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the key differences between shrink film and stretch film

The Key Differences Between Shrink Film & Stretch Film

When it comes to plastic films for packaging, it can be quite confusing if youre new to the business. But when it comes to knowing the key differences between shrink film and stretch film, it is very important to be able to distinguish between the two. These two films often get confused, but just because they are similar it does not mean they are the same. Stretch film and shrink film are made for very different applications and using one in the wrong application could lead to serious problems. For example, shrink film is often passed through a heat tunnel to package products. Doing the same with stretch film could result in a fire. This is just one reason why it is essential to know the differences between these two materials when trying to source one or the other. Though both films are most commonly used for pallets or other grouped shipments, knowing the difference is very important because they are not made for the same job due to the different materials they are made from. If one doesnt know the difference, not only can it be dangerous for employees using it, but also puts everyone at risk of damaged shipments and wasting part of their packaging budget.

What is Shrink Film?

Shrink film, also known as shrink wrap, is a packaging material made of polymer-based plastic, most commonly polyolefin, polyvinyl-chloride, or polyethylene. When the film is heated to a specific temperature, it shrinks to the shape of the product being packaged. In order for this to happen, heat is usually applied to the film with a heat gun or a heat tunnel. Shrink wrap is a plastic film thats also used to secure loads tightly. When applying shrink film, it is wrapped loosely around something. The film is then exposed to high heat and begins to shrink and tighten around a product. This not only seals the product or pallet against dirt and dust, but also helps stabilize it during shipping and storage. It is even resistant to tearing and effective against contamination.

When is Shrink Wrap Used?

  • Preserving food and beverages for shipping
  • Protecting retail products while on shelves
  • Sheltering boats and patio furniture from weather

What is Shrink Film Applied With?

  • Heat Guns are hand-held tools to quickly shrink small pallets
  • Heat Tunnels are large units mounted over or around conveyor belts
  • Heat Ovens are large ovens built on-site for activating multiple pallets

What is Stretch Film?

Stretch film, which is also known as stretch wrap, is a film that is made with stretchy polymer-based plastic film in order to wrap pallets of products for shipping. The elasticity of the film ensures that the items are bound very tightly. Stretch film is commonly used in tandem with a stretch wrap machine to ensure the superior load containment of pallets. When being applied manually, stretch film is wrapped and stretched around pallets of boxes of products with a tool called a stretch wrap dispenser. This results in the pallet being tightly wrapped prior to being shipped. The securing of the products by the wrap is known as load containment. Stretch wrap is a plastic film thats used to secure a load of products, usually on a pallet. Its high elasticity allows it to hold things tightly and securely, so they wont move during shipping or storage. Essentially, it wants to return to its unstretched state, which is what provides such a secure protective tension. Stretch film also protects against dust and dirt, and is highly resistant to punctures and tears while being shipped or stored away.

There are 2 formats of stretch wrap packaging, each with a different mode of application:

  • Hand wrap is applied by hand or a manually-powered applicator. Its best used for smaller loads or in low-volume warehouses. It stretches roughly 25-100% longer when pulled tightly.
  • Machine wrap is applied by a powered machine arm, as a pallet spins on a turntable platform. Its best used for large loads and in high-volume warehouses. It can be stretched roughly 150-300% longer than its original length.

There are also specialty stretch wraps, which have a multitude of uses:

  • UV for preventing exposure damage from the suns rays
  • Vented for helping to prevent moisture build-up
  • Anti-static for preventing damage to electronics
  • Colored for privacy, organizing, and even branding

Some key advantages of shrink wrap include:

  • Better clarity for product visibility
  • Tighter hold for irregular objects to reduce shifting
  • Less chance of damage to the surface of the item
  • Minimizes oxygen in the package
  • Prevents leaks
  • Option to be ventilated for breathability

Here are a few of the key advantages of stretch wrap:

  • Highly cost effective
  • Can be applied by hand without special tools
  • Can be used with heat-sensitive products
  • Comes in a broad range of types, gauges, and colors for different applications, including opaque and UV-resistant varieties
  • Resistant to punctures and tears
  • Provides a secure hold to prevent load shifting


Stretch film and shrink film have very different uses but feel free to head to our website to find out more! We offer a large collection of packaging supplies with distribution centers around the nation. Call today for a free quote!

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