Different types of packaging provide a protective layer for products made from many common materials and are unique in that they not only provide protection during transportation and storage but also serve as sales and marketing tools.

Anyone importing goods from abroad needs to know which different types of packaging are best for their products and budget. This guide will introduce you to 9 common packaging materials, dunnage, and packaging with specific uses, such as electronics. Packaging or components. We’ll also cover their approximate costs, pros, cons, and other information like how “green” they are.

Please note that the packaging described is more suitable for smaller non-industrial items and products.

1. Introduction to packaging

Below is brief information about packaging.

Types of Packaging

1) Benefits of packaging

Understanding the importance of packaging is crucial for importers selling packaged goods.

In summary, packaging offers the following benefits:

  • Provides physical protection against damage caused by a variety of conditions, such as extreme temperatures, electrostatic discharge, vibration,  drops, and other types of shock (such as crushing). Additionally, it protects against contamination such as dust and moisture, which can also damage electronic devices.
  • Providing useful seals for many small items and accessories commonly found in today’s consumer products such as mobile phones.
  • Provides a line of defense for your goods against attempts to break into them during transportation and delivery.
  • Provide assistance to distribution and warehousing employees by incorporating elements such as handles or shapes suitable for stacking.
  • In some cases, packaging may have a premium design and finish that reflects well on the supplier’s relationship with the customer (think Apple’s packaging). It may also be made from sustainable materials, which is increasingly important to many consumers today and also affects how they view suppliers.

2) Packaging design

If we go back to Apple’s packaging, we will find that it is practical, simple, and well-designed:

Not only does it accommodate many accessories, but it also helps provide customers with the feeling that they are purchasing a quality device. It’s common for companies to spend a lot of time designing products, but how many companies invest time and effort into designing packaging to the extent that Apple does? As well as ensuring your packaging offers the necessary protection (which is a must), paying attention to design may also benefit sales.

A 2013 study in the journal Psychology & Marketing found that attractive packaging triggers more brain activity related to the impulse system and feelings of reward. So, in essence, packaging design does attract consumers to buy the product!

So in addition to protection, your packaging also:

  • Is it attractive to consumers?
  • As an extension of your company brand?

These needs also need to be communicated to your packaging designer or supplier.

2. 9 types of packaging (suitable for smaller products)

Let’s take a look at some typical packaging materials that can be used as primary consumer packaging for packaged goods, such as containers for beverages or cosmetics, as well as shipping and industrial packaging for smaller products, along with their characteristics and advantages.

1) Hard box

We returned the Apple iPhone box to our friend. It is made from a type of cardboard called a “hard box”. It’s not just Apple that uses this packaging style, though. Many quality small items such as watches, jewelry, cosmetics, and fashion accessories come packaged in these hard boxes, which are often configured as a sort of “gift box” as you see in the example, including Different types of containers for multiple parts.

They are made from highly compressed cardboard, 4 times thicker than the cardboard used in standard folding cartons (probably a regular brown foldable box, obviously quite lightweight). When you bang on them, you’ll notice that they generally have a very rigid structure; they’re also noticeably dense and heavy.

They benefit importers by being highly customizable as they can be printed, have a glossy/matte laminated look, AQ coated, varnished, flocked, gold/silver hot stamped (with foil), and/or embossed. In terms of cost, design, and protection come at a price, they are one of the more expensive types of packaging compared to corrugated and cardboard boxes and are therefore used for high-end items.

types of packaging (suitable for smaller products)

#1. Benefits

  • Strong
  • Premium “look” and “feel”
  • Can be made by hand and does not require machinery to construct
  • Can be configured to include containment features such as platforms, windows, lids, hinges, compartments, domes, and embossed graphics or lettering
  • Ideal for products and goods of almost any shape and size
  • Usually easily recyclable (unless coated with non-recyclable material like glitter)

#2. Disadvantages

  • expensive
  • Typically not collapsible (thus requiring more volume to be transported, thus increasing cost)
  • Not packaging that is used alone, usually product packaging with additional shipping/export packaging to protect it

2) Cardboard

Cardboard is most similar to thick paper rather than cardboard and is an affordable packaging option for small products. That’s why it’s used in everything from fast-food packaging to product display boxes for boxed goods in supermarkets.

What it lacks in rigidity, it makes up for in its ease of manipulation, cutting, folding, printing, or coloring with a variety of finishes. It is made from wood pulp and can be made from 100% recycled materials. Depending on its end application, single or multi-layer forms exist, but for packaging intended to provide protection for small consumer goods and where the shape may be suitable, a multi-layer form would be more suitable as it is stronger and easier to bend than a single-layer.

From a price point of view, generally speaking, cardboard is as cheap as you would expect from paper, although it can still be printed on and have a premium surface or texture and is therefore associated with using retail packaging. If coated with antistatic chemicals, it can even be used to safely package electronics.

