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How do I package my product for shipping?
We get asked this question every day. And while it is a simple question, it has
no simple answer. In fact, did you know that there are people employed as
certified PACKAGING ENGINEERS? These engineers go through four years of college
just to become experts in how to package products. Fortunately, most of our
customers don’t require advanced packaging designs
We have prepared these packaging guidelines to help you ensure that your
products arrive safely to your customers. These guidelines have been developed
after reviewing the service guides of UPS, FedEx and the USPS.
The answer the question “how to package my product” depends on two main factors.
These two factors are simply:
|1. What are you Packaging?
Fragile? Perishable? Etc…
|2. How are you shipping the package?
UPS? Post Office?
Expedited? LTL? Carrier Pigeon?
GENERAL SIZE & WEIGHT LIMITATIONS
So let’s start with some general size and weight limitations of the major
carriers. The table below outlines the size and weight limitations of the major
All of the carriers specify “girth” as the longest side of a package PLUS the
distance around the package at it’s widest point. So if you have an item that
measures 18 x 36 x 12”, the girth is calculated as follows:
Please remember that these must be the outer dimensions of a PACKAGED item. NOT
the dimensions of your unpacked item. You must account for the space that the
packaging will take up.
DECIDING ON A CARRIER
Now that you know the general limitations of the carriers, you can determine
how you would like to ship your package. It should be noted that we have found
no concrete evidence or study showing higher/lower damage rates among the major
parcel carriers or among the different services (expedited vs. ground).
Therefore, your decision of carrier should be based on a combination of the
Size and weight limitations
Once you have decided which carrier to use (and you obviously know what you are
shipping), it is time to package you product. There are basically three
essential components to any package:
1. The Outer Packaging (i.e. the box)
2. The Inner Packaging (i.e. Bubble Wrap®)
3. The Sealing Method (i.e. the tape)
We will discuss each of these components in detail below.
There are many different types of outer packaging that you can use to package
your products. The most commonly used outer packaging materials you want to
While all the major carriers suggest that you use a corrugated box whenever
possible, we contend that the answer to the best type of outer packaging to use
is: “IT DEPENDS.” The best type of outer packaging is completely dependent on
what you are packaging. Yes, for the vast majority of products, the best outer
packaging is a corrugated box. They are extremely versatile and economical, and
provide adequate protection. However, if you have a relatively small item that
is somewhat fragile (such as a CD in a jewel case), a bubble mailer may be the
best option. It would be silly to package a poster in a corrugated box when a
mailing tube is most likely your best bet. A wooden crate would work best for a
small volume (you don’t have to ship very many) item that is relatively heavy
such as a car engine, and/or extremely fragile such as a rare, original oil
Corrugated (Cardboard) Boxes
We will talk about the major outer packaging materials in detail below:
Cardboard Boxes (Click to view our Cardboard Box offering)
Corrugated boxes, which are more often called Cardboard Boxes are by far the most popular type of outer packaging used
today. In fact, more than 95 percent of all products shipped in the U.S. are
packaged in corrugated boxes.1
Some of the major reasons cardboard boxes are so popular include:
So, odds are you are going to use a cardboard box as your outer packaging.
With that in mind, there are few factors to consider. First, all the major
carriers suggest you use a NEW box. While people often re-use cardboard boxes,
please keep in mind that corrugated boxes are typically designed for a single
use. The more often a box is used, the less protection it will offer.
Boxes provide superior product protection
Relatively low cost
Boxes provide “stackability”
Relatively light weight
If you feel you still want to re-use a cardboard box, make sure that the box is
in excellent condition, meaning the box should not have tears, punctures,
corner damage or rips. Please make sure that all the flaps are also intact.
The second factor to consider when using a corrugated box is to determine the
strength of the box required. There are a few standard grades of material that
corrugated boxes are made from. In general, cardboard boxes can be made from single wall,
double wall or triple wall corrugated. Further, corrugated can be made in
different strengths (based on the strength of the paper used to make the
corrugated material). Most cardboard boxes have a Certification Stamp printed on a bottom
flap that shows you the strength of that box. Below are the guidelines
published by UPS for using corrugated boxes ii :
Mailing Boxes (Click to view our Mailing Boxes offering)
Mailing Boxes are very similar to corrugated boxes, in that they are both
made from corrugated board. The real difference between mailers (mailing boxes) and boxes is
how they are assembled. Corrugated boxes are the type of boxes that, typically,
have the flaps that meet in the middle and then need to be taped shut. Mailing Boxes
on the other hand, are the type of boxes that fold up and lock themselves shut.
