Packaging and Labelling – What’s the Difference?

Packaging and labelling

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Packaging and labelling are frequently confused with one another, yet they are fundamentally distinct components of product presentation and communication. This common misconception obscures the unique roles and impacts each has on a product’s journey from conception to consumption. 

Our article aims to unravel this confusion by shedding light on the nuanced differences and specific contributions of packaging and labelling. Understanding this distinction is not just academic; it’s a practical necessity for businesses focused on enhancing consumer experience, ensuring regulatory compliance, and leveraging these elements for competitive advantage.

What is Packaging?

Definition of packaging

Packaging is the process of enclosing and protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use, incorporating package design, evaluation, and production. It involves a combination of materials, methods, and procedures used to contain, handle, protect, and deliver goods. 

Packaging is a multifaceted concept encompassing not just the physical protection of goods but also their presentation and preservation. Packaging helps. 

  • Safeguards items from damage during shipping and handling.
  • Ensures products maintain their integrity and quality until they reach the end user.
  • Plays a crucial role in attracting consumers through aesthetic appeal and design.

Packaging uses different materials, such as. 

  • Plastic
  • Corrugated / Cardboard
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Paper
  • Clothes
  • Cellophane

Types of Packaging

Packaging can be classified into three main types based on its functionality and the distribution stage it serves:

Primary Packaging: This is the first layer of packaging that directly encases the product. It comes into direct contact with the item, providing protection and preserving its contents (e.g., a chocolate bar wrapper).

Secondary Packaging: Secondary packaging holds one or more primary-packaged products. Its purpose is to provide additional protection during shipping and handling, and it’s often used for branding and information communication (e.g., a box containing multiple primary-packaged goods).

Tertiary Packaging: This packaging level is used for bulk handling, warehouse storage, and transport shipping. Tertiary packaging materials are typically not seen by consumers. They are focused on efficiently moving large quantities of products (e.g., pallets and crates).

To learn more about the three levels of packaging, refer to our comprehensive guide, Primary Secondary and Tertiary Packaging.  

What is Labelling?

Definition of Labelling

Labelling is the process of attaching tags or stickers to products. These tags display key information such as product contents, usage instructions, and manufacturer details. 

A label typically displays:

  • Product contents
  • Usage instructions
  • Manufacturer details
  • Expiry date, if applicable
  • Nutritional information for food items
  • Compliance symbols or certifications
  • Safety warnings or cautions
  • Price and barcode information

For deeper insights into labelling, please check our dedicated article on What is Labelling? 

Types of Labelling

Labelling comprises the following types:

  • Brand Label: This includes the brand name and logo on the product packaging. It plays a crucial role in brand recognition and loyalty. Brand labels often incorporate distinctive colours, fonts, and designs that are synonymous with the brand’s identity.
  • Descriptive Label: Descriptive labels provide detailed information about a product’s features, benefits, and usage instructions. This type of labelling is essential for products that require assembly, have safety considerations, or boast specific attributes that consumers need to be aware of before purchase.
  • Grade Label: Grade labels indicate the quality or size of the product, often used in food products, clothing, and other consumer goods. These labels can help consumers choose products that meet their preferences or quality expectations.
  • Informative Label: Informative labels educate consumers about the product, including care instructions, potential hazards, and the product’s environmental impact. This type of labelling is essential for compliance with regulatory standards and for promoting informed consumer choices.

Labelling and Packaging - The Differences

Differences between labelling and packaging
To protect and contain the product during shipping and handling.
To provide information about the product to the consumer.
Facilitates product transportation and storage.
Facilitates product identification, use, and regulatory compliance.
Focuses on structural design to protect contents and facilitate handling.
Focuses on graphical design to communicate information effectively.
Made from various materials (plastic, cardboard, glass, etc.).
Primarily uses paper, plastic, or adhesive materials for labels.
Regulatory Requirements
Must meet specific standards for safety, durability, and transportation.
Must comply with legal standards for information disclosure and accuracy.
Consumer Interaction
Influences purchase decisions through aesthetics and functionality.
Provides essential product information and instructions.
Technological Integration
Includes smart packaging, QR codes, and sustainability innovations.
Includes QR codes, NFC tags, and interactive labels.

Now, let us look at the key differences between packaging and labelling at greater depths.


The primary function of packaging is to protect and contain the product, ensuring it remains safe and intact from the manufacturer to the end user. It acts as a physical barrier against damage, contamination, and deterioration. 

On the other hand, labelling aims to inform consumers about the product, providing essential details such as ingredients, usage instructions, and manufacturer information. In other words, labelling is a communication tool that bridges the gap between the brand and the consumer.


Packaging functions to facilitate the transportation and storage of products, designed to withstand the rigours of shipping, handling, and retail display. Its structural integrity and design ensure products are delivered to consumers in their intended condition. 

Conversely, labelling facilitates product identification, usage, and regulatory compliance. Labels make it easier for consumers to identify their desired products, understand how to use them effectively, and recognise compliance with standards such as safety and health regulations. 

