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Stretch or shrink wrapping - what's the difference?

Supplier: Fromm Packaging Australia
23 February, 2016

Many people confuse stretch wrapping & shrink wrapping, often using the terms interchangeably. Both are popular methods of unitizing products for transportation, however, both the process of unitising & the end results vary drastically. Do you know which method is best for you and your business?

Stretch Wrapping

What is it?

Stretch wrapping is the process of stretching a roll of plastic ‘stretch film’ (like a heavy duty glad-wrap) around a pallet of products in order to unitize the load, making it safe for transport or storage. High quality stretch films are designed to stretch like a rubber band – you tightly wrap your products with the film, and the latent elasticity pulls the load together, reducing the risk of product damage.

What is it used for?

Basically, it protects your products. Stretch film is your first line of defence to protect your products for the numerous threats they will encounter during your product’s life-cycle. Typically used to unitize loads for transportation, stretch wrapping can also be used to protect from moisture damage, product contamination, sun/UV damage and dust. You can also use a black stretch film to conceal your products for added security and to deter thieves.

How is it done?

Depending on the size of your operation, you would either wrap your products by hand, using a hand-held film dispenser or a wrapping machine which will wrap your products for you.

Hand wrapping is only recommended when you have only a few pallets to secure per day – this method is extremely labour intensive and comes with a risk of workplace injuries, particularly back injuries.

If you need to secure any more than 5 pallets a day, a pallet wrapping machine is highly recommended. Not only will it save a significant amount of time, machine wrapping is more cost effective in the long run, offering savings on film usage.

What are the advantages?

Protective – If your biggest problem is product movement during transit, stretch wrapping is the way to go. It can also protect from sun with UV film options.

Cost Effective – Stretch wrapping is less expensive than other types of pallet wrapping. Additionally the equipment needed for stretch wrapping is generally cheaper than other forms of wrapping.

Adaptable – Stretch wrapping can be done with a variety of films to suit each application; and it is even appropriate for different types of surfaces. Stretch wrapping is applicable to practically any product.


Shrink Wrapping

What is it?

Shrink wrapping is the process of loosely covering your products in a shrink film tube or bag, then applying heat which will shrink the film to conform to the size and shape of the products you are securing. This method requires the use of a hot air gun or gas gun to heat the film and is not suitable for products that are heat sensitive.

What is it used for?

This type of wrapping is usually employed to protect a single product from dust or weather; or to tightly combine smaller items together. It can also be used to unitize a pallet, but is less common. This wrapping method is widely used for protecting products which are susceptible to contamination, such as food products.

What are the advantages?

Protective – If your biggest worry is protecting your products from moisture, dust or if you store products outside, shrink wrap may be your best bet – However, for large scale operations, stretch wrapping with a topsheet is much more scalable and less time intensive.

No surface damage – If shrink wrapping has been properly applied you should have no issues with chafing or damage during the shrinking process, although the trade-off is a less secure load as it hasn’t been wrapped as tight.

Adaptable – Shrink film conforms to the size and shape of any load making it ideal for mixed pack pallets, random size boxes and smaller individual items.