The Ultimate Guide to Carton Box Design

Using carton box design software to create box layout
Using carton box design software to create box layout

When it comes to designing your carton box, you want to create a profile that is both eye-catching and practical. In this carton box design guide, we will show you the key considerations when looking to create a perfect packing or shipping box for your product.

Carton Box Design

Consider this: about 70% of purchasing decisions are made at the point of sale. This means that your product packaging, and in particular your carton design, could be the deciding factor in whether a customer buys your product or not.

With that in mind, it’s essential that you put time and effort into your shipping or packaging carton design process. A good design will result in a box that will not only protect your product but also make it stand out from the competition. Let’s dive right steps.

Key Carton Box Design Considerations

The steps to ensure a box that’s both functional and appealing involve several considerations. Here, we detail the key factors to take into account regardless of whether it’s a shipping or product carton box design.

Carton paperboard rolls
Carton paperboard rolls

1. Carton Box Paper Type

One of the first things that you need to consider when making your carton box layout is the type of paper that you want to use. Cartons are normally manufactured out of paperboard, a sturdy material that can bend without breaking.

There are different types of paperboard. The type that you’ll choose will depend on the level of protection needed by your product, printing requirements, and other factors such as cost.

For example, if you are packaging a delicate product, you might want to opt for a thicker paperboard or fluted construction.

Likewise, if you want a printable container, you might want to consider using a smooth, coated paperboard. Your main options for carton box paper type are listed below.

Solid Bleached Sulfate (SBS)

This type of carton box paper is made from wood pulp that has been bleached, with the upper ply featuring a smooth surface created from virgin hardwood pulp. SBS paperboard is a top quality type of carton material, white and clay-coated for superior quality printing.

Coated Unbleached Kraft (CUK)

This carton raw material is produced from unbleached wood pulp and, therefore, a brown color. CUK paperboard is strong and rigid, and good choice for packaging heavier products. It will also be clay-coated on one side to allow high quality printing.

Clay Coated Newsback (CCNB)

CCNB is manufactured using multiple layers of recycled paper that are bonded together and coated using clay. This carton box paper type is suitable for an array of packaging needs. Examples include dry foods like cereal, cookies, and a variety of household products such as soaps.

Uncoated Chipboard

Made from recycled paper, uncoated recycled paperboard is a sustainable choice for packaging. It also features layers of recycled paper that are glued together. This type of paperboard is a strong, non-bending kind and mostly used to create rigid cartons for expensive or fragile items.

Carton box strength is an important factor during the design steps
Carton box strength is an important factor during the design steps

2. Carton Box Strength

Structural strength is a major carton box design factor. Every user wants a box that can protect their product during shipping and handling. And when filling the box with a product, a box that will not crumble and make the filling process difficult.

There are a few different factors that will affect the compression or bursting strength of carton boxes, including the type of paperboard, the board’s grain direction, the construction of the box, and the paperboard thickness.

Carton Box Grain Direction

The grain direction is the way that the fibers in the paper are aligned and either cross grain or machine direction. A carton that’s creased across the grain will be stronger than on whose creases follow the grain direction. If you are packaging a heavy product, a box with cross grain is preferred.

Carton Box Construction

The carton box construction will also affect its strength. Two piece or double walled cartons are stronger. The same goes for those with glued or stitched seams instead of staples. A box that has been reinforced with a fluted or corrugated paperboard liner will also be stronger.

Carton Box Thickness

Carton box thickness is measured in millimeters (mm) or a thousandth of an inch, using a caliper, and expressed as 10 point (the caliper’s calibration units). Most retail paperboard cartons measure up to .018 caliper units. For a thicker and stronger carton, you may want to exceed that range.

Carton box printing
Carton box printing

3. Carton Box Printing

There are different methods that can be used to print on carton box. These offer different levels of print quality as well as different costs and lead times. Because cartons are also commonly used as marketing and branding tools, you will want to decide what method you need.

That is because a printing technique can greatly affect the look of your packaging. The three main carton box printing options here include digital, offset lithography, and flexography. Other lesser used techniques are gravure method and screen printing.

Offset Lithography

Lithography uses a polymer image carrier that’s attached to rollers (and plates in older technology) to print onto carton. It is the most used carton printing technique today that offers a high level of print quality. However, it is quite expensive, plus it can only print on flat carton.

