Shipping supplies come in various shapes and sizes, and the right choice can decrease shipping costs and bolster your bottom line. Using appropriate packing supplies ensures that your goods arrive safely, too. Keep reading to learn about a variety of shipping and packing supplies that every shipper should know about, as well as their costs and where to find them.
Your Shipping Supplies Options & Costs
Any retailer or ecommerce seller knows that shipping products safely to customers is vital. But going overboard on packing can quickly eat into your profits. So the biggest challenge for any shipping-based company is finding the most protective combination of shipping and packing supplies to safely ship products at the lowest cost.
It’s also important to understand that shipping and packing supplies impact your overall shipping costs. Since carriers like FedEx, UPS and the US Post Office base their rates on the weight and size of your shipment, the mailers or boxes you use directly affects your shipping prices. So, it’s critical to choose shipping supplies that will protect your products with minimal added weight or bulk.
Here are 9 popular types of shipping supplies & their costs:
|Type||Best For||Supply Cost||Ship Weight|
|Plain Tyvek Envelopes||Items needing little protection: t-shirts, apparel, and cloth goods||3¢ to $1.75||Low - a few ounces|
|Bubble Mailers||Items needing some protection: DVDs, books, boxed or bagged jewelry||11¢ to 80¢||Low - a few ounces|
|Flat Chipboard Mailers||Items needing to ship flat: placemats, art prints, books||50¢ to over $2||Medium - a few ounces to 1 lb.|
|Fold Up Mailers||Flat items up to 4” thick: books, framed artwork||50¢ to over $2||Medium - few ounces to 1 lb.|
|Standard Boxes||Larger items needing protection or multiple items||40¢ to over $3||High - 1 lb. and over|
|Multi-depth Boxes ||Operations that ship items in varying box sizes||60¢ to over $6||High - 1 lb. and over|
|Double-wall Corrugated Boxes||Fragile or heavyweight items that need extra wall support||90¢ to over $9||High - 1.5 lb. and over|
|Long Boxes & Mailing Tubes||Long or rolled items: posters, rugs, golf clubs||60¢ to over $3||High - 1 lb. and over|
|Corrugated Cargo Boxes||Large items like machinery or large shipments of smaller boxed items||$8 to over $20||High - several pounds|
Tips for Picking the Right Mailer or Box for Your Products
Boxes and mailers that offer a snug fit protect products during shipping and minimize parcel size and weight. For durable goods, use a box or mailer that’s slightly larger than the item to cut down on unnecessary fillers, weight, and bulk to avoid dimensional weight upcharges. For fragile items, you’ll need extra space for cushioning, which we cover below.
Here’s how to choose shipping supplies to fit 4 common groups of products.
1. Small, Foldable & Durable Products
Small durable items like books, jewelry, apparel, fashion accessories, and myriad home and office goods are a snap to ship. They require little by way of padding, so you can avoid added costs by keeping your packaging lean.
For durable goods that are simple to pack and ship, try:
- Tyvek mailers
- Fold-up mailers
- Flat chipboard mailers
- Small corrugated boxes
2. Dimensional Flat & Thin Items
Flat products like photos, posters, framed pictures, hardback books, placemats, and various media products tend to ship easily in slim packaging. You generally need little by way of cushioning unless you have a frame with glass.
Flat items of varying thicknesses ship well in:
- Fold-up mailers
- Flat chipboard mailers
- Long boxes & mailing tubes
Fold-up mailers, in particular, can be quite versatile for goods up to about 4” thick. After that, you need to move to a standard corrugated box. Custom-printed fold-up mailers are popular for subscription box programs where the box and coordinated packaging is part of the branded experience.
3. Large, Bulky Items & Multi-item Shipments
Corrugated boxes are the go-to’s for shipping larger items, goods that need more protection, fragile items that need ample cushioning, and multi-item shipments.
For items that must ship in boxes, you have two options:
You can find corrugated boxes in sizes that suit any shipping need. Uline has the best overall selection of corrugated boxes and shipping supplies in general.
Multi-depth shipping boxes are handy of you ship goods that are the same size, but you ship them in different quantities. A multi-depth box makes it easy to cut and fold the box to the exact height needed, cutting out excess bulk and shipping costs for smaller shipments.
4. Heavy, Fragile, Oversized Items & Bulk Shipments
Items like machinery parts, decorator vases, bowling balls, and large bulk shipments of smaller items need special packaging. In these cases, weight and box size is a secondary concern to ensuring the items arrive safely. But, you can still be cautious and select boxes that are just large enough to allow needed cushioning.
If you ship a lot of oversized or high-value products, consider outsourcing to a fulfillment center like Red Stag. It specializes in high-value or bulky products that require special storage and packing or oversized shipping. Red Stag negotiates low rates from its shipping partners and passes those savings to clients, resulting in significant shipping savings. Try it free for 30 days.
