Rigid boxes vs Folding Cartons – Considering the Overall Expenses

These articles are all about the various costs associated with buying custom packaging. Here, I’ll be dealing with many of the expenses that contribute to the cost of custom packaging; labor, materials, tooling, set-up fees, design work, prototypes, testing, freight, shipping, fulfillment, storage, and of course, volume.


Rigid boxes vs Folding Cartons  – Considering the Overall Expenses

Rigid Boxes vs Folding Cartons, they both serve basically the same purposes – to house, protect, and showcase your product. Most products that can be packaged in a folding carton can usually be packaged in a rigid box instead and vice versa. When considering rigid boxes vs folding cartons for your product’s packaging it is important to view the overall expenses that can be incurred in order to see a more accurate depiction of your packaging expense.

The one deciding factor, for most people, on whether to use a folding carton or a rigid box for their product(s) is the cost; rigid boxes are certainly more expensive than folding cartons and are usually reserved for “higher-end” products.

However, when considering costs, one must not simply look at the basic unit price. There are many other factors that can affect the bottom line and you may be surprised when you the crunch the numbers that rigid boxes can be more on par, cost-wise, with folding cartons than you initially thought. (Of course, often enough folding cartons still prove to be more cost effective, but it’s important to know for sure).

If you are unsure about the differences between these two types of box packaging, check out this article. And for more detailed information check out this article on folding cartons and this article on rigid boxes.

Let me first say that, when it comes to folding cartons and rigid boxes, I don’t favor one over the other. Both are great, and both have pros and cons that can be different for different products.

Tooling Costs

When buying custom folding cartons, there are always tooling costs. Depending on how much you order or how frequently, tooling costs can affect the unit cost by a little or a lot. Of course if you don’t change your product’s packaging from run to run, you usually only have to pay for the tooling once. However, if you find you are, or will want to, make changes to your packaging in between runs, using rigid boxes may give you more flexibility without the added cost of tooling.

Shipping Costs

Now I would be remiss to not mention the extra shipping costs that rigid boxes can incur. Because rigid boxes, often called “set-up boxes” are already set-up when shipped, they use up a lot more space in a truck (or boat) than folding cartons (which ship flat). However, if you are lucky enough to find a rigid box manufacturer near where you need the packaging shipped, this may not be as much of a problem…

Storage Costs (Warehousing)

…which brings me to my next point, warehousing. Some rigid box companies will warehouse your packaging for cheap (or free) which enables you to get a price break by ordering higher volumes up front. Then, as you need more packaging, it can be shipped to you quickly because it is already made and paid for. Or perhaps you have an abundance of unused space that can be used to store extra units of packaging. Either way, the availability of extra warehousing can help offset costs significantly.

Protection (Cost of Damaged Product)

If you find that your folding cartons are getting brutalized from shipping and handling by the various distributors and store workers, then rigid boxes might be your ticket to saving loads of money from damaged product. Rigid boxes can handle more abuse and provide greater security for your product. I once tried to order a certain product three times and each time it was declared “undeliverable” because the product kept breaking somewhere along the supply chain.

No Assembly Required (Labor Costs)

This one can be potentially huge. Rigid boxes show up at your fulfilling warehouse already assembled. That means that putting your product into its packaging requires less labor than having to first set-up a folding carton (which is delivered flat and needs to be set-up). Less labor costs and faster to market products could save you enough money to give rigid boxes a second look.

Who is making your Rigid Box?

Some companies use more automation than others. Some have access to very inexpensive hand labor. Some specialize in small runs, some in large runs. All of these factors can affect price. With folding cartons, the printers and converters that manufacture them are usually more streamlined and so these aforementioned factors aren’t quite as weighty. So basically, there will be more price disparities between rigid box manufacturers, so shopping around for rigid boxes is arguably more important to get better prices than shopping around for folding cartons. Getting a dramatically better price will obviously make utilizing a rigid box more of a realistic option.

The following last three factors are a little more difficult to put into hard numbers but nonetheless can affect your sales and brand in the long term.

Perceived Value

A rigid box gives your product a higher perceived value in the eyes of your customer than does a folding carton. So perhaps it is worth testing the market by using a rigid box. This one is a lot more subjective at first until you do it and then examine the sales figures.

After the Product is Purchased

What are people doing with the packaging once the product is purchased? With folding cartons, people often simply throw them away. Because rigid boxes are of a more durable and substantial construction, customers often find new uses for these boxes. Your product’s packaging may be sitting on someone’s shelf holding pencils for example. And when your customer reaches for a pencil, your brand is further imprinted on their mind. This lends itself to marketing and advertising dollars being more effective for longer periods of time, not to mention the sustainable aspect of repurposed packaging.

Packaging Trends

Sometimes product packaging tends to move away from one type of box towards another. This could mean that once a folding carton was the norm for your product and now the competition has switched to some style of rigid box. Should you follow suit? Will not doing so result in loss of sales? Increased sales, even though profit margins may be smaller, can easily benefit your brand making it easier to expand into new territories.

In a Nutshell…

The overall expenses for rigid boxes vs folding cartons are affected by:

  • Tooling Costs
  • Shipping Costs
  • Warehousing Options
  • Product Protection
  • Simply Shopping Around For a Better Price
  • Perceived Value
  • Customer Repurposing of Your Packaging
  • Packaging Trends

Admittedly, most of these considerations are not very significant on their own, but if many or all of them apply to your situation, you may find that the gap in unit price between rigid boxes and folding cartons merge ever closer.