A picture of a mailing box is shown below:
Mailing Boxes (corrugated mailers) are typically used for smaller items or items that are
relatively “flat” such as books or pictures.
One significant advantage of mailing boxes is the stacking strength (crush
proof) they provide. The reason these mailers are so strong is because of the
way they are assembled. When you fold up a cardboard mailer, either two or
three of the walls (depending on the style) of the mailing box will be formed by
three layers of corrugated board. These extra layers of corrugated provide
excellent protection for your products.
Bubble Mailers and Padded Envelopes (Click to view our Shipping and Padded Envelope offering)
Bubble Mailers and Padded Envelopes are an excellent choice for shipping
products that need some degree of cushioning, but are not overly fragile. An
example would be CD’s and DVD’s. One important note to remember is that while
these padded mailers provide excellent cushioning properties, they offer NO stacking
strength. So if your product is something that can be easily crushed (i.e.
chocolate chip cookies), you will want to use a corrugated box or mailer.
Mailing Tubes (Click to view our Mailing Tubes offering)
Mailing tubes are an excellent outer packaging material when shipping posters,
blueprints, artwork, wedding invitations, diplomas, calendars, or any other
long, narrow item.
Unless you are purchasing a large quantity of tubes, you will want to purchase
“stock” mailing tubes. Most companies that stock mailing tubes carry tubes with
diameters of 1-1/2”, 2”, 2-1/2”, 3” and 4”. Standard lengths range from 6” to
In addition to the standard sizes, mailing tubes are available in three standard styles:
Tubes with End Caps: These are the most popular style of cardboard tube. They are
typically made from 3-ply, spiral wound paper. Each end of the tube is
sealed/closed with an end cap. These end caps not only keep the contents from
falling out, but they also provide extra crush resistance.
Snap Seal Tubes: These cardboard tubes are essentially the same as the mailing tubes with end
caps, other than how they are closed. The ends of snap seal tubes are
pre-scored in a way that they simply fold in to seal closed.
Telescoping Tubes: Telescoping tubes are usually pre-sealed on each end with
metal end caps, but come in two telescoping pieces for product insertion. These
tubes expand and contract to hold different size products.
Stay Flat Mailers (Click to view our Stay Flat Mailer Offering)
Another option for shipping items that cannot be folded or bent are Stay Flat
Mailers. Just as their name implies, Stay Flat Mailers are engineered to do just
that – Stay Flat during shipping. These mailers are similar to the UPS or FedEx
overnight letter mailers, but are much sturdier. Stay Flat mailers are perfect
for shipping items such as photographs, important documents, and even “bare”
Courier and Tyvek® Envelopes
If the product you are shipping is not fragile, such as garments or catalogs,
these envelopes may work well for you. Both types of mailers are water and tear
resistant, but Tyvek® envelopes are the “Cadillac” of reinforced mailers.
If you are shipping a product that is extremely fragile (i.e.: an original oil
painting) or valuable (i.e. telecommunications equipment), or if you are
shipping to an overseas customer, then, you may want to strongly consider using
a wooden crate.
Often times, if you only have a few products to ship, you can assemble a crate
yourself. However, there are companies that specialize in supplying wooden
crates. One option is to hire a company that will crate your product on site.
This is very common when the item to be shipped is extremely large such as
manufacturing or medical imaging equipment. Another option is to purchase
“pre-made” crates that you assemble in your facility.
The following is a quick reference guide to the different outer packaging
While there are some products, such as books or printed catalogs, that do not
require the use of any inner packaging, most items require the use of some type
of protective material in addition to the outer package.
Typical purposes of inner packaging are cushioning, void-fill, and surface
protection. Cushioning refers to protecting a product from the shock that
occurs during an impact – such as dropping the item. Void-fill refers to
filling up the empty space in a box so as to prevent the packaged item from
shifting and migrating during shipment. Surface protection refers to protecting
delicate surfaces (such as glass or printed materials) from scratching or other
damage during shipment.
There are two main reasons why properly protecting your product is extremely
important. First, you obviously want your product to arrive safely so that you
have a happy customer. But second, did you know that while the major carriers
will reimburse you for damage they cause during shipping, they WILL NOT
reimburse you if the product was inadequately packaged? So, you can see why
properly protecting your product is so important; not only for your customers’
sake, but also for your protection.
