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Retro Packaging Design: Bringing Back Vintage Styles

Retro Packaging Design: Bringing Back Vintage Styles

Retro packaging design is making a major comeback these days. Brands are increasingly using elements of nostalgic, vintage package styles to tap into consumers’ memories and emotions. This strategic design choice provides an extra layer of sensory experience that standard packaging simply can’t match.

This comprehensive guide explores what precisely retro packaging is, why it’s suddenly a hot trend, and how brands use it effectively. We’ll also look at:

  • The history of retro package design
  • Key elements to include for maximum nostalgic impact
  • Case studies of successful vintage packaging campaigns
  • Tips for Creating Your Throwback Designs
  • The future of nostalgic packaging

So release your inner child, queue up some golden oldies, and return in time!

What is Retro Packaging Design?

Retro packaging refers to packaging that is intentionally designed to look old, vintage or nostalgic. It uses visuals, branding, typography, colour palettes, and other styling cues to tap into consumer memories and associations with previous decades.

Retro Packaging Design Example Cereal

An example of retro cereal packaging using vintage illustrations and fonts.

These throwback packages often mimic design trends of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. However, they’re created new for modern products. The goal is to remind consumers of the past and link positive memories to the branded item.

Some common ways brands create retro packaging include:

Using vintage logos, mascots, and slogans

Brands will stylise their logo to look like an old version or bring back a beloved but retired mascot. Using well-known taglines from previous ad campaigns also triggers instant recognition.

Incorporating nostalgic fonts and typography

Chunky, whimsical fonts that mimic sign painting or old typewriter print evoke nostalgia. Distressed typography that looks weathered and aged also fits with a vintage vibe.

Featuring throwback colour palettes

Earth tones, neon brights, chrome metallic, and other colours linked to previous decades subtly transport consumers back in time.

Relying on heritage imagery and themes

Grainy photographic filters, illustrations with retro family scenes or activities, and other stylised heritage visuals make packaging look authentically old school.

By artfully combining these design elements, brands can create packaging that feels like a blast from the past for shoppers. The familiarity draws attention while activating fond memories and cues – exactly what retro packaging aims to accomplish.

Why Retro Packaging Design is Trending

Nostalgic Retro Web Design Trends

Vintage packaging started gaining steam in the 2000s and has only grown in popularity. In recent years, more and more brands have been embracing throwback styles to cash in on nostalgia marketing.

But what’s behind this boom? Several factors make retro packaging appealing to brands and consumers.

Triggering Nostalgia Improves Buying Decisions

Packaging with a nostalgic aesthetic triggers positive memories and emotions for shoppers. This immediately puts them in a favourable state of mind when evaluating the product.

Nostalgia makes consumers value products more and see them as having better taste or performance. Triggers like retro packaging make shoppers associate that fond feeling with the branded item.

This biased emotional response translates to over 20% higher sales on average compared to ordinary packaging. No wonder brands want packaging that leaves buyers warm and fuzzy!

Vintage Styling Stands Out on Shelves

Throwing back to yesteryear in a sea of clean, minimalist packaging makes products pop on store shelves. The familiar retro styling attracts attention and leaves a memorable impression.

Brands want packaging that grabs shoppers’ eyes. With so many products vying for attention, vintage designs let them put a unique stamp on items.

Customers Crave Comfort in Uncertain Times

Consumers instinctively crave comfort and familiarity during cultural, political, or social upheaval periods. Retro trends tend to spike during turbulent years.

Vintage packaging offers a small way to dip back into simpler, idyllic times – even if just for a moment’s reprieve. Brands can provide that comforting escape through their packaging nostalgia plays.

Demographics with Buying Power Feel Drawn to Throwback Trends

Currently, Millennials and Gen Xers have the highest spending power and influence. They also have a keen appreciation for all things vintage.

These demographics feel strongly connected and nostalgic to developments from their childhood and young adult years. Brands cater to this lucrative group with design details that speak to their retro-loving sensibilities.

With all these factors making vintage packaging resonate, it’s no wonder retro branding is a go-to strategy for big and small brands alike nowadays!

Critical Elements for Maximum Nostalgic Impact

Nailing retro packaging requires more than slapping curly fonts and faded imagery onto a box. To truly transport buyers back to the good old days, brands should incorporate strategic elements.

When these specific retro packaging features are incorporated skillfully, they can inspire some serious nostalgia for shoppers. Let’s explore some of the most impactful throwback touches to include.

Colour Palettes with a Vintage Vibe

Vintage Colours

One of the quickest ways to give the packaging an instant retro facelift is with strategic colour use. Certain hues and colour combos conjure strong ties to previous style eras that designers can leverage.

