How to Design a Mockup Pallet Racking

Next Distribution Racking Image

Back in November ’08, I wrote an article about a 2 metre high Foamex® PitWheel I designed for a Next, Plc Distribution warehouse. Well, this time I was contracted to design a ‘mockup pallet racking system‘ to fill 3 walls of a new room, built inside another one of their new warehouses in Manvers Way, Wath, UK.


As part of a new multi-million-pound venture, a new warehouse was constructed to pick larger, non clothing items for Next Stores nationwide, as well as the Next Directory. Picking is carried out using mechanical ‘lollops’, but the Next training department wanted to train new employees away from the health & safety dangers of these machines. They needed to train people on how to pick items using various barcode systems before using any machinery, in short.

What I my task was…

The solution to training new employees away from the warehouse hazards (in the early stages of training) was to re-create a life-like working environment. So, I was tasked with the great challenge of designing a 2.4m high x 15m wide set of racking for a room that was only just being built. Oh yes.

How I rose to the Challenge

I shall now outline how the project proceeded, from initially visiting the site—right the way to actually constructing the mockup pallet racking in the allocated room. Here goes…

racking next warehouse Image

◥ This is a typical aisle in the warehouse on the second floor. The left-hand side shows one type of pallet racking—with the right showing another type (with ‘yellow bars’) that required replicating in Foamex®.

moleskine notebook designs Image

◥ After taking many photos, here came the most important aspect of the project—measuring-up. I whipped out my Moleskine® notebook at various stages of being escorted around the warehouse to jot-down exact—yes, exact measurements of everything I required to start conceptualising the racking structure.

If I got this part wrong, the whole project would go awry. Seriously, I advise you that if you are ever asked to do something like this, only settle for rough handwriting, not rough measurements.


pallet racking warehouse Image

◥ Now, second in importance to the measurements were accurate photographs. By ‘accurate’, I mean precise in relation to my goals for this project. I had already conceptualised in my mind how I would start producing the designs on my Mac, so I required certain, detailed and well-angled shots to accomplish the task in hand.

iphoto warehouse photos Image

◥ Back at the desk, I imported all my images into iPhoto® from a 10MP digital Cannon SLR (which, admittedly, I borrowed from my Dad for this project). I then just dragged the required snaps from this application straight into PhotoShop®.

orange warehouse racking Image

◥ This photo sums up my first real challenges this project brief threw at me. As can be seen, the racking wasn’t just perfectly straight. The main steel orange and blue bars were, but underlying racking was skewed, distorted, covered in tie-wraps and shrouded in protecting black foam. Replicating how the racking actually looked with ‘worts-and-all‘ wasn’t on my agenda.

Yeah, it had to be real, but it had to function as a working-design; out of the ‘natural environment’ and into a projected notion of itself. In short, the racking, as I saw it, had to represent the racking positively, without its negatives—just like a model who is airbrushed for a glossy magazine.

Working in Photoshop®

pallet racking mockup Image

◥ To create a coherent design that retained the authenticity of the photography, yet was scalable and replicable, I decided after some experimentation, to map certain photographic features of the racking onto solid blocks of colour.

photoshop racking photo Image

◥ In this example, I took the detail of a weld from the end of an orange racking support; “mapping” it onto a very generic-looking Photoshop® mockup using gradients and basic shading features.

airbrush photoshop orange Image

◥ The top of this image shows some elements I extracted from a photo, which I over-laid (mapped) onto the generic-mockup. I then used similar methods for the grey shelving elements.

photoshop racking design Image

◥ I used one art-board in Photoshop® to start sizing-up elements, assessing how they would relate to each other. The sponge texture was taken straight from the photography and seamlessly repeated.

photoshop progression next Image

◥ This image shows how I began to map some shelving “fixing” elements over a proportioned blue racking bar. As always, the most crucial aspect of this project was correct measurements, proportions and unity.

racking pallets next Image

◥ After completion of the “fixing” elements and background, I started to look at how well it integrated with the rest of the pallet racking design.

next distribution racking Image

◥ This is how some of the racking was starting to look. Every-so-often, I would zoom-out to ensure all was well with the design work. Keeping my “eye on the ball” was crucial.

next distribution shadow Image

◥ When everything was in proportion, I started work on smaller details that added a 3D feel to the designs. Here, I have started work on a shadow, which is situated behind an orange racking-support.

pallet racking sizes Image

◥ In-all, I had to design three separate sets of racking design, as shown above. I have set layer transparencies in Photoshop® at varied levels so they can be shown against each other clearly.

pallet shelving next Image

◥ This pallet racking was higher than the others, so I had to be careful when matching the “holes” (in the blue vertical bars) to the smaller pallet racking design.

room construction next Image

◥ This was the room that was being constructed for the Foamex® design. It was made from plasterboard and aluminium supports, with a wooden door.

next skirting board Image

◥ Because of the fact that plasterboard was used in the construction, it meant that I could use nails or screws to attach the designs if needed. However, this wasn’t how I was to attach them (more on this later).

