Canvas / Background

Denotative Meanings

‘Canvas’ is a relative term that refers to the colours/textures/patterns on which the foregrounded graphic and lexical items are superimposed. For example, on the following pack design, the text and the camel/landscape graphic function as the foregrounded images that lie overtop the plain beige background. The canvas can also be patterned and/or textured. For instance, the Vogue Lilas background consists of the pearlescent white areas and the debossed lilac wave pattern, as these appear to lie behind the text and logo. Sometimes the background consists of a relatively prominent shape, such the red, white, and blue shape on the Viceroy pack.


The canvas/background is largely defined by its colours and finishes. It can also involve embossing and debossing and the use of logos or other branded imagery.


Backgrounds can convey emotion and/or suggest character traits:

“The use of designs as the background suggests: innovative, trendy, eccentric, unique. Dark hues in a paisley background design: dramatic. Pastels: feminine, modern, cheerful, flirty. Holography applied to the background coloration: exciting, very ’90’s, younger adult, innovative, crisp taste, complex in a positive way (something more).” 1


Overarching Theme Sub-Theme Connotative Chains
Lifestyle  Luxury / Glamour  Background imagery can connote luxury. For example:

  • B&H Superslims

    Superslims black

Repetition of monogram –> Repetition of monograms on high fashion purses (e.g. Louis Vuitton) –> Expensive accessory –> Glamour/Luxury

  • du Maurier

    du Maurier fingerprints

Concentric curves –> Fingerprints –> Individuality, specialness, uniqueness –> A unique/special product for a unique/special consumer –> Luxury

Lifestyle  Gender  The background imagery can connote gender:

  • Curvy, fluid, wavey shapes –> Feminine curves –> Femininity

    Avanti pack

  • Floral, organic pattern –> Flowers, nature –> Femininity

    Belmont background

  • Geometric, angular shapes –> Order, control –> Masculinity

    Players background

The proportion of colored area can connote gender:

  • Solid (dark) colour –> Masculine

    Legend background

  • White/light space –> Feminine

    Matinee background

  • “The amount of solid dark colour, compared to the proportion of white or soft colour usually served as a basis to classify package design as being male or female.” 2
Healthfulness Strength Empty space, light background colours –> Cleanness, lightness –> Healthfulness:

  • “Package design can make an inferential statement that, in relative terms, the brand is a more clean and healthy alternative. The amount and distribution of white space makes a major contribution in this regard.” 3

    Mirage background

  • “‘Light-lighter-lightest’ were achieved by insistence [sic] on lighter presentations – product story imagery ‘white packs – pale colours – mildness dominated copy.” 4
  • “White is generally held to convey a clean, healthy association.” 5
  • For example, the Craven A Pearl pack not only employs white space, but its background colour and shapes also resemble those of a toothpaste pack:



Healthfulness  Strength “Light, white, off-white fields…tend to suggest low tar.” 6



  1. Philip Morris. Summary of Consumer Learning about Packaging Elements 1998. Available at: Accessed January 10, 2012.
  2. Sylvestre Marketing for RBH. Belvedere Rock Research Report, prepared by Sylvestre Marketing. Available at: Accessed January 9, 2012.
  3. JTI. D-235 Research Report, Exploration of Various Design Parameters Re: Export ‘A’ Pack Re-Design, June 1991 (JTI-1677).
  4. British American Tobacco Co., Ltd. Research & development/marketing conference. Circa 1985. [081, PSC 60], In RW Pollay and T Dewhirst. Marketing Cigarettes with low machine-measured yields. (National Cancer Institute. Risks associated with smoking cigarettes with low machine–measured yields of tar and nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No. 13. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, NIH Pub. No 0205074, October 2001.)
  5. British-American Tobacco Company.Principles of Measurement of Visual Stand out in Pack Design. Available at: Accessed January 9, 2012.
  6. Philip Morris. Summary of Consumer Learning about Packaging Elements. Available at: Accessed January 10, 2012