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Create Cartoon Packaging with Colorful Characters

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Learn how to take colorful character designs, vivid fruit vectors, and flowing elements to construct a packaging design aimed at kids. Kids love exciting, colorful, and super-happy designs, and we want to deliver on this.

Follow along with the creation of this packaging design, and learn to develop a concept that fits market expectations and the client brief. Along the way you've learned some helpful hints and tips as well as a thorough process.

Step 1: Establishing the Target Market

First of all we need to figure out who our target market is. A couple of years I worked on packaging illustration and I had two important projects. Both were about lollipops, one was targeted to teens and young adults. The flavor was chilly and cucumber, the other one was a honey and lime flavor targeted to little children who don't like the taste of cough medicine.

So in the first project we decided to give it a "fresh cool" image with two cartoon teen characters, we decided that an animal or some sort would be too childish.

The second one we had to make kids think that they were eating candy instead of medicine, so we gave it a fun image this time with a cartoon bear having fun with a boy and a girl, all wearing scarfs and winter clothing.

In this tutorial we are going to work with something similar, so we need to first establish a brief to work with. For the purposes of this tutorial the brief is to create packaging for a fruit lollipops product, and to target the market of children and teens. We'll take a similar approach to this project, as in the examples mentioned. Let's get started.

Step 2: Project Focus and Initial Direction

First we'll take a closer look at the focus and concept of the product, which is lollipops with different kinds of fruit flavors, such as: orange, apple, strawberry, grape, cherrie, etc.

For this step the first thing I keep in mind is that we can play with all kinds of colors because of the colors of the fruits, so whatever the design is going to end up with I know I'll need references of different fruits. This means I will need to vectorize some references so we can use them later on the design.

The product name for this project is "Juicypops." Normally we would get the name from the client, but for this project I chose an obvious name to keep things simple. Still we need to consider the fruit elements.

Step 3: Establishing the Size of Our Working Area

We have to divide the area we are going to work with. The product has three areas to design, which include the front cover, and two back cover information areas. We are going to fold this area and glue them to get our final packaging design. I'm going to use a standard size for this, but this will depend on what your clients needs.

Step 4: Start Developing the Concept of the Product

In this case we are going to work with concepts related to fruits with fresh and bright colors. We have references of everything tropical, farms maybe, all related to fruits. What first came to my mind is something alive and exotic. So I'll start looking for some references to parrots, or any animals that eat fruits. Keep in mind though that it doesn't have to be animals. It could be a human character too, like campers or exotic South American dancers. Use your imagination and keep in mind your client's overall brand identity, as well as the market we're targeting.

I think I'm gonna go with the exotic dancer and a parrot as a companion. The reason is that we need to capture the attention of teens and children so we are gonna work on a cool illustrated female (semi-sexy character) and a cartoony parrot for comic relief.

We'll use squares, circles and other shapes to separate areas. The areas where the elements are going to be are the title, information areas, cartoon characters, etc. For this you need to do a lot of pencil sketches. For this I like to print the working area and start sketching on it directly.

Step 5: Sketching Your Characters

In the base of your layout, start developing some sketches of the characters. Also for this I like to print the working area and start doing some doodles and sketch work, as well as work on overall packaging design. Below shows the development process for both characters, from sketch to completion in Illustrator.

Step 6: Sketching Our Design

Now that we have some characters and bag product layouts we can start doing a final sketch where we show the overall design. Here we define some elements, like the bag windows, this is so the buyer can see the product he's buying. This is very important and it has to be on the cover of the bag.

Work on sketching in design elements on the packaging. In this case we add details like a large wave element. This flows nicely across multiple planes of the package and is used to tie together the overall design.

Step 7: Lettering Creation

When I'm working with elements aimed at children I always try to make them as colorful as possible and because this product has to do with candy I think it would be more appropriate if we give the font some kind of a ballon or candy look, this way I think it would look more yummy.

Fist I take as reference a simple font (or you could create it, but this is a whole other tutorial, so we are going to edit an already existing font). In this case I'll use the font Bluestone.

Using the Pen Tool we do a couple of curves and we write with the font the name of the product.

Then we go to Type > Create Outline to turn our font into an object so we can edit it.

Now make sure it doesn't have a stroke, select the object, copy it, and paste it exactly in front of your first object.

Add a stroke to the copy in back. I added five points to the stroke on the object in back.

Do the exact some thing on the object you just added the stroke too.

You keep copying the same object and place them behind and add the stroke, just like the last steps until you get to something like the image below. Maybe add more points to the object each time you place a new one behind, I didn't with this example though.

Now we can add color to the letters. Normally, I use the same colors I used on the illustrations so they can match.

Now we are going to give our lettering a little balloon/candy effect so they look more sweet, its easy. Just imagine where the light is going to come from on our image and add some shades and and add white around objects on the corners of each letter. Now go to Transparency > Opacity and reduce the white objects to 25%, now you can see our letters are shiny.

Step 8: Integrating the Overall Design

Now that we have all our elements and sketches as reference we can do the final composition. With all our elements vectorized we can put together the placement of the final product packaging.

1. Use the logo and vectorized fruits to decorate the nutritional bar.

2. Be sure to not interfere with the info.

3. And leave enough extra space for the products info.

4. For the front cover we need to make it as fun as possible. Bending the title a little bit always helps our design to be more fun.

5. Along with the title we can make a composition with our vectorize fruits so the title looks more attractive.

6. We can do the same thing with the subtitle.

7. Again we need to put the title of the product on every space we can, part of the advertising. And again, we can play with it by bending or turning the title to decorate the window.

8. By adding more fruits to decorate the window we can make the back cover more colorful and fun.

9. Be sure to keep enough space for the bar code or anything else needed.

Step 9: Color Our Package

Now we color the work. Remember to use bright colors on the bag design, so it looks colorful and sweet, as we need to capture the attention of the kids and they like vivid colors.

Once finished, we prep the final design for delivery to the client.

Step 10: Final Design

This tutorial describes the process of how to create cartoon packaging with colorful characters. Along the way you've learned some helpful hints and tips as well, have fun putting your own characters into a packaging design, and now you'll be prepared for the next client that needs a colorful packaging design filled with personality.

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