Shrink Film vs. Stretch Film for Industrial Packaging

Posted by CS Packaging on May 7, 2021 3:45:28 PM

Stretch and shrink film are two solutions common in industrial packaging. Though they sound similar (both are types of plastic film), they each serve a different purpose

Using either for the wrong application can result in serious problems. For example, if you used stretch film in a heat tunnel to package products, it would result in a fire. 

Read on to learn about the differences between shrink film and stretch film.

Shrink Film vs. Stretch Film

There are some major differences between shrink film and stretch film that you should know about before you invest:

Stretch Film

Sometimes known as stretch wrap,  stretch film is a clear, highly elastic plastic film used to secure products on pallets before shipping. This securing of products is known as load containment. It's wrapped either by machine or hand to secure products on pallets.

When applied manually, it's wrapped and stretched with a stretch wrap dispenser. To ensure pallet loads are wrapped faster and securely set in place, it's advisable to use a stretch wrapping machine. Its elasticity ensures it binds items very tightly. It also adds value because the proper stretch film on a stretch wrapping machine can stretch up to 250%.

The vented pallet wrap is FDA-approved and ideal for products like food and pharmaceuticals that need oxygen on transit. 

Other colors can be used for specific purposes:

  • Pink stretch films are preferred because they're anti-static
  • Blue films for their anti-corrosion protection for metal parts
  • Black films for their ability to shield loads from UV light

You may also find  stretch films offered in other colors, and you can ask for custom colors, depending on the supplier.


Blown or Cast Film

A stretch film can either be blown or cast depending on how the film was manufactured. Cast film is clear, doesn't stick to the hand, is less expensive, and stretches easily. However, it's good to note that it can break easily when overstretched and doesn't easily shrink back to size after stretching.

Blown film is tougher than cast film. It's resistant to breaking or tearing and has a higher holding power than cast. Use either, depending on your pallet-wrapping needs.


Shrink Film

As the name suggests,  shrink film gets its name from its ability to shrink around the product being packaged. One main application of shrink film is beverage packaging. Think of the bulk cases of Gatorade -- this is a type of shrink film with the bullseye on the end (the big hole on either side). Another primary use of shrink film is for covering and preserving a fancy gift basket or edible arrangement.

Sometimes, you will hear it referred to as shrink wrap. It's a polymer-based plastic. When heat is applied using a heat tunnel or heat gun, it shrinks uniformly to package the products and protect them. You will find shrink film surrounding other consumer goods such as:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Soda cans
  • Water bottles
  • Sporting goods

Shrink film comes in two types: polyolefin and polyvinyl chloride aka PVC. Polyolefin is more modern, durable, shrinks quickly, has excellent clarity, and is suitable for consumable products. On the other hand, Polyvinyl chloride isn't ideal for use with edible products and is a more old-fashioned form of shrink film.

The differences between shrink and stretch film boil down to applications. As you can see, while both are plastic-based films and fitting for protective packaging, shrink film perfectly forms around the shape of the products being packed. On the other hand, stretch film is ideal for wrapping pallets of pre-packed goods to contain them before shipping.

Shrink film doesn't stretch and cannot be used as an alternative to stretch film. Likewise, stretch film isn't designed to shrink and can't be used in a heat tunnel.


Stretch Film vs Shrink Film: Which Type of Film Should You Use?

Buy a film depending on the type of application you plan to use it for. If, for example, you want to package products you can display on store shelves, shrink film is the best option. 

If you intend to tightly wrap products stacked on pallets before shipping, then consider using a stretch film. Researching how each film works to attain the intended results can help avoid misuse.


The Bottom Line

Even though shrink film and stretch film share some similarities (keep products together, offer theft protection, protect against elements, and aid in safe handling), they have different uses in the packaging industry. One can't be applied in place of the other, and if you're not sure which route to take, consider engaging our packaging specialists

An experienced expert can help you pick the right packaging solutions based on your needs.  Get in touch today to start a conversation with one of our packaging experts.

Topics: Types of Packaging, Product Packaging, Shipping, Industrial Packaging