Ultimate Guide to Custom Packaging Inserts


Are you looking for a way to elevate the look of your packaging and protect the products inside?

Custom box inserts may be just what you’re looking for. 

Custom packaging inserts can be made from a variety of materials like cardboard, foam, and fungi. These stylish and practical inserts can be custom-sized to fit your unique products.  

You can use packaging inserts to ship all kinds of products. Want to give that bottle of wine a little added padding? Have a plant you need to send? A custom insert will hold them securely, so they arrive at the recipient safe and sound. Even large and heavy items can get added protection when nestled in a custom insert.

Custom inserts not only cradle your precious cargo, so they get to their destination in one piece. They can also give your packaging that wow factor. Custom inserts can take your customers’ unboxing experience from ho-hum to something they’re eager to share with friends word-of-mouth and the world through social media. 

So, let’s get started! Here’s everything you need to know about custom boxes and inserts. 

Types of Custom Inserts

There are items you can place in a box and send off without putting any thought into it.  However, you give your customers a lackluster experience when they open that box. 

Also, most products need some sort of added protection to ensure their safe arrival. This is where void fill options come in handy. Examples like packing peanuts, crinkle paper, PE foam, and air pillows protect your products and help boost their presentation. 

These are all great options for certain products and in certain situations. But sometimes, you want to add something a little extra to make your customers’ experience much more special.  

Enter custom packaging inserts. 

Custom inserts keep the cargo safe from damage during shipping as they fit the exact specifications of your products. More importantly, they add style to the packaging and help you achieve your branding goals. They’re also not limited to securing the actual products. You can use inserts as trays or dividers.

But what type of packaging insert is right for you

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First, you must choose what sort of material you must use for your custom inserts. Each material has its characteristics that add to the presentation of the product packaging. 

Also, coming up with the best custom packaging depends on the product you’re putting in the box. Each product requires different ways to keep it safe during delivery. You can’t just use any material for your packaging inset and expect the product to arrive at the destination without any damages.

According to studies, product damage is the cause of 34% of customer returns related to packaging. So, you can’t afford to lose more than a quarter of your sales due to negligence.

It’s also important to keep in mind the company vibe you want to reflect. If your company mission statement centers around sustainability and environmental causes, use eco-friendly materials for your packaging inserts. 

Last, your budget will also play a part in what type of insert you choose.

To give you a summary of the different kinds of custom boxes, below is a handy table for your reference:

Type Description
Paperboard Inserts Provide elegant presentations for boxes of lightweight products like cosmetics and stationaries. Won’t provide enough protection for fragile items.
Corrugated Inserts Heavy-duty boxes that can handle bottles and other fragile products. Easy to print on due to its corrugated cardboard material.
Rigid Chipboard Inserts Rugged inserts to handle the shipment of ornaments and bottles. Can also organize products inside the box with no problem.
Foam Inserts Padding that you can fit inside your custom packaging box. Holds fragile items in place aside from providing added protection to them during shipping.
Pulp Packaging Inserts Made from recyclable materials used for fragile items like eggs and wine bottles. 
Mushroom Packaging Similar to foam inserts, but the padding is made from mushrooms. You can put it in the compost pile after use.
Molded Plastics Made from synthetic materials with a polymeric structure. Its popularity has waned through the years due to the harm it causes to the environment.

Now, let’s take a look at common materials used for custom inserts: 

Paperboard Inserts

Not all inserts need to be heavy-duty. Sometimes products don’t need much protection, but you’d still like to have an appealing presentation.

Paperboard inserts won’t give you maximum protection, but they’re a great choice for carton boxes and invitation boxes. They’ll keep your products in place and add to an overall pleasing presentation.

Paper stock is also good for small, lightweight items, such as beauty products or stationery. These inserts usually come in natural kraft color or white. Finally, there’s plenty of opportunities to add your branding, such as colors, logo, and message, suitable as paperboards are easy to print on.

Corrugated Inserts

corrugated inserts and types of custom box inserts paperboard rigid foam

Another affordable option is corrugated cardboard inserts and boxes. They’re heavier duty than the paperboard inserts and offer more protection. You might see these used in a box to separate fragile items like bottles.  

As you can see in the below image, Fuego Box uses custom inserts to display their hot sauce bottles beautifully and to prevent the bottles from spilling into each other. No one wants to open a box to find glass shards and sauce strewn around.

