October 2016

Scary Packaging Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

The typical consumer product has a long journey to the store shelf. Many people touch, give input, edit, review, send back, revise, approve and more. With a high potential for errors, packaging mistakes happen all the time.

You may have clicked on this article expecting to see a listicle of embarrassing—scary, even—packaging mistakes. To protect the guilty and the victims of such misfortunes, we won’t do that (leave that to #packagingfail search results). But we still have a treat for you! Many packaging mistakes are actually avoidable in pre-production. Phototype experts Scott Gilbert, Director of Innovation and Commercialization, and Donna Binkley, Quality Process Leader, share some common packaging mistakes and tips on how you can avoid them:

1. Color Inconsistencies

Your brand equity is what sets your package apart on the shelf. Color is a huge part of that, and contributes to consumer expectations. When something seems off—color inaccuracy, fading, over-saturation, or mismatch—it sends a message that the product is outdated or old.

"Good enough" usually never is. Color inconsistencies on the store shelf can be prevented in pre-production with world-class print quality programs.
"Good enough" usually never is. Color inconsistencies on the store shelf can be prevented in pre-production with world-class print quality programs.


While not qualifying as a retail “shelf-puller” (the store is not allowed to stock the product on shelves), color inaccuracies and inconsistencies send a message that the product will not meet consumer expectations, even when there is nothing wrong with the product itself. Avoid this by continuously evaluating and leveraging a comprehensive print quality program. Develop and effectively use master guidelines with your supply chain partners to address all visual branding elements. That way, as a product moves through the supply chain, your brand is protected and ultimately shines on the shelf. 


2. Shelf-pull Worthy Missteps

The horror and embarrassment of color mistakes pale in comparison to when a product has to be pulled from the shelf for compliance or regulatory reasons. Mistakes like the ones below can result in penalties, fines and diminished sales:

  • Barcode errors: When the lines and numbers don’t match up, frustration at checkout ensues, as the customer is likely being charged for the wrong product. Some retailers have these codes linked to auto-inventory replenishment systems, which could then order the incorrect product to restock store shelves.
    • Additionally, if a threshold of instances occurs when a cashier has to manually enter a code because it does not easily scan, the retailer may fine the manufacturer. Avoid this by implementing a robust Quality Assurance process for creating and validating barcodes.
  • Nutrition Facts Panel Oversights: Old or misrepresented product information and facts are not excusable. With varying versions of products or changing ingredients for products, having the accurate information in a clear, readable way is essential and must follow established FDA guidelines. In addition to having accurate information, make sure the Nutrition Facts and ingredients copy has no distracting designs or colors that may affect readability. Ensure graphic packaging artists are trained on current FDA guidelines when creating artwork.
  • Varnish or lacquer on date boxes (pharmaceutical products only): Inline printers place the expiration date on over-the-counter drug packaging. The ink will not hold if the area has a varnish or lacquer, so leave the frills to the rest of the packaging. You can avoid this by setting up proper master dielines that convey non-varnish and limited-copy areas.
  • Sloppy brand marks: Trademarks and registrations are essential to a brand identity. You must include them on packaging to protect your right to ownership. Keep your legal team close to ensure your brand mark is represented consistently and correctly.
  • Inaccurate net quantity statements: If net weight is overstated, you run the risk of a consumer claim saying they didn’t receive what they paid for.
  • Missing or inconsistent callouts, labels: Does a key message need to be communicated in five different places on the package? Clear your closet of quality assurance skeletons with thorough review.

Quality assurance is no walk in the park, especially when there are regulation changes and implications to keep up with. Collaborate with partners to stay abreast of what’s important, identify errors, and act with urgency in pre-production.


3. Missing Deadlines

So simple, and yet so crucial. Getting a package onto the shelf is a multi-step process. When one deadline isn’t met, it could jeopardize the entire workflow. If a food manufacturer is running promotions around specific product SKUs that haven’t made it to store shelves, companies can expect angry customers, the headaches of issuing rain checks, and failed campaigns.

What are some of the scary packaging mistakes you’ve had to work through? Tweet us @phototypeco.


Phototype is a 4th-generation, family-owned company that provides fully integrated graphic solutions to the consumer packaged goods (CPG), medical/pharma, retail, printing and converting industries. To learn more, contact us.