Some examples of colours with a built-in vintage vibe include:

  • Warm earth tones like oranges, mustard yellows, avocados, and harvest gold remind consumers of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Designers often incorporate these tones with wood grain textures.
  • Brights like turquoise, coral, and lime green recall the popular wild mod prints and plastic products going into the 80s. Pairing with bold geometric shapes enhances retro fun.
  • Neon shades, defined by the 80s and 90s styles, continue to have significant staying power for vintage branding. Using neon purple, orange, green, or other loud shades makes packaging pop.
  • Metallic “chrome” gained traction in the 50s/60s through space age influences. Incorporating silver, gold, or other shimmering metallics maintains this futuristic retro allure.
  • “Staple” colours like cherry red, tan, robin egg blue, or butter yellow have an intrinsically old-fashioned, All-American vibe that taps into nostalgia across eras.

Illustration Styles Set the Right Tone

Illustrations featuring people, places, activities, or motifs with a throwback style also trigger potent nostalgic responses from shoppers. Specific illustration aesthetics tie to beloved decades.

Some examples of nostalgic illustration styles brands leverage include:

  • 50s motifs: Poodle skirts, milkshakes, diners, jukeboxes, convertibles
  • 60s motifs: Mod geometric prints, go-go boots, colourful shapes
  • 70s motifs: Disco, smiley faces, peace signs, hip culture references
  • 80s motifs: Bold digital prints, aerobic outfits, statement accessories

When illustrations feature people, using period-accurate hairstyles, clothing silhouettes, and sociocultural references enhances authenticity.

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Whimsical or darling illustrations also remind consumers of childhood storybooks and toys. These playful images make packaging seem familiar and safe.

Typography Styles Full of Character

Vintage Logo Designs

Fonts naturally come in and out of fashion over decades, making typography prime for sparking nostalgia on retro packaging.

Certain font styles tie to previous eras through their unique shapes, weights, and finishing. By incorporating fitting examples like those below, brands can use typography to transport buyers through time:

Art Deco fonts reminiscent of elegant early 20th-century lettering evoke images of flappers and early Hollywood.

Chunky, funky fonts with irregular, quirky letter shapes tie to 1960s/1970s psychedelic styles. Friendly curved edges soften the retro vibe.

Collegiate fonts take inspiration from varsity sports jerseys, cheer uniforms, and other academic insignia. These cheerful, sporty letter styles breed familiarity.

Western and frontier fonts with sharp serifs, angled cuts, and rugged finishing connect to the American expansion eras. Rustic charm abounds.

Vintage signage fonts mimic painted shop sign lettering with distressed, imperfect shapes, offering an authentic retro touch.

Die Cuts That Surprise and Delight

Die cuts involve cutting packaging into unique non-rectangular shapes to reveal what’s inside or catch the consumer's eyes.

Well-placed die cuts give packaging dimensional interest while allowing shoppers to connect better with products before purchase. This ability to peek into contents triggers curiosity and nostalgic memories of beloved items packaged similarly.

Some examples of fun, retro-inspired die cuts brands incorporate include:

  • A wavy circle revealing part of the candy inside
  • A crescent moon shape exposing part of cookies
  • A starburst cut with cereal visibly pouring out
  • Windows segmented into geometric shapes displaying ingredients
  • Custom silhouettes hint at what’s within

Die cuts should artfully tie to overall packaging aesthetics for maximum delight factor. Vintage themes lend themselves seamlessly to playful die shapes.

Successful Retro Packaging Campaigns

To see throwback packaging done right, let’s check out a few big brands nailing the retro aesthetic – and winning over consumers' hearts through strategic nostalgia plays.

General Mills Monster Cereals

Beloved General Mills cereal brands Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry have sported retro monster mascot packaging for decades. But in 2020, they doubled down on vintage styling with a new “Monster” throwback design.

General Mills Monster Cereals Retro Packaging Design
The General Mills Monster Cereals limited-edition packaging brings back childhood whimsy.

The packaging features the way-back monster mascot illustrations consumers remember from decades past. The prominent “Monster Cereals!” branding also ties to historic designs.

Vibrant background colours and chunky white font choices align with the late 60s/early 70s aesthetics where these cereals initially gained traction. The perfectly balanced use of beloved retro elements makes these packages powerfully nostalgic.

Coca-Cola Classic Christmas Cans

Coca-Cola’s annual holiday designs can take inspiration from previous eras as a strategic seasonal play—offerings like 2020’s Christmas Coke cans centred vintage Santa illustrations against stunning retro backdrops.

Coca Cola Logo Design Santa
Coca-Cola's Christmas cans take retro inspiration from past holiday designs.

The illustrations feature Santa in scenes reminiscent of Art Deco/1950s Americana styling with merry colours. Christmas ornaments, gifts, and decor align with 1960s fashions. Paired with the signature Coke font, it's instant yuletide familiarity.

The cans struck holiday magic for consumers, with reviews gushing that the designs made people “long for the days of old” – precisely the nostalgic response Coke intended!

