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How To Create A Dieline for Your Product Package Design


Packaging to Die(line) For…

To a newbie, product packaging design requirements can seem rather mysterious if not overwhelming.

Besides the package design itself, there are multiple issues involving FDA and USDA requirements as well as product and category specific government rules and regulations.

For food items and consumables, nutritional panels and ingredient lists follow strict government guidelines. There are things you can and cannot state about a product’s health benefits and these vary depending on weather the product is classified as a food item or a supplement.

Download Materials for this Tutorial:

Download the layered Illustrator editable PDF Dieline of the Wrigley’s 5 Gum box (size: 16mb)

Packaging label requiremements and dieline layout

Non-food items have their own issues. For instance, if the product is poisonous when ingested, such as a car care product, you’ll need to have written warnings and exposure treatment information as well as the phone number for the Poison Control Center Hotline.

There are also regulations involving country of origin as well as litigation inspired warnings and disclaimers involving food allergies, manufacturing cross contamination, and product misuse to incorporate into the design. The lawyers will want the whole package for their all inclusive “don’t use this hair dryer in the bathtub” type warnings. You, as the designer, will resent having to add any of them and will most likely make them as small and discreet as possible.

Then there are the truly ugly barcodes to deal with. If you want people to actually be able to buy the product, and for stores to easily manage their inventory, your bar codes must not fall below a certain size or scanners will not be able to read them.

When you finally get done implementing all the “must haves” it’s a wonder there is any room left for the product logo, name, tag line, value statements, and graphics – you know, the stuff that actually makes someone pick up the product and buy it.

However, this tutorial is about step one – creating the dieline.

Files for This Tutorial:

Dowload the layered Illustrator editable PDF Dieline of the Wrigley’s 5 Gum box (size: 16 mb)

What is a Dieline?

The dieline is the template for a package. It’s a flattened outline of the cutlines and folds. You cannot create a product package design without one – so don’t even try.

If you took apart a cereal box and flattened it out, you’d be looking at the dieline. The edges of the box are the cutlines and all the seams and creases are the folds and overlaps. It’s basically supermarket origami that must also be sturdy, functional and do a darn good job of attracting the consumer’s interest.

Your dieline must be perfect. You’ll be creating an extremely tight layout, a pixel perfect balancing act between competing design elements, so even losing an eighth of an inch will often require a reworking of the entire package. This is why I never start a package design without a finalized dieline. Otherwise I’m just guessing and ultimately wasting my time and giving my client a false sense of accomplishment.

So How Do You Create a Dieline?

If you get a finalized dieline straight from the printer (the most likely scenario), it will have the bleed requirements and all the manufacturing notes already on it. This is ideal, and if you have that you don’t need this tutorial.

However, sometimes you’ll be working with a client in the early stages. Perhaps they’ll send you a box from another product and direct you to make one just like it. Maybe they’ll FedEx you a bottle or jar and ask you to make a label that maximizes the container’s real estate. Or maybe they’ll send you the product itself and ask you to design a box, clamshell or blister pack to hold it. If this is the case then this tutorial is for you.

Labels and other two dimensional package designs are easy and you can generate perfect dielines for these on your own. However, unless you are reproducing an existing box, working from an existing dieline, or you have extensive experience with structural packaging applications, you can’t realistically create a perfect three dimensional package dieline on your own. However, you can start the ball rolling and then turn over your dielines, notes, and a sample of the product to a printer or manufacturer and they can use it as the basis for creating a working dieline.

Either way, the following tutorial explains how you do it.

Step 1 – Deconstructing the Product or Package

If a client gives you a pre-existing package and they say they want theirs to be just like it, or if they send you the product itself and they want a package or label for it, you’ll need to deconstruct. This involves breaking the package down to its basics.

If you’re comping a pre-existing package you’ll need to break it apart and see how it works. You’ll note the location of the tuck tabs and glue seems, of the orientation of the graphics, and where the folds hit.

deconstruction a package to make a dieline

If you have the product, but no package or label, you’ll need to make some basic measurements. For a jar or bottle it may be as simple as wrapping some copy paper around the jar and then marking the cutlines with a pencil. For a free-standing product you’ll need to make some basic measurements of the product’s dimensions or fold some paper around it and a make a crude box to get a feel of what size package you’ll need.

