How to get your packaging printed in China | 9 insights for Designers, Entrepreneurs & Startups

How to get your packaging printed in China in simple steps. This topic covers how to get your packaging printed in China from the concept to sending your design to a Chinese factory and getting printed proofs!

This post has been written based on past experience, in working with factories from overseas. My packaging design and artwork has featured on boxes in the UK and across the globe. If you would like to see some more samples of my packaging feel free to have a look!

Getting your packaging made in China
Getting your idea made!

General information about this post :

– The pitfalls
– What to expect when working with the factories.
– The typical stages
– Other details experiences

This article discusses my professional experience in getting packaging artwork printed with Chinese suppliers – all experience told from a design perspective.

I hope that this post will help you make an informed decision and how to go about getting the results you want from your suppliers.

You can get your artwork printed in China from a reputable factory or supplier. The challenge is finding a reputable factory and supplier and when you can’t speak the language, it can be difficult.

1 ) How to get your packaging made for your product (Chinese Factory)

If you are a business, an entrepreneur or someone looking to get a product manufactured for the retail market you will need packaging for your product, unless you are intending to sell only online using brown boxes. If you would like to read or see some of my eCommerce design you can view it here.

To be taken seriously, you will need to have professional packaging made.

Working with Chinese suppliers can be a great cost saving measure but you will need make sure you select the right one.

Mass production packaging
Mass production packaging

2 ) Why do companies get packaging for their products manufactured in China?

There are many reasons for a why a company may want to get a product or a piece of the packaging made in China if you are from a western country such as the USA or United Kingdom.

By far most common reason for getting products manufactured in China is to save money on production, printing or manufacturing fees. From a business perspective, this is great news – but it isn’t always as ideal or as cheap as it actually sounds. If you pick the wrong supplier it can cost you time and money and can even lead to trouble further down the line.

3 ) How to supply your packaging design to a Chinese factory

This isn’t as tricky as it sounds from the designers’ perspective but be prepared to teach the factory how to suck eggs. DO NOT Assume they will understand what you want. And DO NOT assume that things will be created ‘as is’, on occasions factories may ‘help’ and tinker with your work without your consent.

Stay vigilant on the process

Very vigilant…

Frustrated Designer… Frustrated factory, Frustrated business… etc

When you create a design you will need to annotate and make it as clear to follow as possible, be it using spot UV or any extra features this will need to be told in FULL.

I would also strongly advise on sending rough mock ups or drawings to help communicate what it is you are setting out to achieve. Visuals often make one of the best lines of communication when having your sample made with a Chinese supplier or factory.

Getting angry at the factory won’t accomplish anything.

It won’t fix the problem.

And it wont make you wealthier and it wont speed up the process. The ball is in your court in the end and it just needs to be right.

Send them visuals and explain EVERYTHING.

4 ) How to find a Chinese packaging a supplier

There are hundreds, possibly 1000’s of businesses online that are looking to print your packaging in China alone. You could go onto a website such as Alibaba to find a supplier or through Linkedin.

I still hear from suppliers coming through my Linkedin account.

By the far, the most effective (not cheapest) way is by hiring or contracting someone to work as a middleman or woman to work between you and the suppliers.

Communication is key in getting your design correct otherwise you will get something you didn’t want from the factories.

I would argue that getting a good supplier from one of the factories should be a top priority. A bad supplier will result in bad results – funnily enough!

Here are some key points when finding a factory or supplier to work with:

– *Find someone you can trust*
– Work with a factory that offers a quality service
– Get as much written down in the beginning as possible
– *Try to get prototypes or samples from factory supplier before mass production.

5 ) What to expect when having your packaging or product made in China

It all comes down to your supplier, communication and how you supply the artwork. It’s best to have everything ‘exactly’ as is when supplying artwork to factory and also be prepared for a bit of randomness when it comes to how they may produce the work.

