Great product packaging starts with a great packaging mockup.

Package mockups are an excellent tool for working out the kinks of your packaging design and bringing the visuals of a new product to life without actually having to invest in printing. You can use a box packaging mockup to display product ideas on your portfolio, website, or social media channels, or as a way to collaborate with clients and establish a final packaging design that can then go to press once everyone is on board.

Even if you don’t currently work in packaging design, learning how to make packaging mockup files is a useful skill as a graphic designer. Not only will it help you expand your talents (and possibly your client base), it’s also a unique and attractive way to show off what you can do.

We’ve got some in-depth courses on the topic—including this beginner’s guide to how to make a packaging mockup in Photoshop—but to get the ball rolling we’ve put together this guide to creating a successful packaging mockup, with quick tips that any graphic designer can use to bring their packaging ideas to life on the screen.

tea packaging
Tea packaging mockups created by Skillshare student Kelsey Zuberbuehler. 

How to Make Graphic Design Mockups

How do you make a graphic design mockup? It all starts with having the right software. Here, we’re going to discuss how to make a packaging mockup in Illustrator, but you can make mockups with most graphic design tools. There are also free mockup sites that allow you to create digital product packaging without any costly software at all, and we’ve shared some of our favorites in the next section.

Once you figure out the basics, you’ll be able to put your skills (or your brand) to work on any type of packaging, with endless opportunities for letting your creativity shine. Here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Get Your Assets in Order

making a mockup in photoshop
Before you can put together a great mockup, you need to get your blank slate in place. 

Whether you’re making a food packaging mockup, apparel packaging mockup, or just a basic box packaging mockup, the process always begins with getting your tools ready to go.

In this case, you’ll want to use Adobe Illustrator, which offers a full range of features for bringing your designs to life—including a huge assortment of additional graphic tools available for free from the Adobe Stock marketplace.

Once you’re good to go, place a file of your blank packaging onto the screen. If you’re working on figuring out how to do 3D packaging mockup in Adobe, you’ll want to make sure your image itself is 3D. You can do this by uploading a three-dimensional image, or by uploading three two-dimensional images—the top, front, and side of your packaging—and placing them all on the same screen. Then rasterize and transform the three images to bring them together into one cohesive 3D form. (For some guidance on how to do this, check out our course on designing with texture in Adobe Illustrator.)

Step 2: Choose and Optimize Your Graphic Elements

 make a photorealistic mock up
Optimize your graphics to get the look you wantand to make your product as photorealistic as possible. 

Here’s where things start to get really fun. Once you’ve got your blank product packaging on the screen, you can start to add in your graphics—including fonts, colors, and your product logo.

As for where these graphics come from, you can create them yourself or you can source them as free assets from various places, such as the aforementioned Adobe Stock marketplace. Regardless of where they come from, copy and paste all of the graphics that you intend to include onto your artboard for easy access. Once they’re all there, you can get to work placing them onto your packaging.

How to assemble mockup packaging elements is up to you, and there’s a ton of room to play around and make the design all your own—even if you didn’t create the graphics yourself. The key to making it all look realistic is to focus on a few essential features as you place and modify, each of which will determine how optimal your final packaging mockup looks. These include:

  • Scale
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Perspective

Getting these features right is foundational to creating a mockup that looks realistic and professional. There are plenty of available Skillshare courses on Adobe Illustrator if you’re looking for some guidance, including courses that cover how to place and optimize logos, patterns, and other graphic elements that are inherent to graphic design mockups.

Step 3: Put Your Product Into Context

coffee packaging
A background will show your product to scale and make it seem even more real. 

In this coffee packaging mockup example, hyper-realism is achieved not just through the product design itself but through placing the file on a backdrop that brings it off of the screen and into real life.

Customize your scene as you see fit, though focus on choosing a background that works to put your packaging mockup into context, both in terms of how and where the product would be used and how it’s sized in relation to its surroundings.

From here, you may want to use a drop shadow to further position your mockup within its background—you can see a small shadow behind the coffee packaging mockup, which serves to make it look even more real. Just be sure that if you reposition your package you reposition the shadow as well, since an incorrectly placed shadow will take away from the end effect you’re going for.

And there you have it! While we’ve only covered the basics, you’ll be able to use Skillshare courses and other tutorials to work out the exact details and create packaging mockups that look as real as if they were actually right in front of you.

Want a Free Packaging Mockup? Here’s Where to Look

Does looking at these steps have you wondering where can I get free mockups? Well you’re in luck, because there are a lot of sites and services available for finding fast and free photorealistic mockups.

Here are some places to start:

Free Mockup: Browse 23,000+ free mockups aggregated from around the web, including packaging and box mockups, branding mockups, and printed product mockups.

Mockup World: Get access to hundreds of free mockups, plus complimentary tools for placing your mockups without Illustrator.

Smartmockups: Sign up for their free plan for access to about 200 mockups with basic features. If you need more, there’s a Pro and Team plan available too.

CreativeBooster: Enjoy 18,000+ free mockups, fonts, and more across a wide range of categories, including all sorts of packaged products.

Artboard Studio: This mockup generator site includes a library of free mockup templates and a studio feature that allows you to create presentations you can then share with clients or build out into a portfolio.

MockupTree: You’ll find hundreds of product mockup templates here, with ready-to-use graphics that can be modified to your preferences if you want to change any of the included elements.

Freepik: Search among more than 26,000 free product mockups for a nearly endless supply of templates and images.

From food packaging mockup templates to cosmetics, apparel, book covers, and more, free mockup generators are a helpful source for getting started on your designs. They’re also a good jumping off point as you start to develop your own graphic design mockup skills and style.

For more guidance on getting off the ground with your product packaging mockups, check out some of our other helpful articles, including the lowdown on graphic illustration and what to know about the differences between graphic designers and visual designers.

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