But you may be asking yourself, how do I know what adequately packaged means?
This is a very common question, and one with a relatively simple answer. Your
product does not necessarily have to withstand a drop off of a two story
building to be considered adequately packaged (unless you think this will
potentially happen during shipping). When designing packaging for a particular
product, most packaging engineers (and the major carriers) try to develop a
package that will pass the ISTA (International Safe Transit Association) 3A,
2004 test. This test was developed to evaluate the ability of a package to
adequately protect an item when shipped in small parcel distribution
environments (i.e.: UPS or FedEx).
While this testing procedure includes a whole series of different tests, one of
the most important pieces of information you need to keep in mind is the
expected heights a product may be dropped from. If you design your package to
withstand a drop from these heights, you can be relatively certain that your
product will arrive safely to your customer.
With this information in mind, there are a variety of different materials you
can use as inner packaging. Some of the most common materials include:
Foam In Place
We will talk about the major inner packaging materials in detail below:
Bubble Wrap® is an extremely versatile protective material that is great as a
cushioning material, void fill or even surface protection. Bubble Wrap® is
available in three standard thicknesses as shown below:
When using Bubble Wrap®, there are a few “tips” for proper use. First, when you
are using Bubble Wrap® as a cushioning material, make sure to use enough wrap
so that all sides and corners are protected. Make sure that there is at least
two inches of bubble padding between your product and each wall of the box. You
also want to make sure to use enough wrap (or other void fill material in
conjunction with Bubble Wrap®) to eliminate movement of the packaged item when
you shake the box. When you are done packaging your product, shake it. If you
feel the product moving, you need to add more packaging material.
Bubble Wrap® is also available in other “options” such as adhesive, cohesive or
anti-static wraps. Adhesive Bubble Wrap® has an adhesive backing that sticks to
virtually any other surface. Cohesive Bubble Wrap® is similar to adhesive wrap,
but it sticks only to itself. And anti-static Bubble Wrap® is made from a
special blend of plastic that provides protection for electronic components
that may be damaged from static discharge.
Foam wrap is similar to Bubble Wrap® in that it is another very versatile
protective material that can be used as a cushioning material, void fill or
surface protection. The most common type of foam wrap is made from low density
polyethylene (LDPE) foam. Foam is lightweight, soft and is non-abrasive. The
major difference between Bubble Wrap® and foam, other than the obvious material
differences, is that foam wrap is more resilient. What this means is that foam
will provide cushioning protection after repeated impacts. Bubble Wrap®, by its
very nature, may or may not provide protection after repeated impacts,
depending on if the bubbles pop during impact.
When using foam, the same tips outlined above for Bubble Wrap® apply to foam
Foam wrap is typically available in thicknesses of 1/32”, 1/16”, 3/32”, 1/8” and
¼”. It is also available in other “options” such as adhesive, cohesive or
anti-static foam. Adhesive foam has an adhesive backing that will stick to
virtually any other surface. Cohesive foam is similar to adhesive foam, but it
sticks only to itself. And anti-static foam is made from a special blend of
plastic that provides protection for electronic components that may be damaged
from static discharge.
Foam Peanuts, also called Loosefill Peanuts, are primarily used as void fill.
Foam peanuts ARE NOT recommended as a cushioning material. This is because
items packaged in only peanuts will shift and migrate towards the exterior of
the box. The closer your product is to the exterior of the box, the more likely
it will be damaged during shipment.
However, foam peanuts are a great choice as a void fill. When using foam
peanuts, it is suggested that you overfill the box with at least two inches of
peanuts to allow for the natural settling of the peanuts during shipment.
Foam In Place
Foam in place is the closest “stock” material you can purchase to engineered
foam. This type of foam provides excellent cushioning properties, and is very
versatile in that it “molds” around the product to be packaged. Foam in place
is actually made from two chemicals. When these chemicals are mixed together,
they begin to “foam up” and expand around your product. Foam in place is an
ideal material for companies that ship many different configurations of fragile
products, such as pump manufacturers.
Engineered foams provide the ultimate in cushioning protection. An example of
engineered foam would be the foam end caps that computers are typically
packaged in. Engineered foam comes in a variety of different types. The most
popular of which are polystyrene (Styrofoam), polyethylene, and polyurethane.
