Taking the guesswork out of packaging design

Smart modelling design workflow

packaging design

Packaging design evolves with time. With time the technology gets more sophisticated. The market thrives on offering choice — by design. In this regular feature, we take a close look at everything that happens between developing a new product and designing its packaging; everything that deals with the current retail scenario, manufacturing constraints, filling line issues, transportation logistics, cost constraints and more.

Towards zero degree of packaging

“Zero Degree of Packaging”: It is a fascinating expression I came across recently in an Italian packaging design magazine article. The expression seems to perfectly capture everything that packaging design is – and isn’t. Obviously, packaging is essential for any product and that is why it is there. But, by its form and function, that packaging can be made to blend into the personality of the product itself such that it becomes non-intrusive, invisible, minimalist and to the “zero degree”.

The Italian magazine article goes on to refer to Prada’s recently launched line of cosmetics, as “streamlined, essential and futuristic looking packs that seem to have appeared on the market as if from another planet.” It talks of the packs perfectly fitting into the overall context of the brand – referring to its flagship store where the “aesthetics are the latest trends in design, the glacial style of the Apple iBook , or contemporary vision of science fiction, where white colour dominates and fixtures are asymmetric and organic in shape.” In this context, the packs that reach the customers hands appear to be proof of a voyage to another dimension.

New age packaging 

It is often said, the heart and soul of a product’s existence is shaped heavily by its pack design. The pack is the best means of evoking feelings of lifestyle, stimulating desire, transmitting sensations and communicating “value”. Design and appearance are the most valuable and effective means of contact between the brand and its consumer. In the current “new age” of packaging, old boxy, engineered shapes are giving way to asymmetric, organic forms designed to fit human forms and lives better. The 2D identity of a brand is extended to manifest and reinforce itself as a unique form in 3D.

Converting standard containers to unique designs requires somewhat more than just the Brand Manager’s desire and the pack designer’s artistry. Behind all the change visible in today’s “new age” packs is the role of modern computer based design software and manufacturing techniques. This is the technology that is revolutionising the processes and making it possible to visualise and produce complex designs quicker and to a higher degree of accuracy than previously possible.

Smart modeling design workflow

Thanks to increasingly powerful 3D design software, the guesswork between looking at a 2D piece of artwork to converting it to 3D has become a good deal more accurate. People have been attempting to describe the three-dimensional world with two-dimensional tools for centuries. In the words of a representative of the popular 3D software Solidworks, “Nothing much changed until the 1960s with the introduction of electronic drafting. It was easier, but it was inherently 2D and fairly tedious. Then, in the 1980s, 3D modelling systems became available. Intelligence was introduced into modelling.”

Cadcam, or Computer Aided Design, developed through the 1960’s and 70’s, specifically as a highly complex surface modelling tool that took over 6 months to master. Solid Modelling technology developed in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s as a simpler, though not as flexible, improvement. Later, a hybrid “total modelling” approach developed, making it possible to combine 3D structures with 2D details like logos, textures and other decorations. This also allows modifications of designs to be much quicker and easier, making it possible to create a greater selection of alternatives when presenting proposals for new designs. The process of modifying designs on-screen, with minor modifications in styling is also called “morphing” and is a useful tool in design management decision making. The software allows every concept variant to be visualised accurately on-screen and changes can be made easily. Cost of manufacturing is reduced when the whole design process speeds up and accuracy of dimensioning and “fits” can be ensured.

The technology gives packaging manufacturers accurate, consistent designs that don’t need to be tried out physically. The extra cost of CAD software is thus easily absorbed by the savings due to increased efficiency and reduced waste.

These new industrial design tools offer a wealth of features for design management and productivity, for example:

– the ability to produce mathematically correct surfaces.
– varied toolsets that allow for multiple design approaches. Some people may need to work to a strict set of engineering requirements; others may choose a more sculptural approach.
– a well developed connectivity with CAD/CAM standards.
– a host of tools to evaluate volumes and surfaces.
– project management and collaboration tools.

Typical among the vast choice of specialised software on offer for the new packaging design are: AutoCAD 3D, ProE, Solidworks, Delcam, Catia, Rhino, ArtiosCAD, Unigraphics,  Lightwave 3D and others.

Packaging – “made to measure”

In my own experience, ProE and AutoCAD 3D are most popular in India for packaging applications. This is due to easy availability of the software and proliferating training courses.  This software is not as “sculptural” and requires accurate dimensional inputs for the desired shape to be realised. Calculation of Over Flow Capacity in this software also poses difficulties. However, there is increasing awareness of the availability of specialised packaging design software. The high costs of acquiring licences and absorbing skills remain an obstacle especially when clients are unwilling to appreciate such costs!

Finally, thanks to the specialised software and the great versatility of plastics, and the vast range of combinations and polymers available, it is becoming possible to realise the dream of “zero degree of packaging”; in fact, truly a “made to measure” pack.

Case study

Bottle Design with Easy Grip – “Easy-Off Bang Power Cleaner” Easy-Off Bang is a popular home hygiene liquid product in a characteristic triangular, flat, bright purple bottle with a nozzle closure. The client wanted to develop a Degreaser variant reminiscent of the original characteristic shape, with the addition of an “easy grip” feature to allow easy dispensing of the product by a standard spray nozzle.

The design process moved from initial sketches rendered in 2D software, to 3D solid modelling in ProE. Once the shape was chosen, the bottle mock-up was carved manually in acrylic, and painted and labeled in desired colours for “live evaluation”.

The original 3D design data were later used directly to develop the blow-moulding tools for the trials and final production of the packs.

In this way, the entire design process was speedily focused towards evaluating just one “live” mock-up after having visualised several possible concepts virtually, on-screen.


The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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An engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Milan, Italy in Human Factors Engineering. Over 40 years of work experience in branding, packaging design & development. Worked as Head of Packaging at Oriflame – Silver Oak; Dabur India and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Currently - an Associate with The Packaging Consortium – a packaging development consultancy. Worked closely with Jindal Polymer Films for Application Development of Specialty Films for flexible packaging. Now a packaging consultant for some reputed companies. He is also an Associate Director with Firstouch Solutions – a design company providing services in Brand Comm, Packaging, Exhibitions and Branded Retail Environments. He is closely associated with the Indian Institute of Packaging as a Member of the Northern Regional Committee. He is also active as a contributor to Packaging South Asia magazine and other journals and at forums and conferences. Has been writing articles on packaging design and marketing for Packaging South Asia since 2007.