This type of shipping box has a double thickness all around. Double wall boxes are very resistant to crushing and tearing, so they’re ideal for fragile and heavy items.
Corrugated Cargo Containers
These two-part boxes are a great way to send large bulk shipments of smaller items. You can pack a quantity of smaller boxes or other packaged goods and ship via regular carrier, or place one on a pallet for an LTL freight shipment. This is a great option for shipping wholesale goods.
Your Packing Supplies Options & Costs
Many durable products can safely ship with little or no internal packing; others need ample cushioning inside to prevent breakage during transit. And if you’re an ecommerce seller or retail store that provides order fulfillment to customers, the presentation of your parcel on arrival matters to your brand. So, most small business shippers need to know about packing supplies.
Like shipping supplies, packing supplies can add bulk and weight to a shipment which increases your rates, plus packing supplies have their own costs. So, you need to use packing materials that add minimal weight and bulk whenever possible to:
- Prevent shipped items from shifting during transit
- Absorb shock or impact to prevent breakage
- Protect the surfaces of shipped goods from scratching or rubbing
- Create a branded and memorable unboxing for the receiver
Some shipped items require nothing more than simple blank newsprint void fill to arrive undamaged; others need ample cushioning. Whatever the packing need, there are plenty of options. To compare the prices of various packing supplies, we estimated the cost to fill a 12”x 12”x12” box.
Here are 9 popular types of packing supplies & their costs:
|Poly Bags||2¢||Grouping items for packing||No cushioning|
|Blank Newsprint||22¢||Void fill for durable goods||Weight adds up in a large box|
|Bubble Wrap||40¢||Lightweight void fill and wrap for fragile items. Also comes in pre-made bags||Large rolls to store in shipping area|
|DIY Bubble Wrap||24¢||Lightweight void fill and wrap for fragile items||$4000 investment in an air filling machine|
|DIY Air Pillows||27¢||Lightweight void fill||Requires $1500 investment in an air filling machine, pillows can’t wrap around fragile items like bubble wrap|
|Styrofoam Peanuts||22¢||Lightweight void fill reduces content shifting||Large bags to store in packing areas, messy, not eco-friendly|
|Biodegradable Starch Peanuts||37¢||Lightweight void fill reduces content shifting||Dissolve in water and lose volume when stored in humid conditions|
|Styrofoam Sheets||$1.24||Lightweight protective cushioning for regular-shaped items||Adds bulk to shipment|
|Foam wrap and sheets||$1.50||Protective cushioning for irregular-shaped items||Adds bulk to shipment|
|Instapak||$3.40||Expanding foam conforms to the shape of your item|
Gives a high level of protection
|$700 investment in a prep unit, not eco-friendly|
Find the packing supplies featured above, plus many more wrap and cushioning options at Uline.
Tips for Picking the Right Packaging Supplies for Your Products
The key to controlling shipping costs is minimizing the size and weight of shipments whenever possible. For durable goods, lightweight polybags or minimal void fill may be all you need to ship without damage. You’ll need extra cushioning for fragile items, and choosing the right type helps keep parcel sizes to a minimum.
Here’s how to choose packing supplies to safely ship 4 different groups of products:
1. Unbreakable Products
Items like books, jewelry, apparel, fashion accessories, and myriad home and office goods won’t break during shipping. They require little or no padded packaging, so all you need is inner packaging to define your brand, contain several items, or fill package voids for transit.
The following packing supplies work well for durable goods:
- Blank newsprint
- Poly bags
- Bubble wrap
- Air pillows
2. Flat Fragile Items
Framed pictures with glass, mirrors, and hardback books need cushioning to protect them from bumps and shock during transit. These items can be wrapped in layers to provide ample protection with minimal added bulk.
Cushion and protect these types of products with:
- Bubble wrap or bubble bags
- Thin foam sheets
- Layered blank newsprint
3. Large & Bulky Pre-Packaged Items
Large, pre-packaged items like durable home goods and decor, small kitchen appliances, and tools shouldn’t ship in their retail packaging alone. Retail boxes generally aren’t strong enough to withstand the rigors of shipping, but the goods inside are usually well secured which saves you a step. Ship these products in close-fitting outer boxes and use minimal lightweight cushioning.
For these goods, use this for lightweight cushioning and void fill:
- Blank newsprint
- Bubble wrap
- Air pillows
- Styrofoam sheets
- Styrofoam or biodegradable peanuts
4. Odd-shaped & Fragile Goods
Products like machinery parts, breakable decor and collectibles, and extremely fragile items can be tough to ship safely. Here, parcel size is secondary to protection. Major carriers like UPS, FedEx, and USPS recommend adequate cushioning of at least 2” around fragile items. If an item breaks in transit and they deem it was improperly packed, they can deny your insurance claim.
