The Moving Picture: Packaging Matters
Posted Apr 18, 2005

Back in the simple days before marriage and kids I owned an ice green Porsche 912E—the only car I ever truly loved. Though Porsche connoisseurs would dismiss the car as the underpowered combination of 911 body-style and four-cylinder 914 engine, I still say there's no substitute, whatever the specs.

I bought the car with about 100,000 miles on the odometer and included an engine rebuild in the medium-term budget. When the time came, I brought my baby to Franz Blam Racing in northeast Atlanta where the Schwarzenegger sound-alike Franz gave me great confidence in the result. When I retrieved the car two weeks later, the engine sounded great, but what really impressed me was the finely detailed interior, with freshly washed carpets, Armor-All'd dash and doors, and new car scent.

This had nothing to do with the engine rebuild of course, but the pristine look, feel, and smell assuaged the $4,000 price tag and I drove away quite happy. The obvious les-son that I've retained to this day is that packaging matters.

So it was when I was set to deliver four concert discs to Estonian opera singer Taimo Toomast. Toomast had recently held a two-set, 90-minute concert which I authored onto two DVDs to maximize video quality. I also created an audio CD of the concert and one data DVD containing the concert in Windows Media format, primarily because the DVDs were NTSC and I wanted Taimo to have some-thing to play once he got back to Europe.

Four discs meant four labels, which I created quickly in Epson Print CD, the program Epson ships with their Stylus Photo R200. Fortunately, I had sufficient printable media from Ridata and Verbatim laying around to print the requested four sets (plus an archival copy for me).

In the past, for most one-disc jobs, I've either used traditional jewel cases for delivery or scrounged around for commercial large-form DVD cases with printed outside covers that I could replace with my own. However, neither solution worked well for a four-disc set, so I headed online and started looking at multi-disc cases.

My first stop was Here I found the UniKeep "wallet," a plastic case that contains two rings for inserting up to five discs in safety sleeves, which are essentially sleeves with covers to ensure that the discs don't fall out. At 5.5"x6.5"x.5", the case was only slightly larger than a traditional CD jewel case and cost $1.85 in low quantities. Like most blank cases, it featured a full-wrap overlay so I could produce and insert a custom cover.

Then, I visited where I found the NexPak Slim 4. At 7.5"x5.25"x1", this case is the same length and height as most Hollywood DVD cases, though about 1/2" thicker. As the name suggests, the case holds four CDs or DVDs, one each on the front and back cover and two on a hard, inner plastic sleeve. All four disc holders have push-to-release hubs that hold the disc in place, and the unit has two clips on the front panel to hold a small booklet, though this would cover the disc stored on that panel. This case cost $.96 in low quantities.

I ended up getting some of both cases, using the Univenture to deliver the first requested batch, and the Slim 4 for the de rigeuer follow-up batch. Overall, I liked the compactness of the Univenture case, which made it easy to carry in a coat pocket or purse. On the other hand, the Slim 4 looked more at home on a shelf next to other DVDs since the packaging shared the same height and length. At these prices, perhaps you should buy a few copies of each and let your client decide.

Getting the cases was only half the battle, of course. Next I needed to create and print the custom labels. Verbatim has always been my go-to supplier for printed labels, since they provide all standard label sizes and include nifty software that simplifies label creation. Here, however, since neither case was standard-sized, I had to make some adjustments.

Specifically, the Slim 4 was half an inch longer around than a standard DVD case, which is perfectly sized for an 11" label (two 5.25" widths and the half-inch spine). This meant that the stock Verbatim label was about a quarter-inch short on both sides, and also that the vertical text on the spine didn't quite split the middle.

Fortunately, the software packaged with the Verbatim labels, an OEM version of the widely distributed SureThing labeling tool, allowed for easy adjustment of the text positioning. I took the easy road on this set of labels, using stock Verbatim 11" labels rather than creating my own that fit precisely.

One inch wider than the standard CD/DVD jewel case, the Univenture case wasn't quite so easy. Here I created my own label in Ulead PhotoImpact, which I printed out on standard photo paper and cut to size with my handy Fiskars paper cutter.

Of course, all this custom stuff is time-consuming. It eats into profit margins and can push tight delivery schedules, especially if you don't plan ahead. Still, the cases and labels had a strong impact: when Toomast and the concert promoter requested their additional copies, both hastened to add, "in the cases, of course."