#1. Benefits

  • Reasonable price
  • There are various applications
  • Can be made by hand and does not require machinery to construct
  • Recyclable and uses 100% sustainable materials (paper), therefore a “green” choice
  • Easy to cut and change into many forms
  • Ideal for products and goods of almost any shape and size

#2. Disadvantages

  • Lack of strength and rigidity, especially of single-ply cardboard
  • May not resist moisture, dust, and other contaminants well depending on shape and finish
  • Not as “premium” as other packaging types
types of packaging (suitable for smaller products)

3) Particleboard

Particleboard packaging is a type of cardboard, not to be confused with MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard). Similar to MDF, particleboard is made from recycled paper (rather than wood), which is compressed into particleboard and bonded with glue or resin. In addition to being very sustainable and always made from recycled materials, particleboard also has characteristics that are very similar to cardboard. It is easy to operate and inexpensive.

It usually comes in two colors: brown or white, and its strength depends on the density of the particleboard. The denser it is, the stronger and stiffer it becomes, but it usually won’t reach the level of stiffness of a rigid box. If the surface is treated, it can also be printed on.

It is usually a lightweight material, as an example of common particleboard packaging, think of bagged foods like cereal – their boxes are particleboard! Therefore, it can be said that it is one of the most common types of packaging. However, denser, heavy-duty particleboard can also be used for shipping boxes.

#1. Benefits

  • Cheap
  • There are various applications
  • Can be made by hand and does not require machinery to construct
  • Recyclable and uses 100% sustainable materials (paper), therefore a “green” choice
  • Ideal for products and goods of almost any shape and size
  • Easy to cut and change into many forms
  • Available in light and heavy-duty forms
  • Antistatic to protect electronic products
  • Printable

#2. Disadvantages

  • Lightweight particleboard is thin and not very strong
  • May not resist moisture, dust, and other contaminants well depending on shape and finish
  • Not as “premium” as other packaging types

4) Corrugated cardboard

This is what we call “cardboard” and is very commonly used in shipping/export cartons and boxes for storing items, but is also used for retail packaging, boxed food, and even takeaway pizza boxes! Cardboard is actually a multi-layered paper. The corrugated section refers to the fluted media that provides strength, insulation, and protection and is placed in a “sandwich” between inner and outer heavy paper.

More grooved layers will equal a stronger, more rigid package (and cost more as well). Cardboard is usually made from recycled paper, which makes it fairly cheap and sustainable. Cardboard can be cut and shaped, and many boxes are flat packs that can be hand-shaped and ready to be constructed into the final form of the package. It can also be used to create mock versions of prototype components and products, including furniture.

For example, I have a friend who is a mattress manufacturer. When he wraps the mattress, he uses a thin layer of plastic wrap to prevent it from getting wet. The exterior is then enclosed in large corrugated boxes. The multi-layer thickness of the corrugated box can effectively protect the mattress from being damaged during transportation.

types of packaging (suitable for smaller products)

#1. Benefits

  • Cheap
  • Extremely versatile
  • Can be made by hand and does not require machinery to construct
  • Recyclable and uses 100% sustainable materials (paper), therefore a “green” choice
  • Easy to cut and change into many forms
  • The antistatic coating protects electronic equipment
  • Can be printed and available in a variety of finishes: matte/gloss laminate or varnish, embossed, etc.
  • Ideal for products and goods of almost any shape and size

#2. Disadvantages

  • Prices for multi-layer siding may rise
  • May be susceptible to moisture and humidity unless completed
  • Typically does not have a premium look or finish

5) Cotton

Cotton is a natural and somewhat sustainable fiber used in nearly every application in consumers’ daily lives. As the most used textile in the world, we see cotton used in clothing, furniture, and of course packaging and storage. Environmentally conscious brands may choose cotton bags as the primary consumer packaging for their products.

Cotton is sought after for its soft, breathable properties that make for beautiful garments, but as a soft and premium-looking fabric, it’s suitable for packaging premium or sustainable goods. Cotton comes in different grades, and while packaging is unlikely to require the best “long staple” type, even so, If the cotton is sourced responsibly, soft cotton bags still have a premium feel and are reusable and sustainable.

For example, there are almost no limits to the customizability of a cotton bag, which can be dyed and printed to become perfectly suited to a brand or attractive to consumers for reuse in the future. All of these factors contribute to its appeal as a premium packaging type.

