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The Simple Story of Wonderfully Complex Color Packaging

By: Kevin Marshall
Posted: August 28, 2012, from the September 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

Color is deceptively simple yet wonderfully complex; nobody knew this better than Sir Isaac Newton. In the late 1600s, Newton deconstructed color, discovering that sunlight was actually white and that this “white” was comprised of the seven colors of the rainbow. These colors make up what we call the spectrum, and this color spectrum is actually made up of varying frequencies and wavelengths. Each color has its own designated space within the spectrum, and, to further confound us, some colors occupy more than one wavelength. In the end, Sir Isaac rightfully proposed that the colors we see aren’t “color” after all; what we see are light waves that are either refracted or absorbed by the object they are hitting. When light hits an apple, the apple absorbs all colors except for red, which is why it appears red. I could go on about varying color theories, color harmony, color context and so on, but you get the picture: deceptively simple yet wonderfully complex—and an integral part of our human experience.

Perhaps not coincidentally, color cosmetics packaging is a lot like color. When compacts, mascara or lipstick cases are designed and executed well (regardless of the distribution or cost of goods), it can be a beautiful, meaningful and lasting statement for a brand. But make no mistake, its beauty and functionality is the sum total of a myriad of small decisions, made by multiple cross-functional disciplines and painstaking attention to detail. It’s dichotomous that within the beauty arena such small packages are often the most challenging to design. Exceptional color cosmetics packaging (like color) is deceptively simple, yet as the market continues to demand innovation and brands continue to search for new ways to capture market share, cosmetics packaging is indeed becoming more complex—and more exciting—than ever before.

Category Growth Through Inspiring Packaging

Today, cosmetics are big business. According to analysts at Euromonitor International, color cosmetics trended positively in 2011, with global worldwide retail units sold reaching nearly $4.5 billion. (For more, read “The Future Bright for Color Cosmetics Despite Economic Gloom” by Euromonitor’s Rob Walker in the April 2012 edition of GCI magazine.) According to The NPD Group, nearly 800 million units were sold in both prestige and mass channels in the U.S. alone. Recently, analysts see renewed activity in the eye, lip and nail segments with innovative package forms following suit—and, in fact, all color categories are bustling with new offerings. With such strong market activity, it’s no wonder brands are pushing designers and suppliers alike to come up with inspiring packages that deliver new experiences. Yet category growth isn’t the only reason color brands are so focused on alluring packaging.

Research shows that when consumers shop for color cosmetics, they are usually looking for a specific product type—but more often than not, they don’t have a specific brand in mind. This consumer behavior should not be underestimated, as it underscores the critical importance for cosmetic brands to maximize the power of good packaging. In short, packaging is an amazing—and immediate—opportunity for brands looking to attract and hook new customers.