Digital Printing

Digital printing offers a high level of print quality. Digital carton box printing is also highly customizable, allowing graphics to be easily changed on the fly. Its main disadvantage is speed: it’s relatively slower and not suited for large volume carton production.


Flexography is a type of printing that uses polymer plates mounted on rollers to print on carton boxes. The plates are a 3D form of the required image. Flexography offers a lower level of print quality than offset or digital printing, but is faster and more cost effective.

Carton box design template
Carton box design template

4. Carton Box Dimensions and Weight

Carton box design must take into account, the required dimensions. The dimensions of carton boxes are determined by the product size. You’ll want to choose a box that is big enough to fit your product, but not too big that it is bulky or difficult to store.

While at it, be sure to factor in the amount of padding and cushioning needed. That said, there are two ways to express your carton box dimensions and size: length, width, height, and volume.

Box Length, Width, Height

The length, width, and height of your box will be determined by the size of your product. These dimensions are indicated in this sequence: length x width x height/depth. For example, if your product is 10 cm long, 5 cm wide, and 2 cm tall, your dimensions would be 10 x 5 x 2.

Box Volume

The volume of your box is the amount of space that your product takes up inside the box. It is indicated in cubic centimeters (cc). For example, if your box is 10 cm long, 5 cm wide, and 2 cm tall, your volume would be 100 cc. To calculate the carton volume, use the following formula: length x width x height.

Carton Box Weight

The carton box weight will be determined by the type of paperboard used to make it as well as the dimensions of the box. The weight of paperboard, the material used to make cartons, is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). For example, if your paperboard is 200 GSM that means that it weighs 200 grams per square meter.

Smooth carton box finish
Smooth carton box finish

5. Box Finishing

Determining the type of finish is an essential part of carton box design steps. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, about 70% of buyers will base their decisions at the point of purchase. So, it’s important to make sure that your box is well-designed and eye-catching.

One way to do this is to choose a finish for your box that will make it stand out. There are many different box finishing methods that you can choose from, and the one you select will depend on your product and your brand.

Some common finishes for carton boxes are coatings, embossing or debossing, foil stamping, and wax seals. These finishes can affect the look, feel, and durability of your box.


A coating is a thin layer of material that is applied to the surface of the paperboard. Coatings can be applied to both sides of the paperboard, or just one side. They can be clear or opaque, and they can have a glossy or matte finish. The type of coating you choose will depend on your product and your brand.

Embossing or Debossing

Embossing creates raised designs on the surface of the paperboard. Debossing is the opposite; it creates recessed designs. You can use both embossing and debossing to create logos, patterns, or textures for marketing reasons. A good carton box logo design embossed on your carton, for example, can add to the branding efforts.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping uses heat and pressure to apply a thin layer of metal foil to the surface of the paperboard. This finish can be used to create a metallic look on your carton box. Foil stamped carton boxes are commonly used for packaging food products.

Wax Seals

A carton is sealed with wax by coating it, as a lamination, or by impregnating it with the wax. Wax makes a carton moisture and grease resistant. It also acts as an odor or gas barrier. You need these features if you’re packaging wet or dry foods and other items that require protection from the environment. Wax can also be used to give the carton surface a smooth, glossy finish.

Decorated medicine carton box design
Decorated medicine carton box design

6. Carton Box Decoration

Colorful cartons will help your product stand out on store shelves. Carton box color can also be used to convey information about your product. For example, a green carton may be used to indicate that the product is eco-friendly.

Other carton box decoration methods include introducing carry handles, die-cuts, or special folds. These carton design features can make your box more functional and add to its aesthetic appeal as well, as explained below.

Carton Box Artwork

Carton box artwork should be eye-catching and reflective of your brand. It’s important to use high-quality images and graphics that will print well on the paperboard. If you’re not sure how to design your own artwork, there are many professional designers who can help you create a custom design for your carton box.

Carton Box features

Carton box features here are used to mean unique construction methods that make the box attractive to the buyer. Some of the features that are available for carton boxes include:

  • Handles: Handles make it easier to carry your box, and they can also be used as a design element.
  • Die-cuts: you can use die-cuts to create unique shapes and openings in your box.
  • Special folds: Special folds add interest and dimension to your box.