As with the kraft paper inserts, you can also easily print on corrugated cardboard. So feel free to add a message or use a brand color.

Rigid Chipboard Inserts

Rigid chipboard inserts are made from reinforced cardboard, making them good for shipping and protecting fragile items like ornaments or perfume bottles.

They’re also great for keeping products separated, so they don’t rattle into each other.  And since the design is pretty solid, this type of divider might be reused by customers to store other items down the road. 

Foam Inserts

Foam inserts are best for protecting fragile items like glass, camera lenses, and jewelry from scratches and scuffs. 

This foam padding type is made up of pre-scored squares that you can simply take out to fit your product. Since it eliminates the need for die-cutting, it’s a more affordable option. At the same time, these inserts are also super-lightweight and help decrease your shipping costs.

If you have different size products or have a smaller budget, “pick and pluck foam,” is an alternative to the die-cut foam inserts.  

Pulp Packaging Inserts

Pulp packaging inserts can be used for fragile items because they offer a lot of protection. Molded pulp inserts are made from recyclable and biodegradable materials like cardboard, sugarcane, bamboo, and other natural fibers. A perfect example of this packaging insert type is an egg carton.

Pulp Packaging Inserts fragile items egg carton

Pulp packaging is highly versatile and comes in different shapes or sizes. They can even support heavy items like wine bottles. When empty, you can stack these inserts on top of each other to help you save storage space.

Mushroom Packaging

If you want to go further on the sustainability front, packaging made with mushrooms is the way. This packaging can be molded to fit just about any product, from cosmetic to CBD.  

For example, Ecovative Design’s Mushroom Packaging can be grown in only seven days and made from hemp hurds and mycelium.

Their packaging is 100% biodegradable so that you won’t be adding to the overfilling landfills. And you can even add it to your home’s compost pile.  

Molded Plastic

This packaging type is made from natural or synthetic materials with a polymeric structure, making it easy to mold when softened. Common examples of molded plastic include soda bottles, lids of takeout coffee cups, and water bottles.

Molded plastics were popular back in the day due its durability and cost-effectiveness. However, its non-biodegradable nature makes it harmful to the environment. 

Out of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic created between 1950 and 2015, only 9% has been recycled. Its effect on marine life has been devastating. This is a large reason why people are more conscious about using less plastic as much as possible. 

Coming Up with the Structural Design

Custom packaging inserts mean they’re specially made to fit your products and beautifully reflect your company vibe.  However, ensuring you get the right fit and look will take a little work on your end.  

First, it’s essential to determine the exact dimensions of the products you want to place in the insert. If you have a somewhat regular-shaped item, like a candle, or something cube-shaped, simply measure and share its dimensions with the manufacturer.  

But how about for odd-shaped items like drills, cameras, or game controllers? They have all kinds of nooks and crannies that make it challenging to get precise measurements. If the opening is too big, the item will fall out. Too small and it won’t fit. The insert is supposed to cradle your item just right to keep it safe and attractively displayed.  

In some cases, you may need to send the physical product to the manufacturer to get the measurements right. From there, they can build the insert around the product.

Also, avoid over-engineering your custom insert. You want it to offer the protection your items need, but you don’t want to add unnecessary weight or bulk to your packaging.

On top of ensuring the right fit for your products, you must also consider the fulfillment side of things. Cardboard inserts are usually made and stored flat, then folded into shape, and placed in the box.  Someone or something (if you’re using automated machinery) must put the inserts in all of those custom boxes.

While fulfillment should be easy, common issues you may encounter include receiving the wrong package due to poor shipping management. Getting your inserts printed and shipped by a reliable fulfillment center is key to a hassle-free delivery.

Also, you don’t want to frustrate customers with their unboxing experience. Make sure that taking the items out of the insert is as easy as possible for customers. 

Also, consider how your customers will dispose of this packaging. Is it easy to break down? Easy to recycle? Most people don’t want to fill their trash cans with excess packaging. 

Custom Printing and other Design Elements

Inserts don’t have to be a drab brown color unless that’s the look you’re going for. In fact, your insert doesn’t have to match the outside of the mailer box. Feel free to give your customers a little surprise inside. 

You can pick a bold color, print your logo or catchphrase, or write a message to your customers like a simple “thank you.”

