Sometime today, you will either come in contact with a paperboard carton or, at the very least, use a product that came packaged in a paperboard carton, Although this may seem like a pretty broad generalization, it is actually an understatement rather than overstatement of our dependence on the folding carton.
The food we eat, clothes we wear, medicines we use … in fact nearly every product which makes our lives easier leaves the manufacturer packed in a carton of one kind or another. Like electricity and running water, this packaging plays such an essential role in our daily lives that we rarely even notice it. Yet is it difficult to imagine a product that isn’t packaged in paperboard somewhere in the distribution chain from manufacturer to consumer.
The Carton's Role in Merchandising
In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the carton often becomes an integral part of the product, not only protecting the item but adding to its appeal.
Cartons have become a key element in our system of mass merchandising. Department stores, Supermarkets, discount houses, drug stores and a wide variety of specialty outlets rely heavily on packaging to sell products, thus reducing the need for sales personnel. This keeps the cost of selling to a minimum and in turn saves money for the customer.
Despite often intense competition from other very similar products, the carton must bear the primary burden of capturing a consumer’s attention and effectively communicating the manufacturer’s sales message. Even after the purchase, the carton must act as a silent reminder that the same product is worth reordering.
However, the carton does more than just provide a graphic image of brand and product identity. It functions as a protective container, guarding its contents against breakage, pilferage, spoilage, contamination, deterioration, and the many other hazards a product may encounter on its way to the consumer.
Since our system of production and distribution relies heavily on mechanization and automation, the carton must also be precisely engineered and constructed in order to facilitate machine assembly and filling.
By reducing the risk of damage and spoilage, eliminating the need for individualized sales personnel and keeping production and distribution costs down, paperboard packaging has been, and continues to be, a very important factor in the development of our economical system and resulting high standard of living.
The Early Years
Merchandising in the 1800’s would undoubtedly make today’s demanding consumer shudder. Sugar and crackers were scooped from open barrels.
Vinegar and molasses were drawn from kegs into cans, bottles or any other receptacle brought in by the customer. Food was stored in unprotected bins, barrels and sacks or piles on open shelves and unswept floors; and storekeepers were not overly concerned about rodents, dust or flies.
Down the street, the neighborhood pharmacist compounded doctor’s prescriptions and during slow periods concocted his own cough syrups, lotions, laxatives, toothache remedies, tonics, ointments and salves.
Early American industrial efforts were primarily concerned with producing enough products to meet the ready demand of the country’s largely rural population. With demand far exceeding supply, products were eagerly purchased with little regard given to quality, workmanship, sanitation or utility value. Until supply began to match and then exceed demand, adequate packaging was largely ignored by manufacturers and was not a factor which influenced consumer decisions.
However, once competition became a vital part of American commerce, packaging began to develop as a means of expanding beyond local markets and informing potential customers as to the identity of the manufacturer. In this way manufacturers were able to assure customers that the product had not been tampered with and that they would be receiving an honest measure.
By taking the problems of cleanliness and accurate measure out of the hands of the retailer, the manufacturer was able to build a widespread reputation and open vast new markets. In 1896 the newly formed National Biscuit Company did just that when it introduced UNEEDA, an improved type of soda cracker, protected by an inner-waxed paper wrap, a folding carton and a colorfully printed overwrap. The new product and packaging quickly won nationwide approval and gave the folding carton industry and enormous push forward.
Actually, the first folding paperboard package to gain widespread use came into existence around 1850. It was a crude, hand-formed box made of paperboard which was used to make market tacks. Known as a paper of tacks, the packages were tied with string and had a label pasted over one end to show size, weight and manufacturer’s name.
Paperboard boxes were being commercially produced on local level as early as 1839, when Aaron L. Dennison, a Boston jeweler, began making setup jewelry boxes for himself and other area jewelers.
By 1850, Dennison had expanded his line to include mailing boxes, display cards, price tags, and boxes for a wide assortment of small products including combs, keys, spectacles, pencils and hairpins. Within ten years, others noting Dennison’s success established their own box-making plants and began developing machinery to speed production and reduce costs.
During the next twenty years the box manufacturers introduced a wide variety of folding cartons which, unlike the earlier boxes produced by Dennison, could be shipped flat and easily set up by the user. Laminating machines were developed to allow the bonding of high-quality paper to cheaper paperboard. This in turn encouraged the printing of colorful design and advertising messages on the cartons.
In 1879, a mistake by a careless pressman in Robert Gair’s box plant paved the way to truly inexpensive, mass produced carton manufacturing.
The pressman, running an order of seed bags, failed to notice that the printing plates were neatly cutting through the paper as a result of poor make-ready. Fortunately, the ruined press run gave Gair a great idea. He developed special steel rules; locked them in a form; put them on a platen press; and, in a single operation, began cutting and creasing folding carton blanks.
Gair’s idea brought about the first really inexpensive, machine-made cartons and signaled the beginning of the industry as we now know it.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the folding carton industry has grown at a tremendous rate. Recent estimates show that more than over three million tons of paperboard are converted into cartons annually. The industry’s sales volume has also increased steadily to the point where paperboard packaging is a $9.4 billion a year business, with more than 300 companies with 480 plants, employing over 55,000 people directly in the production of paperboard and folding cartons.
