Dieline Tutorial – How To Create A Dieline for Your Product Package Design



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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

Packaging Design is about finding the balance between what is required (FDA and USDA directives and contractually obligated elements) and what is desired (graphics, tag lines, brand story and differentiators). However, you can't start any of that without a finalized dieline.

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

The best way to understand a package is to break it apart. From there you can easily take measurements or scan it. To make a dieline for a bottle or jar you just need some paper and a pencil. Wrap the paper around the container and mark optimum width and height marks then unroll the paper and note the dimensions.

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

Wrigley's 5 Gum Box Package Dieline. A client had a disposable cleaning product that would fit perfectly in this box. So I took it apart and made a dieline to use as a starting point. You can download the file using the link above.

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

Always make hard copy prototypes of packaging designs from your dielines. Just print them out on some decent quality inkjet paper and using a steel ruler, an Exacto knife and some double side tape, cut, fold, and tape them together. The Typhoon 150 box on the top left is actually 18 inches wide in real life so I printed out a miniature. The WildBar packaging in the front is stuffed with some rolled paper towels to give it structure and simulate the actual size of the energy bar that will be inside. For the caper labels I just bought some jars of the cheapest capers I could find, scrubbed off the old label, and applied my own.

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

Last chance to get it right. Print out the proof and assemble the package to see if it works.

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.

Looking for a Package Designer?

If you need someone to design your product packaging give me a call at 866-477-9029 or email me.

File under – How To Create Product Packaging Dielines – Dieline and Package Prototyping Methods –  Using Adobe Illustrator to Make a Package Dieline – Dieline and Packaging Tips and Tricks

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18 comments


  • Wow. I have always wanted to know how to do these types of work. I have worked on a couple of folders and such but this is really very cool. Thanks! SO… many things to do in the design field.

    May 17, 2010
  • Great article, really help me to improve a lot.

    Thanks.

    September 8, 2010
  • So where do you go from there? How do you get it printed?

    September 10, 2010
    • Clay (The BDD Dude)

      Well hopefully you already have your printer lined up. I generally don’t like to design packaging until we know where it will be printed. The reason is costs are always a concern. Are you going digital? How about flexo? With digital you don’t worry about colors. However with flexo there are going to be plate charges and a limit on the number of plates. This usually mean you’ll be printing four plates (CMYK) plus some spots. This will effect your design. For example, with a shrink sleeve bottle, things you can have on a digital press may be impossible on a flexo because there are not enough plates available to achieve it. Then there are material concerns like chipboard or corrugated and what type of paper or films you are going to use. There are also print run concerns. I always ask these questions up front to get my clients thinking about the limitations and possibilities. They need to know that by only printing a thousand of these boxes, they are going to be printed digitally and will cost $1.50 each abut if they want to seriously bring the costs down they need to order at least 10,000 and go with offset .

      The second reason I like to line up the printer first is if you are doing complex boxes you’ll want to work with a printing house from the beginning because they will be creating your dieline based upon your specs. They will also be able to offer suggestions for reducing your packaging costs.

      But to answer you question. You can get it printed anywhere. You can look online for a printer that specializes in what you need (boxes, labels, short run digital, etc) and then just ask for some quotes.

      I have some resources for printers here: http://www.claytowne.com/claytowne_resources.html

      September 10, 2010
  • Thank you! Sure helped a lot.

    November 1, 2010
  • excellent thank you, just spent ages finding an article like this. Much appreciated!!! :)

    November 2, 2010
    • Clay (The BDD Dude)

      Thanks, that’s why I wrote it. Most of the dieline/packaging tutorials just left me scratching my head. They were either generic puff pieces or short technical guides on how to make a red line in Illustrator. I wanted make one that applied the knowledge in a real world situation and answered all those peripheral questions that naturally pop up when you talk about dielines and packaging.

      November 2, 2010
  • Thanks so much, I’ve always wanted to know how people made their own dielines, very very helpful!

    December 4, 2010
  • bharat

    i followed tht it’s great……

    February 9, 2011
  • Hello!

    I just wanted to let you know that we’ve posted a link to this tutorial on our facebook page (evolution press). I hope you get some traffic, and please let me know if you’d rather it not be posted. We can take it down.

    Thank you much!

    Debra

    Evolution Press inc

    Seattle, WA

    February 21, 2011
  • I’ve done many packaging & still working,

    your tutorial very specific & helpful to newbie!

    And this is same as my working procedure!

    Now I know I’m using an correct method!<–Studying Fine Art but working as graphic designer.

    Thanks again~

    July 19, 2011
  • Wow, Clay thanks! I’m using your tutorial to familiarize students with using detailed layered Illustrator files in my Packaging Design class. Would love to say hi and maybe have a short Skype chat with my students. Let me know if you’re up for that.

    August 15, 2011
  • Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise and create this site. I’m one of the newbies, though I have been an artist for decades and even taught theory of design/graphic communications. Love Photoshop, but really need a good tutorial on Illustrator. Are there any sites you would recommend?

    And, yes, it does beat digging ditches!

    -Mike

    August 27, 2011
    • Cat

      lynda.com

      Really great software tutorials. Highly recommend it!

      April 11, 2012
  • I am enjoying all your posts. I am currently designing a new line of organic beauty products and this is just the info I need! I’ve never actually designed any packaging yet, so my line will be my first – but I’ve been assembling paper toys for ages ^^ . Looking forward to diving into packaging design!

    October 1, 2011
  • shane

    really really helpful…i couldn’t find the word dieline..this teaches me lot…may be change my life

    December 3, 2012
  • Nirasha

    Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge. It must have taken years of hard work to learn these through trial and error. Thanks again.

    January 16, 2013
  • Chris

    Here is a good video of how this is done

    http://youtu.be/m5qvR44-FBY

    July 8, 2013

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