Here are three of the leading printing techniques for paperboard or corrugated material:

  1. Flexographic printing (or Flexo): This process stamps a non-photo quality design onto the cardboard material.  Since it works well on smooth and rougher surfaces, it’s a good choice for printing on corrugated material. And it’s a good option for large quantities.
  2. Digital Printing: This newer printing technology uses the CMYK ink spectrum, giving you a wide choice of colors. Digital printing prints the design line-by-line so you can get photo quality. This process is more cost-effective for small batches, and it has a quick turnaround.
  3. Lithographic printing (or Litho): The design is printed onto a label, and then that layer is stuck onto the cardboard.  Litho printing can give a premium look to your packaging.  You can add things like foil details and emboss with this method.  Litho is a good choice for large quantities of premium packaging. 

You can also choose what kind of coating and lamination you’d like for your inserts. Do you want to go for a glossy look? Or maybe a matte finish is more in tune with your brand. 

Get as fancy or simple as you want. Just make sure it ties in with your overall branding goals to delight your customers. 

Benefits of Custom Inserts

As seen above, there are tons of options for custom inserts. It’s now a matter of planning for the right materials and design elements for your custom insert design.

The extra time and effort you may need to invest in coming up with a custom insert design can have big-time benefits.  

Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages of going with custom box inserts: 

Robust Product Protection

Benefits of Custom Inserts robust product protection

The most important job of your packaging is to ensure your goods arrive in one piece.  

The last thing you want is for your customer to open a box and find out that the special wine glass or new camera lens is shattered into pieces.

It doesn’t matter how great your products are or how pretty your packaging presentation is. If your products arrive broken, your customers will not be happy. And this incident could create a bad lasting impression about your brand that could lead to lost revenue.

Custom inserts are designed to secure and protect your products inside the box that they’re shipped in. They’ll effectively secure your unique products, no matter their shape or size or how many they are.


Custom inserts can give your packaging a polished look that customers will take notice of. They can present your items in a way that makes your products the focal point. 

A beautiful presentation can lead to immense marketing benefits. For example, unboxing videos are pretty popular nowadays. In fact, the time people have spent watching unboxing videos from their phones is equivalent to watching “Love Actually” more than 20 million times. And most of the time spent on these videos is about the packaging of the product.

Also, many influencers, and even your everyday customers, have taken to sharing pretty packages on social media channels, such as Instagram and Pinterest.

Finally, according to surveys, 72% of Americans agree that packaging can influence their purchasing decision. In the case of e-commerce and retail, looks matter.

Amplify Your Brand Recognition

Custom package inserts can help customers take notice of your brand. You can add your logo to the insert or use your brand colors. You can even keep branding to a minimum to achieve a raw and bare look.

No matter what style you choose, giving your customers a thoughtful, high-end experience through your packaging will make your brand more memorable and excite your customers.  

And why is building brand loyalty so important? Consider this:

  • 43% of customers spend more money on brands they are loyal to. (Fundera)
  • 94% of people said they’d be highly likely to recommend a brand they were emotionally engaged with. (Genler)
  • 48% of consumers report that they are more likely to become loyal to a brand during the first purchase or experience. (G2)
  • 50% of shoppers say they’re more likely to recommend a product with branded packaging. (BusinessLoad)

Custom packaging inserts are a great way to pump up customer loyalty. Not leveraging your packaging to get your brand noticed potentially leaves a lot of money on the table. 

The Environmental Angle

Environmental concerns are on top of the consumers’ minds, and this includes packaging.  No one wants to contribute to landfills or have a giant carbon footprint.

Recent research conducted about sustainability concludes the following:

  • 74% of those surveyed would pay more for sustainable packaging, and nearly one-fourth are willing to pay for an increased cost of 10 percent or more.
  • 60% of consumers say they are less likely to buy a product in harmful packaging.

The bottom line is that the friendlier your packaging is to the environment, the better.

Inserts made from paper or cardboard are not only easy to recycle but also sustainable. Look for manufacturers who use responsible forestry.

Want to go a step further? Try inserts made from organic material like fungi.  Not only are they super sustainable, but they’re even home compostable.  Who would have thought discarded packaging could help grow a garden?