Step 2 – Making the Dieline

First you’ll need to create a new file in Illustrator. Make the artboard big enough to hold the dieline including room for design notes and PMS swatches. Create a layer and call it “dieline”. Make another layer and call it “artwork”. Put the dieline layer above the artwork layer.

When you make your dieline, use the industry standard visuals. Cutlines are solid red and usually .25  or .50 points in thickness. Folds can be solid or dotted red lines. I like to make my dielines out of shapes with a red stroke and a transparent fill. If you have another method, like using the pen tool, that you are more comfortable with, then use that one. As long as you end up with clean, accurate lines it doesn’t matter how you get there. Once you’re finished with the dieline, lock the layer so you don’t mess it up.

If you want to give yourself safe margins use blue lines or pull down some guides. It’s perfectly acceptable to put notes on the dieline like “front panel”, “tuck flap”, or “glue panel”. However, put them on another layer called “notes” just to make it easier to hide or show them later.

Free Bonus: You can download the layered Illustrator editable PDF Dieline of the Wrigley’s 5 Gum box (size 16mb) if you want to see how it’s done.

Wrigleys 5 Gum Box Package Dieline

If you’re comping a pre-existing package the quickest way to make a dieline is to just break it down flat and then scan it. Bring the scan into Adobe illustrator and start making your dielines right on top of the scan. Of course, you’ll want to be monitoring your progress by making real world measurements of the package and then comparing that to your dieline in progress. Even if you are going to be making minor adjustments to the width, height and depth, scanning and tracing a pre-existing package can be a real time saver. It also guarantees that your orientations are correct.

If you need to build from scratch you’ll start by translating your paper measurements and prototypes into basic blocks. Now, before you get too deep into the dieline, print out a hard copy sample. Wrap the printed label around the container or cut out the box, fold it and tape it together. If you botched your measurements you’ll find out right way and save yourself a bigger headache down the road.

You need to repeat this process until the dieline is absolutely perfect. Only then are you ready to start designing.

Step 3 – Producing a Hard Copy Prototype

After you’ve created the first round of designs, and all the basic elements are accounted for, you’ll need to print it out and make a prototype. This is your second wake up call. If your orientations are wrong, if the text is too small to read or too close to the cut lines, or if you inadvertently placed a key design element under a flap, you’ll know right away. That’s ok, because mistakes are really cheap and easy to fix at this stage.

Making Hard Copy prototypes of packaging design from Your Dielines

Step 4- Off To The Printer

Even after checking and double checking my dielines for weeks, I still don’t approve the print run without printing out the PDF printer proof. If I can print it out full size and assemble it, all the better. However, if I have to print out a miniature version that will also work, especially for a box. A miniature that assembles perfectly is an acceptable substitute if the measurements are true – which at this point they better be! The whole goal at this stage is to avoid a costly reprint due to a botched dieline or a simple typo.

Making a box package prototype

So that’s it. Go forth and design! And remember: it is impossible to be too anal about getting it right. Mistakes can cost thousands of dollars but rechecking your dieline cost only an hour of your time a few pieces of tape. Now that’s a bargain!

Helpful Resources

FDA Nutritional Labeling Guidelines

Don’t make a nutritional panel without it.

FDA Nutrient Claims Guidelines

When and how can you use terms like rich in, good source, and light. Go here to find all kinds of helpful links to the guidelines you need.

USDA National Nutrient Database

Nutrient profiles for nearly every food in the world.

Free Barcode Generator

Best free barcode generator ever!

Barcode Graphics

Generate any type of barcode and pay only $10. Really great for coupon codes.

Your Packaging Source

Decent selection of free dieline downloads in vector format.

The Dieline

Huge website devoted to all things packaging.

RP Graphics Group Dieline Library

Good selection of free packaging dielines in both Mac and PC. Nice preview feature so you know what you’re downloading.


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