Prototyping is an important part of the package designing process and they are created for a wide variety of reasons. Packaging prototypes can be used to check the structural integrity of the design or to ensure that the design meets the marketing needs. Such prototypes also help assess the visual impact of a new packaging design and allow manufacturers to choose the best one from multiple options. However, making a physical prototype can be difficult. They add a lot of lead-time and can also be quite expensive.
In fact, prototypes can also be virtual in nature. They can be something as simple as a sketch or a 3D model created using CAD systems. Then, if needed, the model can be 3D printed to get a better feel of the packaging. Even though virtual prototypes do not allow to accurately test the physical properties of the packaging, they do allow manufacturers to check out a lot of other parameters at an extremely low cost. Here are different packaging prototypes, from the least to most finished, that are used in the industry to explore new packaging designs.
Virtual prototypes allow you to explore different ideas without spending any extra time or money. Such porotypes can be made easily using pencil on paper or using a 3D modeling software. The manufacturer can make use of the in-house packaging designer to create these prototypes. They give a fair idea of how the design will look like and what sort of visual impact it will have.
The simplest form of making is packaging prototypes is making illustrations of it on paper. A simple sketch using pen and paper allows you to explore different shapes and configurations of the packaging. One can even explore different color options using illustrated sketches. One of the biggest advantages of such illustrated sketches is that it allows low-cost rapid prototyping. Depending on the illustrator’s skills, you can get one or more packaging prototypes in a couple of hours. Moreover, it does not require any extra hardware. All you need is pencil and paper.
This obviously creates the least finished prototype. It does not provide the 3D view of the product is the least accurate representation of the actual product.
3D renderings take it a step further. Using proper CAD and computer simulation software, one can see how the product will look in real life. Using proper hardware and software, it is possible to make photorealistic 3D renders of the product packaging. Moreover, you can also have a look at how the product will appear on store shelves. Something that is now possible with 3D rendering is interacting with the product packaging in a VR or AR environment. With products like HTC Vive or Microsoft Hololens, manufacturers can now get a better idea of how the product packaging will look in real life.
In the case of 3D rendered prototype package design, companies require in-house computer expertise. Often, the rendering requires expensive computer hardware as well as skilled designers. Alternatively, manufacturers can outsource.
Physical prototypes allow you to explore the form and integrity of the packaging. They are more finished than virtual prototypes, but they often take a lot of time and cost money. Hence, exploring new packaging ideas with physical prototypes is never a good idea. Manufacturers generally go for physical prototypes when they have decided on one or two ideas and they want to narrow it down based on the physical properties of the packaging.
3D mockups give an idea of the size and the shape of the packaging as well as the functionality. packaging mockups in three dimensions (3D) are generally made from cheaper and easily available materials. For example, mockups can be made using simple paperboards or corrugated boards. The printing can be done using digital printing since there is no prior tooling required.
3D mockups often do not get the finishing that the actual product will get. Therefore, the colors make not look accurate or the mockup may not reflect the actual integrity of the box. Moreover, it takes time to make mockups. It is also difficult to make major changes to such a mockup.
A cheaper and a faster way to get a physical packaging prototype is by using 3D printing. 3D printing does not need any prior tooling. Given a 3D printer and a copy of the 3D model file, a packaging prototype can be printed. The printing process is fast and making changes to the model is easy. They give an accurate idea of the form of the product.
However, 3D printing is not widely available yet. 3D printers are quite expensive and smaller companies cannot afford to buy 3D printers for prototyping product packaging. Moreover, 3D printed models are rigid in nature and have limited color options. Therefore, they cannot be used for prototyping flexible packaging.
A prototype unit tool is used to create an exact copy of the product packaging that will be put on store shelves. This will be the production unit and will be made using the same manufacturing technologies a production unit would use. The result is a high-quality prototype that looks and feel just as the real thing would. The texture of the materials, the finish of the prints, the material to be used for construction, the sealing mechanism – everything is taken into account while creating this prototype unit. The obvious drawback is the extremely high cost. A lot of the processes require prior tooling adding excess lead time and costs. Moreover, making changes is difficult and expensive.
When you are looking for product prototypes, there is no single solution that will fit your needs. You can make use of multiple processes as you finalize your product packaging design. To start with, 2D illustrations are great to explore different ideas. You can filter a few good ones and make 3D CAD models from them. Next, you can build a physical prototype – a mockup, or a 3D printed model. Once you have decided exactly what you want, you can get a production unit made to see that everything checks out. Please note, there is a fine line between samples and packaging prototypes. You can read the difference between samples and prototypes here.