Typically, engineered foams are used in high volume situations, such as computer
manufacturers. The reason for this is because of the design and manufacturing
processes behind engineered foams. First of all, designing engineered foams can
be quite complex. The optimal design is based on the weight of the product, the
psi loading of the foam, and the cushioning properties (cushion curves) of the
type of foam to be used. Once the design is completed, most engineered foams
can only be manufactured with a special type of tooling that is custom made to
the design (i.e. a mold). This tooling can range anywhere from $500 to $25,000
or more depending on the design and type of foam. And keep in mind, this
tooling cost is incurred BEFORE a single piece of foam is manufactured. There
is then still a cost for each piece of foam manufactured.
Inflatable Packaging is a relatively new type of inner packaging material that
is typically used as a void fill. Inflatable packaging usually comes in some
sort of “deflated” bag shipped on rolls that is inflated when the product is
packaged. One major advantage of using inflatable packaging is that because
they are shipped deflated the cost of inbound shipping is greatly reduced vs.
other void fills such as foam peanuts. Other benefits of inflatable packaging
include warehouse space savings, its ease of use (when used in conjunction with
specialized machinery), and its clean, professional appearance.
However, there are some considerations when using inflatable packaging. First of
all, extreme hot and cold temperatures can affect the performance of inflatable
packaging. Hot temperatures can cause the encapsulated air to expand, and thus
cause stress on the seals of the bag and the outer box. Cold temperatures, on
the other hand, can cause the volume of air inside the bags to decrease, which
then will create extra space inside the package, and increase the risk of
Various types of paper can be used as a void fill or for surface protection.
When using any type of paper as a void fill, it is recommended that you tightly
crumple the paper and use at lease four inches of paper between your product
and the sides of the box.
The most common type of paper used in these applications is known as kraft
(referring to its brown color) paper. Other papers used in these applications
include newsprint paper, tissue paper, bogus paper, and single-wall corrugated.
Each of these types of paper is available in rolls or in sheets, and comes in a
variety of “basis weights.” Basis weight basically translates into the
thickness of the paper. Kraft paper with a 40 pound basis weight (40# paper)
would be thicker than a 30# paper. The thicker the paper, the more protection
it will provide.
Corrugated cardboard is not only used to make outer boxes, it is also a
multi-purpose inner packaging material. Layers of corrugated board can be glued
together into blocks or thick pads. These can then be used in blocking and
bracing applications. Simple corrugated pads can also be used as dividers
between items or as stiffeners for items such as garments, if so desired.
Another benefit of corrugated pads is the fact that you can relatively easily
create a “custom” type of inner packaging. You can easily make your own custom
tray, liner, or even a partition with a straight edge, ruler and a sharp blade.
The following table is a quick reference guide to the various types of inner
packaging discussed above:
If you take the time and care to utilize the proper inner and outer packaging,
but use a sealing method that fails, your package will ultimately fail as well.
Therefore, properly sealing your package is just as important as the inner and
By far, the most popular type of sealing method is tape. However, there are many
different types of tape made today, and only a few are suitable for sealing
packages. The most common type of sealing tape is pressure sensitive tape. It
is called pressure sensitive tape because the tape must be applied with a small
amount of pressure to the surface it is sealing. Pressure sensitive tapes are
often referred to as box sealing tape, carton sealing tape or simply adhesive
tape. These tapes are typically made from a plastic backing with a few
different types of adhesives. The type of adhesive to use is determined by the
surface being sealed. The width and thickness of the tape will determine how
much tape you need in order to seal your box.
Another common type of tape used in sealing packages is water-activated tape. This tape is different from pressure sensitive tape because the adhesive used
must be moistened with water to be activated – similar to the adhesive on the
envelopes used to mail letters. Water-activated tape is usually reinforced with
fiberglass yarn that runs through the tape. These yarns make water-activated
tape much stronger than most pressure sensitive sealing tapes, and as a result,
you can use less tape per package when sealing boxes.
Common types of tape that SHOULD NOT be used to seal packages include masking tape,
duct tape and cellophane tape.
So as you can see, the answer to the question of “how do I package my product”
is not as simple as it sounds, but we hope that these guidelines help you in
some way. If you have any questions at all regarding packaging methods or
materials, feel free to contact our customer service agents at 888-236-1729.
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