Have you ever seen an image online or a poster on a wall that’s blurry and jagged and not at all pleasant to look at? Worse, have you ever seen something like that on product packaging, and it’s made you lose respect for the brand? That’s the importance of using high-quality artwork when it comes to printing on custom packaging—you must ensure that you’ve got everything you need to make the right impression. After all, what good is a piece of branded packaging (or a meticulously-created unboxing experience) if your printed logo is just not very nice to look at?

Let’s make sure you and your brand never, ever have that problem. Here’s what you need to know about creating and using artwork on your custom branded packaging.

Raster Images

Printing on Custom Packaging: Raster Images

Raster-based example – the magnifying glass area has been enlarged 500%

Raster images are composed of pixels—the little colored blocks you see when you look at a TV or computer screen. Whenever you resize a raster image, you’re changing the size of the pixels. While shrinking the pixels is fine, enlarging them will cause the pixels to lose image quality (known as resolution) and your image will become a blurry and jagged mess. As you’ve probably surmised by now, all photography is raster.

Typically, you’ll want to refrain from using raster images in custom branded packaging, simply to maintain printing quality in the final product. There are, of course, exceptions—and these vary according to the printing provider you’re using. Raster is acceptable if you’re using photography on your custom packaging, using a digital printer, or if raster versions of your artwork are all you have. Just ensure that your resolution is 300 DPI or higher (there’s more on image resolution down below).

Common file types: jpeg, png, gif, bmp, tiff, psd

Vector Artwork

Printing on Custom Packaging: Vector Artwork

Vector-based example – the magnifying glass area has been enlarged 500%

Vector artwork is composed of paths—lines and curves that use math to plot their positions. Unlike raster images which can lose quality during resizing, the lines and curves in a piece of vector artwork grow and shrink in relation to the rest of the artwork. This means it maintains its look and quality whether it’s an inch-wide on a business card or emblazoned across a highway billboard.

Most printing providers prefer you supply artwork in vector. It maintains quality and resolution, is usable across more printing types, and is just plain easier to work with. Whether you’re designing the artwork yourself, or by using a graphic designer, do your best to create it in vector format.

Common file types: .eps, .svg, .pdf, .ai

Resolution

When it comes to vector artwork, there’s no need to worry about resolution. Thanks to the power of math, it can scale up or down without losing any quality.

When it comes to raster images, however, that’s where you’ve got to be careful. Final artwork in raster format must be made to the exact size it’s being used. If you create it at 3×6”, but enlarge it onto a 6×12” area, it will (to be frank) look terrible. Plus, you also have to pay attention to DPI (dots per inch) when creating raster images. 72 DPI is sufficient for images that’ll only be viewed on a TV or computer screen. But for printing on custom packaging, 300 DPI is the absolute minimum your raster images must have. Anything below that, and you’ll start to notice the telltale blurriness and jagged edges.

Font Outlines

One last thing when it comes to artwork for printing on custom packaging. You’ll most likely have wording in at least a few places—whether that’s in your logo, tagline, website address or a block of body copy. Before submitting your final artwork, you must do something called outlining.

When you add text to your custom packaging (whether you type it by hand or copy and paste it from a word processing document), it’s considered “live” text, meaning you can still edit it. You’re also using fonts on your computer—fonts that the printer may not have. If you deliver the final artwork as is, and they don’t have your font, it will default to another font, and ruin the look of your packaging.

That’s where outlining comes in. It turns your words from editable text into vector artwork, meaning it’s no longer anchored to the font on your system. Now, when you send your final artwork off, it’ll look exactly as you intended.

Final Artwork Tip: save your final artwork as two files, one with “live” text, and a second version with outlined text. If you need to go back and make changes, you’ll be glad you can still edit the copy.

There’s so much to know when it comes to printing on custom packaging. Making the right artwork choice is vital to creating a final product that fills you and your team with pride. With these guides to printing on custom packaging, and The Packaging Company by your side, your custom printed packaging will be exactly as you intended.