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Top 10 Trends in Custom Printed Cardboard Boxes

No Comments    |    ,     |    March 22, 2024    |    Reading time 14 minutes
Alternative to cardboard boxes - FlyPak

(updated March 2024)

Custom printed and branded cardboard boxes have become increasingly popular in recent years, revolutionising the way businesses package and present their products. Not only are they a practical, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly solution for safely delivering items, but they also function as a powerful marketing tool and as an advertising and branding opportunity, especially for on-line companies with no bricks and mortar presence.

 In this article, we'll explore the top trends in branded cardboard boxes and why it is they’ve gained such traction in the e-commerce industry. We'll examine how they can help your e-commerce business succeed and stand out from the competition. Finally, we'll look at the best ways to maximise branding opportunities through packaging.

Table of Contents

Bespoke Printed Ecommerce Packaging - eco friendly messaging

1. Eco-Friendly

When it comes to branded cardboard boxes, there are several emerging trends of which businesses need to be aware and the first and foremost of these is increasing consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging. 

 With the mounting awareness of ecological issues alongside a growing concern for the environment and drive towards sustainability, consumers are more conscious than ever before when it comes to the materials used in the products they purchase. And that also includes the packaging these products come in. This is why businesses in the know - including those in the fashion industry - are prioritising the use of sustainable and biodegradable packaging materials eschewing certain plastics and other non-biodegradable options. One of the most popular eco-friendly materials is recycled cardboard or cardboard manufactured using sustainable sources.

Unfortunately, environmental issues aren't solved simply by using one product over another: it's far more multi-faceted and complex than that. All sorts of factors must be taken into consideration - deforestation, manufacture, carbon emissions, waste management and recycling systems - before a true conclusion can be reached. Even when it comes to paper and cardboard, there are ways to be more sustainable. That said, a major plus point is that both paper and cardboard are biodegradable, so unlike many alternative packaging products, harm to the environment can be minimised because of their ability to break down naturally.

It's not just through their use of sustainable cardboard and paper that businesses are aiming to be eco-conscious and part of a circular economy. Many inks and coatings used on branded cardboard boxes are now free from harmful chemicals and solvents. These eco-friendly alternatives are just as good as creating vibrant, individualised, impactful packaging, but an added bonus is that they also align with consumer demand for sustainability, contributing to a healthier and safer product experience for customers.

There is still some way to go, but a business that is willing to do its research, explore all the options and adopt packaging solutions that minimise waste, keeps demand for raw materials as low as possible and ensures that harmful chemicals and solvents are relics of the past is bound to win over customers ensuring both their satisfaction and loyalty.

What a business must not do is fall into the trap of looking at sustainability from a marketing standpoint. Change has to be meaningful, not gimmicky.

Woman unboxing a personalised package

2. Personalisation

 In a digital, technological era dominated by social media, research shows that consumers crave unique, tailored experiences. By adding personal touches such as custom designs, messages or even customer names onto their boxes, businesses can create a more personalised and memorable unboxing experience for consumers and secure repeat custom. Even a package which isn't particularly personal and has been mass produced in a factory can still make use of this trend and foster personal connections with customers having graphics that are seen as more personal, i.e. doodles, fonts that resemble handwriting, sketches or scribbles.

Some companies are taking personalisation to the next level by offering interactive packaging. This includes boxes with hidden compartments, puzzles or even augmented reality elements that can be accessed through smartphones. These interactive features not only engage customers, heightening their sense of excitement and anticipation, but when done well, they can create a buzz about a particular brand or company, making a product more desirable and aspirational. This buzz lodges in the consciousness of consumers whether they're aware of it or not.

Example of ecommerce packaging featuring an eye catching branded unboxing experience, with bright light cyan blue interior colours to offset against minimalist kraft cardboard exterior

3. Eye-catching Colour

 The use of eye-catching graphics, vibrant colours and geometric shapes is on the rise in the world of branded cardboard boxes. Recent surveys have shown that seven out of ten of us will buy a particular product based on its packaging. With so many products vying for consumers' attention, businesses are turning to visually appealing packaging designs which stand out from the crowd. Bold and vibrant colours, combined with captivating graphics, help grab the attention of potential customers and convey a brand's identity.