A Few Potential Drawbacks

As with everything, there are some potential drawbacks to going with custom box inserts. Ironically, many of their cons are what make custom inserts so special. There are three main disadvantages:

  • It’s a custom design: On one hand, custom design will make your brand stand out. On the other hand, unlike stock packaging, they’re going to take longer to complete. You can’t grab these inserts off the shelf or put your order in and expect the product the next day. 
  • These inserts are product-specific: Sure, this means they’ll offer optimum protection and fit your products like a glove.  But, if you sell a bunch of different products, this may be problematic. Coming up with custom inserts for hundreds of unique products could prove to be a logistical nightmare.
  • They’re more expensive than many other void-fill alternatives: As with all of your packaging needs, you need to keep your budget in mind.  Custom inserts might not fit your bottom line today, but they may be something to consider in the future. 

A Little Inspiration

The eCommerce industry generated an estimated $839 billion in sales last year, which increased over 40% from the year before. But there’s a lot of competition out there.  Everyone is trying to claw their way to the top.

So, what can you do to get your products noticed?

It’s going to take a little effort on your part to keep your current customers and attract new ones. Beautiful packaging, including custom inserts, is one way to do that.  

Let’s take a closer look at how some companies are using custom box inserts to enhance their customers’ experiences:

Warby Parker

warby parker design inspiration box insert

Finding that perfect pair of eyeglasses that look just right on your face can be a real chore.  That’s why online prescription eyeglass retailer Warby Parker introduced a program where they’ll send out five free pairs of glasses. Decide which one (or ones) you’d like to keep and send the rest back.

Since glasses are fragile, they require extra care when mailing them out. Warby Parker uses a corrugated box with insert dividers to keep the glasses separated and ding-free.

Ritual Vitamins

ritual vitamins design inspiration box insert

Ritual is an online multivitamin retailer that developed itself into an Instagram darling.  So you know presentation is important to them including with their packaging.

In the above example, Ritual uses its signature bright yellow color for an eye-catching insert. This color is found splashed across their website, so including it in their packaging reinforces their brand identity. 


cupcakes packaging design inspiration box inserts

Cupcakes aren’t just for little kids’ birthday parties anymore. In recent years, all kinds of boutique cupcake shops have sprung up across the country, lending these once humble little cakes an air of sophistication.

But nothing less unflattering than a smooshed cupcake. These delicate little cakes need protection. Custom inserts can ensure these tasty morsels make it home looking as good as they did on the bakery shelf. 


winestyr packaging design inspiration box inserts

More people are enjoying the ease of ordering their wine, especially since the pandemic. But can you imagine the mess a shattered wine bottle would unleash upon delivery? Talk about a way to lose customers fast! 

Winestyr is fully aware of this. As an online purveyor of artisanal wines, you can join their wine club or order premium gifts. Since their whole business is about shipping out their product to customers, they have their packaging dialed in.

In the above example, they have three wine bottles nestled in a cardboard insert. The insert both protects the bottles and nicely presents them.

Esquire Beast Box

esquire beast box design inspiration box inserts

Esquire needs no introduction, but its new subscription gift box does. Named “Beast Box,” it contains various men’s grooming products, in line with Esquire’s branding.

The box insert has different-sized sections for each of the products included. Also, the understated color scheme exudes masculinity, which is just what you’d expect from the brand.  

Pirells Innovative

pirells innovative design inspiration box inserts

Here’s a concept design from Pirells Innovative for a premium watch box. The monochrome color complements the simple yet elegant design. The pattern made on the mailer box and the inside insert are made by cutting the black paper, which gives it a unique, memorable look.

When you pop open this box and find a watch lying on the insert, the overall presentation oozes luxury and sophistication. 

Tait Design

yoyo tait design inspiration box inserts

You wouldn’t expect a design studio to skimp on presentation, and Tait Design does not disappoint. 

The hot pink cardboard box for their yo-yo matches the printing color on the outside of the box. It pulls the whole look together and makes a “child’s” toy feel unique and fancy.

Get People Talking with Memorable Custom Packaging Box Inserts

Custom box inserts can take your packaging from unremarkable to something that gets people talking. Packaging inserts are only one component of your overall marketing arsenal, but they can build trust, increase brand recognition, and enhance your customers’ overall experience

Custom box inserts will protect your goods and make them look good. They’re made from various materials, so you can find one that reflects your company’s values. What’s not to love?

Refine Packaging is the top choice for the world’s Inc 5000 and Fortune 500 companies. With super fast production times, affordable pricing, and a sky’s the limit attitude, we’ll help you turn your custom packaging into a competitive differentiator. Contact us today and a dedicated packaging specialist will guide you through every step of the custom packaging process without breaking a sweat.

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