Be vigilant and make sure to get ‘proofs’ from the factory.

I have written a couple of quick steps for you to follow when producing your packing:

– Find a reputable supplier, if you have somebody that is fluent in Chinese this can help tremendously

– See if you can get proofs or past evidence of packaging and material samples. What they sometimes say you will get and what you actually get is not uncommon in my experience.

– Getting digital proofs of your artwork through photos, and flat-screen image is a must.

– Delays can happen due to miscommunication from either or both parties.

Don’t let the factories take the initiative.

– The factories are generally better at giving you want you want if you send a 3D mock up or illustration.

– They are often very good at the cardboard engineering stage but not so much on the creative side.

– The factories can improve as with any working relationship with the more work you send them.

Weather can affect how and when your packaging may arrive.

– The Chinese factories can damage the packaging during ‘packing’ if they are rushed. Try not to rush them if you can help it.

– When supplying artwork, leave nothing to the imagination.

6 ) How long will it take to see your design once it is printed and shipped from a Chinese factory?

When having packaging printed In China, I have often seen a sample come back within one month, they can be very quick! Occasionally 3 months, depending on the weather, suppliers workload and method of transportation.

Shipping from China!
Shipping from China!

7 ) How to get packaging printed in China | The realities

When it is good it’s great and you will generally save money. When it isn’t great, as with some things in life, it can be a complete nightmare!

Working with new suppliers can be the most problematic as neither of you are familiar with working with each other, you don’t know each others strengths, habits, communication etc.

One of my mistakes when working with a new Chinese supplier is ‘assuming’ – assume NOTHING. Below are some assumptions to avoid based on past experience.

– Point 1 – Don’t assume that they know what is in your head.
– Neither should you assume that a single colour should go all the way around the packaging eg – if you leave white bits on the fold … they will print it as is.
– Don’t assume that they will offer the same level of service twice, they may be busy or rushed – or just – won’t offer it for some unknown reason.
– And don’t assume that the factory understands what is to be made when you supply the artwork. You need to make sure what you want is as clear and as transparent as possible – in the end, if you are the designer, or manufacturer, the buck ends with you.

Make it easy and clear, and talk about everything you can. Don’t assume their knowledge.

Get it right you will have a great piece of packaging. Get the communications wrong and you will be in for a whole load of pain.

8) Great reasons for having your work made In China

I feel that I have covered many of the perks scattered through the post but it may be easier to bullet point why it is a good idea to have your packaging and product created in China in a quick to scan list.

– Getting work printed In China or overseas is often cheaper than getting work printed in western countries such as the UK or United States
– There is an abundance of suppliers of products and packaging manufactures on websites such as Alibaba
– It’s easy and quick to get wholesale and bulk quotes for your product
– Using a factory in China will help you save money if you are looking to reduce overheads.

9 ) The ‘challenges’ with getting things printed in China

For its many perks and plus points for getting packaging and products printed in China it also comes with its shortcomings and challenges. I have listed a couple of points below based on first-hand experience and industry observations.

Copyright theft: the factories are notorious for stealing and selling your product ideas as their own. Not every factory is like this, but it is not uncommon. I have witnessed Chinese factories use my previous employer’s artwork and pass onto a competitor. There are other random knock off’s I have stumbled upon ranging from copies of renown books, bad copies of Hollywood films etc.

Stealing Kickstarter’s: I have seen factories steal Kickstarter campaigns and undercut the creators. Worse, the factories release their copy to the retail market before true creators have made it themselves. Sad stories really.

The decrease in quality: This isn’t something that always happens but on occasions, the suppliers I have worked with would do little things like: use less glue, ship scuffed or damaged work, rush on the packaging if you have blisters inside your box etc.

I also think this was a case of reducing expenses and overheads, but that is only my opinion.

