Buying Product Packaging from China: Price, MOQ & Design Options

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Product packaging is part of your brand DNA. Getting the ‘unboxing experience’ right can have a serious impact on your sales.

However, getting the packaging right when importing from China can be a challenge. In this article we explain everything Importers must know about product packaging when outsourcing production:

1. Buying custom designed packaging or supplier standard packaging

2. MOQ requirement

3. Design and material customization options

4. Price examples

5. Barcodes, packaging labels and regulations

Do I need to find a packaging supplier on my own?

No, you generally don’t need to source a product packaging manfuacturer on your own. Instead, manufacturers work with specialized packaging suppliers, from which they order on a regular basis.

I recommend that you work with the your manufacturers packaging subcontractor, as long as you don’t intend to create a customized packaging.

If you do, however, it makes more sense to work directly with a packaging manufacturer, that will produce a certain number of boxes that are sent to the ‘main supplier’.

Product packaging design options

When buying product packaging from China, you basically have two options. You either use an existing product packaging, or you design one on your own:

Option 1: Custom designed product packaging (OEM)

This approach is somewhat complicated. First of all, you must design the packaging according to the product shape and dimensions. Never rely on your supplier to make final adjustments to your packaging design.

Chinese suppliers are accustomed to a “make to order” approach, and simply forward clients product packaging designs to their subcontract.

Unless you have previous experience designing product packaging, you may want to get help from a professional. If you decide to do it yourself, keep track of the following specifications:

  • Material (e.g. PVC plastic)
  • Lock type
  • Surface lamination (e.g. glossy)
  • Thickness
  • Outer dimensions
  • Inner dimensions
  • Printing (e.g. Silk screen printing and Offset printing)
  • Pantone colors

Customized product packaging also requires additional tooling. Tooling costs are always paid by the buyer, but varies depending on the type of tooling.

That said, product packaging tooling costs are usually quite low, and rarely adds up to more than a few hundred dollars.

OEM packaging sample development can take time though. Expect a lead time of around 2 to 4 months.

Option 2: Using a factory designed product packaging (ODM)

Most suppliers have 5 to 20 different standard packaging models for their customers selection. You cannot customize the dimensions, materials or design – but you can customize the following:

  • Colors (Standard color or pantone color)
  • Logo
  • Other prints

The main benefit is that you will save a ton of time. ODM samples are often as cheap as $30 to $50, with a buyer brand. Further, such packaging samples can often be delivered within 3-4 weeks – compared to months for OEM packaging.

barcode scanner

Should I go for OEM or ODM packaging?

If you are launching a product for the first time, I don’t think it makes any sense to develop a custom packaging. Mainly because it can add several months to your product launch runway.

An ODM packaging doesn’t offer the same level of high quality material selection, or design customization, but you can still get a fairly good looking box, in a relatively short time.

If you are in a ‘launch stage’ right now, you should focus on getting a product on the market, and not get hung up on cosmetic details that will not have a serious impact on your sales.

Once you’ve got a product out there, and start to see some revenue, you can invest as much time and money as you want into getting perfect packaging.

Labeling requirements

Product packaging design is not all about posh artwork. Importers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia (and a bunch of other markets) need to ensure that the product packaging is labelled according applicable labeling regulations.

In many cases, labeling requirements are part of a safety standards, such as CE (Europe) and CPSIA (United States).

Failing to comply with the applicable labeling requirements may result in a forced recall, or even a lawsuit. Keep reading and I’ll explain why.

a. Warning labels

Certain legal acts and directives requires the importer to attach a warning label to the product packaging, in case a product contains a regulated substance. In the case of California Proposition 65, which regulates hundreds of substances in consumer products sold in California, such a warning label shall include one or more of the following sentences:

WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.

WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.

WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Such labels are certainly not going to make your product fly off the shelves faster. The only way to avoid warning labels is by verifying, through laboratory testing, that the regulated substances are within the legal limits. While California Proposition 65 is only relevant to business based in, or selling to consumers based in, California – similar warning labeling requirements are also outlined in the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA).

