, you want to choose colors that a) match your brand personality, b) grab customer’s attention and c) stand out from the competition. This last point is especially important in the uber-competitive world of beauty and cosmetics.
Think about choosing your brand’s color palette like you would assembling this season’s must-have eyeshadow palette; you want to stay true to your brand while differentiating yourself from the competition. So, for example, pink is a wildly popular color in the beauty and cosmetics world. It’s fun, it’s feminine, and it just so happens to be a color that’s widely used in all the glorious cosmetics we put on our faces. But if you go with pink as your packaging color, it might be hard to grab your customer’s attention since the shelves of every cosmetic store are already a sea of pink.
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The most recognizable beauty and cosmetics brands use color as a way to build their brand. When people think purple, they think of Urban Decay. Bold black and white belongs to Make Up Forever. And the reigning queen of pink? Too Faced Cosmetics.
If you want your brand to be just as successful, you’ll need to do the same thing and find a brand color palette that not only jumps of the shelves, but becomes instantly synonymous with your brand.
Next up is fonts.
Like with colors, you want to choose something that’s unique, on brand, and instantly recognizable to your customers while they’re scanning the shelves.
Have a brand that’s a little on the edgy side? Go for a bold, display font like Urban Decay.
More fun, flirty, and feminine? Go with a whimsical or script font, a la Too Faced.
How about clean and sophisticated? Try a sans serif font, which will give an upscale modern feel, like Chanel.
Going for the classic feel? Stick with elegant serif fonts, like Clinique.
One more thing you’ll want to think of when choosing fonts? How it’s going to look on your packaging. You want your fonts to be clear and easy to read—even when they’re on a tiny compact box.
Gather the info you need to include on your packaging
Next up, you want to collect all of the information you need to include on your packaging (including the information you need to be FDA-compliant).
Some common things that show up on cosmetics packaging:
- An image to show your product is cruelty free
- Expiration labels
- Government warning labels
- Additional images and graphics
- Brand copy
Choose your packaging type
Now, it’s time to actually choose the physical packaging.
Know the three layers
Just like you start with primer, follow with foundation and end with finishing powder, when it comes to packaging, there’s three different layers you need to think about: outer packaging, inner packaging, and product packaging.
Outer packaging is the first thing your customers will have to dig through to get to your product. This can be the box you use to ship customer orders from your warehouse or the bag you package your cosmetics in at your retail location.
Inner packaging is what houses your product, like the box your customers open to get to their lipstick.
And the product packaging is the packaging itself: the container that holds your product inside, be it a lipstick tube or a foundation bottle.
Common packaging types in the cosmetic world
When it comes to beauty and cosmetics packaging, the sky’s the limit. The first thing you need to think about when choosing your cosmetics packaging is the “what.” What is the purpose of your packaging? What kind of product are you creating? Obviously, the product packaging that works for a lip gloss isn’t going to be the right pick for a body butter, so you want to choose the product packaging that makes the most sense for each product.
Some popular packaging options in beauty and cosmetics include:
- Airless bottles
Now, obviously, there are certain packaging standards for different products. Most lipsticks are going to be housed in a lipstick tube. But that shouldn’ts top you from thinking outside of the box! Take lip gloss, for example. It used to be the standard to put them in a tube with a wand. And while that certainly still is the most common packaging choice, plenty of brands deviated from the “norm” and went with other options, like squeeze tubes, jars, and twist tops. So don’t feel like you need to stick within the confines of “standard” packaging!
Once you know what kind of packaging you want, you need to figure out how and where you’re going to get it. There are tons of cosmetics packaging companies out there where you can buy packaging at wholesale prices. You can also get custom bottles, boxes or tubs designed, which can make your product stand out on shelves, but will definitely cost you more than a pretty penny.
Choose a focal point for your design
Once you know what type of product packaging you want to move forward with, it’s time to start thinking about design. And the best place to start? Choosing a focal point.
When your customer looks at your product, you have a split second to get your message across before they move on to something else on the shelf. What’s the one thing you want your customer to know about your product? Whatever it is, that’s what needs to come through on your packaging design.
Do you want to build brand recognition and let your customer know the lipstick or face cream they’re picking up is all you? Then you’ll want to put your logo front and center. Is there a certain ingredient in your beauty product you know will wow your customers and get them to make a purchase? If so, that needs to be the focus of your design.
By focusing on one core element in your packaging design, you ensure that your key message gets through to your customer.
Think about your materials and specialty printing options
Next up is choose the materials and speciality printing options you’ll use in/on your packaging.
There are so many options out there to jazz up your packaging. But keep in mind: the more complicated your packaging, the higher the budget. Some upgrades might be necessary, depending on your product (for example, if your product is meant to be stored in the shower you better make sure your labels are coated and water resistant).
Others are design choices to help you create a specific look and feel. Incorporating things like foil-stamping, embossing, metal, or ink that gives a 3D effect will definitely make your packaging feel more high-end, luxurious and fun, but it will also add to your cost-per-package.
If you’re not sure what options are out there—or what options your budget allows—talk to your designer about the material and printing options that are the best fit for your brand and budget.
How to choose the right designer for your cosmetics packaging
There are a two common ways you can move forward with your cosmetics packaging design:
Your first option, of course, is to do things yourself. And while you might be tempted to take on the design yourself in an effort to keep your budget low, unless you have design experience, we don’t recommend it. Your cosmetics packaging design is so important to the success of your business; it’s not the place to cut corners.
Hire a designer
Your other option is to hire a designer to manage the design process for you. There are two good ways to do this: you can hire a freelancer or you can launch a design contest.
If you want to work directly with a freelancer, you’ll want to look for someone with experience in product packaging design (even better if they’ve specifically worked in the cosmetics industry).
If you want to write a single brief and have designers from all over the world send you unique ideas, you can run a packaging design contest on 99designs.
Once you’ve got your designer on board, it’s time to start designing! Woohoo!
After you’ve reviewed your brand style design with your designer and let them know exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll want to ask them to develop a design mockup. This will give you a concrete piece of packaging to look at before you finalize your design.
Once you have your design mockup, you’ll want to evaluate your design and see if it feels like the right fit for your product. When evaluating your mockup, ask yourself:
- Does this grab my ideal customer’s attention?
- Is is clear what this product is from the packaging?
- Does the packaging seem accessible/easy to use?
- Would this stand out against competitor packaging?
- How does this look in 3D? (you can even print the prototype and assemble the package to get a better sense of what it will look like IRL)
- Will this design be as relevant 5 years from now as it is today?
Once you finalize your design and your designer creates your packaging dielines, you’ll need to get the files to send to the printer. You’ll need:
- A vector file of your packaging dielines for each product (typically in .ai or .pdf)
- Pantone or CMYK color codes
Once you have those files, you can send them to the printer, print up your packaging designs, and get your products out into the world!
Wrapping things up
There’s a ton of opportunity in the beauty and cosmetics industry. And with the right product, the right packaging, and the right design, that opportunity is yours for the taking!
Want beautiful product packaging for your cosmetics?
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This article was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with new examples and information.