Paperboard packaging and its role in the marketing of consumer, business and industrial products is constantly changing and being improved. New methods and equipment along with new designs and requirements appear almost daily.
In most mass merchandising situations, good product plus good promotion plus good packaging add up to success. All three elements are extremely important, but packaging is often the key because is serves as the identifying link between the product and the promotional campaign. The carton is often used to provide the consumer with a mental image of the product and trigger the buying impulse.
Some mass merchandising regard packaging as such an important element in the total marketing plan that a variety of types and styles of cartons are tested in selected markets prior to nationwide release of a new product.
However, new products aren’t the only ones that can benefit from innovative packaging. There are numerous instances where a change in packaging launches a new upsurge in sales for previously declining products or dramatically increases sales of products which never sold particularly well before product improvements quite often call for a change in packaging.
The importance of packaging cannot be ignored and the planning that goes into developing the right package shouldn’t be minimized or taken lightly. Creating a successful package requires a great deal of close coordination among the buyer, designer and carton manufacturer.
Placing the Order
When placing an order for folding cartons, the buyer should always provide complete specifications, Carton manufacturers are not only anxious to produce exactly what the customer wants but are in a position to provide valuable advice about the kind of packaging that would be most suitable for the product and the best methods of getting the product into the carton.
In creating specifications, possible embarrassment and extra cost can be avoided if no production work is started until the following detailed information is developed, agreed upon and provided in writing.
- Exact Product Name - This should completely identify the carton and eliminate any possible confusion with others of the same line.
- Dimensions – Cartons should always be specified in sequence of length, width and depth. All measurements should be made from center of score to center of score or edge of blank. Length is always the larger dimension across the opening, width is the smaller dimension at the opening and depth is the remaining dimension.
- Paperboard – The exact grade, finish and caliper (thickness) of paperboard should be specified.
- Style – When the box is to be a standard style, it should be indicated. Some styles are indicated in the Basic Carton Style Section.
- Colors – Inks should be specified in exacting detail by using a standard matching system such as the Pantone system (see our Links section)
- Copy & Proof – The copy and typography should be presented exactly as desired along with detailed instructions for setting the type. Where illustrations are desired, the carton manufacturer should be consulted regarding feasibility and cost. Finished production art and proofs are the most desirable.
- Universal Product Code – When application of the U.P.C. symbol is desired, the buyer should provide the carton manufacturer with an accurate, original film master along with appropriate information detailing usage requirements.
- Engravings – Engraving costs may or may not be included in the price quotation and should be specified in advance to avoid confusion.
- Quantity – the quantity needed must be carefully determined to avoid overproduction or underproduction.
- Type of Printing – The process used to print the cartons has an important effect on the cost and quality of the finished box. Therefore, decisions should be based on careful analysis of budget requirements and degree of quality required.
- Additional Operations – The manufacturer must know in advance if the boxes are to be varnished, waxed, beauty coated or receive other specialized treatments. If a cut-out or window is desired, its exact dimensions and location must be stated along the type and thickness of transparent film to be used when required.
- Packaging Method – Unless the carton is to be set up, filled and sealed entirely by hand, the machines that will be used should be specified in detail.
- Shipping – Such instructions should be include directions how the folded cartons are to be packed and marked to facilitate inventory control and handling. A required delivery date, destination and any special shipping instructions should be included.
To a product manufacturer the carton is an economical and easy-to-asseble container; a means of assuring that the product reaches the consumer in the same condition it left the factory; a medium for brand identification and promotional copy; and an attention getter.
The distributor and retailer view the carton as a device that makes shipping and storage easier; facilitates inventory control and stock handling; permits the product to sell itself; and provides space for pricing information.
Finally, the consumer regards the carton as a source of product information; an assurance that the product is in good condition; a means of identifying the manufacturer or brand; a device which makes the product easier to handle; a storage container; and a disposable convenience.
If properly designed, the folding carton can be all this and more. However, good carton design requires careful consideration of a multitude of variables.
In order to assure a satisfactory solution to any given packaging problem, both the designer and the user should have a clearly defined idea of just what a folding carton can be expected to do and the characteristics needed to meet these criteria in terms of a particular product.
Generally, a folding carton should fulfill the following requirements if it is to function with maximum efficiency.
It must be a container. The carton must be an appropriate size – large enough to easily accommodate the product, yet small enough to prevent excess movement. It must also be strong enough to hold the product and be closed in such a way that none of the contents are lost or dissipated.
It must be precisely made. Modern, high-speed packaging equipment permits little variance in size or shape. Therefore, close tolerances must be maintained throughout the manufacturing process. A well –engineered carton must be capable of being easily and quickly assembled and filled either manually or by machine.
It must be a protective device. No matter how long or elaborate the distribution chain, the carton must be capable of protecting the product form all hazards which are likely to be encountered between the manufacturer and final consumer. Adequate protective qualities can be incorporated into a carton if the designer is fully aware of possible hazards likely to damage or destroy the product.
