5 Steps to Make a Custom Box for Shipping

November 28, 2017 by Erin Behan

It's not always easy to figure out where to start when you want to customize a shipping box for your business, event, or personal use. Taking a blank cardboard box to eye-catching custom box can seem intimidating, but follow these five easy steps, and you’ll be on your way to having beautiful custom boxes in hand, whether to ship products, to hand out as event gift boxes, or to box up those annual Christmas cookies with flair.

Custom shipping boxes for subscription business

1. Know Your Product.
Before you can customize a shipping box, you need to choose the right shipping box for your product. You’ll want to consider the size and weight of what you’ll be shipping, as well as what kind of packaging materials will need to fit in the box. That’s according to Distinct Packaging co-founder Dwight Blaha, who has years of shipping and ecommerce expertise under his belt.

If you've got a larger or bulkier item, Blaha recommends a shipping box that's sized up to accommodate your product and any box filler. When shipping smaller items with an eye to presentation, a mailer box is the preferred option thanks to its easy-open tuck flaps and all-around sleek look. If you’re shipping photo albums, pictures, stationery, or other similar products, a pizza box fits the bill, while adding a touch of the unexpected. No matter which box you choose, make sure it’s rated 32 ECT, which means the box can hold up to 30 pounds, and 200#, which indicates an even sturdier cardboard that can take the rigors of shipping.

2. Choose a Designer (or DIY).
Once you’ve chosen your box type and size, the next step is to pick a designer to turn your plain box into a custom box. The ideal candidate will have experience in packaging design, says Blaha. That expertise is helpful because of “design constraints around packaging,” he explains. That includes knowledge on which fonts work best on a box, how colors show on kraft, and how thick lines should be, etc. Expertise in Adobe Illustrator and understanding of vector files, high resolution images, and other technical details are, of course, mandatory.

If you opt for a do-it-yourself approach to package design, it's best to use a program that takes "a lot of the work out of the design process," Blaha says. “Some online tools, like what we have at Distinct Packaging make it pretty easy.” There’s no need to worry about bleed lines, for instance, and 3-D preview means there are never any surprises. Blaha recommends looking at box design that you like for inspiration and pulling from existing creative assets.

Custom corrugated shipping box

3. Extend Your Brand.
You'll be starting with a brown or white cardboard box. What you add from there should make that box feel like an extension of your brand family. Specially designed labels or tape might dress up a box, but for a box to really feel like it's an integral part of your brand, custom-printed packaging is the way to go. It’s also much easier to design a box and get hundreds printed at once, than having to put special labels on 100s of boxes, Blaha says. With print-on-demand services, the ability to update a box with the seasons or based on a special promotion further simplify efforts around branding and shipping.

4. Choose a Printer.
Too often businesses and consumers fixate on finding the lowest cost custom packaging service, without considering what kind of support and extras they'll want along with it, Blaha says. For instance, printing overseas tends to be less expensive, but you’ll have to deal with conflicting time zones, potential language barriers, and long shipping times. To judge a printer’s quality, Blaha recommends ordering a sample and checking a printer’s website and social media presence for photos of its printed boxes. In addition, Blaha recommends asking the following questions of a printer:

How quick is your turnaround time?
Can I reach someone during business hours?
Can I preview my box?
Can I order a sample of my box?
How responsive is customer service?
Are the boxes being cut correctly?
Can you handle custom requests?

"What we've seen is that people underestimate that customer service piece," Blaha says. "They find the cheapest price, but then they can’t get ahold of a printer if there is a problem."

5. Place Your Order.
The order process should be simple and straightforward, but it should be robustly supported too. After all, you want to make sure everything’s perfect before you have hundreds (or thousands) of custom boxes coming your way. The ability to preview in 3-D, to get an answer to a last-minute question, and to share your design with colleagues and friends help smooth out the process of ordering a custom shipping box, Blaha says.

Another place where surprises are unwelcome? Pricing. Up-front, transparent pricing is important so you’re not caught off guard when you’re halfway through your project and printing costs turn out to be more than anticipated. Some companies charge by ink coverage or colors, while others like Distinct Packaging have set fees with volume discounts and no limits on colors.

Turnaround and production times should also be spelled out. Most traditional printers have turnaround times of four to six weeks, while digital printers tend to be quicker. You’ll also want to factor in time for shipping the boxes to you. As boxes are heavy, shipping them in a rush can be pricey. Once you’ve placed an order and your boxes arrive, you want to be able to reorder quickly, whenever and wherever you are.

When you're ready to create custom shipping boxes for your business, event, or personal use, give Distinct Packaging a try.
Erin Behan

Written by Erin Behan

Erin Behan is an L.A.-based writer and editor who considers fine paper one of life's little pleasures.

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