Custom clamshell

Choosing the right clamshell tooling can be a lot like shopping for new clothes. When selecting a new outfit, you want to make sure everything fits just right, the price is within your budget, the materials and style are appropriate for the event, and that the fashion matches your distinctive personality. In many cases, ready-to-wear, off-the-rack choices are suitable, though some instances may require some slight alteration, and for certain special occasions, a hand-made suit or dress is the best decision. Finding the right package can present similar challenges. You must find the perfect fit for your product, meet budgetary needs, satisfy merchandising requirements, and elevate your brand’s unique character.


From ready-to-order parts to stock tooling with customizable cavities to fully custom-designed clamshells, there is a surprising range of options for selecting the best clamshell packaging for your product. Although stock clamshells may not be the most exciting option, they eliminate the need for lengthy development time and costs. But when there is a need for a truly bespoke solution to differentiate your brand from the competition, a custom clamshell is the best option. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each option enables you to make an informed decision, allowing you to balance budget demands, package functionality, and brand equity.


Stock Clamshell Parts

Similar to off-the-rack clothing, clamshell packaging can be sourced from suppliers that have pre-made clamshell parts ready for immediate shipment. These parts come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit multiple product categories such as bakery, deli and prepared foods and hardware items. All the buyer has to do is simply place an order for the items they are looking for, and the supplier will ship the parts straight from their inventory. However, this choice will also be the most limiting in terms of design.


Buyers looking to order pre-made stock clamshells need to be aware of the following:


  • Zero tooling cost – Since the items are ready made, there is no need to invest in tooling at all. For brand owners looking to get their product to market with as low an entry cost as possible, this can be a very attractive option.

  • Low minimums – With quantities as small as one case, stock clamshells give small business owners the opportunity to market their product without carrying a large packaging inventory.

  • No development time – Creating a custom package takes time and knowledge to develop. For those looking to get their product on shelf without the time required for development, it’s worth taking a look at stock packaging.

  • Limited choice – Though there is a wide variety of ready made clamshell packaging available from a number of suppliers, the designs available are limited to those which each supplier has already built tooling for.


Stock Clamshell Tooling

Stock clamshell varieties

Another option for those looking to save time and money on their packaging investment is to use stock tooling. Stock tooling programs allow buyers to order parts made from pre-made tools which suppliers make available free for anyone to use. Though the buyer is still limited in their choices of styles and sizes, these programs may offer a greater variety of lengths, widths, and cavity sizes. In some cases there are multiple cavity depths and widths available within a given clamshell footprint. Pick from the options available and the supplier will make the parts to order. This concept is similar to the NikeiD program for shoes, where you can select between different colors for the laces and different parts of the shoe. With this customization, you have a greater chance of finding a package that is a good fit your product.

Stock clamshell tooling is a fantastic option for anyone looking to add visibility to their product where the need for conforming product cavities is not essential. This option works best for items of varying sizes and shapes, brands with multiple SKUs, companies with limited tooling budgets, and products where a generic round or rectangular product cavity is sufficient. Durable products such as fishing lures, weights, and hooks, fasteners, craft and hobby supplies, and other small items work well with this type of packaging. 

When thinking about stock clamshell tooling here are a couple things to keep in mind:


  • Eliminate tooling cost and development time – With a stock tooling program, you are still using pre-made tools, saving you money on tooling as well as the design and development time.

  • Slightly longer lead time – Since you are using a stock tool instead of ready-to-ship parts, the lead time on your packaging will be slightly longer to account for production. Still the lead time will be much shorter than if you were developing a fully custom tool, which will add at least 6 weeks to the delivery time.


Stock Tooling with Custom Product Cavity

Sometimes when shopping for clothes, you see something that you really like, but it doesn’t fit quite right. Maybe it’s a sleeve that runs a little long, or it’s a little tight at the waist. Whatever the case may be, you want the item, so you are willing to take that piece to the tailor and have it fitted just for you. Fortunately for those interested in a clamshell, but want something fit more specific to their product without the high cost of custom tooling, there is a solution.

Similar to a tailored jacket, this third stock clamshell option gives you some of the cost savings of stock tooling while offering a level of customization. Stock perimeter tooling with custom product cavities marries both stock tooling bases with customizable inserts. With this option, only the product cavity portion of the package requires designing.

