Packaging and package labeling have several objectives

  • Physical protection – The objects enclosed in the package may require protection from, among other things, mechanical shock, vibration, electrostatic discharge, compression, temperature, etc.
  • Barrier protection – A barrier from oxygen, water vapor, dust, etc., is often required. Permeation is a critical factor in design. Some packages contain desiccants or Oxygen absorbers to help extend shelf life. Modified atmospheres  or controlled atmospheres are also maintained in some food packages. Keeping the contents clean, fresh, sterile and safe for the intended shelf life is a primary function.
  • Containment or agglomeration – Small objects are typically grouped together in one package for reasons of efficiency. For example, a single box of 1000 pencils requires less physical handling than 1000 single pencils. Liquids, powders, and granular materials need containment.
  • Information transmission – Packages and labels communicate how to use, transport, recycle, or dispose of the package or product. With pharmaceuticals, food, medical, and chemical products, some types of information are required by governments. Some packages and labels also are used for track and trace purposes.
  • Marketing – The packaging and labels can be used by marketers to encourage potential buyers to purchase the product. Package graphic design and physical design have been important and constantly evolving phenomenon for several decades. Marketing communications and graphic design are applied to the surface of the package and (in many cases) the point of sale display.
  • Security – Packaging can play an important role in reducing the security risks of shipment. Packages can be made with improved tamper resistance to deter tampering and also can have tamper-evident features to help indicate tampering. Packages can be engineered to help reduce the risks of package pilferage: Some package constructions are more resistant to pilferage and some have pilfer indicating seals. Packages may include authentication seals and use security printing to help indicate that the package and contents are not counterfeit. Packages also can include anti-theft devices, such as dye-packs, RFID tags, or electronic article surveillance[9] tags that can be activated or detected by devices at exit points and require specialized tools to deactivate. Using packaging in this way is a means of loss prevention.
  • Convenience – Packages can have features that add convenience in distribution, handling, stacking, display, sale, opening, reclosing, use, dispensing, and reuse.
  • Portion control – Single serving or single dosage packaging has a precise amount of contents to control usage. Bulk commodities (such as salt) can be divided into packages that are a more suitable size for individual households. It is also aids the control of inventory: selling sealed one-liter-bottles of milk, rather than having people bring their own bottles to fill themselves.

Packaging types

Various household packaging types for foods

Packaging may be looked at as being of several different types. For example a transport package or distribution package can be the shipping container used to ship, store, and handle the product or inner packages. Some identify a consumer package as one which is directed toward a consumer or household.

Packaging may be described in relation to the type of product being packaged: medical device packaging, bulk chemical packaging, over-the-counter drug packaging, retail food packaging, military materiel packaging, pharmaceutical packaging, etc.

It is sometimes convenient to categorize packages by layer or function: “primary”, “secondary”, etc.

  • Primary packaging is the material that first envelops the product and holds it. This usually is the smallest unit of distribution or use and is the package which is in direct contact with the contents.
  • Secondary packaging is outside the primary packaging, perhaps used to group primary packages together.
  • Tertiary packaging is used for bulk handling, warehouse storage and transport shipping. The most common form is a palletized unit load that packs tightly into containers.

These broad categories can be somewhat arbitrary. For example, depending on the use, a shrink wrap can be primary packaging when applied directly to the product, secondary packaging when combining smaller packages, and tertiary packaging on some distribution packs.

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