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Success at the Shelf: Color-Blocking Strategies for Packaging Design

Written by Joe Tarnowski of ECRM 7/13/20 based on an interview with Emily Page

Unless you are looking only to win awards, the true test of effective packaging design is how it makes the product jump out on the shelf and – ultimately – into the consumer’s shopping cart.

Yet many packaging designers fail to take this fact into consideration, and don’t test their designs on an actual store shelf next to competing products. After all, your product will not be sitting alone on the shelf as it does on your computer screen. You need to see what how it looks in a real retail environment to truly judge the effectiveness of the design.

Emily Page explains effective packaging design for retail packaging using color to grab attention.
What Is Color Blocking in retail packaging?

By evaluating the colors and designs of products that will sit alongside yours on the shelf, you can optimize your color blocking to really stand out among them. In this interview with Emily Page, CEO of Pearl Resourcing and a packaging design and branding expert, she provides and overview of what color-blocking is, and how brands can use it to optimize their performance at the shelf.

What Is Color Blocking in retail packaging?

Color block is the strategic arrangement of COLOR to attract someone's eye and sell product. This can be used in packaging design OR merchandising in stores. It’s a subliminal technique that the average consumer doesn’t notice, but that works in creating an attractive experience that leads them to take action and buy multiple flavors or items.

Retailers use it when organizing high sales velocity locations like end-caps and front of store displays to sell products. But brands can also design with blocks of color within their product line to make their entire line stand out next to the competition and entice retailers to include more products from the line.

To maximize the chance your product looks good in color block merchandising, brand owners should use large areas where there are solid colors AND pick complementary/contrasting colors. The human eye is naturally attracted to rich complementary and contrasting colors, and creating solid blocks of color cohesion across your product line will help the entire line stand out.

Use the color wheel to pick complementary colors so your product line artwork has cohesion
Color Wheel

According to Wikipedia, complementary colors “are pairs of colors which, when combined or mixed, cancel each other out (lose hue) by producing a grayscale color like white or black. When placed next to each other, they create the strongest contrast for those two colors. Complementary colors may also be called ‘opposite colors.’”

Start to Sold features advice on packaging design using color to grow sales.
Contrasting colors like these traditional examples force the eye to focus and draw attention.

In Your Product Line

As a brand owner or a packaging designer utilizing color blocking means strategically picking colors within your color family and arranging it to grab attention. You must do this within ONE packaging design and also within THE ENTIRE product line packaging design so they look eye catching on the shelf together.

In-Store & On-Shelf

As a brand owner, it’s also crucial to think about how your product will look in stores before designing your packaging. Your product line will be next to other products so you want to consider the competition in your category when picking colors to help you standout.

It's also helpful to note that for retailers, they will be more likely to feature and highlight your entire product line in stores in color block merchandising in high traffic spots on the store. For example they curate multiple brands at an end-cap or entrance display where sales velocity is on average higher to celebrate holidays or events. Plan to design in a way that will help your retailer create a beautiful eye catching in store experience that helps them converts to sales. The more you plan with the retailer's color-block merchandising in mind, the greater the chance of success in getting one or more items of your product line on the shelf.

On Your Packaging Artwork - Things That Work Here are some ways in which you can effectively deploy color block merchandising:

  • Brightness: Bright colors seem to trigger a positive response in our brains tied to recognizing healthy and ripe, ready to eat fruits by their juicy shades.

  • Shading patterns: Use shading to emphasis and make fonts or logos more bold. Minimize the use of shading or patterns that can appear to create a shadow or dampen bright colors.

  • Pick Contrasting Colors: Colors on the opposite end of a color wheel have the greatest contract. A color wheel is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors etc. Contrasting colors should be used to draw attention to your callouts on packaging and product names to grab as much attention as you can.

  • Complimentary Colors: For everyday shoppers, when you design amongst the entire product line with the same family of complimentary colors to create a pleasing and attractive feeling. Use a color wheel to find the colors that both contrast but belong together to create cohesion. Pastels should go mostly with pastels and jewel tones with jewel tones. The exception can be a hotter or brighter version of a color that is used as an accept. The color wheel again will help to guide you, as will a really experienced packaging designer.

On Your Packaging Artwork - Things To Avoid Here are some things that can cause issues when trying to effectively deploy color-blocking

  • Darker Shades: Lots of dark shades of color, especially in a category where other colors are bright – poor lighting in stores can result in your product looking like it’s in the shadow and it will be missed by the browsing eye.

  • Colors not in the same color family: It’s important to pick colors that go within a family so there is cohesion inside the product line which creates subliminal natural appeal.

  • Small fonts: Font sizes that are too small or design embellishments that disappear when far away on the shelf.

  • Colors too close to each other on the color wheel: Color blocking’s success requires variance or contrast to draw attention.

Actions You Can Take To Apply This

Color blocking can help retailers also sell products in stores says Emily Page.
Examples of a few product lines on the shelf with contrasting colors illustrates how retailers merchandise in stores.
  • Prior to making any mass production runs, print a mock-up of your packaging and take it into your local retailer and place it on the shelf against the competition.

  • Make adjustments and repeat as necessary until you get the colors that pop against the other products on the shelf.

  • Walk the store store as a brand owner and product developer to study what is going on in that environment, and evaluate the trends and patterns on the shelf as a source of inspiration and application before your next packaging artwork revisions.

  • Hire an expert packaging and branding designer. There is a time when it's helpful to hire a cheap designer to get your project going but as you grow and seek to create impact, you will powerfully notice the impact of a professional packaging designer to curate something that works on the shelf.


Packaging design for retail is the art AND a science of capturing the browsing shopper’s eye in a grocery store. This unique environment often has florescent lighting, shadows created by shelving and requires your product grabs attention of a consumer from the peripheral view of your customer. If you want to be sure your products sell there use COLOR to, it’s important to design with these unique elements in mind. 

Are you in need of a better packaging design strategy? Follow-up with PEARL RESOURCING to get help implementing any of the strategies listed above.


Listen to the podcast of this, or view the video (which has lots of visual examples) below.



This article was first published on the ECRM Blog - Success at the Shelf: Color-Blocking Strategies for Packaging Design  7/13/2020



Emily has managed and launched multiple 7-figure brands in Costco, Williams-Sonoma, Kroger, and Amazon. She’s bringing you the expertise, resources, and mentors you need so that you can develop products and make them sell. Work with her as a business growth consultant at OR subscribe to her Start To Sold YouTube Chanel for more product development advice Or add her on LINKEDIN to broaden your network: To hire her packaging design company visit



Emily is CEO of Pearl Resourcing and has managed and launched multiple 7-figure brands in Costco, Williams-Sonoma, Kroger, and Amazon. She’s bringing you the expertise, resources, and mentors you need so that you can develop products and make them sell.


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