Shrink (wrap) or stretch (wrap)? The comparison of the two film packaging methods

Packaging film is available in hundreds of varieties, types, colours, weights and widths. It may be manufactured from various materials and used in many different ways. The unchallenged leader in this circle is a stretchable polyethylene film, that is a ubiquitous stretch. But there can only be one winner and consumption amounting to millions of tons per year only in Europe leaves no doubt. However, there are still many applications in which the heat-shrinkable film is the absolute ruler. It is worth taking a look at the advantages of both competitors.

As always, cost matters. And it goes beyond the simple purchase costs, including also such cost-driven factors as ease of application, durability of the packaging, resistance to damage or the appearance of the final packaging.

Universal as a stretch

The versatility and ease of application are the unquestionable and unbeatable advantages of stretch film. You do not need to know in advance what you will be packaging. You don’t need to know either the size of the box or the non-standard dimensions of the product – the stretch will adjust itself to anything. There is no such thing as a product that you cannot wrap in a thin roll wrap film.

Moreover, to apply stretch you need nothing more than the stretch. If you want to make life easier, you may use just a brush handle or a piece of stick (rod, PVC tube, etc.) to help you. Of course, you can buy the right tool. There is a good range of products  – from a manual dispenser to fully automated wrapping robots or lines.

Heat-shrinkable film is much more difficult to apply: it requires some type of sealing machine – from a simple heat gun to complicated and expensive sealer equipment for this specific purpose.

Fight for palettes

A heat-shrinkable wrap (cover) for securing items to a pallet with standard sizes of 1,000 x 1,200 mm (load height 1 500 – 2,000 mm) will be a few times more expensive than stretch wrap used for the same purpose. Moreover, we must know exactly what size of cover to buy.

Nevertheless, there is no one definite answer to the question of whether stretch film or heat-shrinkable film is better for protecting the pallet load. Stretch is the optimal solution if you are securing an already completed order which will be delivered to the customer within a few days. Especially when the load on the pallet consists of many parcels of different sizes and shapes which altogether seem to make the load look like an odd bulk.

However, if you are dealing with goods that will remain unpacked for a while or will be stored outside for some time, a shrink film cover which protects the items against wind and water seems to be the only reasonable solution. It offers better load protection due to its durability and damage resistance, much better than that of stretch wrap.

So, for these reasons, heat-shrinkable film is commonly used for wrapping pallets loaded with building materials, as well as with machinery and equipment which require corrosion protection. Shrink wrap is especially useful when you ship goods on a long journey (e.g. sea voyage) or you may expect they will be stored in the open air.

Shrink wrap rules in supermarkets

Heat-shrinkable film wins in all areas where the packaging is valued not only for its functionality, but also for its aesthetics – wherever the presentation goods in the packaging is essential. 80 percent of goods wrapped in film (including PET bottles, cans, jars, all goods in regular shaped packaging), which we see every day in supermarkets, are wrapped in heat-shrinkable film.

Shrink wrap is predominant in the food industry. It is used to pack fresh or smoked meat, fish, fruit, cheese, frozen food and many other products requiring sealed packaging, which not only protects the product against dampness and dirt, but also at the same time makes the product in the packaging visible to the customer.

In conclusion, it should be noted that stretch wrap is irreplaceable whenever universality, ease of use and the cost optimisation matter most. Heat-shrinkable film can be used as a universal packaging (it can always replace a stretch), however its best performance can be seen when effective security, increased protection and durability are critical.