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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?
          Size? Weight? 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 carriers:

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 following factors:
  •   Shipping rates
  •   Size and weight limitations
  •   Delivery times
  •   Convenience

PACKAGING BASICS
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.

OUTER PACKAGING
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 evaluate are:

  • Corrugated (Cardboard) Boxes
  • Corrugated Mailers
  • Bubble Mailers
  • Padded Envelopes
  • Tyvek® Envelopes

  • StayFlat Mailers
  • Courier Envelopes
  • Mailing Tubes
  • Wooden Crates
  • Plastic Cases
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 painting.

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:
  • Boxes provide superior product protection
  • Relatively low cost
  • Boxes provide “stackability”
  • Relatively light weight
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.

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 48”.

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” CD’s.

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.

Wooden Crates
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 materials:


INNER 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:

  • Bubble Wrap®
  • Foam Wrap
  • Foam Peanuts
  • Foam In Place
  • Engineered Foam
  • Inflatable Packaging
  • Crumpled Paper
  • Corrugated Inserts

We will talk about the major inner packaging materials in detail below:

Bubble Wrap®
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
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 wrap.

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
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
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
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 damage.

Crumpled Paper
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 Inserts
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:

SEALING METHODS
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 outer packaging.

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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