From pixels to ink, there’s a lot that goes into the production of your packaging before it shows up on your doorstep. When you see a lead time of five weeks, is that the time it actually takes to make your packaging? And where exactly is your order through these five weeks?

Before it hits your HQ, custom packaging goes through three main phases: prepress, manufacturing, and shipping. Let’s break it down to see exactly what’s happening during these three phases.

1. Prepress

Prepress is the all-important design / planning phase. This is when you sign off on all the details of your order and your project gets a spot in line at the factory.

Prepress starts when you send your dieline or submit your packaging design through the Lumi editor. Your design goes right to our prepress team and they inspect it to ensure that it's a-ok for manufacturing. Our prepress designers are experts on the factory's machinery, so they’re combing over your design to fix any potential issues with alignment, legibility, or registration. 

The design capability of your computer far exceeds what’s possible on a machine, so we may need to make slight design adjustments. When your design is press-ready, we’ll send you a digital proof for your approval. Your proof will look a lot (if not, identical) to your dieline, but we'll note any necessary adjustments.

The proof is like a contract. Your project doesn’t hit the machines until you approve it, so the sooner it's made. When you give us the thumbs up, it’s time for the last phase of prepress — tooling! A custom cutting die and printing plate are made just for your project.

Pro-tip: When you re-order packaging with the same design, you skip right through prepress.

2. Manufacturing

The manufacturing phase is what makes up your lead time. In manufacturing, your packaging is, cut, folded, glued, and all that fun stuff. It may just take few hours to make your boxes, tape, or mailers, but your project is part of a queue. When it's time to run your project, your custom tooling is set up and the machine is set up just for your order.

The machines are fast, so the difference between the amount of time it takes to make 1,000 boxes and 20,000 boxes is negligible. Quantity won’t affect your lead time until you start making, hundreds of thousands of boxes. 

3. Shipping

Now, all that’s standing between you and your shiny, new packaging is transit. Factories don’t have space for orders to sit around, so they are going to ship them out as soon as possible.

After your order is print and cut, it’s bundled, packed, palletized, and scheduled for pickup. When your custom packaging is in transit, it will get to you as fast as the boat, plane, train, or truck will take it. Of course, you can speed up the shipping process if you’re willing to spend a bit more for faster shipping.

At Lumi, we work with the best factory partners around the world. They run efficiently and account for every single minute. It may be tempting to work with a factory that guarantees your project overnight, that factory is probably lacking in efficiency and attention to detail.

We like to think of it like picking a restaurant. If you see a restaurant with a long line and one across the street with no one inside, you’ll probably have some doubts about the empty restaurant. The great news is that we handle your reservations and logistics with the best factory partners — all you have to do is send us your design.

Watch our episode of Shipping Things all about Lead Times!

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