Member’s Mark Vintage Collection

In 2021, retail brand Sam’s Club launched a product line dubbed “Member’s Mark Vintage” featuring packaging in throwback styles. Items like cola, rootbeer, and ginger ale carry stylised labelling reminiscent of old-fashioned soda shops.

The amber glass bottles feature retro design touches like family crests, laurels, banners, and Soda Shoppes establishment names. A vintage cola-style serif font looks plucked straight from a 50s advertisement. The choices combine to offer consumers comforting familiarity.

Additional Member's Mark Vintage products like peanut brittle, root beer candy and caramel squares also carry this potent retro charm through packaging design. It speaks straight to buyer nostalgia in a strategic private-label play.

Designing Your Own Retro Packaging

Retro Vintage Packaging Design Trends 2023

Retro packaging presents a significant branding opportunity for companies wanting to leverage consumers’ positive memories and nostalgia.

But how do you translate vintage design inspiration into original, on-brand packaging with authentic retro appeal? Follow these best practice tips.

Clearly Define Your Era of Influence

Choose one predominant era to focus throwback efforts on, like 60s mod or 70s disco. Zeroing on defined visual motifs from a specific period makes achieving cohesive nostalgia easier.

Study Packaging from Your Era

Analyse colours, illustrations, typography, patterns, and other design elements used in genuine packaging from your nostalgic era of choice. Identify stylistic details you want to mimic or reinvent.

Know Your Audience

Determine what decade(s) your target consumers are most nostalgic for based on current ages and life stages. Create retro packaging catering to their prime nostalgic eras for the most significant impact.

Mix Old With New

Blend retro styling with modern shapes, photography techniques or textures so packaging doesn’t read as falsely vintage. Having current elements grounds designs while still feeling throwback.

Pair With Relevant Product Stories

Match your brand’s unique history, personality and messaging to whichever retro era you embrace for packaging—share related origin stories on labels for authenticity.

The Future of Retro Packaging Design

Love for retro packaging doesn’t show any signs of slowing – especially as more Millennials and Gen X consumers enter prime spending years.

As sociocultural uncertainty, technology overload, and desire for comfort continue rising, demand for nostalgic branding should skyrocket.

We can expect even more brands to follow suit with vintage packaging in the coming years. Next-level technologies like digital printing, 3D modelling, and augmented reality also promise to revolutionise how retro packaging comes to life.

Whatever innovations emerge, that exceptional sensory experience of engaging with meticulously designed throwback packaging will continue charming consumers.

Vintage packs awaken through sheer sense memory; they’re powerful transportation devices between the sights, smells, textures, sounds and tastes. And given the collective consumer appetite for comforting nostalgia, retro packaging is here to stay.


Retro packaging gives brands a compelling way to connect with people through nostalgia while commanding standouts on crowded shelves.

Strategically employing vintage aesthetics related to typography, colour palettes, illustration styles, and other design choices allows companies to tap into consumers’ solid memories and associations with previous eras.

Packaging elements echoing especially resonant decades for target demographics get nostalgia neurotransmitters firing for influential shopper groups like Millennials and Gen X.

By aligning to speciality eras, knowing audiences, and balancing old with new, retro packaging builds emotional connections and fond familiarity that translates to sales.

As consumers' desire for comfort and nostalgia amidst uncertain times continues to rise, vintage packaging provides buyers with momentary positive escapes while giving brands memorable shelf appeal.

Retro branding has cemented itself as a staple marketing play for the long haul. Now, it’s just a matter of brands mastering how to most artfully gift shoppers that sweet rush of nostalgia in original packaging forms.

Frequently Asked Questions About Retro Packaging Design

What are some tips for designing retro product labels?

When tackling retro product label designs, focus on era-specific motifs, colour combos, typography and graphic styles based on when your product or brand first launched. Distressed looks add authenticity.

How can I make packaging that resembles past decades?

Study styles from key eras like Art Deco 20s, Groovy 60s or Disco 70s that align with your brand origins. Incorporate era trademarks like motifs, patterns, colours and silhouettes into structural packaging and labelling elements.

What types of packaging structurally lend themselves well to vintage styling?

Containers with dimensional shapes reminiscent of heritage packages, such as glass bottles, tins, boxes, and various shaped cartons, work well. These “retro” vessels suit embellishing with throwback graphics.

How do I make modern packaging still feel nostalgic?

Use modern printing techniques for brighter colours or higher resolution graphics while mimicking retro stylistic elements like colour combos, fonts and illustrations. Cyberpunk or vaporwave themes put modern twists on nostalgia.

Can I apply a vintage style to non-food or beverage packaging?

Absolutely! Nostalgic packaging works for any category, from toys to cosmetics to electronics. Choose motifs, graphics, and fonts that are nostalgic for when your products or brand emerged to make items seem beloved and familiar.

Photo of author

Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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