Featured image for Opinion: Choosing the Right Folding Carton

Opinion: Choosing the Right Folding Carton

by Ivan Navarro on 08/06/2014 | 7 Minute Read

As part of the Dieline's Opinion Series, Bert-Co will share their manufacturing know-how and POV with our readers, addressing your packaging-related manufacturing questions. Today Bert-Co presents the ultimate break-down for choosing the right carton!

Good news! You’ve got a great design in mind for a new package. You already thought about the brand message, and how your graphics will compete on the retail shelf. You have answered the questions from my previous post, How to design boxes from a manufacturer's perspective, about how you expect the box structure to perform. You have selected a vendor with great samples and cool treatments you have only seen in-store.  You have also provided samples of your product to your chosen vendor structural designers. The structural designers will supply prototypes for you, and once approved, will provide you with a dieline to apply graphics to. But before you go on, you have one issue. The manufacturer has asked a number of questions, specifically:

Do you want to use an RTE versus an STE? 

There are many basic folding cartons. There are hundreds of styles currently out there, maybe thousands, and we come up with new ones regularly. There are often choices to be made about a structure’s look and performance and how that impacts the budget. Your trusted vendor should walk you through all of the decisions to be made.

Check out the different types of folding cartons, along with videos showing how the dielines work below.  You can also download a PDF version here. 

STE - Straight Tuck End cartons have the benefit of having four clean folded edges on the face panel, so there are no raw edges. It’s one of the most basic boxes and most widely used. Prestige beauty products, like an individual unit of fragrance, are usually in an STE. An STE can be more expensive than an RTE since it does not “nest” as well on a press sheet as the RTE. Cartons are nested on the press sheet to make the most efficient use of the material. 

RTE - Reverse Tuck End cartons are generally more economical than STE, since they nest well on the sheet. The cut edge is generally at the top of the front panel. Having the cut edge at the top allows the consumer to see the face panel while opening the tuck top away from the front panel. A variation of this is the French RTE (FRTE), where the front panel has the folded edge at the top for better shelf presence. If it’s a small run, or a very large box, only one or two may fit up on the press sheet and the advantage of nesting may be lost. Glue seams are always to the back of the box.

FSE - Full Seal End cartons are able to run on high volume sealing equipment and look tamper evident in the store. This style is abundant in the grocery store. This style is not recommended for hand filling. Pour spouts, re-sealable closures, zipper pull-strips and other user friendly enhancements are often added to this style. A variation of this carton is called an Econo-seal, where the flaps partially overlap to save materials, but can reduce stacking strength. 

TTSLB - Tuck Top Snap-Lock Bottom cartons work better for heavy products than an STE or RTE, but can be slower to fill. TTSLB glues faster than an auto-bottom, and sits flat with lightweight products. It is also called a 1-2-3 Bottom. It does not have a solid bottom for graphics. 

TTAB - Tuck Top Auto-Bottom cartons have the advantage of fast assembly, and have a stronger bottom than an STE, RTE, or the snap-lock bottom, since the bottom panels are glued in place. A disadvantage is that it can be slower to glue than the straight line side seam glue of an RTE or STE. Secondly, it does not have a solid bottom for graphics. Graphics placed on the bottom, including the UPC code, should be placed carefully and all proofs should be inspected to see how graphics fit the assembled cartons. Lastly, it does not sit perfectly flat when filled with lightweight products, and auto-bottom cartons cannot be produced on narrow width cartons, less than 1 1/4”.

DGSW - Double Glued Sidewall cartons are generally used for high end gift boxes, and other luxury packages. Its best advantage is strong clean edges, with good stacking strength. They generally require a top and bottom, or bottom and “dust cover” to complete the set. They are similar to a style called a Simplex Tray. The Simplex tray forms the corners as the sides are pulled up. These structures are used well by gift items with seasonality, like high-end confections. A standard 2-piece DGSW carton, might add an attractive ribbon or band for a holiday or season, while the base and lid can be more generic. 

This style does not usually sit squarely on the shelf when displayed on its spine. It requires more assembly time than an STE or RTE. DGSW’s works best at depths of 7/8” or more.  A rigid box would be an upscale version of this box. The advantage of the DGSW is it ships and stores flat, while the rigid box cannot be stored flat. 

BSSTE - Book Style Straight Tuck End cartons have a big advantage that they have lots of real estate to help sell the product. These can be made as double bookstyles, tri-folded covers, and seamless bookstyles, for continuous graphics. This style offers plenty of space to show and educate the consumer in store. 

Machine Filled Cartons

If high-speed filling equipment is going to be used, it’s important to get these machine requirements to your supplier before you see your first CAD samples - as they often require specific shapes of flaps and dust panels and other panel size requirements. Pre-Breaking and opening strength specifications may also exist and should be shared with your supplier.


As a supplier, there are a few things we need to know to accurately quote a price for a folding carton. 

  • We need the 3 dimensions of the box to determine its flat size. If it includes internal inserts, we require the flat size and the 3 dimensions. 
  • The style of the carton.
  • The material specifications.
  • The print specs, number of colors and coatings.
  • Other finishing like windowing, foil stamping and embossing areas, with material specs.
  • Any other bells and whistles, like magnets, stickers, batch coding areas, double stick tape application, or assembly that would be done by us.
  • The quantity.

At Bert-Co, our equipment is tailored to run fairly long run work. If your project will always be a small quantity, you might look for a vendor that has equipment tailored to small runs. If your project will start out small and grow in quantity, you might be better off working with a supplier that can run large quantities, as opposed to moving your project later on.

A Few Other Points To Consider

First and foremost, structural designers will think about protecting the product and will size the box to correctly do so. While there’s a correct size for the product, there is also a correct size for the retail environment it will be sold in. A tiny tube of something might need a larger box or panel to carry all the information shoppers need to make a purchasing decision. On the flip side, if a box is too big for standard shelving it might be placed somewhere customers won’t look, which negatively impacts sales. In my opinion, the sooner retailers have input on the package, the better. 

Windows, internal inserts, platforms, locking features, hanging holes and handles should all be considered now, and as part of the pricing process. 

Now is also the time to think about the experience the consumer of this product will have opening the box. A good Out-of-Box-Experience can reinforce a purchasing decision and fuel repeat sales.

A box that is well thought out with attention to detail can be the preview of the product that’s inside. As a folding carton manufacturer, our goal is to come up with the right structure for your specific project the first time. We’ve hit it out of the park if we can deliver it the first time.  Incorrect sizes and duplicate samples of an incorrect design slows everything down. Your vendor is really your partner in designing something that works.

How To Measure A Box: Part 2

Have a packaging manufacturing question? Ask Bert Co!

Editorial photograph
Editorial photograph

By Suzan Kerston

Suzan Kerston is a packaging Geek. She attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, completing her studies in graphic communications. She is Executive Vice President at Bert-Co where she has worked for 31 years. Since 1930. Bert-Co creates and manufactures specialty and innovative packaging to luxury markets including beauty, distilled beverage, fancy food, and entertainment. Bert-Co excels at unusual coatings, unique substrates, sophisticated structures, and high-degree-of-difficulty folding cartons. Domestic manufacturing and global sourcing.