As can been seen, the building contractors used a 4″ high skirting board around the base of the wall. This meant that the foam board style design couldn’t rest on the floor, which was a pity, but sometimes compromises have to be made.

pallet setup sizing Image

◥ When I designed some pallets (in two separate sizes) to be used in the design, I simply used my own measurements to design a flat-pallet shape, and map the pallet-wooden-texture onto this shape I created.

pallet codes next Image

◥ Each pallet was coded either A,B or C, depending on where it would be situated doing construction. In fact, all the racking was coded, too, making it easier identify the varied sections of the designs. Note: It always pays to think ahead.

boxes shelving products Image

◥ This is an example of the type of boxes that were located on the shelving racking at Next DVP (when I took the photographs).

boxes photoshop transparency Image

◥ To make a mockup box in Photoshop®, I simply transformed it into the size required, and used layer masks to hide elements of it (mostly the edges) that I didn’t require.

box photoshop recycle Image

◥ After this was done, I created a mockup-box shape, filled it with brown—and overlaid the original masked-image. This method, like the racking, created a very realistic yet very generic/unified look and feel to the designs.

Printing onto Foamex®

foamex large sheet Image

◥ When all the elements of the design were nearing completion, I set up a document which was exactly one-quarter size of the intended output print-size @ 400dpi. The designs were to be printed onto two 5mm Black Foamex® sheets measuring 2.5 metres wide x 1.5 metres high. Setting up the resolution at 400dpi meant that the whole design was printed at 100dpi, which is adequate for large format printing.

fragile boxes next racking Image

◥ Here is another example of the types of boxes I reconstructed digitally. These bore the warning “FRAGILE”, so I saw it quite fitting to include messages such as this in the designs. I also used “HEAVY” messages and varied symbols and arrow warnings.

I also made sure I erased the information and barcodes included on the white box labels. I did this so that when the boxes were printed, the trainers at Next could place their own  scannable-labels onto the designs, as requested.

foamboard foamex 2500x1500 Image

◥ This image shows the file to be used for large format printing for the second Foamex® board. As shown, the whole design is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with all the elements required squeezed into place; to fit-in as many extra boxes as possible.

foamex foam board black Image

◥ In between the boxes, racking shelving and pallet designs, I left some white space so when they were printed, the folks at the printers could cut them out individually—”knowing which bit was what”.

I also indicated which parts were to be cut-out using “Trim” text, as well as phone discussions and instructions by email.
foamex closeup 5mm printing Image

◥ Built-in contingency: In some of the “spare spaces” in the files, I created some extra few inches of racking shelving, just in case. If I had measured the wall wrong, for example, I would have extra lengths of racking to lengthen it when it was assembled. However, if the racking was too long, I could simply cut some off with a scalpel and metal ruler.

Design Proofs

design proofs pdf Image

◥ When the designs were ready to be sent to the printers, I printed off the proofs with an A4 colour laser-printer (Magicolor® 2530) ready for both review and approval by the client. The first page was formulated of a description of the designs and detail.

Design mockups

scaled racking moackup model Image

◥ I thought it prudent to print another set of designs and cut the main individual pieces out with a scalpel and ruler. I then used my kitchen table to lay-out the paper pieces to make sure of the following:

  • That I had the right amount of racking posts and shelving.
  • To ensure the pieces were in proportion to each other
  • To gage how the pallets would look under the racking sections.
  • To ensure, simply put, that the design truly “worked as a whole”.

After I laid the pieces out on the table, I was satisfied with how it all fit-together and looked. After preparing the artwork, I emailed them to the printers, along with the corresponding quotation number.

Foamex® Delivery & Assembly

foamex delivery hooks loops Image

◥ The people at the print-house printed the designs onto a special paper, and bonded it onto two large sheets of Black 5mm Foamex®, sealing it with an anti-scratch coating. Then, they used special cutting equipment to cut-out the individual pieces.

They then wrapped the Foamex® segments in bubble-wrap, placed then in a large wooden box, along with some industrial velcro (hooks and loops) and posted them to the client.

foamex racking assembly Image

◥ After a couple of email exchanges about when I would construct the racking design, I visited the Next Dearne Valley Palletised site to assemble the Foamex® pieces.

industrial velcro straps Image

◥ This is Industrial Velcro, which is very strong and is more-than-capable in holding Foamex®, Foam Board, MDF and Correx® to a flat surface. After fixing about 25 separate large-format Foamex® designs to walls and notice boards in the past, I have seen the benefits of using velcro to assemble these designs.

My own method is to attach lengths of the hooks and loops of the industrial velcro first, stick the strips together, peel off the backing from the “loops” length of the velcro and stick this side to the underside of the Foamex® (obviously, this would work for MDF board, foam board, etc, too).

foamex velcro hooks loops Image

◥ Constructing the design wasn’t easy—as the shelving elements of the pallet racking had to line-up exactly to the vertical bars. Moreover, once the velcro hooks side was attached to the wall, it was a permanent action, as removing it would take the paint off the new plasterboard walls.