As with anything, there are always challenges that can come when producing products. I have also worked with printers in the UK which have ignored specifics such as bleed and just printed it as is. Although one bonus as with most things online, is that you can check reviews

Getting packaging and artwork printed in China

Thank you for reading this post on how to get packaging and artwork printed in China. If you would like to know more about getting your work printed feel free to get in touch or view this post about packaging design

I have over 10 years commercial design experience and over 8.4/5 years working with retail design and producing packing through the Chinese factories.

You may wish to read more on :

How I designed a novelty flash drive product
Packaging Design
Creating a Killer Kickstarter Page
How to have your brand tell a story

Speed tips for Photoshop layers!

Speed tips and shortcuts for Photoshop layers!

If like me you need work layers in Photoshop any time saving measure is a bonus. I have a compiled a short list of shortcuts for making the best use of Photoshop’s layers for both the Mac and PC – Enjoy!

(Swap CMD for CTRL on Windows)

Photoshop Layer Icons
Photoshop Layer icons
Photoshop Layer UI
Layer Graphics

Change the layer order,
move it up and down :

  • Cmd+[ Move Down
  • Cmd+] Move Up 
  • Cmd+Shift+] = to move it to the bottom of the stack
  • Cmd+Shift+[ = Move it to the top of the stack

Direct select a layer

With move tool selected (V) hold Cmd to highlight the layers directly from the art board. This will also highlight groups.

Duplicate a layer 

Ideal for copying a layer! Cmd + J to copy a selected layer! Or you can drag the selected onto the ‘New” icon! OR right click and duplicate – A personal fave.

Colour Coordinated

In addition to organizing you layers into folder and groups, why not colour coordinate the layers so you glance at groups? Brown for dirt, green for sea etc. Right click and select a colour.

New Layer Cmd+Shift + N brings up the new layer dialogue.

Cycle Through Blend Modes

Need to see what a multiply, saturation, or overlay will look like on the fly?

Shift + (Minus or plus, top right of the keyboard)

Layer Opacity
With the layer selected you can quickly change its opacity by pressing >

Shift + (Minus or plus, top right of the keyboard)
Shift + 22, 30, 23 (a number from the top row) typing the number in quick succession will change the layers opacity percentage. Hold shift and then press “22” the layer will be 22% “30” = 30 %.

Very handy for digital painting or retouching.

Group Layers

Select your layers and press Cmd + G to group them together. If you are not grouping your numerous layers… you should start. For sanity’s sake.

The original text for this was created and added to blogger in 2016 (Jimm Odell Blog). This has since been tweaked and added to this blog – the professional blog.

Tips For Creative Brief : suggestions on writing a simple brief | Client to Designer

Vector icon for writing a simple design brief.
No fuss, suggestions for writing a brief.

Designer to Client

Hey, maybe you are looking for some ideas on writing a creative brief and dont know where to start? Maybe you need ideas for writing the details for the next website some early pointers for a rebrand? This post has been written to give you, ‘the client’ some rough guidelines for setting a brief. Imagine answering the following…

Purpose & Plan

What is the purpose of the project? Is it to expand the business, launch a new product range or to promote something that you are already offering?

You will need to have some sort of a plan and end goal in mind for the project. If you don’t know what it is that you business needs, that’s OK… maybe you would prefer an initial chat first? Do take into account, without a plan or and end goal, even a loose one, you will end up going around in circles and costing yourself time. Maybe ask yourself some of these questions :-

  • What do I want to get out of it? Profits, more followers, leads etc
  • What will my return on investment be? (RIO)
  • Can this be achieved for the budget?
  • Should I do this now or should work on something else first?
  • What is the competition doing? 
  • How can do it differently/better?

Listed a above are some general open ended questions. If you are stuck and would like some initial design consultation and help with project planning get in touch.

Budget

The budget is important to consider as this will affect the amount of time that will be allocated to your project – factoring in deployment, build/design, concept and whether anything else needs to be considered. Below, are 2 methods to factor in – there are many others but for the sake of the article and to give you and idea I have picked 2.

