Which Type of Flexible Film is Right for My Product?
Flexible film is essential for any company that needs to package consumer and institutional products, especially for industrial applications. Exceptional flexibility is key to protect, market, and distribute a vast array of products without damage.
From ensuring food safety and extending shelf life, to providing even heating, barrier protection, ease of use, resealability, and superb printability, the packaging industry continues to advance with flexible packaging offerings at an unprecedented rate.
The benefits of flexible packaging cannot be overstated. Lightweight and easy to open, carry, store, and re-seal, flexible packaging extends the shelf life of many products, especially food, and has a positive sustainability profile.
As an added bonus, flexible packaging is surprisingly not the worst type of packaging for the environment, in that it requires less energy to manufacture and transport and generates smaller quantities of greenhouse gases on its way to market.
On the back end, flexible packaging ultimately results in less consumer waste being sent to landfills.
Did that sound almost blasphemous?
In order to understand what was just read, you have to think long-term here to see the bigger picture. Alternative packaging options currently do not offer the shelf-life that flexible packages do.
Shorter shelf-life means more product waste and more packaged goods that need to be created to fulfill consumer needs. This means not only more of an environmental impact from product AND packaging creation, but an increased environmental impact from more frequent freight shipments.
If your product lasts longer on the shelf, you're reducing the amount of waste.
Our free eGuide To Protective Packaging can help you decide which flexible packaging option is best for your needs.
What to Take Into Consideration
It's important to know some specifics about your product to be packaged before diving into the details of the films available to you. Without question, a packaging supplier is key to selecting the appropriate film for your needs. They've been in the industry, they will understand your needs first, and will have a better understanding of what films will and will not work for your product.
Some things you will want to consider will be:
- What type of product you are packaging
- Product weight, shape and dimensions
- Consider color and labeling, can the film be printed to meet your needs?
- How it will be packaged into the flexible film?
- Will you be using a machine or packaging manually? If by machine, what type?
- The products journey from creation to shipment to shelf and beyond
- Will it be handled often? Will it be subjected to rough handling? What kind of climates/ environments will it be subjected to? Does it need specific film additives to keep it fresh such as an oxygen or moisture barrier? What about tampering and security of the finished good??
Now that that's been discussed, it’s time to find out which type of flexible packaging is right for your product needs.
This material is durable, versatile, and FDA-approved food-safe. The hallmark of this material is its strength. Polyolefin (POF) shrink film is very thin yet incredibly strong. It has a high level of puncture resistance and seal-strength, which allows for a variety of irregular-shaped items to move through the supply-chain life cycle without issue.
100% recyclable, POF shrink film offers great clarity, so your product shines through. The versatility of polyolefin films is expanded when it is perforated, meaning tiny holes are added to the film to provide exceptional flexibility. Available pre-perforated, this material is truly versatile.
Common uses for POF include toys, games, candies, books, foods, most retail items, and any consumer product where appearance is critical.
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyethylene high-density (PEHD) is a polyethylene thermoplastic made from petroleum.
With a high strength-to-density ratio, HDPE is used in the production of plastic bottles, corrosion-resistant piping, geomembranes, and plastic lumber. HDPE is commonly recycled, and has the number “2” as its resin identification code.
HDPE is the most widely used of plastics due to its exceptional versatility. Used in everything from hard hats to milk jugs, it is also widely recycled, in both its rigid form (e.g. containers), and flexible form (e.g. bags).
Common uses for HDPE include beverage bottles, personal care products such as shampoo, and household products. Bread and the thin plastic produce bags in the grocery store are made from HDPE, as are cereal box liners.
It's also used in more heavy-duty stretch-wrapping situations such as for farmers bundling produce. It usually comes on a roll similar to other films, but is more of a net that offers breath-ability to the products it wraps to a pallet.
Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
While similar to high-density polyethylene, LDPE has a lower density, as the name suggests. This means that it has less mass as compared to its volume.
LDPE is highly resistant to impact, moisture, and chemicals. It’s great when it comes to recycling, too, because rigid LDPE products, such as bottles, containers, lids, caps, etc., are typically collected in curbside recycling programs.
Common uses or LDPE include applications where heat sealing is necessary, as well as in the manufacture of some flexible lids and bottles, and in wire and cable applications.
Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)
This is one of the most commonly used films in the packaging industry! Of all of the polyethylene films, this is the most flexible. A blended form of LDPE, LLDPE offers more strength and conform-ability, making it perfect for stretching.
LLDPE doesn't shrink as well as other films, and is great for stretch wrapping pallets and protecting heavy loads in transit. This film is most often confused for shrink films like a plain polyolefin mentioned above because they are visually similar on the roll but perform very differently for packaging protection.
This and LDPE films are commonly used for pallet-wrapping as well as snacks, frozen foods and carrier bags.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE)
PET is clear, tough, and has good gas and moisture barrier properties. As a raw material, PET is globally recognized as a strong, lightweight, flexible material that is 100% recyclable.
When recycled, this material takes on a new life entirely. Cleaned, recycled PET flakes and pellets are in great demand for spinning fiber for carpet yarns, and producing fiberfill and geo-textiles.
Common uses for PET include plastic beverage bottles for soft drinks, water, juice, sports drinks, and the like. Many injection-molded consumer product containers, such as food jars for peanut butter, jam, and pickles are made from PET as well. Oven-safe film and microwavable food trays are another place where PET is safe to use.
Polypropylene (PP) is a thermoplastic “addition polymer” made from the combination of propylene monomers. This material has a high melting point that makes it good for hot-fill liquids. That also makes it great for certain applications that require a good chemical resistance.
PP is primarily used by the packaging industry directly, followed by the electrical and equipment manufacturing industries, at 30% and 13% of use, respectively. Household appliances and automotive industries consume 10% each, and construction materials round out the market with 5% of use.
Common uses for PP include a variety of applications to include packaging for consumer products, plastic parts for various industries such as the automotive industry, and special devices like hinges and textiles. PP is also often used as an outer layer in multi-layer packaging such as pouches along with polyethylene.
Food containers are another common use for PP, such as yogurt containers, those ubiquitous take-out food containers we all know and love, deli foods, and even medicine bottles.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl)
Because it is dependable and lightweight, flexible PVC helps packaging do its job to maintain the integrity of the products inside, including medicines. It is more brittle than many of the other films for packaging, but it is still a commonly used packaging option. It had its hay-day during the time of DVD and CDs.
Common uses of PVC include a variety of applications in the building and construction industries, as well as health care, electronics, automobile and other sectors, in products ranging from piping and siding, blood bags and tubing, to wire and cable insulation, windshield system components, blister packs, clamshells and more.
So Many Options
With so many types of flexible packaging film available, you are sure to find the right packaging for your product. Should you need a high melting point, or if durability is key, or if recycling is high or your list, there is a product available to suit your needs.
With all of the opportunities for a custom finish to any product, it’s always important to do your research and consider your specific needs to determine the best options. Our free eGuide To Protective Packaging will help you weigh these options to figure out your best approach.
About David Roberge
Part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I'm lucky to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier to be able to share our knowledge with you. I love learning about and helping readers grow their brand through unique, flexible package design from the birth of the product idea, through the supply chain and to the launch and placement on the shelf or at the consumer's door.