Welcome to the concluding chapter of our three-part discussion of the exciting world of packaging! (Ok, “exciting” may be a bit of exaggeration, but the importance of choosing the right packaging for your products, particularly for shipping, can’t be overstated.) In the first part, we discussed the various types of boxes available for packaging and shipping, as well as how to choose the right box for your products. In the second part, we took a close look at the environmental impact of paper vs. plastic, examining the pros and cons of each. Now, in this final segment, we’ll delve into the various kinds of mailers (both plastic and paper), package customization, and more.

Plastic Mailers

If your products aren’t fragile and you want to keep your shipping costs low, you can use lightweight plastic mailers instead of cardboard boxes.  Boxes are large and pricey, so eliminating them will dramatically reduce both the environmental impact and the cost. The various types of plastic mailers include single layer poly bags, poly mailers, and bubble mailers.

Poly Mailer

Poly Bags

Polyethylene Plastic Mailers (Poly Bags)

Polybags are made from densely woven polyethylene fibers, making them durable and moisture-resistant. They come in different thicknesses and sizes and have a variety of closures. 

Single Layer Poly Bags

Single-layer poly bags aren’t used for outer packaging. Instead, they are used to keep small, loose items secure within a larger package. They can also be used for wrapping an item of clothing. They are great at protecting products from dirt, dust or debris that can get inside the shipping box.

Poly Mailers

Poly mailers are an ideal packaging solution for items that don’t require cushioning, such as clothing and other soft goods. They work best with items that fill the mailer completely and do not require additional filling. A poorly filled poly mailer can get caught in or misread by postal machinery. The advantages of poy mailers are myriad:

  • They are water- and flame-resistant and are built to withstand the wear and tear of shipping.
  • They are 10 times stronger than paper envelopes. Unpadded poly mailers give plenty of protection for soft goods like clothing. 
  • These envelopes are tear- and puncture-resistant but are easily cut with scissors. This makes them ideal for sending private documents where keeping the contents confidential is of paramount importance. 
  • Being one of the lightest mailing options available, businesses can save a substantial amount of money on shipping costs.
  • They come in a huge variety of options, from standard #10 letter sizes, to document size, to jumbo size.
  • They are typically cheaper to purchase than paper or corrugated shipping solutions.
  • Sometimes they are reusable, depending on how they are designed.
  • Many poly mailers are 100% recyclable, making them a great choice for environmentally aware companies and their customers. 
  • For super-environmentally conscious companies, biodegradable poly bags made from 100% recyclable polyolefin plastic are available. Look for the green earth-friendly seal. 

Poly mailers cannot be laser printed, as the heat can melt or deform the envelope. This makes it harder to create custom designs on the packaging. 

Bubble Mailers

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Bubble Mailers

A popular choice, bubble mailers are great for shipping small, non-fragile items, that could still benefit from some protection. They are made with a cost-effective and reusable material that’s more durable than single layer poly bags, and they offer more protection than a simple poly mailer. Like poly mailers, bubble mailers are moisture, tear, and tamper-resistant. 

Bubble mailers have a built-in internal layer of bubble wrap (i.e., air-filled pockets) that does not add much weight to the package. In addition to providing some protection, the bubble lining causes these mailers to keep their shape even when not fully filled. Bubble mailers are ideal for small items such as jewelry, electronic parts, t-shirts, and books.

When considering shipping a product in a bubble mailer, ask yourself if the product is lightweight, flat, and non-fragile. If so, a bubble mailer is a great choice.

As a plastic product, most bubble mailers are not biodegradable, but many are recyclable. You can find some brands of bubble mailers that are made with 30% (or more) recycled content. Bubble mailers are complicated to manufacture, so it’s challenging to make them entirely out of recycled content.