It must attract attention. In most retail outlets, products are expected to sell themselves. To do that, the carton must be able to attract the consumer’s attention and quickly communicate the manufacturer’s message. Competition for shelf space is intense so the carton must be designed to make a strong initial impact and quickly build consumer recognition.
The Right Package Design
Developing just the right carton for a particular product can never be considered a simple task; but it can be made a lot easier by learning everything there is to know about the product, the consumer is serves and the way it will be distributed. Before any actual design work begins, the designer and the product manufacturer’s representative should develop a comprehensive profile on each of these important factors.
This inventory of product benefits, the physical attributes, peculiarities and other pertinent information should include:
- The exact dimensions of the product
- Physical characteristics and makeup
- Product uses and benefits
- Competitive position
- Susceptibility to spoilage, breakage and other hazards
- Manner in which the product is used
- Shelf life or limitations
- Should the carton serve as a product dispenser
- Any product information which must appear on the package to meet legal requirements
- Universal Product Code symbol
- Product identity
- Most important product advantage
- Trade mark and brand name information
Distribution cycles vary greatly among products. Even products which directly compete with one another often have radically different distribution channels. It is very important to know exactly what problems and obstacles are likely to be encountered in the product distribution cycle, so the following information should be acquired and analyzed.
- Will the carton be set up and filled mechanically, by hand or a combination of both?
- How, when, where and in what quantities will the product be sold?
- Is the product likely to be frozen or refrigerated anywhere in the distribution cycle?
- How long and under what conditions will it be stored before reaching the consumer?
- What hazards is the product likely to encounter in its distribution chain?
- How many intermediaries are likely t handle the carton before it reaches the ultimate consumer?
- What types of transportation will be used to ship it?
- Will it be marketed in other countries?
- Will the carton be required to continue protecting the product after it is initially opened?
- Are there any unusual problems affecting disposal of the carton after it has served its purpose?
An understanding of the prospective consumer’s motivations, likes, dislikes, self-image and other factors which will affect the selection process is essential to an effective design solution. It is wise to accumulate as much data as possible on the following factors:
- What demographic group is most likely to be the primary market for the product?
- What is the age, sex and education of the target consumer?
- Is the consumer already familiar with the product or is it new on the market?
- What physical and/or psychological needs will the product satisfy?
- What image is the manufacturer attempting to convey?
- What product attribute is the target consumer most interested in: price, quality, safety or other?
- What information is most likely to spark the decision to buy?
- How intense is the competition and what does their packaging look like?
- What supporting promotion is planned?
- Are there any negative feelings about the product which must be overcome?
- Is the consumer likely to be influenced by sales boosters built into carton such as cutouts, coupons, recipes?
These checklists are far from being all-inclusive but should provide a fairly accurate picture of the comprehensive planning and analysis that goes into the design and execution of a good packaging concept.
Choosing A Caron That Works
Once all factors which will have an effect on the product and its carton have been carefully analyzed, the designer is ready to begin the actual creative work.
While the variety of styles used in constructing a folded carton are, to a great extent, limited only by human ingenuity, the designer does have a responsibility to accomplish the task in the most sensible and economic way possible. Therefore, the wide array of standard styles and types of cartons should be explored with an eye toward possible modification. Of course, if the product marketing plan requires a dramatic, new type of packaging, most carton manufacturers are well equipped to meet the challenge.
Types of Board
Although there are many special types and grades of paperboard, the following list includes those most widely used in the production of the folding cartons.
Chip Boards – These boards are produced only on combination or cylinder board machines. They are low in cost and are manufactured from primarily recycled fiber.
Bending Chip – Used for the production of many types of folding cartons such as laundry boxes and other throw-away containers. It is composed of mixed fibers and by definition must be able to withstand a single fold of 180° without breakage or separation of plies. It is generally gray or tan in appearance.
Bleached Manila – Used where good bending qualities and a surface well adopted to color printing is needed. It is made with a chip board base and is lined with a white manila vat liner.
Coated Boards – These multi-layer boards (six to nine plies) are manufactured on a cylinder or combination board machine. They are usually composed of primarily recycled fiber and are used for most better grades of folding cartons.
Patent-Coated Board – Patent-coated on one or both sides with white virgin pulp or white reclaimed fibers. It is produced in many combinations including patent-coated manila, newsboard and news centered-manila back. Cost, quality, or appearance requirements dictate which combination works best for a particular order.
Clay Coated Board – Used in the production of folding cartons where brightness of color excellent printing surface and permanence of color are considered essential. It is a high grade paperboard coated with a clay finish.
Cast Coated Board – A high quality boxboard with a glossy finish obtained by pressing the surface against a highly polished surface during the drying process. Excellent where sparkling color is required
Laminated Board – This category of boxboard includes many specialty applications where foil, patterned paper, or any number of other materials are adhered to the paperboard with resin, starch, asphalt or other type of binder.
Sulfate or Kraft Board – These boards are usually manufactured on a Fourdrinier machine in a single layer and are composed entirely of virgin Kraft (sulphate) pulp. The are produced either as Bleached or unbleached board and often are clay coated to provide a white printing surface. There is also a Bogus Kraft which is an adulterated board colored brown to look like unbleached Kraft.