If you’re in the throes of getting a new product ready to ship to retailers, or refreshing the packaging of an older product, you’ve probably got a lot of conflicting information, way too many packaging options, and no idea where to start.

There are so many packaging options out there these days, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for you.

You might also be wondering whether your primary and secondary packaging should match or complement each other. The answer is yes, in most cases, but there are a few more things to consider.

The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Packaging

The first thing you need to know (in case you don’t already) is the difference between primary and secondary packaging.

Primary packaging is the last layer of packaging between your product and the customer. So, this might be a tube, tub, or wand for a product like mascara.

Secondary packaging is the packaging that covers the primary packaging. So, a blister pack for a mascara wand or lipstick tube, or a box for a cream or lotion. Anything that covers the primary packaging in another layer is secondary packaging.

Of course, not all products have secondary packaging. In fact, your secondary packaging might be the carton it’s sent to retailers in. But secondary packaging can, in itself, be a sign of a luxury item. So, if you’re aiming for high end buyers, you might want to choose this high-end packaging!

Creating Complementary Packaging

If you do plan to have secondary packaging that consumers will see on the shelves of a store, there are a few things you should consider when you start designing complementary primary and secondary packaging.


There’s a good chance your primary and secondary packaging are going to be different materials, but you should try to find options that complement each other in texture, “weight” and style.

So, for instance, if your product is packaged in plastic, it might be okay to use a simple coated card box or blister pack for the secondary packaging.

But if you’re opting for high end glass, for a jar or bottle, you might want to go for a heavier weight, higher quality matte finish card that has a similarly luxe feel.

Fonts, Logos and Wording

The next things you should consider when designing complementary layers of packaging is the fonts, logos and wording you use. Logos and fonts might already be set by your brand identity, but how big will they be? How will they be placed? Will you use your full logo or just an image to represent your brand on one or all surfaces?

Wording, and the writing on the product, should also complement each other. If one type of packaging uses young, fun, and exciting language, you should match it on the other. Likewise, if you’re evoking a sense of mystery, style, or luxury on one of your packaging layers, do the same on the other.


Shape is another consideration when you are designing primary and secondary packaging that complement each other.

Sometimes, choosing shapes that match might work, but sometimes, a square box for a round container might work better. Decide whether you want to echo the shape or have some contrast.


Chances are your brand colors will be used on your packaging, but they don’t have to be the same on both.

Many products have secondary packaging that is bright, colorful and more graphics driven, and a plainer or even monochrome primary packaging. You will often see this with perfume, which might have a very bright, eye-catching box and a simple bottle inside.

You could also decide to use similar colours but make one of the packaging layers a light version, and the other dark. So, for instance, you might use your primary brand color as the base for your secondary packaging with your logo in white or silver, while the primary packaging is white with the logo in your brand color. They still look like they belong together, but they’re not cookie cutter.

Matching or Not?

The biggest question you might need to answer when designing complementary primary and secondary packaging is whether you want them to match exactly or have slightly different styling.

In most cases, packaging looks better if the primary and secondary are a little different. If they match each other exactly, you miss the opportunity to create interest and perhaps even share a little more information or showcase different elements of your brand.

On the other hand, if both are mostly the same, the design process will take less time, so that might be beneficial.

Take Your Time

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your design and marketing team to decide whether you want your primary and secondary packaging to complement each other, and how much you want them to match or contrast. But whatever you’re leaning towards, take your time and don’t rush it.

Packaging is one of the most important selling tools you have for a lot of products. Even if someone hasn’t heard of your product, if they see the right packaging on the shelf, they might decide to try it – and become a devoted customer!