Paper-based mailers

Kraft mailers

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Paper Mailers

Kraft mailers are named after the kraft process of converting wood into the pulp used to make paper. They are made of a thin flexible paper or board and are typically used for shipping soft goods or items that don’t require rigidity in transit. Kraft mailers are less expensive than protective mailers. They take up less storage space, contribute to cheaper shipping costs, and are more environmentally efficient.

When looking for the right thickness for your needs, consider the thinner the paper, the more it might crease and tear. However, if the paperboard is too thick, the mailer won’t flex to fit the shape of your product (although some mailers have a gusset on the side or the bottom that allows them to expand to better fit their contents). Paper envelopes are generally less durable, weigh more and are not as tear- or moisture-resistant as poly mailers; however, they can be custom printed more easily using inkjet or laser printers. 

Paper mailers can be recycled four to seven times before reaching the end of their useful life. As more customers demand that companies be environmentally conscious, a recyclable paper envelope is going to be preferable over a non-recyclable poly-mailer. If sustainable packaging is your focus, look for paper mailers with the highest percentage of recycled content possible.

Padded Paper Mailers

Padded paper mailers are lightweight and affordable. They have a layer of padding (newspaper matted into a layer of cushioning) between two layers of kraft paper, adding dimension and protection to the packaging. Since they’re made of paper, they’re 100% recyclable. However, padded paper mailers take up more space and weigh more than poly mailers. When scaled, these differences result in significantly higher costs and environmental impact.

Padded mailers are not as durable as poly mailers and they are not weather-proof. However, as paper products, they have the advantage of being easily customized.

The Four Foot Drop Test

Whichever packaging you choose for shipping, it must be able to withstand the four-foot drop test. If the item inside is damaged after being dropped from a height of four feet at various angles, it’s going to be susceptible to damage through ordinary handling. If your package fails the four-foot drop test, you should consider an alternative. 

Customizing your packaging

Package Customization

When it comes to choosing the right packaging for your company’s needs, it’s important to consider the full brand experience. While a poly mailer might be acceptable for shipping your product, it won’t give the same unboxing experience as a brightly colored, custom box. Ensure you consider the customization process alongside all the other factors when choosing packaging.

Customizing Corrugated Cardboard

Flexographic printing (or flexo) is an economical method of customizing corrugated boxes by stamping a non-photo-quality design onto the material. Flexo can also be used on non-porous surfaces like film and rigid plastic. 

For higher quality images, digital printing is possible, but it’s better suited to smaller quantities since it uses a printer to print a design onto the box. 

For premium customization, consider lithographic printing. With this method, a design is printed on a sheet of paper, which is then applied to the cardboard box. Lithographic printing allows for stunning visuals and colors, foil details, embossing, and debossing for a prestige packaging feeling.

Paperboard

Paperboard boxes can be customized using offset printing. In offset printing, ink is applied to aluminum plates. The plates transfer the ink to rubber sheets, which in turn transfer the design onto the box. This method of printing works extremely well for high quantities. 

Foil stamping is yet another popular customization method. Here, a heated element is used to transfer foil onto paper. Foil stamping is ideal for printing metallic or opaque colors.

Digital printing can be used with paperboard boxes to add sharp, photo-quality images directly onto the paperboard. This method is suitable for small batches of boxes. 

Polymailers

Poly mailers are soft and difficult to print on, so quality can’t be assured. It’s best to go with a simple design, like a logo or a website address. For small batches of around 500 pieces, post-production printing is the most cost-effective. With post-production printing, blank poly mailers are printed using a press (versus digital printing). Post-production printing can usually only produce single color designs, and edge-to-edge printing is extremely challenging.

Final thought… 

As you can see, there are a multitude of choices when it comes to packaging for shipping. While there are standard sizes in all packaging materials, the business of shipping is not one-size-fits-all. At the end of the day, the packaging choices you make to get your products into the hands of the consumers comes down to your budget, how important the packaging is in the overall brand and purchase experience, environmental factors, and product restrictions. Ultimately, only you will know what is best for your business.