While packaging focuses on product distribution’s physical safeguarding and logistical aspects, labelling emphasises information dissemination and compliance with legal and industry standards.


The packaging design primarily focuses on the structural aspects, aiming to protect the product and ensure its durability during transport and handling. It involves considerations like shape, size, and materials that can withstand environmental stresses and appeal visually to consumers. 

In contrast, the design of labelling centres around graphical elements and readability, ensuring that information is conveyed clearly and effectively. Labels must incorporate brand identity, regulatory information, and consumer appeal within a limited space, requiring a balance between aesthetic appeal and functional clarity.  

To excel in packaging and label design, explore our guides: Tips and Tricks for Best Packaging Designs and Best Practices for Designing Perfect Labels and Barcodes


The choice of material for packaging varies widely, encompassing plastic, cardboard, glass, metal, etc. Materials are selected based on the product’s protection, preservation, and aesthetic needs. They are chosen for their durability, functionality, and impact on the product’s overall presentation.

Labelling materials, however, tend to be more limited. They commonly use paper, plastic, or adhesive films. These materials must support clear printing and adherence to various surfaces while considering environmental factors and regulatory compliance. 

Packaging materials are focused on structural integrity and environmental conditions, whereas labelling materials prioritise information clarity, adherence, etc.

As a premier supplier of labelling essentials, Triton Store stands out with its wide-ranging collection of labelling products. Our inventory boasts top-tier thermal transfer ribbons, diverse thermal labels suited for different purposes, robust thermal carton labels, bespoke thermal carcass tags tailored for the meat sector, thermally safe food inserts, crisp high-resolution receipt rolls, and personalised labels for logistics and shipping demands.

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Legal and Regulatory Requirements

Packaging laws and regulations often centre on safety, durability, and environmental impact. These regulations include material restrictions and the requirement that certain products be child-resistant or tamper-evident. These regulations ensure that packaging can safely contain and protect the product throughout its lifecycle.

On the other hand, labelling regulations focus on the accuracy and completeness of information provided to consumers. This includes mandatory disclosure of ingredients, nutritional information for food products, usage instructions, and safety warnings. Labelling must comply with legal standards for truthfulness and clarity to help consumers make informed decisions and ensure product safety. 

Navigating the complexities of packaging and labelling regulations is paramount for ensuring product compliance and consumer safety. For those seeking deeper insights into specific regulatory areas, we’ve curated a selection of articles that offer detailed guidance:

Consumer Interaction

Packaging initially attracts consumers through visual and tactile elements, influencing their perception and purchase decisions. 

In contrast, labelling facilitates informed choices by providing detailed product information, from ingredients to usage instructions, directly affecting the consumer’s engagement and satisfaction with the product.

Technological Integration

Packaging innovation embraces smart technologies like QR codes and NFC tags to enhance product security and consumer interaction, offering a gateway to digital content. 

Labelling technology focuses on improving information delivery and traceability, utilising barcodes and RFID tags for better inventory management and consumer engagement. 

Both approaches leverage technology to add value beyond traditional roles, although their applications and benefits differ.


Thus, while marketing packaging and product labelling are intrinsically linked in their roles within the product life cycle, they serve distinct purposes. Their designs, materials, and environmental impacts also differ, reflecting their unique challenges and objectives. 

As consumer preferences evolve and regulatory requirements tighten, both packaging and labelling continue to adapt, integrating technological advancements and sustainability practices. 

Understanding these differences highlights the complexity of product presentation. It underscores the importance of strategic design and information sharing in meeting consumer needs and environmental responsibilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Latest Trends in Sustainable Packaging?

Sustainable packaging trends include using biodegradable materials, such as plant-based plastics, and designs that minimise waste. Innovations like edible packaging and packaging designed for reuse or easy recycling are gaining popularity, reflecting a shift towards environmental responsibility.

How Do Smart Labels Enhance Consumer Experience?

Smart labels, incorporating technologies like QR codes and NFC tags, offer interactive experiences. They enable consumers to access detailed product information, authenticity verification, and engage with brands through smartphones, enhancing transparency and trust.

Can Packaging and Labelling Affect Consumer Perception of Quality?

Yes, high-quality, well-designed packaging material and clear, informative labelling can significantly enhance consumer perception of a product’s quality. They contribute to a product’s premium feel and can influence purchasing decisions by signalling superior quality.

What Is the Impact of Packaging Design on Brand Identity?

Packaging design is critical in establishing and reinforcing brand image. Through consistent use of colours, logos, and design elements, packaging creates a visual identity that consumers can easily recognise and associate with the brand’s values and quality.

How Do Costs Compare Between Packaging and Labelling?

Generally, packaging tends to be more costly due to the materials and design complexity required for product protection and appeal. Product labeling costs, while variable, are usually lower but depend on the technology and materials used. Both are significant investments for brands, with their design and execution playing key roles as a marketing tool. 

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