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How Laser Art Can Enhance Your Packaging

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 02/09/2017 | 6 Minute Read

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Looking for a way to make your product’s packaging stand out? Laser art might just be the answer. Precise lines and cutouts don’t just look amazing, but they also add a texture that can make your product look even more enticing on the shelf or online. Jason Lefton of BIG SECRET, an agency that specializes in laser etching, mentioned, “Laser engraving provides an extreme level of intricacy and accuracy to packaging—people immediately want to reach out and interact with it.”

Case in point: The Manual is a small series of minimal-looking books which could have simply been placed on a shelf next to hundreds of other books. However, placed into a wooden holder designed with some laser-cut slots, it gains a dimensional depth that instantly makes it noticeable. “For a brand trying to stand out, or just make something cool as hell,” Lefton mentioned, “adding this layer of intrigue and delight is a great way to surprise a customer.”

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Those gorgeous, elaborate designs are easier to achieve than you might think, especially if you’re working with a talented agency. In fact, most materials are fair game: wood, paper, acrylic, fabric, glass, and even food itself. And when it comes to staying under budget, just keep in mind that communication is key. “Working on a budget is always a challenge because we want every client to be blown away with their end result. We try to remain realistic about what’s possible using experience (and secrets) from past projects. It’s important for us to set expectations and build an honest relationship with our clients,” Lefton added. “I try not to turn projects away for budgetary reasons alone considering so many factors go into a project. For example, if the timeline can be many months out, and the project is exciting, we’ll work with a smaller budget versus something with a rush deadline.”

We chatted with Jason at BIG SECRET to get more details about incorporating laser art into packaging, the considerations to make beforehand, the biggest challenges, and why more and more big brands are adding it to their packaging.

Why do people opt to have laser etching in their packaging design?

One of the beautiful aspects of laser engraving is their flexibility. We are able to engrave and cut an almost unlimited supply of materials, which means we have a great jumping off point for exploring different types of packaging. We’ve used paper, wood, acrylics, cardboard, leather, and more as the foundation or as accents for packaging. A client might bring us a challenging idea using multiple laser-made elements to combine into a package or they might simply provide us with artwork to optimize for laser engraving into current packaging.

In addition to the variety of materials, the laser shines due to its extreme intricacy and achievable level of detail. We can also use source imagery that’s not drawn in the computer. This leads to a nice merging of an organic, hand-made look and the futuristic medium of burning art into a substrate with a powerful beam of light.

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For someone thinking of laser art for their packaging, what structural design considerations do they need to make?

Because we are able to engrave, cut, and score so many materials, we can develop packaging from the ground up. We’ll also use woodworking as a starting point to fabricate a shape and then engrave directly onto it. A special edition box we created for theory11 has engraved elements both on the box and via glued parts that were etched, cut, and applied by hand.

Give us an idea or example of what your design process is like.

We’ve had a great relationship with theory11 over the past 5 years and recently completed a project fabricating a hand-built, wooden package to hold six decks of their Citizens playing cards. When they approached us about it, were doubly excited because the designer of the cards, Kevin Cantrell, is someone we have a lot of respect for and have enjoyed worked with in the past. The design process included consideration of materials and construction for the object itself, application of art to be laser engraved or cut, and application of hardware to the box. We had  the idea of laser engraving and cutting two layers of a wooden medallion on the top lid to give it some nice depth.

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You've worked with brands like Nike, Jack Daniels, Oreo, and more. Why are more brands looking to distinguish their packaging with laser art?

I feel the consideration and awareness of good design has exploded in the past 20-30 years on the consumer side, and brands are excited to push into ways to make themselves stand apart. Laser engraving provides an extreme level of intricacy and accuracy to packaging—people immediately want to reach out and interact with it. Big brands can be fun to work with but we also we really enjoying working with helping local artists, non-profits, and firms distinguish themselves.

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What are some of the big challenges clients face when wanting to add in this element to their packaging? What solutions can you offer for those problems?

Two challenges of adding lasering to a project are high volume runs and, of course, everyone has a budget. There is typically a limit to the economy of scale because our process is often hands-on with a lot of attention to detail. We try to offer a good bit of client education up front about the value this intricate work adds to their end result. We’ll also experiment with streamlining production methods to make them as efficient as possible, especially when the client has a need for hundreds or thousands of a piece. I prefer to price everything on a per-project basis, taking into account factors such as materials, quantity, timeline, complexity and coverage of the artwork. Even similar projects always have a few slight differences that can shift the cost and I find set rates to be less fair to the client and to ourselves.  

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