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Printing and Packaging Terminology 101

Before you sit with your team and embark on a packaging design project, take a minute to review these key terms. Commercial packaging has its own language that is very industry-specific. A simple misunderstanding could mean delays and setbacks that might be quite costly. Even if you’re an “old pro,” a quick read could inspire a bit of creativity. While packaging as a practice has been around a long time, packaging design is always on the move, spurred by innovation, advances in technology and the never-ending desire for goods in superior packages.

  • Folding Carton

    • Folding cartons also known as box board are the most prevalent form of commercial packaging used. They come in a variety of styles— including boxes and trays. In most cases, folding cartons are made out of paperboard. They go through a series of steps before becoming actual containers. Sheets of paperboard are printed, then laminated, then die cut. Next, they’re folded and adhesive is applied to seal the sides of the finished carton.
  • Clear Plastic Folding Carton
    • These folding cartons are made with a clear sturdy, yet flexible plastic, so items inside are visible beyond the primary packaging. The production process is similar to that of a paperboard folding carton, but because they are plastic, no laminating is needed. They can be square, rectangular, oval, or just a sleeve that snuggly slides over a printed folding carton.
  • Primary Packaging
    • This is the package the customer sees on the store shelves, and eventually, goes home with the customer. Think, a box of cereal, a tube of toothpaste, a tin of sardines or a case of soda. Some primary packaging requires secondary packaging for efficient transportation.
  • Secondary Packaging
    • This is the carton, the container, or box that holds many packaged items (see above primary packaging) and ready for store shelves. From a packaging design standpoint, secondary packaging is basic, structural, and heavy-duty— made for stacking on pallets and loading onto trucks, for instance, for shipping and distribution.
  • Substrate
    • This is the base material used in a particular project. While it’s a general term, this is where packaging design really gets interesting. Substrates include plastics, vellum, metal, cardboard, wood, canvas, and any variety of paper, to name a few.
  • Embossing
    • A technique that adds a textual element to lettering or a design. It is both aesthetic and functional. Braille is an example of embossing that helps explain the basic technique whereby pressure or heat is applied creating a raised impression on the surface of the substrate. As a creative tool for packaging design, embossing gives projects elegance and sophistication.                                       
  • Hot Foil Stamping
    • This technique applies a metallic effect to a variety of substrates. Gold and silver decorative borders on diplomas or certificates, specialty trading cards, primary packaging for action figures and video games are a few examples where this application is commonly used. A hot foil stamping machine moves the chosen substrate into position, then a heated metal die is applied to a pigmented foil, transferring the foil onto the substrate in the shape of die. Foils come in a variety of colors including holographic patterns and pearlescent effects.


  • Point of Sale (POS) Display
    • These sales promotion pieces are typically located near or on the checkout counter. Point-of-sale, or POS, displays can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes and are intended to draw a customer’s attention while they are waiting in line or in the process of purchasing items. Commonly used to highlight seasonal products, announce a special offer or promotion, or show off a new product, these are specialized packaging design pieces. POS displays often have shelves or stands or racks where products are arranged and easily taken by customers inspired to make the purchase in that moment. POS displays can also include dummy packs or display packs, signs and information that instantly engage the customer in some way.
  • Film Laminating
    • Film laminating is a process of coating the surface of a substrate that results in a durable, glossy, matte, or textured finish. It is often used on POS displays, acting as a protective coating so they look better longer and stand up to the day-to-day handling of customers checking out the products and store personnel keeping them stocked. It’s also an excellent option for printed items that are best when glare- and/or scratch-resistant. In addition to POS displays, café menus, food-grade folding cartons, product catalogs and direct mail pieces are all examples of print pieces that commonly use film lamination.

At Rex 3, we’re part of your team, working with you on every project, through each detail until it’s done right. Packaging design is a complex process and it’s our mission to streamline and simplify. We’ve created packaging for some of the biggest names in a variety of industries, including health and beauty, food and beverage, travel and tourism, and more. Let Rex 3 bring your packaging vision to life with over 60 years of experience, industry leading equipment, and our in-house expert and stylish team of structural package designers. Rex 3, Imagination Accomplished!