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Markets: The fresh face of cosmetics packs
Markets: The fresh face of cosmetics packs
Jill Park, Packaging News, 03 February 2010
Plastic packaging has long reigned supreme in the luxury cosmetics sector, but, as many challenger brands move into cartonboard and rigid boxes to stand out, print is back on the agenda, finds Jill Park
Plastic has long been a dominant force in packaging for the cosmetics sector. Most of the big-name, high-end brands, including industry staples such as Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, choose to pack their products in the material, leaving contenders looking for new ways to stand out. It is among these brands that print is being used on secondary, and, in some cases, primary, packs to differentiate products.
San Francisco-based cosmetics house Benefit was one of the first brands to use print to help its range stand out from the luxury crowd. The company's powder products are packed in rigid boxes, while its liquid and cream products are packed in plastic, which is then housed in colourful printed cartons.
Benefit's best-known range is probably its blusher powders in rigid boxes. Its packaging is created by covering solid board boxes in printed paper, a technique that is popular in the palette sector of challenger brands, which are often aimed at a younger audience.
"These brands tend to go for something different. They know they can't compete with brands like Dior and Chanel," says Chesapeake UK and Ireland artwork and constructional design manager Gill Wright. Another benefit, she adds, is that many of the packs are imported from the Far East. "Their weight is a lot lower than the plastic competition, so shipping from China costs less." Chesapeake is currently looking into an alternative to rigid boxes that uses a biodegradable plastic-lined board in place of the metal component currently required.
Cosmetics packaging designer and manufacturer HCT has created packaging for a host of brands, including Urban Decay, TooFaced and Almay, that have used board packaging to differentiate themselves. Creative director Rebecca Goswell believes board can be a successful tool within the cosmetics industry.
"It allows vivid and fashion-led graphics, which can be changed from season to season - linking with fashion trends," she says. "It's more versatile than plastic or metal components." However, Goswell adds, shapes have to be simple, "as card is laminated and then covered with a top layer by hand".
Cheaper set-up
Rigid boxes and cartonboard packs benefit from cheaper tooling costs than those for injection-moulding plastic. "This allows smaller, niche companies to create striking packaging, and also gives the larger brands the flexibility of creating one-off limited edition pieces throughout the year to rejuvenate sales and give specific outlets exclusive launches," says Goswell.
There are, however, some disadvantages to using packaging made from board. The material's use is often restricted to powder, and occasionally cream, products as there is a danger that oil from the products can seep into the card, causing discolouration and marking. On top of this, as the card is often laminated and then covered with a top paper surface by hand, creating packaging of this type can be a very labour-intensive process.
As cosmetics are often kept in handbags, their packaging must also be able to withstand the rigours of being stuffed in with other items. Plastic packaging is generally robust enough to endure such conditions, but products made from board can run the risk of becoming dog-eared, detracting from the premium look and feel of the product.
As cosmetics are often percieved as luxury items, many products in the sector are packed in secondary cartonboard packs. Not only does this provide extra space for information about the product, but it makes the product feel more special, too, as Webb Scarlett deVlam's (WSdV) design manager Dominic Burke explains. "[It] elevates the experience by introducing a reveal ritual as you peel through the layers to get to the product inside," he says.
The advantage of cartonboard is that it not only converts well, but is an excellent printing surface and can take a series of finishes.
WSdV's Burke agrees that the finishes that can be achieved using cartonboard make it a highly versatile medium for the cosmetics sector. "This can range from foils that control the direction of the light refraction, giving a very eye-catching impact, to a soft-touch rubberised finish for a sensory experience - both work in cosmetics."
Chesapeake has created a series of finishes for cartonboard that replicate everything from rubber to leather and snake skin. "Often we don't even know if we can do it, but we get on the press and try," says Wright, whose team has developed a much-coveted brushed aluminium effect for cartonboard.
Natural success
At the other end of the scale, some companies have chosen to capitalise on the qualities offered by natural board. In the past, Swedish paper company Korsnäs did not operate in the cosmetics arena as it specialised in brown board, which brands felt projected the wrong image.
However, the company now offers Korsnäs White, which, as end user director Darryl Rice explains, "fits in with what the cosmetics people want for the primary packaging". Yet there are also brands that have started to use the brown board for cosmetics packaging. French cosmetics brand L'Occitane, for example, uses brown material supplied by Korsnäs.
"They're very much focused on this natural image," says Rice. "They are trying to avoid use of plastics or oil-based materials and use sustainable packaging, such as FSC board."
While it may not be a ground-breaking material, some designers are starting to think of new ways to use cartonboard. Turkish carton manufacturer Venk Offset recently won a Procarton/ECMA award for its Gabrini Maku-up kit box. The sliding box is solely made from cartonboard, making it both environmentally friendly and cost-effective, plus it makes an inroad into the traditional realm of the rigid box.
Boxes Prestige sales manager Ray Grundy says that there are advantages to using cartons instead of rigid boxes. "There's the time lag from shipping rigid boxes in from the Far East and I suppose the cost is also closing the gap [with cartonboard], nowadays," he says.
Rigid boxes from China remain the most common type of pack for printed cosmetics, but there are signs that carton alternatives are starting to make an appearance. However, at the moment cartonboard is limited to the secondary packaging sector where tactile varnishes, in particular, are increasingly popular.
While some like Benefit and Urban Decay have used the material to take on the big players in the luxury market, others use the packs as promotional items to add to their ranges frequently throughout the year. All of which means printed board packaging remains the realm of challenger brands.
Nude Brand Creation called on carton manufacturer Beamglow to produce packs for a new range of cosmetics, following the success of the design agency's own luxury self-tan range Makebelieve. Enhance consists of five products including bronzer, concealer, tinted moisturiser, lip gloss and highlighter. London-based Nude formulated the products as well as designing its packaging.
"I don't think using cartonboard as such brings anything new to a brand, unless you evaluate how it has been used. It's not a ground-breaking material and has been around for years," says partner of Nude and Makebelieve Mike Parsonson. "But, in the case of Enhance, we printed on the reverse, which had an uncoated finish - this made the inks react in a different way to printing on a coated stock and gave us a tactile luxury feel that intrigues.
"I feel the main benefits to us of using cartonboard are the ability to print using a vast array of inks, foils, varnishes, embossing and die cuts along with its folding properties, which help when considering interesting structures."
Cosmetics packaging designer and manufacturer HCT has consistently been the company to watch in terms of its work with board packaging. The international company, which has offices in Clapham, London, has repeatedly used the material for brands such as Almay, TooFaced and longstanding customer Urban Decay.
The company's Californian office recently collaborated with cosmetics brand TooFaced on its The Bronzed and The Beautiful Bronzing palette, launched in July last year. The compact is small enough to fit in a handbag and epitomises the on-the-go nature of modern cosmetics, but unlike many luxury brands the pack is made from board laminated with paper.
Also last July, Almay launched a range of eco-friendly compacts from HCT made from 50% recycled paper, showing that board can be used for everyday ranges as well as the gifting products like Urban Decay's elaborate book of shadows that incorporates pop-up cartonboard butterfly decorations into the palette.
Previously, HCT has also explored the opportunities of using cardboard for lipstick tubes, having used the material for the brand, Read My Lips in the US.

"Customers love cartonboard because whatever you can do in the printing industry, you can carry into cartonboard packaging," says HCT creative director Rebecca Goswell. "Your print quality is more refined, meaning you can get finer text and information on to your packs - sometimes negating the need for secondary packaging - and designs are also more refined and can be far more complex and adventurous than decorating on plastic."

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