Retail displays and folding cartons that contain products are often a company’s first point of contact with the consumer. This means that the print finishes on folding cartons and folding display stands are a critical element in capturing consumer attention within seconds.

After all, if the consumer doesn’t stop to look, the product continues to languish on the shelf.

As I mentioned in a related article on print finishes for labels, studies have found that visually appealing packaging can trigger impulse buying in consumers who had no intention of making a purchase.

And in cases where the consumer wants to buy, the visual appeal of a product package can be the primary decision influencer when lots of products are displayed side by side.

What can a designer do with a folding carton design to heighten visual appeal and increase the odds of moving that product off the shelf?

16 Print Finishes on Folding Cartons That Sell More Product

Here are 16 folding carton finishing techniques to capture consumer attention.

1 – Foils

Foils, available in dozens of colors, add an instant splash of bright color to any folding carton design.

  • Gold in various shades
  • Metallic colors including silver
  • Pigment foils, especially useful on a wide range of textured material.
  • Clear foil
  • Holographic images

We use two processes for foiling, depending on the job. Cold foiling doesn’t require foil dies, while hot foil stamping does.


2 – Embossing

The process of embossing creates a raised, 3-dimensional impression on the paper board. Embossing requires one of two types of dies.

Single-level dies leave an impression that is all one height. Multi-level dies leave any number of raised levels.

emboss folding carton multi level vs single level

3 – Debossing

Debossing is the opposite of embossing. Instead of raising the design on the folding carton, the design is depressed or indented into the sheet. Debossing also requires a set of dies which can be single or multi-level.


4 – Spot UV Coating

In spot UV coating we apply high-gloss varnish to specific areas of the carton. This type of coating can highlight colors, design features or images to give them eye-catching depth that they don’t have on their own.


5 – Overall UV Coating

An overall UV coating covers the entire carton, except for areas that need to be glued. Technically, this is still a spot coating, but with the same effect as overall coating.


6 – Raised Spot Gloss UV

The coating used in raised spot gloss UV has a depth that can be seen and felt. It gives an appearance similar to embossing, but without the need for expensive dies.

Raised spot gloss UV coating, available in digital printing, is very affordable and offers fast turnaround. Check with us about quantities to see if it’s right for your job.


7 – Dull or gloss lamination

Laminates are a thin clear film applied to the carton or display. The technique uses heat and pressure to apply the film. You can get laminates in a range of thicknesses and in dull or gloss finishes.

The advantage to film lamination is that it offers excellent protection. This is especially helpful if the end product is to be used in a harsh environment.


8 – Varnish

Varnishes are clear liquid coatings applied during or after printing. They’re available in dull or gloss finishes. As with other finishes, varnish can be used to make a particular image or area stand out.

Varnish also offers an additional layer of protection against scuffing, scratches and smudges.

As with other coatings, the glue areas of a folding carton or folding display stand must remain free of varnish.

You can get an “overall” varnish effect by varnishing the entire design except for glued areas.


9 – Soft Touch Lamination

Soft-touch laminations have a velvety feel compared to the hard, slick finishes of regular lamination. Soft-touch is often used in high-end products to add a luxurious sensory element.


10 – Raised Foil

Raised foils are thicker than conventional foils. You can see and feel its depth when you run your fingers across it. In that way it’s like embossing but no dies are required.

It’s only available in digital print production, which makes it a budget-friendly alternative with fast turnaround time.


11 – Versioning or Variable Data Imprinting

Variable data can be imprinted directly to the folding carton. This is often done in cosmetic and pharmaceutical work in which serial numbers, expiration dates and other information is required.


12 – Outserts

An outsert is simply a small piece of folded literature that is attached to the package. It can also be inserted into the package.

This is more of a functional rather than visual design element. Typically, outserts provide consumer information regarding pharmaceuticals or supplements.


13 – Conventional Folding Carton Substrates

There are many types of paper and other substrates that can be used for folding cartons and retail displays. Some of the conventional folding carton substrates include:

Solid Bleached Sulfate (SBS) – Smooth sheet, white throughout, strong and good for many types of finishes.

Recycled Coated Board – Clay coated newsback (CCNB) is a mix of recycled materials with multiple layers.

Folding Box Board – a multi-layered sheet with bleached surface.

Uncoated Natural Kraft or Chipboard – an unbleached kraft in two layers. Usually picked for its earthy tone, a good design can make this substrate visually appealing. However, it is not the best for printing reproduction.

Corrugated Board – Also called micro-flute corrugated, it’s available in several thicknesses. You can print and laminate a top sheet to create compelling yet strong displays and cartons.


14 – Unconventional Substrates for Folding Cartons

Some unusual substrates for folding cartons are listed below. Most will require special handling, so you want to plan these well in advance, from design through finishing and end use.

Metallized papers – these are papers with a metallic surface on one side and are expensive.

A review of the substrates used in your folding carton design might be just what you need to make it pop.


15 – Transparent Windows

transparent windows folding carton

Transparent film windows can be creatively used for a more effective folding carton design. A cut-out in the carton is backed with a clear film that allows the product to be seen.


16 – Structural Design

Perhaps a design change is needed for your folding display or carton packaging. In addition to the finishing elements listed above, simple design changes can make a run-of-the-mill carton more compelling.

For example, perhaps adding a handle to a normal product box (image below) would make it more appealing to the consumer. The handle is an added element of usefulness that makes an instant visual impression.

folding carton structural design changes

Getting the Right Print Finishes for Your Folding Cartons and Folding Displays

The key to getting the most from your next packaging or retail display design is to consider all the options right from the beginning. We can contribute our expertise and experience to your next project.

Call us at 818-709-1220 to get our valuable input on the best print finishes for your folding carton design. Or go here to request a folding carton quote. One conversation can help you avoid common production and design problems and ultimately sell more product.

Published On: December 22nd, 2022 / Categories: Folding Cartons /