Other carton box decoration features include:

  • Ribbons: Ribbons may be tied around the outside of your box to add a touch of elegance.
  • Bows: Bows can be used to decorate the outside of your box.
  • Wrapping paper: Wrapping paper is often used to cover the outside of packaging boxes.
Tamper evident carton box design
Tamper evident carton box design

7. Secure and Anti-Counterfeit Cartons

Carton box design also involves determining the methods to use so your product or packaging becomes difficult to replicate. This includes ways to make the box more secure and improve customer assurance, methods to prevent counterfeiting, and traceability features.

Anti-Counterfeit Cartons

Anti-counterfeit cartons are unique boxes or containers that reduce the chances of anyone than the user reproducing them. Some of the features you can incorporate in your carton box design include the following.

  • Micro text: Micro text is a type of printing that uses very small text to create a design. You can use it to add hidden messages or images to your packaging.
  • UV readable inks: UV inks are invisible in natural light, but glow under ultraviolet light. Read how they are used to on packaging here.
  • Holograms: Holograms are 3D images that can be printed on paperboard.
  • Watermarks: Watermarks can be images that are impressed on the carton box during manufacture, or they can be digital watermarks. Digital watermarks are invisible markings that only enabled devices such as smartphones can read.

Tamper Evident Closures

Tamper evident closures cannot be removed remove without damaging the packaging. You need this if you’re doing a pharmaceutical carton design. Tamper evident seals are also important when creating a food carton box design. Some of the features you can use for tamper evident packaging include:

  • Tear away tabs: Tear away tabs create a seal that cannot be removed without leaving evidence of an opened product container.
  • Security labels: Security labels add a tamper evident feature to your packaging. They’re often used on pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
  • Foil seals: Foil seals produce a closure that is difficult to remove without leaving tampering evidence.

Product Traceability

Packaging cartons hold various products that will be consumed by people in different markets. Because of this, it’s important to have a system in place that allows you to track where your products came from and who handled them.

This is called product traceability, and it’s a vital part of packaging carton box design. Some of the features you can use to create product traceability include:

  • Barcodes: Different types of barcodes are used to track packaged items right from the manufacturing process to shipment and sale.
  • RFID tags: RFID tags are embedded on the carton to help with both anti-counterfeiting and traceability. They use radio frequencies to communicate information.
  • Serial numbers: These are common product identification numbers that you can use on your carton box packaging.
Carton box testing
Carton box testing

8. Carton Packaging Requirements

While still in the carton box design process, it’s important that you’re aware of the industry requirements for your particular business. These include the various regional and international standards for packaging, as well as the specific requirements of your product. Others include government rules.

Carton Box Testing Standards

Various standards apply to carton or paperboard products. Some of the carton box testing standards, and that you’ll want your carton box will need to satisfy include: dropt test, compression test,

  • Drop test
  • Compression test
  • Crush test
  • Vibration test
  • Burst test
  • Moisture level test

Generally, these carton box tests will be based on the ASTM and ISTA standards for packaging products, and cover carton box strength requirements among other factors.

Government Rules

In addition to the carton box testing standards, you’ll need to take follow government rules that apply to your packaging. These are different depending on the location of your business or clients. In general, you’ll need to take into account the following:

  • Regulations that govern the packaging of food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals
  • Regulations that concern the impact of the product on the environment
  • Consumer protection rules, for example, policies that regulate the packaging of products that are intended for use by children.
  • Laws that require that food, drugs, and cosmetics be safe for consumers and properly labeled
  • Regulations that require all consumer products to be provided with the name and address of the manufacturer, as well as the net quantity of contents
  • Laws that require hazardous materials to be properly packaged and labeled for transport
Ecofriendly carton box
Ecofriendly carton box

9. Ecofriendly Carton Box

Sustainable products are becoming a high priority for both consumers and manufacturers, and carton box industry is no exception.

As a result, many carton companies are going green by using ecofriendly materials for their packaging. Paperboard is itself made from renewable resource, and it can be recycled or composted.

For an ecofriendly carton box, consider using recycled paperboard or certified sustainable paperboard. Recycled paperboard is made from post-consumer waste, and certified sustainable paperboard is sourced from responsibly managed forests.


Carton box design is a comprehensive process that takes into account the specific needs of your product, as well as the regional and international standards for packaging. When designed the proper way, your shipping or packaging box will not only meet the needs of your product and attract customers, but also the regulations set forth by governments and other organizations. This is important for any business, from those in the manufacturing industry to establishments that sell directly to the end user.

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