As with the two previous stock choices, the brand owner starts by selecting from a range of sizes or perimeter styles. From there, designers add a product cavity tailored to fit to your product within the existing (insertable) perimeter tooling. So instead of having to build and purchase an entire thermoforming tool, you will only need to invest in a small portion of the tooling to make it uniquely yours. The result is a package with a custom-tailored look and feel made for a fraction of the cost of a custom tool. If you are looking to sell an item but don’t want it swimming in a generic rectangular product cavity, or you would like your product to be viewed from a specific angle or secured in position, creating a custom cavity might be a necessity. 

If you are thinking about a more custom look in your stock clamshell, here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of stock perimeter clamshell tooling:


  • Improve brand equity – Packaging your product in a clamshell with a fitted cavity can give your package a custom look, improving value perception. This option may also increase billboard space for brand awareness, product instructions, and offer other features and benefits.

  • Provides an increased level of protection – Keeping your product stable in the package will help preserve it through the retail supply and distribution chain. The initial investment in the product cavity can pay for itself over time with the reduced loss from damaged goods.

  • Tooling costs for custom cavity – This option will require an investment, but you will still be experiencing cost-savings over a fully custom tool. Typical tooling costs for a stock perimeter tool can range from $800-1,500. This makes it a great program for mid-volume items or new product launches in the range of 10,000-75,000.

  • Longer lead time – Creating custom tooling takes some time, even if it is only a portion of the total tooling. The standard lead time for custom product cavity tooling is around three weeks, be sure to add this time in to your calculus when weighing your options.


Purell custom clamshell

Custom Clamshell Tooling

For clothing shoppers who have a distinctly creative style or prefer to stand apart from the crowd, there is no choice but to create a completely custom, handcrafted suit or outfit. For packaging, the brand owner may have a product with a unique feature or trait that they would like to promote. Or a category challenger looking to break from the pack and differentiate from competition. Whatever the situation, the only option is to provide their product with a fully custom clamshell package. Only a fully custom clamshell can provide the benefits in terms of product fit, unique shelf presence, special features and range of material options.

Like an experienced tailor, a good packaging designer will be able choose the right materials, employ full creative license, and design the packaging to best serve your product. Collaborating with an experienced packaging partner will help you fulfill all the requirements of your brand, as well as meet your product marketing and merchandising needs at retail.

Custom tooling opens the door to a near infinite amount of variety. For brand owners who want to create a custom package from product launch, or are thinking about making the switch from stock tooling, here is what you need to consider:


    • Packaging will be tailor fit to your product – Your package will be designed with your specific product in mind. The entire package is structured around your product and your brand desires and merchandising requirements.

    • Additional features can be designed in – Want shoppers to be able to touch or try your product before buying? Looking to add secondary use to your packaging? With custom tooling, additional features can be added to call attention to your product’s distinctive features or benefits.
    • Wider selection of materials – With a custom option, you are not limited to the materials available in a stock tooling program. You are able to select from a much wider variety of plastics, including recycled materials.

    • Higher perceived value than stock options – With all the custom options available, you can create a package that is uniquely your own. This won’t be lost on shoppers; creating a bespoke package is one of the best ways to stand out on shelf and differentiate from competitors.

    • Larger monetary investment – Creating custom tooling for your packaging requires a greater initial investment. This additional cost, however, can be justified if your expected annual volume exceeds 50,000+ units. To help defray the cost of tooling your supplier may be willing to amortize some or all of the cost across your first year’s volume.

    • Longer development time – Time required to conduct design and development on custom tooling also needs to be considered. This typically includes design concepts, engineering, prototyping, testing, and fabricating the tooling. You can expect a development process of at least 4-6 weeks, and perhaps longer if subsequent changes or modifications are necessary.

Which Option is Best for Me?

To answer that question, look to what you are selling and your expected volume. If you are expecting to sell in volume less than 10,000 units annually, a good option is stock packaging.  Stock tooling will also help you get to market quicker by cutting down on packaging development time. If product positioning or protection is important, look to stock perimeter tooling at a minimum, and possibly fully custom if your volume or budget warrants such a move.

If you are looking to stand out from the competition, or wish to develop your unique brand identity, a full custom tool may be the best solution. It is important to keep in mind the additional time and cost needed to develop and create your custom clamshell tooling. However, the payoffs in terms of differentiation, design flexibility, and sell-through may be worth it.

Like the right set of clothes, your product’s packaging needs to define your brand personality, provide the right level of protection, and fit in your overall budget. Knowing all the considerations needed to make the choice between stock and custom tooling will be an important step in helping you find the perfect fit.


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