The reason for the importance of graphics is down to basic psychology: each of us responds to visual stimuli whether we’re conscious of doing so or not and often our shopping choices have just as much to do with the packaging as they do the product. Colours and shapes affect our emotions and our imaginations, evoking memories, arousing feelings and ultimately – if marketing is done correctly – impacting our wallets.

Whichever design a business goes for, the designs on their packaging need to complement their products. This is especially important in the world of e-commerce when the cardboard box is the first point of contact, not the salesperson.

4. Minimalism

Eye-catching doesn't have to mean colourful and vibrant. Simple shapes, muted colours and organic forms are also proving extremely popular.

Less can sometimes be a lot lot more.

Minimalism in packaging can be a bold statement. It suggests confidence in the product and the brand. A simple, uncluttered design focuses the attention on the product inside, creating a moment of anticipation and excitement that vibrant and busy designs might distract from. The use of muted colours, simple shapes, and organic forms can convey a sense of quality and thoughtfulness, making the unboxing experience a memorable one.

Moreover, minimalistic designs are often more sustainable. They usually require less ink and fewer materials, which not only reduces waste but also appeals to the growing segment of eco-conscious consumers. This approach aligns brand values with consumer values, fostering a deeper connection.

The Paper Mailing Bag Sustainable Fashion

5. Nature

Everybody knows that being in the midst of nature does wonders for our physical and mental well being. Pair that with a customer's desire to shop from eco-conscious suppliers and you have a perfect branding opportunity.

Incorporating nature into a branding design fosters a sense of peacefulness. Earthy tones, organic shapes and natural elements will remind consumers of their connection to the natural world, creating positive associations with the business from which they're buying. Nature is soothing, it's calming, it has the ability not only to lower blood pressure, but also to smooth away the stresses and strains of daily life where we're all plugged into some device or another, frantically scrolling or tapping away. Packaging design rooted in nature can add to a customer's sense of wellbeing and appeal to their desire to live more simply and thoughtfully.

Photo by cottonbro studio

6. Retro aesthetic

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of all things 70s and 80s. This trend hasn't just hit Netflix, it's also swept across the world of packaging. Bright retro colours such as orange, mustard, burgundy and rust not only stand out, they enable a customer to go back in time, however briefly, reliving special childhood memories and simpler, more playful times.

Nostalgia is alluring and swirling patterns, bold fonts and funky design are deeply attractive; they look distinctive and at the same time, they allow us to reminisce (even if some of the fashion choices we made were highly suspect).

7. Telling a story

 Packaging has always incorporated an element of storytelling and this is a trend that isn't going anywhere. If packaging tells an authentic story about a product, then that's often the first thing a potential customer will notice and be drawn to. Story telling gives a human aspect to an inanimate object and might even share the very real struggle behind bringing a product into a customer’s hands. Stories build vital emotional connections.

 Story telling is an art and it isn’t just about the words. Although good copy is pivotal, with packaging it’s also about ensuring that fonts, illustrations, cut-outs, colours and textures add to the story as well. This approach adds an element of intrigue and uniqueness to a product and contributes to overall brand experience. Perhaps even more importantly, it has the ability to create a deeper, more meaningful connection with customers. Whether branding is chosen with a retro look, incorporates a design rooted in nature (see above), or instead, opts for a comic-book feel (see below), good stories are always satisfactory and humans never get fed up of them.

Bespoke printed tape in acrylic plastic polypropelene - featuring cartoon graphics and funky designs

8. Cartoons

Whether you're a child, a teenager or an adult comic book design on packaging has a universal, international appeal. Cartoons resonate almost everyone on a deeply personal level, being - as they are a fundamental and instantly recognisable part of childhood.

The hand drawn vibe cartoons can lend a design, the sense of nostalgia they create, as well as the character driven narratives they provide will resonate with an extremely wide audience. Cartoons have another thing going for them: eye-catching graphics with strong lines, zany characters and bold colours. They're able to fulfil several trends in one go.

9. Textures

All the trends we've talked about so far have told us that packaging should be visually appealing and speak to our emotions. Nowadays, it can also delight our sense of touch with something a little bit different from the smooth sleek boxes and cartons we've all got used to.

In addition to graphics and storytelling therefore, texture has also started to play a role in branded cardboard box designs. Many companies are choosing to give their packaging a tactile element by opting for embossed or debossed patterns and even adding grooves or pores. Some even opt for playful designs which reflect their product. hat's great is that not only does textured packaging create a sensory experience for the customer, but it also increases their visual interest further: often, an interesting texture makes it hard to resist running your fingers over something and picking it up to get a better look.

