Shrink Wrap vs Stretch Wrap: Guide to Protective Wrapping

When you are looking for light and durable protective wrapping solutions, both shrink wrap and stretch wrap are popular choices. Used for commercial shipping and warehousing, they are perfect for keeping your products bundled together safely and protecting them from water, dust and surface damage. 

However, the two have their differences – let’s find out what those are in our handy little guide to shrink and stretch wrap made for you by the warehousing experts at Breakwells.

Shrink Wrap vs Stretch Wrap: The Differences

Shrink wrap and stretch wrap are made of plastic, typically look similar and serve the same purpose. However, there are two major differences between the two: the wrapping technique and the typical application.

Wrapping Technique 

  • Stretch wrap is applied by stretching the film to wrap it around several boxes and then releasing it which causes the plastic wrap to shrink back to its original size, keeping the products tightly bundled together. The shrinking effect is produced automatically, based on the natural elasticity of the stretch film. Therefore, in theory, the process doesn’t require any special wrapping machinery. That being said, hand wrapping can be time-consuming which is why it’s usually recommended for low-volume orders only; special machines are used to automate the process for high-volume orders. 
  • Shrink wrap, as the name suggests, also works by the material being shrunk around the goods. However, this is done by applying heat to the material and then letting it cool off. Shrink film is first loosely wrapped around the goods and then heated to 100 to 150ºC using a special machine, usually a heat gun, a shrink tunnel or a shrink oven. Once the plastic begins to cool down, it shrinks significantly binding the products together. Due to the fact that heat is used in the wrapping process, shrink wrap isn’t suitable for all types of products. 

Typical application  

  • Stretch wrap is a staple in any commercial warehouse. It is usually used to wrap boxed goods together in preparation for pallet shipping. It provides a safe way to transport large quantities of items while keeping them neatly packages throughout the journey. 
  • Shrink wrap is more commonly found in shops and it’s used to display various products. In wholesale stores, you’ll usually see large shrink-wrapped pallets of goods and in regular supermarkets, you can see bottles of soft drinks and other products on display wrapped together with a thick transparent stretch film.

Types of Shrink Wrap and Stretch Wrap

In addition to shrink wrap and stretch wrap being different from each other, you should also consider the fact that each of them comes in various sizes and types. 

Stretch Wrap Types

We already mentioned that stretch wrap can be either applied by hand or using a machine. Based on the technique, you will need a different type of film. Machine stretch film comes in several subtypes as well – blown stretch wrap, cast stretch wrap and pre-stretched wrap. 

Blown stretch wrap can be transparent or black and is commonly used for freezing products, whereas cast stretch wrap is always transparent and is most widely used to wrap pallets. The pre-stretched wrap is an easier-to-use alternative to the first two. As the film is already stretched, it is much lighter and requires much less effort to be applied. 

Shrink Wrap Types

Shrink wrap comes in two general varieties based on the material it’s made of: polyolefin and polyethene. Polyolefin has no distinctive smell which makes it great for wrapping frozen food items. It’s also clear and allows for branding to be printed on it. 

Polyethene, on the other hand, is a lot thicker which makes it more durable and offers enhanced protection. The only downside is that it isn’t as clear in appearance as polyolefin but that’s not a major consideration if you are using it for pallet shipping.

Shrink Wrap vs Stretch Wrap: Which one is better?

Chances are that if your business involves storage, warehousing, shipping or retail, you will use both shrink and stretch film regularly. This is because both of these offer a practical solution and have great protective qualities. Explore some of the benefits of each type of wrapping film below. 

Reasons to use Stretch Wrap 

  • Secure Shipping: Stretch wrap limits damages to goods in transit by keeping them tightly bound into pallets and preventing them from moving around in the vehicle. 
  • Moisture Protection: Offers advanced moisture protection and limits the probability of water damage to the shipment 
  • Cleanliness: Keeps the goods protected from dust and dirt 
  • Great-Value-For-Money: Stretch wrap is on the lower ends of the price range which makes it a reliable and cost-effective packaging solution
  • Flexibility: One of the best things about the stretch wrap is that it’s extremely versatile – you can use it on oddly shaped products with ease
  • Eco-Friendly: With more and more businesses trying to implement green practices and limit their environmental footprint, it’s important to highlight the stretch wrap is often made from recyclable plastic

Reasons to use Shrink Wrap

  • Prevents contamination: In the food industry, shrink wrap is preferred due to its ability to protect edible products from being contaminated by dust or dirt 
  • Moisture Protection: Shrink wrap can also be used to keep your goods safe from moisture and water damage
  • Quality Control: When you use shrink wrap to bundle products together, any form of tampering with the packaging can be spotted quickly, ensuring better quality control 
  • Longer Shelf Life: You’ve probably seen individually wrapped cucumbers and tightly wrapped frozen meat products in-store – these have been wrapped using shrink film to extend their shelf life
  • Branding & Customisation: What makes shrink wrap a brilliant solution for product displays is that it can be custom-printed to show your logo and branding 

When deciding whether to use shrink wrap or stretch wrap, it’s important to know what type of goods you are transporting, what other packaging they have, how are they being transported and whether there’s any danger of contamination. Here, at Breakwells, we have a team of warehousing experts who take care of the entire packaging process for our customers. 

To learn more about our warehousing services in the Midlands, give us a call on 01562 755494 or send us your query on info@breakwells.com and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. 

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