The Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC) noticed four design trends during its annual North American Paperboard Packaging Competition, from the folding carton and rigid box entries this year.

Digital Upping Its Game

The number of digitally converted cartons entered into PPC’s competition has been increasing for the last several years, and the association created a new digital category for the 2018 competition.

Not only did 2018 see a record number of digital entries, the judges also agreed that the quality has skyrocketed. In many cases, it was hard to tell the difference between digital and traditional printing. One judge even commented that high-quality digital printing may be more than a trend. It might become the standard for short-to-medium runs going forward.

Additionally, 2018 was the first year where digital finishing enhancements, like those from Scodix, were popular in the competition. The judges were excited to see digital finishing executed commercially and suspect that it may become the rage over the next few years.

Upscaling the Everyday

Paperboard is often the first choice of substrate for luxury markets. Yet this year’s competition saw upscale printing and finishing effects even in everyday market sectors. For example, for the first time in the competition, the judges saw soft touch coating on a six-pack beer carton.

Graphic Packaging International highlighted this trend with their Kellogg’s Extra Creations cereal box. The black, gable-top carton has overall matte varnish, spot high-gloss coating with embossing, and gold foil stamping. The nontraditional shape, color, and effects all work together to create a unique, upscale feel that grabs consumers’ attention among the sea of rectangular cereal boxes in the grocery store.

Creative Multi-Use Designs

The competition featured cartons that not only branded and protected products, but also provided consumers additional value after purchase.

WestRock submitted one for Asahi beer. Not only is the design graphically unique for the beer segment, the structural design of the bottom tray enables the pack to display cans and hold ice. This allows consumers to keep their beer cans cold on the beach or wherever their adventure takes them.

Other interesting entries included a spooky, glowing Jägermeister carton designed to illuminate consumers’ Halloween parties; a rigid paperboard Ferris wheel that served as a showpiece for upscale cosmetics; and several packages that utilized augmented reality or allowed consumers to access virtual content with their smart phones.

Cannabis Continues

A unique cannabis carton manufactured by All Packaging Co. took the top award in last year’s competition. The 2018 contest also had several excellent folding cartons and rigid boxes designed for the cannabis industry. Cannabis cartons generally have two major functions: branding and childproofing. This year, some entries were strong in branding, featuring soft-touch coating, foil stamping and spot UV. Other designs took it a step further by adding creative locking mechanisms made entirely from paperboard. As the cannabis market grows, so too should its demand for paperboard packaging.

The top winners of the 2018 North American Paperboard Packaging Competition will be announced at PPC’s upcoming Fall Meeting, October 24-26, in Atlanta, Ga. For more information about the competition, visit