Texture is an area where branded cardboard boxes can exploit their natural texture. We’ve already established that sustainable practices, including recyclable, biodegradable packaging, are the future of e-commerce. What better way to convey this message than to help showcase the natural, organic texture of the humble cardboard box and retain or incorporate these elements in its branding design? And adding texture doesn't have to be more expensive: most textures can be created during the initial stages of production.

How to make packaging accessible - an image of braille used on packaging

10. Accessibility

 Trend number six is accessibility, which actually, really shouldn’t be a trend but a matter of course and part of the normal design consideration for every package whatever its contents.  There are more than 16 million disabled people in the U.K. as well as an aging population, so it’s vital that e-commerce takes these customer bases into consideration, not just in terms of spending power, but also out of consideration.

And there are so many ways to make a branded cardboard box accessible: letterbox friendly, easy open mechanisms, clear customisation and convenient to dispose of.

 Accessibility benefits everyone, not just those that need it most and it does so at no extra cost. This is a trend that won’t require a massive outlay: the design choices that render a package accessible also make it cost-effective and efficient for a company in so many other areas (e.g., postal tariffs, ease of delivery, recyclability, brand image and visual impact).

How branded cardboard boxes help your E-Commerce business

Looking at the top ten trends that are influencing the branding of cardboard boxes, it's easy to conclude that any custom print or branding design should be a tactical blend of sustainability, emotional appeal and innovation.

As you would expect, cost-efficiency, environmental impact and robust protection are reasons why cardboard boxes are a popular choice for packaging in general. However, why is it that branded cardboard boxes - with the emphasis on branding – are increasingly gaining in effectiveness and popularity and how exactly can branded cardboard boxes help your e-commerce business?

Stronger Brand Presence

Branded cardboard boxes offer businesses the opportunity to establish a stronger brand presence and in business, this matters. In a digital age, e-commerce faces the challenge of how to interact meaningfully with their customers and connect with them on a personal level. Branding packaging provides a solution. The packaging is often the first physical interaction customers have with a product and a well-designed box leaves a long-lasting impression. Attention to detail also makes a customer feel valued and understood.

Imagine receiving a product in an innovative, beautifully designed box. The box is not only easy to open - i.e. accessible - but also adorned with a company's logo and brand colours. Immediately, a sense of excitement and anticipation elevates the entire unboxing experience for the consumer. It makes it more enjoyable. And all a company has to do is incorporate their logo, brand colours and other distinct elements onto their packaging, thereby creating a cohesive brand identity that resonates with their target audience. And the best bit is that with a cardboard box, that process can be relatively straightforward.

Branding Beyond Aesthetics

The benefits of branded cardboard boxes go beyond aesthetics. They also allow e-commerce businesses to create a cohesive brand image across all touchpoints. When customers receive a package that showcases the same branding as the website, social media or email marketing campaigns, it reinforces brand recognition and helps to establish trust.

 Picture this: a customer receives a package with a logo that they recognise from the brand's website and social media profiles. This consistent branding reassures them that they made the right choice by purchasing from this particular e-commerce business. It creates a sense of familiarity and reliability, making them more likely to become repeat customers.

Effective Marketing Tool

Branded cardboard boxes are not just about brand recognition and aesthetics; they’re an effective marketing tool. A branded box reinforces a brand's image of course, but it also acts as a form of free advertising. As the package is transported from one location to another, it becomes a moving billboard, its message reaching a wider audience. It’s a passive marketing strategy, but one which can help increase brand awareness and attract new customers. When customers receive that package and they see how attractive and vibrant that box is, they are more likely to share their positive experience on social media platforms. Maybe they take a picture of the beautifully designed box and post it on Twitter or Face Book accompanied by a glowing review of the product and the brand. Maybe they make a video and upload it for their followers on Instagram.

Now, imagine the ripple effect this can have. Their followers see the post and become intrigued by the brand. They click on the tagged link, explore the website and perhaps even make a purchase themselves. This social media exposure – which is, in fact, organic - can help to generate buzz around the brand and attract new customers, all thanks to the power of a well-designed cardboard box.