It was therefore a rather tricky task attaching the Foamex® board to walls in the exact places required. I used a tape measure and spirit-level to aid me during this process.

The Finished Foamex® Pallet Racking Design

foamex custom cut saw Image

◥ Once I assembled the pallet racking elements, I evenly distributed the various boxes and pallets in between the pallet racking and shelving.

foamex mdf foamboard cut out Image

◥ The large foam design stands out clearly from new new white-painted walls of the training room.

training room picking next Image

◥ In this view, the 5mm thickness of the Black Foamex® can be seen, giving the racking design a very prominent 3D appearance.

training area racking pallets Image

◥ The final step in the completion of the design will be for the Next training staff to attach what barcodes they need on the racking edges and boxes in their own time.

I will be doing some more foam designs for Next soon, which will have some “spare” space available in some of the Foamex® boards, where there can be some extra boxes printed to fill-out the design. It would look fuller with more boxes included, but the budget only allowed for printing onto two 2.5 metre x 1.5metre foam boards.


This was a fantastic and inspiring project to work on. It’s great to work on projects where what you’re doing is a really custom job, with nothing else out-there to match it. I’ve worked with Foamex® now plenty of times, and although I also love to design posters, logos and other printed matter, producing customised solutions is my true nature as a graphic designer.

I’ve yet to work with MDF board or standard Foam Board, but I’ve produced Correx® signs before. Bar far, however, Foamex® has the durable capacity to produce large-format designs out of. It’s bendable, pliable, cuttable and very strong (being made of a plastic/foam composite). The use of Foamex® and Industrial Velco worked perfectly for this task—but the other material mentioned would have lacked the durability required.

I can’t really think of anything I would have done differently in this job (or “challenge”, I may call it). I made accurate mathematical calculations, analysed the racking and photography properly—and applied them to a creative agenda.

I don’t believe I’ve done something special personally, as any good graphic designer is capable of producing this kind of work. If you’re a designer and have never produced work like this before, why not give it a try? Please ask me any questions about the design in the comments section below.

Finally, a bit of self-promotion…

If you would like me to work on a custom project like this for you, please contact me or use my Hire Me online form. If the project requires assembling, like this example, I’m a very ‘hands-on’ designer and can qive you a quotation inclusive of this. Generally, I will travel up to 50 miles away from the Leeds area, but costing for longer distances is not ruled out.

15 thoughts on “How to Design a Mockup Pallet Racking”

  1. David Airey

    Now there’s a design project you don’t see every day. That’s a fairly rigorous process you went through, too, Andrew. Thanks for sharing.

    It’s a shame your client’s budget couldn’t stretch any further, because I don’t think the bare shelves are doing the job any favours. A stacked pyramid of large boxes, or some added variety in size would go down well I’m sure.
    .-= David Airey´s last blog ..Henri Ehrhart logo design process =-.

  2. Vorzie Studios

    Quite the extensive process that you went though and obviously alot of thought concerning organization. I do agree with David in that a little more variety in the design process would have gone a long way.

  3. Andrew Kelsall

    @David → I totally agree, so I had to work with the available space of two x 3.75m squared. Although, the aim of the training room is for training purposes, and training can be carried out effectively given there are roughly 70+ boxes, which is what they need. However, like you said, it would look better with more boxes.

    Soon, I am to design some notice board surrounds which have large areas of unused Foamex® in the centre. I plan to make more boxes from them on the next job in a few weeks.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    @Vorzie Studios → I don’t think David was talking about variety, just quantity. In regards to variety, I had a project budget to stick to, too, which meant I couldn’t make every box unique, although that would have been great.

    Note: I would prefer it if you would use your name instead of your company name in this comment section. I couldn’t find it on your site. We’re here discussing design as people, not companies, so it would be better for any commenter to leave their name or “name+company” if appropriate. Thanks for commenting…

  4. Andrew Kelsall

    @Andrew → Yeah, it’s in the pipeline as we speak 🙂

  5. Brian Yerkes

    Wow, that post was detailed Andrew! What a unique project. I love seeing this, especially when most just want to show the fake logos they design…

    This is real, and shows the true challenge of coming up with design solutions. Great post mate. I’m sure it seemed a little daunting at first, but as you said, correct and precise calculations, and taking each detail seriously gives you the best end result.

    .-= Brian Yerkes´s last blog ..Creatively Display Client Testimonials Using CSS =-.

  6. Andrew Kelsall

    @Brian → Yeah, real challenges are what design is all about. I love to be challenged—and get my hands dirty. I think more designers should peel themselves away from their computers once in a while. Maybe I’ll start an awareness campaign 😉

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting Brian. Hope Florida is treating you well…

  7. Josh Beckett

    ‘Impressed’ would be an understatement.

  8. Andrew Kelsall

    @Josh → Cheers. I have some more Foam work planned in the next few weeks, so look out for future posts 🙂

  9. Lydia Koranda

    Wow, very impressive! Definitely not a project you come across everyday! I don’t even remember how I stumbled across your blog…I started out on one blog and just started clicking interesting links and going from link to link! Glad I landed on yours along the way!