Cascading, fluid, rolling. This method, is far more open-ended financially but allows for plenty of creative and innovative freedom, a designers dream more often than not as this can offer up great results. A draw back with this free flowing approach is that money can keep on going into a project, regular checks on the amount spent so far are a good approach and ball park figure should be offered in the beginning, especially with smaller business with tighter purse strings. So the pros and cons of this.
Pros :
– Offers great results, project continues until a project is at its best
– You dont pay for surplus time in case the project was over estimated on a fixed rate.

Cons
– Can be scary for start ups or businesses that have a very tight budget

Fixed price, this method usually suits both parties, or so I have found, a draw back with this is that sometime contracts and prices need to sometimes be re-evaluated should there be substantial changes to a project specification. In the beginning, a ‘fixed estimate’ will be discussed. beginning, factoring in changes (or tweaks) additional requests will increase the price as more time will be required. But you will also need to have an idea of what you need for a project for a budget.
Pros :
– Allows for more careful budgeting and price conscious projects
– Avoids ‘surprises’ when the bill comes.
– Stipulates clear objectives.

Cons :
– Projects can be underestimated and will need to be reevaluated for the time required.
– If additional features (feature packing) are added part way through it will can unsettle expectations on both parties.

Time Frame

Take into account when you need a project to be completed, things can take time to finish, the designer may be working on several projects at once and they may not all be yours. Also, waiting to hand over all relevant information at the last minute will end in disappointment eg, sending all the photo’s over for flyer an hour before a production deadline or as the designer needs to leave will not make the best of it… Get the relevant information such as, text, photo’s, FTP details etc over in decent time. It is neither fair and shouldn’t be expected that designer will drop everything including free time, family life and other projects to do your work. The earlier, the better! Besides, doing everything last minute just increases risk of failure for a projects.

Target Market

If this is a design project that is yet to have a brand established have you considered who the target market will be? Is this for children, adults, professionals, tourist, artists, trade and so on.

Branding

Do you have an existing brand guidelines for your company? If you have any existing logo, colours, fonts, do’s and don’ts this may be required for the project to be completed.

Deployment

Depending on the desired project, how do you intend to deploy the project? Will this be a small web banner, a flyer, will you be using a printer, will this be a for screen, will it be for print? It is worth considering how this may evolve in the future be it for print or screen. It is easier to scale a large file down or resize a vector than it is to resize a 60 px 60 px logo onto a bricks and mortar shop.

Limitations

Is there anything in the that the designer can’t do? Will it be for a certain target demographic, politically sensitive, have to fit on some something small, needs fit x y z etc etc

I hope this gives some food for thought, if this all looks a bit scary. It isn’t! Its fun and can be a great journey. If you would like to ask a question please feel free to do so.

How to get the black you want in print! Some tips and tricks to help

Working In Black In RGB & CMYK

The Great Black

Black can be a trouble to work with when it comes to print, especially with all of the varying print processes, paper finishes and general variations with commercial printing machines, inks, screen calibrations and so on – working with a black is a headache and I’m sure many others would agree! So, I have put together some tips and tricks to assist with your projects – it can be a dark and treacherous path. This post will mostly focus on creative approach rather than the pure technical aspects of Black ( K ). Working with 4 colour printing and spot colours is a detailed topic in its own right which is worthy of a post.

Illustrators, painters, artists and photographers

If you are a designer / work in print skip this paragraph!

Firstly, does it really need to be BLACK? When I say does it need to be ‘Black’ are there many things in the real world that are completely black? Aside from an all light absorbing, all-life-drinking black hole that absorbs all light and colour? Besides… that’s something that;s not of our world as far as I’m aware. Looking at the world around you, you will see come to see how lighting, surface, atmosphere and texture will absorb surrounding colours, including what you would what you would call a black surface. For example, someone is wearing a black t-shirt, more often that not if, even if it is new, light will catch on the folds, the creases and the contours of the fabric giving the black fabric a slight hue or tint depending on the light source and ambience.