#1. Benefits

  • Cheaper in most cases
  • Quite sustainable and reusable in many situations
  • Protect products from dirt
  • Can be printed or painted
  • Softer and more premium than jute
  • Increase the brand’s environmental image

#2. Disadvantages

  • Cotton that is not organic or responsibly sourced is not very green because of its high demand and use of water, pesticides, and fertilizers
  • Since cotton bags do not offer much protection from the outside environment, their packaging uses are limited
types of packaging (suitable for smaller products)

6) Plastic

Plastic has its detractors, perhaps rightly so as its impact on the environment increasingly hits the headlines, but it is an excellent packaging material that has all but replaced glass, ceramics, and wood in most applications and other “traditional” materials. Versatile and can be crafted into heavy-duty shipping/export cartons or sophisticated retail packaging such as thermoformed plastic blister packs.

Plastics and packaging complement each other because they are durable, strong, resistant to moisture, and stains (fouling), and can be formed into almost any shape through processes such as injection molding. Although very durable, many plastic boxes can also be recycled if made from the right polymer. Unlike cardboard, plastic can create air- and water-tight containers, which means they’re suitable for food storage and food packaging in addition to standard items (think how many ingredients are packaged in air-tight plastic).

Most plastics are also cheap, often cheaper than natural materials from renewable sources.

#1. Plastics commonly used in packaging

Plastics are usually given a number from 1 to 7 in a small recycling circle. Here’s what each number means. When choosing a plastic, remember that the lower the number, the easier the plastic is to recycle.

  1. PET (polyethylene terephthalate)  – clear, shiny, and very tough. Great for protection, often used on beverage bottles.
  2. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)  – Hard and tough with a waxy appearance. Commonly used in detergent bottles.
  3. PVC (polyvinyl chloride)  – Depending on the additives, it can be soft or hard. Used in clothing, wire sheathing, windows, pipes, etc.
  4. LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)  – Waxy, smooth to the touch, and tough. Commonly used in postal plastic bags, sandwich bags, and packaging materials.
  5. PP (Polypropylene)  – Light but stiff, this can be seen in woven bags, bottle caps, buckets, beverage cups, auto parts, etc.
  6. PS (Polystyrene)  – Usually white, polystyrene is brittle yet tough and is a good insulator. Used in toy stuffing, molded packaging (see dunnage section below), and disposable food containers and cutlery.
  7. Other types of plastic – These plastics are often not easily recyclable and therefore not a good choice for brands looking for a greener option. An important option here is EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), a versatile foam that comes in sheets or expanded foam blocks and comes in a variety of colors. It is waterproof, rubbery, and durable and can be used for padding as it absorbs impact, repels water, and insulates products well.

#2. Which plastics are recyclable?

Unless you use bioplastics, all plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, so they score poorly on sustainability. Generally speaking, however, most plastics can be recycled, and a number ranging from 1 to 7 describes how easy it is to recycle.

Plastics with lower numbers (such as 1 and 2) are easily recycled, in which case they are far less harmful to the environment than plastics that are difficult to recycle or, most of the time, not recycled at all. PET (1) is a good example. This plastic is widely recycled and has no reason to end up in landfills, whereas PS (6) often ends up in landfills as it can only be effectively recycled if it is 100% clean. If it picks up dirt or contaminants (which it can easily do), it will be rejected and dumped.

#3. Benefits

  • Cheap
  • light or strong
  • Durable, airtight, waterproof
  • Can be printed or painted
  • Available in many forms, from thick boxes to delicate films
  • Relatively easy to recycle in some cases (e.g. PET, HDPE, and PP)
  • Can sometimes be reused, such as ground up and made into new plastic products

#4. Disadvantages

  • Environmental impact is questionable
  • Even “recyclable” plastics are often not easily recycled unless recycled by experts
  • In most cases, there is no real sense of luxury
  • Not a good choice for fragile or rectangular items
  • Many plastics are not recyclable, and over time in landfills, harmful materials can leach into the environment
tube packaging

7) Aluminum foil sealed bag

Foil-sealed bags are used as packaging for smaller items, usually food, but also for clothing, textiles, and some forms of certain delicate items, such as computer hard drives and silicon chips (such as RAM sets). They are PET films with an aluminum foil layer, and while many are in basic metallic colors, they can also have branding, etc. printed on them.

The advantage of this type of packaging is that it is 100% vacuum sealed and isolated from the external environment and therefore completely protected from moisture, dust, and any other sources of contamination (mold, bacteria, etc.). This is why it is so popular as food or ingredient packaging. If it is made specifically as a conductive material for use in electronics, it can also prevent electrostatic discharge by preventing the build-up of static electricity.

It is quite delicate and therefore is more commonly used as packaging in environments where the packaging is not subject to frequent abuse, such as on retail store shelves. In many cases, the vacuum sealing process naturally compresses the product inside, so foil-seal bags are a good choice for items with limited storage space.