How to maximise branding through packaging

Now that we understand the importance and benefits of branded cardboard boxes, let's explore some strategies for maximising branding through packaging.

Consistency

bespoke branded packaging for Three Mobile UK

Ensure that your logo, colours and typography remain consistent across all packaging materials to create a cohesive brand identity. In other words, be consistent with your branding: it's key. By maintaining a consistent look and feel across all packaging materials, it's far easier to create a strong and recognisable brand identity.

Customers will be able to more easily identify your products and this automatically builds trust and loyalty.

Design

There's no point using graphics, patterns or illustrations, however eye-catching or colourful they are, if they don't align with your brand's values. A business should create a visually appealing, memorable experience for its customers, but any design needs to fit with a company's ethos. Perhaps that means a vibrant, colourful design or maybe a more simple elegant approach with clean lines and minimal colour is more suitable.

The bottom line is that the right packaging design is vital when it comes to retaining and capturing attention, whether from established customers or a target audience. The goal is to stand out from the competition, create a lasting impression and foster brand loyalty.

Personal Touch

protective paper wrapping inside a cardboard box with a eco-friendly insert

Adding a personal touch will always make customers feel valued and special. Such are the levels or creativity and innovation out there and so crowded and competitive the market place, that's it's essential for companies to go to extra lengths to make customers feel valued and appreciated. Adding personal touches to packaging is an easy way to create a sense of connection and nurture a long-lasting relationship with consumers.

They, in turn, will be more likely to remember your brand in the future, recommend it to others and even film and upload their unboxing experiences on social media. The power of word-of-mouth marketing should never be dismissed.

Sustainable Choices

A globe surrounded by various symbols of nature and industry
A globe surrounded by various symbols of nature and industry

Sustainability is a significant factor in purchasing decisions and the issue isn't going anywhere. The use of eco-friendly packaging materials not only helps contribute to a greener future, but it also goes a long way towards persuading consumers to align their values with those of the company using them and to place their spending power there rather than somewhere else.

Recycled cardboard is perfect packaging and it's also a perfect material to use for custom printing. By phasing out plastics from packaging and using biodegradable or compostable options, businesses can further reduce their environmental impact, at the same time, communicating their commitment to sustainability. It's always a good idea to add labels or symbols to draw attention to any efforts to be eco-conscious. Sometimes it's not only e-commerce that needs educating on this issue, but its customers too!

Innovate

Even when a business feels its branded packaging is perfect, there's always room for review and improvement. Innovation is the key to staying ahead in the world of packaging.

Alternative to cardboard boxes - FlyPak innovative ecommerce packaging

Luckily, there are so many simple ways to innovate which won't cost a fortune (check out our own FlyPak, for example). It could be something as simple as upgrading a cardboard box to a model which has been specifically tailored for e-commerce, something with an easy open, pop-up lid, something that doesn't require copious amounts of void fill and can fit through a letterbox. Even if a box doesn't sing and dance or transform into a display stand or a storage box, it can still invoke admiration and positive brand associations if its design and construction is spot on.

Conclusion: Branded boxes are best for business.

Branded cardboard boxes have become an essential tool for businesses seeking to enhance their packaging and branding strategies. By staying updated on the top trends in this field and exploiting the benefits they offer, businesses can optimise their overall customer experience, create a cohesive brand image, serve as a powerful marketing tool AND establish a memorable brand presence.

 If you’re an e-commerce business looking for ways to stand out in a crowded digital marketplace, it will pay dividends to consider the impact that branded cardboard boxes can have. Invest in quality packaging that reflects your brand's identity and then sit back and watch as your customers become brand ambassadors, spreading the word about your business one beautifully packaged box at a time.

Our advice is to embrace the power of branded cardboard boxes, elevate your packaging game and most importantly, have fun while doing so.

If you'd like to have fun with us whilst doing so, give us a call today.

This article was written by...

Jo Hilton

I studied at the University of St. Andrews and have an MA in French and German. For a number of years, I worked for a Swiss financial institution and lived in Hamburg, London, Zürich and NYC before retraining as a primary school teacher and settling with my family in Cambridgeshire. When I'm not at school, I write content for various blogs and edit academic research articles for clients at ETH Zürich and the University of Munich. I'm also in the process of completing a Masters in Crime and Thriller writing at the University of Cambridge, so behind me you'll find a trail of fictional dead bodies and actual biscuit wrappers.

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