Nathan Dube

By: Nathan Dube on June 9th, 2020

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What's The Difference Between Shrink Film And Stretch Film?

Packaging Materials | Shipping Protection | Food Packaging

So, you are looking for a type of film, but you are confused about which type you actually need. While it is not uncommon to confuse stretch film with shrink film, they are not the same material. Stretch film and shrink film are made for very different applications and using one in the wrong application could lead to serious problems.


After such a long time in the packaging industry, Industrial Packaging often gets questions about shrink film and stretch film. One of the more common questions about these materials that we receive is: "What is the difference between shrink film and stretch film?"


One of these films can be used in a heat tunnel to package products. Doing that with the other could result in a fire. It is important to know the differences between these two materials when trying to source one or the other. In this article, we will explore the differences between both types of film and explain the appropriate applications for each.


What Is Shrink Film?


Shrink film (sometimes called 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 uniformly around the product being packaged. Heat is usually applied to the film with a heat gun or a heat tunnel.



A heat gun looks similar to a hair dryer and is used to shrink the film around small volumes of small products. For example, about 12 years ago, I used to use a heat gun to seal shrink film around recycled inkjet cartridges.


With a heat tunnel, the shrink film is loosely sealed around a product with an L-bar sealer and it is then sent along a conveyor into the heat tunnel. The shrink film then shrinks uniformly around the products as they move through the heat tunnel.


Shrink film is commonly used to package various types of products including frozen pizza boxes, produce, and other types of food and consumer goods.


What Is Stretch Film?


Stretch film (sometimes called stretch wrap) is an extremely stretchy polymer-based plastic film that is used 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.


The stretch film is tucked under the corner of the pallet and the laborer walks in a circle around the pallet from the bottom to the top of the pallet. The stretch film rolls off the dispenser as the laborer walks around the pallet.


The laborer will stretch the film tight by pulling the stretch wrap as they move around each corner of the pallet. 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.


What Is Load Containment?


Load containment makes for a load that is securely set in place so that it can be shipped safely to the intended destination of delivery. To achieve the maximum load containment possible, you will want to consider using a stretch wrapping machine.




Additionally, if you have the funding, you could fully automate your stretch wrapping with the proper machinery and cut the costs of human labor.


Depending on the volume of products you are wrapping, a stretch wrapping machine may or may not be a good fit for your business. You should consider having a packaging expert do an audit of your packaging line to see if it makes sense for your business.


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What Is The Difference Between Shrink Film And Stretch Film?


Shrink film is used for packaging products. It shrinks to form around the shape of the products being packaged. 


Stretch film is used to wrap pallets of pre-packaged goods prior to shipping.


Shrink film does not stretch and you cannot use it as a stretch film. Stretch film does not shrink and it cannot be sent through a heat tunnel or used with a heat gun.


Which Type Of Film Should You Use?


Depending on what application you are planning on using your film for will decide if you should be using shrink film, stretch film, or something else entirely.


When To Use Shrink Film


If you are looking for a film that can be used to package your products for display on store shelves while giving them a glossy sheen, shrink film would be a good choice for you. Furthermore, if you are attempting to catch the eyes of the consumer while they are shopping, using printed shrink film may be an even better choice.


Finally, when packaging food, shrink film is an excellent choice. Specifically, you will want to consider using polyolefin shrink film as it is the best shrink film for packaging food.


To choose the right type of shrink film for your needs, you will have to ask yourself these questions about your product:


With this information in hand, you are ready to start shopping for the appropriate shrink film for your packaging needs. You may want to take a look at the top 10 brands of shrink film to help you decide on which brand of film is best for you.


When To Use Stretch Film


If you are looking for a film to wrap pallets of products that have been stacked on pallets and are ready for shipping, you will definitely want to use stretch film. Stretch film is specifically made for palletizing products with the proper load containment.


Depending on the volume of products you are palletizing, you will want to ask yourself a few questions.


  • What is my budget? Stretch wrapping machines cost, on average, between $2,400 - $250,000. Stretch film dispensers cost about $50 - $100.
  • How many products am I wrapping each day/week/month? If you are wrapping a large volume of products and have the required funds, you may want to use a stretch wrapper machine in order to cut costs associated with manual labor.
  • What are my load containment requirements? Depending on the size and weight of your products, using a stretch wrap dispenser may not be the safest or even the right tool for the job. If you can not achieve the proper load containment with a dispenser, you may have to upgrade to a stretch wrapper machine.


Once you have answered these questions, you can start exploring the different types of stretch film as well as the different types of stretch wrapper machines.


Where To Buy Your Shrink Or Stretch Films


There are various places that you can source shrink and stretch films. From home and garden retail establishments to local packaging companies or online retailers. Depending upon your desired shopping experience, one option may be better than the other.


For example, if you prefer the ease of shopping from home, buying via an e-com store like Amazon may be a good choice for you. If on the other hand, you want to be able to inspect the product before you buy it, a home and garden retail store like Lowe's or Home Depot might be a better choice.


If you are looking to buy top quality American made films or would like to source large quantities for a big packaging line, you will want to consider buying from a B2B packaging organization such as a packaging distributor.


If you are not sure which route to take, consider reaching out to one of our packaging experts. They will be able to help you choose the right film, regardless of whether or not you choose to buy from us.


As Industrial Packaging is a packaging distributor, we may be a good fit for you if you are looking to source both your films and machinery from one vendor. If you would like access to multiple different brands of both materials and machinery, we can provide that as well.


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About Nathan Dube

As the Digital Marketing Specialist at Industrial Packaging, I am honored to create content for such a phenomenal company and work with one of the greatest teams in the Packaging Industry. Whether creating a video, writing blog posts or generating other pieces of content and multimedia, I am always excited to help educate and inspire our prospects and clients to reach their highest potential in regards to their packaging processes and needs.