#1. Benefits

  • Cheap
  • Compress products to save space
  • Protects products from UV rays, moisture, and oxygen
  • Can be printed or painted
  • May be a suitable form of bedding
  • Protect electronics in some form

#2. Disadvantages

  • Plastic is not the most environmentally friendly option, and the foil lining makes these bags difficult to recycle with other plastics
  • Related to basic food packaging and therefore not suitable for premium products
  • Unable to provide protection against impacts, drops, squeezes, etc.
  • Not a good choice for fragile or rectangular items

8) Jute (burlap/burlap)

Jute is a fibrous material derived from plants in the jute family and is typically grown in warm, humid climates. It is the second most common textile after cotton. Commonly used to make bags, twine, mats, and sacks, jute is an increasingly popular packaging material due to its sustainability.

Reusable shopping bags are often made from jute, a sturdy fiber that is a hard-wearing textile that can take a lot of wear and tear over time. Jute itself looks very rustic and is often used in agricultural packaging such as coffee bags, floor mats, and even sound insulation, so it may not be the first choice for high-end merchandise packaging. But if you are considering sustainable living products, such as handmade soaps, then small jute gift bags will be suitable and popular with consumers looking for 100% sustainable products and packaging.

#1. Benefits

  • cheaper than cotton
  • 100% biodegradable and recyclable
  • Crops require less pesticides and fertilizers
  • Can be printed and colored
  • High tensile strength, ideal for bags

#2. Disadvantages

  • Doesn’t have a premium image or feel compared to cotton, hard boxes, and some plastics
  • Can shed fibers
  • Can be used as a bag, but cannot provide protection against pressure, falls, moisture, etc.
tube packaging

9) Envelope/bubble envelope

Envelopes and bubble envelopes are a convenient and fast way to package and ship smaller items and products such as computer components, clothing, gadgets, and more. Made primarily of paper, they are a low-cost packaging option, and for bubble mail, the integrated bubble wrap inside the envelope provides good insulation and protection for the goods inside.

For suppliers who need to send large quantities of products by mail, envelopes are a low-cost packaging option that does not add much to the cost. The benefit is that there are many configurations to suit your needs, such as card-backed envelopes (to prevent bending), peel and seal, self-sealing, glued, and more. In particular, peeling and sealing envelopes is very strong because the sealing strips are very strong. If you’re willing to spend a little more money, envelopes can also be customized with your logo, branding, colors, and more.

As long as they offer adequate protection, consumers who appreciate environmentally friendly brands will be happy to receive recyclable paper or card envelopes (such as Amazon’s card-clip envelopes) that they can recycle themselves at the curb.

#1. Benefits

  • There are many sizes to choose from (common envelope sizes are C4 – A4 size, C5 – A5 size, C3 – A3 size)
  • Bubble mailers offer enhanced protection without bulky boxes
  • low cost
  • Standard paper/card envelopes are recyclable and sustainable
  • Envelopes can be customized with branding, logos, etc.
  • Bubble mailers are waterproof and suitable for delivering envelopes in the rain
  • Some bubble mailers can be taken apart by consumers, making it easier to recycle the individual paper and bubble wrap components

#2. Disadvantages

  • Offers only limited protection and is not good at withstanding extreme heat or humidity
  • Many bubble envelopes are not easily recyclable
  • May not be the best quality feel or image
  • May be insecure
  • Not a good choice for fragile or rectangular items

3. Next steps to consider when purchasing packaging

There are many things that importers should consider when purchasing packaging materials for their products.

1) Are you using the correct type of packaging?

  • What are your distribution channels? Are there any requirements from retailers? How to send e-commerce products? Do fully packaged products meet these requirements?
  • Branding: What do you want your product to achieve? Should the unboxing moment be a little special/magical?
  • Budget: How much is the most you can spend?
  • Marketing proposition: Will your target customers value reusable packaging? Use compostable/recyclable materials. Anything else?

2) Packaging supplier selection

  • Are you interested in purchasing packaging materials from your “key suppliers”? Or do you need to manage this process for your design and value proposition?
  • Do you buy from the company used to make this type of material? Or are they buying a product from another company that adds no value?
  • Is it better to deliver directly to the “primary product” supplier?  Or would you rather they not contact you at all?

3) Quality management

  • Have you defined your quality standards? Can they achieve this standard consistently?
  • What if 10% of the batch has to be put on hold? Do you need to buy an additional 10% to take on that risk?
  • Does your “primary supplier” require incoming quality control of materials before they are used? Will you be informed of the findings?
tube packaging

4. Conclusion

As we mentioned above, different types of packaging serve different purposes. For example, they can be purely functional (protection and information) or they can be a major part of the customer experience (sometimes costing more than the “product” itself).

In most cases, packaging is indeed an integral part of the product. It should not be decided or designed at the end for many reasons. It can increase the “reach” of the product and help achieve better differentiation in the market. For particularly high-quality packaged goods, design, custom manufacturing, and printing can take more than a month—sometimes longer than the “bare product” itself. If you would like to inquire about custom packaging, please contact Hopakpackaging.

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