Study things! I like to look at surfaces and objects that have an interesting finish for example : gloss surfaces, bottles, matte paint, skin, fur, hair, shadows, animals, sunglasses, cloth, etc. Another good source of reference of how to use light and dark with dramatic effect is Chiaroscuro – do some research online – research Caravaggio (one of many artist’s using this approach) and see what comes back. Caravaggio used light and dark with excellent dramatic effect framing the narrative in light and shadows. This is potentially subjective but hopefully… it will be food for thought – if its jet-black you’re after then please read on! ( I have attached a little image below with some dark but not black shading )

This image shows how tints shades can show some almost black can work. Most things are not strictly jet black

RGB BLACK… A HACK

A Preference

Typically, I like to work in RGB first and then convert my files to CMYK afterwards, especially if I’m working on a bitmap illustration or digital painting. Why? Because working in RGB generally gives me more creative freedom in the beginning and it also allows me to move between digital and print at a later date anyway. This is a my preferred method when working on an illustration and by no means a rule, just a preference. I’m not the only one working this way. By doing a Google search I stumbled upon a commercial artist who also likes to work this way – this writer and artist goes into much greater detail about the in’s and outs of color channels on their blog. I recommend having a read at some stage – perhaps after you have read my post.

(http://muddycolors.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/printing-your-work.html)

Unexpected Results – Designers a pleasant accident

I was always taught to work in CMYK for print and RGB for digital. I still champion this for working with professional printers as trying to print from RGB file may produce some erratic results, be it for leaflets printing, flyers, and other mediums. I accidentally ran a test print from Photoshop in RGB (Thinking it was CMYK) and the results were far more superior than the CMYK version. Both were printed on the same satin finish paper, on a Canon Pixma A3 with an impressive result. Despite my efforts and tinkering with the levels in the CMYK version to replicate what had happened In the RGB Version, I couldn’t produce the same results. I will make an assumption that my Inject printer translated the RGB to CMYK and just knew what I was after. I can’t complain too much as this project was sent to print and retained all the vivid colours and strong black colours.  Saying this, I still recommend trying to stick with the CMYK for design and print despite this result as this is typically what is asked – best to be safe, but something worth exploring for the future.

Digital Black Colour in Photoshop – Add a Hue

Unless your are working in RGB and your artwork will remain for screen (digital) only. Then may be best to work with ‘Designer Black’ check the numbers. Although the computer says it black (or you’ve had it calibrated) it is best to drop a bit of colour into the mix – and do test print it.

Photoshop Colour Palette
And Example of using the black in the colour palette

Last Round Up Hacks!

  • Take Notice of the colour warnings when you are in the colour picker window. This could save a lot of headache later on. (Yellow Triangle)
  • Let the printer do the leg work. Send your artwork to the printer and try to let them help you. A printer worth their salt will want to help you and have your return custom. To reinforce your expectations, send them a physical sample from your home printer – assuming you have a good quality home printer.
  • A HUE, if you are working on an image with a lot of dark areas why not add a little hue / tint of colour? 20% cyan for example or some magenta/red for a warmer image.
  • Avoid working with 0, 0, 0, 100 K, as this best reserved for font/text printing and can your work charcoal appearance. Use a ‘Rich black’ or ‘designers black’ instead. 20, 20, 20, 100 k for example.
  • Avoid 100, 100, 100, 100, CMYK as this is reserved for crop marks and using this colour can drown the paper – no one wants drowned paper!
  • Don’t be fooled. Your screen can be way out of the sync with your printer. Do some test’s first and see what results come from your printer (even printing on your home printer cannot guarantee the finish you require when you send your work to print) So take note.

    Yes… black can be painful to work with! And can be tricky colour to tame!

Thank you for reading how to work with black in print!