So, it’s important to use a box that’s at least 2” larger all around your item, and use the best possible cushioning. It’s a good idea to take pictures of your packed item to show the cushioning used in case you need to defend an insurance claim.
Pack fragile and odd-shaped items using one or a combination of these options:
- Bubble wrap or bags
- Thin foam wrap and thicker foam sheets
- Styrofoam sheets
- Styrofoam or biodegradable peanuts
- Instapack expanding foam padding
Other Things to Consider when Choosing Packing & Shipping Supplies
Parcel size, weight, protection, and presentation are major factors in choosing shipping and packing supplies for your business. Here are a few more considerations that might affect your choices, depending on your customer base and the types of goods you ship.
Certain Goods Need Special Packing Considerations
We covered an array of shipping and packing options for different types of goods above, but some special packing needs deserve a bit more attention. Over time, as you pack and ship products, you’ll discover which supplies and techniques work best for you, but here’s a head-start on 4 of the tougher packing and shipping challenges you might face:
1. Multiple Items
If you’re packing multiple items, you may need to wrap items individually with a thin layer of foam or bubble wrap to prevent scratching, then fill the remaining spaces with peanuts.
2. Glassware, Dishes & Delicate Items
Sometimes a combination of packing supplies is the best answer. Dishes can be separated with bubble or foam sheets, then wrapped as a unit in bubble or foam for complete cushioning. Glassware and figurines can be wrapped in bubble sheets, then packed in layers divided by bubble or foam sheets or even peanuts.
3. Sharp Edges & Protruding Pieces
It’s important to cover any sharp, protruding edges on your item(s) with a layer of cardboard, or foam or bubble sheets. You can fold excess cardboard over sharp edges, corners, or protruding sections, and secure with tape. Even small items can pose problems if sharp ends protrude through packaging. For example, earrings can poke through a plain envelope and be damaged in transit. Wrap them in thin foam or bubble sheets, or even pack in a small inner box that fits in a Tyvek or bubble mailer.
4. Rugs, Posters & Large Textiles
Roll up these items and place them in a long box or mailing tube. These items are not meant to be folded and round tubes, in particular, will protect posters and art prints from damage due to box creasing.
Taking size, weight, and shape into account for shipping supplies is important not only for packing orders, but also for shipping costs. Consider online postage to potentially save money with discounts. And learn about how Stamps.com works to find out if it’s right for your small business.
Customers Appreciate Eco-Friendly Packaging
Eco-minded consumers know what to look for in environmentally friendly packaging. They know the difference between starch and styrofoam peanuts and look for post-consumer recycled content labeling on boxes.
These customers seek out sustainable sellers and will pay more if they feel they are shopping responsibly. This is a good thing since starch peanuts are more expensive than their styrofoam counterparts, and post-consumer waste recycled boxes cost about twice as much than virgin fiber boxes. But, if you attract the eco-friendly crowd and have a brand that boasts a sustainable operation, earth-friendly shipping and packing supplies will bolster your reputation and attract these shoppers.
Be sure to highlight your commitment to sustainable operations in all of your marketing, including website, social media, and packaging inserts, too.
Branded Packaging Creates a Memorable Unboxing Experience
With so much competition online, brand-oriented custom packaging that drives a memorable unboxing experience is very on-trend. It’s a great way to reinforce your brand but can drive up the cost of materials quite a bit.
For example, adding a custom logo to shipping boxes costs about $1 per box and up. If you want a fully printed box or mailer with matching inner packaging, you’re looking at $3 per package and up, depending on size and quantity ordered. But, there are plenty of ways to add a branded touch to your shipments for far less. Learn how in our Custom Packaging Guide.
Of course, never discredit the value of including a handwritten note in your shipments. You can get a lot of branding bang for little to no bucks with a simple “thank you.” All it takes a little time.
Bottom Line on Packing & Shipping Supplies
Shipping and packing supplies and how they relate to shipping costs is something every small business shipper must understand if they want to be profitable. Shipping supplies, carrier costs, and adequate packaging are a large part of any shipper’s operating budget. It’s easy to overlook the wrong sized shipping supplies or go overboard on packing supplies for good that don’t need extra protection.
Frequently Asked Question
When should small vs medium vs large pocket bubble wrap be used?
Basically, it all depends on how delicate the item. If the item has a lot of small contours (such as a small figurine or statue) you’ll want to use smaller bubble wrap that will protect all corners. A more blunt-shaped object like an audio speaker can probably be wrapped in larger pocket bubble wrap – which also has the advantage of taking up more space.