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5 Lessons from Leaders in Cannabis Packaging Design

Updated: Sep 27, 2018


Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky @nkachanovskyyy

Photo Credit: Nikita Kachanovsky @nkachanovskyyy


Good packaging is your product’s handshake. This first impression makes a world of difference to consumers, especially in a saturated market. In the era of cannabis legalization, new products clamor for space on dispensary shelves. Depending on the product, design is an immediate cue to your customers that cannabis does not have to be used solely for the purpose of getting high.

Gone are the “stoney-baloney” graphics from early cannabis edibles that featured “blazed cartoon characters with bloodshot eyes, trippy rainbow background graphics, and laughably large blunts,” as described in a blog post from The Dieline. In fact, packaging’s main job is to capture “the physical feel and the emotional tone” of the brand, comments Nathan Sharp, who collaborated with Jamie Lee to design Kiva Confections’ line of award-winning products. Kiva has the trademark cannabis leaf, which primes the senses for its products’ effects, but it’s not oversized and overwhelming. This is particularly smart given Kiva’s leadership with consistent microdosing options.

Similarly, a woman-owned cannabis tincture company made the leap from cozy country mouse to chic city mouse. Staying true to its roots of small, artisanal production, Humboldt Apothecary chose a cooling color palette, setting earth tones against a white background that connotes healing the all-natural way. Yet in order to meet modern cannabis consumers where they’re at, Humboldt Apothecary has embraced a stylish elegance. Its new look is uncluttered and crisp with a pop of glamor and an eye-catching touch of gold.


Another design lesson from the Wild West of cannabis sales: Don’t be afraid to mimic your brand idols across industries. The elegant, modern packaging of Mellows, founded by cutting-edge cannabis chef Stephanie Hua, is reminiscent of an upscale stationery company, Moo. Moo’s motto is “premium as standard,” and Mellows follows that same thread with its gourmet cannabis-infused marshmallows housed in attractive, high-quality boxes. The packaging is uncluttered, much like Mellows’ ingredients, which are missing the unhealthy additives of the old-school edibles. Rather, Mellows contains simple, natural ingredients to match the brand.


Paul Marcucilli, cofounder of Riser, a San Francisco–based design firm, says that in the booming cannabis space, “If you’re not standing out, you’re blending in.” Riser teamed up with a holistic health-and-wellness company, Treat Yourself, for a spruced-up look and feel in time for its October 1, 2018, relaunch. For Marcucilli, it isn’t about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but rather figuring out how to stay true to the brand’s identity while modernizing its look to gain broader appeal:


“There were certain elements of Treat Yourself’s previous look that they wanted to keep. Specifically, they wanted to feature a visual of a girl with long flowing hair. They also needed a system that could work across many (and I mean many) SKUs.”


Paul brings up the good point of cannabis labeling requirements. Companies must consider not only the look and feel of their packaging design but also regulation challenges, which, in Paul’s words, include “mandatory or legal copy, a small label size, or the occasional client who keeps wanting the logo to get bigger.” So, when designing your product, keep any regulatory constraints in mind and find the best possible solution.


Once basic information like THC and CBD levels are accounted for, designers and manufacturers must work together to elevate the brand’s look. It gets back to that handshake factor—you want to apply solid, consistent pressure. Don’t forget about linework and negative space, a couple of the top design trends of 2018. In Treat Yourself’s case, the challenge was how to retain the “Earth Mama” feeling but with higher quality to match the product’s clean and responsibly sourced ingredients. Marcucilli comments, “We developed a line illustration of a woman that feels delicate, modern and very premium, paired with simple typography. We chose a soft color palette against clean white and incorporated metallic gold details for that quality feel.”


In fact, there’s no shortage of companies with excellent branding in cannabis. If the primary goal of great packaging is to attract customers’ attention, then Atlas Edibles succeeds. Their fun, colorful, contemporary packaging provokes feelings and communicates emotion. It looks attractive and impresses us with its creativity. Dispensaries are getting much more sophisticated about the look and feel and overall experience of their shops. When we look at edibles packaging these days, we also have to think about how the brand merchandises and “upsells” other products in the dispensary. With such dynamic branding, who wouldn’t want to stock their shelves with Atlas?

Défoncé, an upscale chocolatier, could ride beside Fenty’s decadent line of inclusive makeup and beauty products. HoneyPot infuses organic honey with cannabis extract and communicates its brand through the classic, clean shape and simplistic design of its packaging. LA Kush’s skate-park script and bold colors, an homage to the Los Angeles Dodgers, screams chill beach and hip sneakers. Cannadescent, another California-based company, follows Tiffany’s strategy and makes the packaging itself a sign of luxury and excellence. Its signature orange box with embossed gold letters is the kind of thing you’d want to leave on your bureau and let guests infer your discerning taste without you having to say a word.


Thinking of updating the look and feel of your company? Here are five questions to consider:


1. What’s the heart of your company, the unique positioning that sets your brand apart from your competitors?

2. What’s not working with your current look?

3. What elements of the current design do you want to keep? A special color that’s tied to your brand? A font? A logo?

4. What are your dreams for your target audience now and five years from now? Be forward-thinking when designing your new look.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look at other popular and award-winning brands in fashion, beauty, and technology. Whose look do you just love?


A short list of other packaging we love

Kikoko Tea

Prime Extracts

Lola & Lola

AYA by Sonoma Cannabis

A video we love

Here’s a super cool video about cannabis packaging from the folks at 1964 Supply Co. for the artists series they designed. Amazing.

Any brands you’d like us to know about that are making a statement in design? Email us at info@4twentygroup.com.


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©2018 by 4twenty Group

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