of packaging focuses on the bulk handling and shipping of the pharmaceuticals. The customer will often not see this packaging as retailers will likely remove it before placing it on the shelves.


Popular pharmaceutical packaging methods 

There are three levels of packaging in the pharmaceutical industry. All drugs will have to use all three in order to adhere to UK regulatory compliance.

What are the most common types of primary packaging?

The type of primary packaging that a product will use depends on the drug, its form, and relevant dosage. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Ampoules - Ampoule packs are useful for liquid drugs that are taken in a single dose. They are made up of glass or plastic.
  • Blister packs - Blister packs are commonplace for solid drugs like capsules or tablets. These typically encase the drug in plastic whilst accompanied by an aluminium foil lid.
  • Bottles - Bottled drugs use a light brown or orange colour to protect themselves from UV light. They are manufactured by using either glass or plastic.
  • Sachets - Sachet packages are small pouches that contain a single-dose powder. They are made from plastic and paper to ensure that they can be torn up easily.
  • Vials - Vials are similar to ampoule containers. However, they are considerably larger, and are used to hold larger doses of drugs. They are usually made from glass and plastic.

As research progresses, it is likely that new forms of primary pharmaceutical packaging will emerge. Discovering methods that reduce costs, increase life span, or reduce potential damage will change the way that packaging currently operates.

What are the most common types of secondary packaging?

Secondary packaging will depend on the type of drug it is holding. However, as it does not have any contact with the drug itself, due to the primary packaging encasing it, secondary packaging types vary much less.

The most common forms of secondary packaging include either cartons or paper boxes. This material allows companies to easily print product information on the packaging, alongside simple storage and transport.

To ensure maximum safety for the product, many designs include tuck or lock lids to keep the enclosed product safe.

Materials used in pharmaceutical packaging

Pharmaceutical packaging uses a wide range of materials to safely and efficiently transport drugs and other related products. The type of material that is best fit for the drug will depend on the:

  • drug state;
  • dosage (and size) of the drug;
  • required level of protection;
  • cost; and
  • convenience for the customer.

Therefore, the optimal material for a specific product’s packaging will need to best reflect all of these points, whilst still meeting the requirements of UK regulation.


Glass has been a staple of the packaging industry for many years and continues to offer great benefits. Being transparent allows for easy visual inspection from users, whilst its recyclability offers a great choice for sustainability. Moreover, the use of orange glass protects the liquid against various forms of light such as UV.

The main types of glass used in pharmaceutical packaging are ultra-resistant borosilicate glass, soda lime glass, and surface treated soda lime glass.

Aluminium foil

Aluminium foil is typically best used as a lidding material for packaging containing tablets or capsules. This foil makes it difficult for any outside elements to affect the product, including light or oxygen.

Due to its lack of permeability, aluminium foil has always and will continue to be an excellent choice for small drugs in low dosages.


Due to its versatility, plastic has uses across many different forms of pharmaceutical packaging. As it is light, flexible, and hard to break, it works well with any product regardless of shape or size. 

One important consideration however is that plastic packaging does have some negative effects when coming into contact with certain drugs. Companies need to test beforehand to ensure they know whether plastic is the right choice.

How has pharmaceutical packaging evolved?

From what began as simpler containers, pharmaceutical packaging has changed rapidly over the years to effectively accommodate the delicate product it holds. Some of the key breakthroughs in pharmaceutical packaging included:

  • Plastic packaging
  • Blister packs
  • Child-resistant packaging
  • Unit-dose packaging

With these forms of packaging making major changes to the way pharmacy companies store and send their products, it now gives them greater control over the drugs they sell.

The future of pharmaceutical packaging

Researchers in the pharmaceutical industry have continued to look for new and improved ways at packaging. Present day drugs are easy and reliable to transport. Companies can move their products comfortably without fear of mass damage or tampering, whilst still adhering to safety regulations.

Because of this, researchers have turned their attention to other aspects of packaging, including:

  • Sustainability and eco-friendliness - with the majority of the industry using the likes of plastic, the pharmaceutical industry is actively making the move towards eco-friendly options as we try to make a greener world. Exploring biodegradable and recyclable alternatives, alongside minimising packaging waste through new innovative designs, allows companies to make big steps in securing a brighter future.
  • Smart packaging - Developing integrations between technology and packaging has allowed companies to monitor the likes of temperature and light exposure. By doing this, this updates the storage system to alert holders of any drugs that are compromised, expired, or nearing expiration date.
  • Interactivity - Text is limited by the space of the packaging, meaning any way of providing more information without making the package bigger is great. Implementing QR codes or other forms of interactivity on pharmaceutical packaging gives users a better understanding of the product without giving them a physical manual to learn from.

Pharmaceutical packaging FAQs

What are the benefits of pharmaceutical packaging?

Pharmaceutical packaging has three main benefits: 

  • Product protection - ensures the product remains at the highest quality by protecting it from contamination or damage.
  • Life preservation - keeps the product at optimal temperatures and light levels to increase its longevity.
  • Informing the consumer - tells the consumer all they need to know about the product, including dosage instructions, expiry dates, and potential side effects.

What are the ideal qualities of pharmaceutical packaging?

Pharmaceutical packaging should be light and simple to make. Moreover, it must be easy to understand, meaning opening, closing, and sealing the product should be simple for users to figure out.

What is labelling and packaging of drugs?

Drug labelling is the process of writing product information to stick on pharmaceutical packaging. This information needs to specifically state any instructions or warnings users must know before handling the product.

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