Ever since the pandemic caused a large spike in ecommerce, unit cartons, also known as folding cartons, have taken on an even larger role as one of the top packaging materials for products sold online. Their customization options make them hard to beat for many reasons. Done right, they can be an all-in-one packaging solution for ecommerce brands in any niche.

Below are a few important considerations about their use for ecommerce packaging.

What’s the Best Ecommerce Packaging Material for Products?

The decision on which packaging is best for ecommerce products depends on several factors:

  • Product size and weight
  • Automatic vs. manual package filling
  • Shipping and logistics requirements
  • Regulatory requirements at the local, state, federal, or country level
  • Consumer and cultural preferences

The combination of these factors influences the design, materials selection, printing method, and fulfillment process. Custom unit cartons make it easy to accommodate these needs for a wide range of ecommerce products.

Does this mean that all folding cartons (unit cartons) are ecommerce-ready packaging?

Not necessarily. Depending on the factors mentioned above, custom folding cartons may require some tweaks to their size, design, or material to better satisfy consumer and regulatory demand.

Why Consumers Prefer Unit Cartons

Below are some of the important consumer preferences to consider when it comes to creating the best folding carton for ecommerce.

Unit Carton Design

Consumers respond to great design. Visual appeal is easy with paperboard folding cartons. Finished folding cartons photograph well and make for visually appealing images in any online store. Just look at product images on Amazon and you’ll see many photos of folding carton packaging.

It’s easy to print appealing gift packages which are a significant subset of ecommerce sales. Digital printing processes make it economical to print many versions without additional cost.

Numerous package segments can be created based on SKU’s, colors, geography, flavors, or any other relevant product detail.

Unit Carton Sustainability

folding carton sustainability

Consumers respond to sustainable packaging initiatives for several reasons, according to a Two Sides North America study.

66% said it’s important to buy products made with eco-friendly materials. Some other reasons they prefer paper packaging include:

  • Paper is home compostable, 76%
  • Paper packaging is better for the environment, 55%
  • It’s lighter weight, 53%
  • It’s easier to recycle, 49%
  • It’s easier to store, 36%

Sustainable and recycled boards that can be used many times over. Yet it’s not just the packaging material that’s important. Folding cartons are easy to produce with sustainable printing processes. These include vegetable-based inks, lean manufacturing processes, and digital printing which requires no printing plates and nearly zero make ready sheets.

In addition to consumer preferences, there are many initiatives to reduce plastic waste from governments around the globe. This means paperboard folding cartons are likely to take on an even more prominent role in product packaging in the years to come.

Product Protection

Folding cartons protect the product. Custom designed folding boxes can be made to perfectly secure and protect the product at every stage of the journey from manufacturing through to the consumer.

Logistics and Shipping

Folding cartons are also frequently used to ship the product as they simultaneously hold and protect it. This makes fulfillment easy, efficient, and sustainable. This all-in-one aspect of unit carton packaging keeps shipping costs down. Folding boxes can be custom designed to fit and protect the product perfectly. Less void fill (or no fill) is needed for shipping than off-the-shelf boxes. Custom designed folding boxes take up less dimensional space than off-the-shelf boxes which reduces shipping costs.

For heavier products, folding corrugated boxes or micro-flute corrugated can be used.

Consumer Help and Information

It’s easy to print additional instructions, ingredients, or how-to information on folding carton packaging. Or it can be inserted into the packaging in the form of simple inserts, booklets, or coupons.

Consumers like the use of QR codes and AR codes. As with product inserts, these can lead the consumer to additional information. The advantage to these codes is that they are multimedia. The buyer can be led to videos, web pages, webinars, or other relevant offers.


Consumers respond to customized and personalized packaging. With digital folding carton printing, it’s easy to segment packages with custom messages or personalized messages.

Ease of Use

Folding carton packaging is typically easier to open that most types of plastic packaging. In the study mentioned above, 41% of consumers said they prefer paper packaging because it is easier to open.

Each element above is a way to add value in the eye of the consumer which in turn makes them more ecommerce ready. Next, there are the practical design considerations to making a folding carton ready for ecommerce.

Tips for Designing Ecommerce Ready Unit Cartons

tips for designing ecommerce ready folding cartons

Today’s custom packaging designs are more challenging because they need to work in two ways:

  1. On the brick-and-mortar store shelf
  2. On the digital store shelf

With these two design constraints in mind, there are a few things that can be done.

The design needs to look good on the shelf and in a thumbnail image. Keep in mind that thumbnails will be seen on all types of screens, including small mobile screens. This means it’s wise to eliminate clutter or tiny details on the front of the packaging.

The company branding and product name need to be clear and recognizable.

There should also be images for each product that are suitable for social media sharing.

When designing to sell internationally, don’t forget to account for cultural or regional differences. A color or design mis-match with the local preferences can hurt product sales.

Regulatory Compliance for Ecommerce Folding Cartons

regulatory compliance ecommerce folding cartons

When selling nationally or globally, unit packaging needs to comply with relevant state, federal, and country-specific regulations.

For example, California’s Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act requires that by 2032, 25% of plastic packaging be eliminated, 65% of single-use packaging be recycled, and 100% of packaging in California be recyclable. Folding paperboard cartons are an ideal solution to such recycling issues.

Some of the agencies that regulate ecommerce packaging include:

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Federal Trade Commission – Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

National Institute of Standards and Technology – Packaging and Labeling in the US

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Including the Paper & Packaging Board and various packaging regulations

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – regulates products that include food, drugs, medical devices, vaccines, biologics, animal and veterinary, cosmetics, radiation-emitting products, and tobacco.

Designing and Printing Ecommerce Folding Cartons

Designing and printing ecommerce unit cartons (folding cartons)

With all the intricacies involved with unit carton packaging, it pays to work with an experienced packaging supplier.

The team at Clear Print is always available to discuss a company’s ecommerce packaging needs. There are 3 ways to get in touch:

1 – Go here to send specs on your latest unit carton project and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

2 – Call 818-709-1220 to speak with a folding carton advisor.

3 – Email info@clearprint.com or use the Contact Us form.

Published On: February 12th, 2024 / Categories: Folding Cartons /