In the European Union, warning labels are not as common as in the United States. A logic explanation is that the EU decided to outright ban or strictly regulate substances under the REACH directive. Essentially, you need to ensure compliance or you are not allowed to sell the item at all – with or without a warning label. Click here to read more about product labeling requirements.

b. Compliance marks

Certain directives, including the CE directive in the European Union and FCC in the United States, require the product packaging to contain graphical symbols.

c. Country of origin

Consumer have the legal right to know where a product has been made, before they make a purchase. If the country of origin (e.g. Made in China) printed on the product unit, is not visible through the product packaging, the country of origin must also be printed on product packaging.

d. EAN / UPC / Barcodes

Barcodes are generally not mandatory. However, barcodes are used both by retailers and ecommerce companies to track inventory and sales.

You can purchase barcodes directly from GS1, and send the files to your packaging supplier.

box examples

Minimum Order Quantity

The Minimum Order Quantity, or MOQ, for customized product packaging (layout and/or design) is rarely below 1000 pcs. However, the MOQ can be as high as 500o to 10,000 pcs, for customized packaging.

This MOQ is not controlled by the manufacturer, but the print and product packaging subcontractor.

The MOQ for ODM packaging tends to be much lower. Somtimes as low as 300 to 500 pcs, even with the buyer’s logo. ODM also allows for some color customization, as long as you use the suppliers standard colors.

Product packaging regulations

While labeling requirements concerns the item inside the packaging, there are also directives and legal acts specifically regulating packaging design, mechanical properties and substances. In the United States, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA) regulates packaging for household items that may be harmful to children.

Most packaging regulations require the importer to ensure compliance with one or more ASTM (United States) or EN ISO (European Union) standards.

Contact us today, if you want to know more about how we can help you ensure compliance when importing from China.

Ready to import and launch your own product?

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a. Private Label & OEM Product Manufacturer Lists

b. Product Specification Templates

c. Product Label Samples

d. Compliance Document Samples

e. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire process

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    13 Responses to “Buying Product Packaging from China: Price, MOQ & Design Options”

    1. Renaud August 13, 2014 at 7:27 am #

      Very good advice!
      I would add that packaging can be a source of high costs if it is unnecessarily bulky. For high volume items, I strongly advice to pay for an engineering study to optimize this aspect.

      • Fredrik Grönkvist August 13, 2014 at 11:15 am #

        Hi Renaud,

        Yes, that’s also an important part of the design process!

    2. Giavonnie August 14, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

      Fredrik,
      Great article! I’ve just discovered your articles on the site. Do you have a beginner book or ebooks that you recommend for someone new starting out in the import sourcing business? Also if I’ve found several niches for products, how do I know the different rules and regulations/laws for each niche? Is there a way to get in touch with you?

    3. Chris November 17, 2015 at 2:59 am #

      I have a 6in+6in paper medical box that hold #16 small glass vile. If I mail your company the box could you make copy’s? It does have product info writen on the box as well. Saying what it is. Thank you for your time!!

    4. Irena Moon April 10, 2017 at 10:42 pm #

      How do I develop my own prototype of an idea that I have? Who should i reach out to?

    5. leopold June 23, 2017 at 10:34 am #

      what is your contact phone. Or how do oi send you a photograph of the kind of packaging that i require.

    6. Sam Gutierrez June 28, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

      Hello,

      I landed a job with a consumer goods company who manufactures their products in China. I have been tasked with going to China to try to find one dedicated packaging vendor. The company produces about 1.5 million units of packaging/yr. I will be meeting with a handful of potential vendors there.

      What is the best way to find capable packaging vendors in China?
      What is the best criteria to measure a printer’s production capabilities (i.e. samples, brands they’ve worked with)?
      I want to know that I am asking all the right question when I am there.

      Thank you.
      Sam

    7. Elena November 29, 2017 at 4:22 am #

      Hon Fredrick,
      We are a small scale but steady growing coffee roasting company based in Colombia. We are very selective with each attribute building our strong brand from quality of its raw material and packaging to relationships with the each supply and consumption chain party. We have faced difficulties in finding our a supplier / provider with MOQ less then 1000 for coffee package ( bag of 250g -350g) . I would appreciate your help with this matter.

    8. Anis July 14, 2018 at 2:57 pm #

      I need to order packaging can I contact you on watsup

    9. peter August 18, 2018 at 9:28 pm #

      I like packaging, man. I like you guys!

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