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Plastic Wrapping - Stretch Wrap vs Shrink Wrap

Plastic Wrapping Equipment

In the packaging world, stretch and shrink wrap are commonly used for protecting products for shipment. The two are often confused, as they are both types of plastic film, but the two materials are very different. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the films and what applications they are used in.

Stretch Wrap

Stretch wrap is a plastic film that can be applied by hand or machine to secure boxes or products on a pallet. It’s most commonly made from polyethylene plastic. It adds extra protection for products during the storage and transportation processes. Stretch wrap is typically clear to easily see what’s on the pallet but is available in various colors. It comes in a wide variety of lengths, widths and gauges. There are also two different types of stretch wrap: blown and cast film, which refers to the way the film was manufactured.

Hand Stretch Wrapping vs Machine Stretch Wrapping

Stretch wrap is applied by hand or by a machine. Hand wrap rolls are smaller and lighter by design so a person can manually hold the roll and wrap it around a pallet.

Machine wrap rolls are longer and wider, sometimes weighing over 100 pounds. Rolls are available in larger widths from 20” to 80” in order to fit a stretch wrapper, which can wrap pallets in a fraction of the time it takes to hand wrap. Stretch wrappers are recommended when you are wrapping more than 15 loads per day. Stretch wrap machines help reduce film waste, labor costs and increase overall packaging efficiency.

Are you using too much film to wrap your pallets? Use our Stretch Wrap Efficiency Calculator to find out.

Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap is the tight, clear plastic film that comes wrapped around consumer products where appearance is important, such as water bottles, food, books, toys and other retail items. The film is an extremely versatile and durable polymer material. It’s available in a variety of thicknesses, strengths and shrink ratios.

There are two main types of shrink wrap: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polyolefin. PVC is less expensive but is not widely used these days due to the health dangers it poses during creation and disposal. Many countries and companies that are focused on sustainability, such as Walmart, have actually banned PVC shrink from usage. PVC is created from a combination of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine, which gives off a strong, harmful order when heated. It's also a #3 recyclable material meaning it's unable to be recycled in most cases.

Polyolefin (POF) is by far the more commonly used and preferred shrink film. It’s extremely durable, clear and is FDA approved for food material. POF shrink wrap is available in thicknesses ranging from 35 (.35 mil) to 100 (1 mil) gauge. It's created from 100% recyclable materials and is more resistant to temperature changes.

A heating machine is necessary to apply any type of shrink wrap, these include heat guns, shrink tunnels, shrink wrappers and tabletop shrink sealers.

Stretch wrap and shrink wrap have different uses and cannot be used in place of each other. Stretch film wraps and protects pallets of products for shipment and storage, while shrink film wraps and protects consumer goods for storage and shelving. Contact a packaging specialist to assist in selecting the right type of film for your packaging application.

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