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Packaging materials: a guide to help you find your product’s perfect match

Types of packaging 1
In: Web Design, Website Development

Choosing the right packaging materials can feel intimidating. Not only do you have to consider the right material to withstand the shelf, warehouse and delivery processes, but you also have to pick a material that aligns with your brand and makes you stand out among competitors.

Stuck on which packaging material might be right for you? You are not alone. Illustration by OrangeCrush

With the rise of sustainable packaging options, there are so many new ways to package your products that weren’t previously available to businesses. So as you map out your brand identity, take some time to explore common types of packaging materials alongside new innovative materials. You might be surprised by what you find.

Packaging can help you stand out from your competitors, which is why choosing the right packaging materials can feel intimidating. With so many viable traditional packaging materials, on top of new and upcoming packaging trends, there’s a lot to consider.

Today customers are more interested in sustainable options than ever. Using sustainable packaging helps prevent more materials from going into landfills, making it a great way to add an eco-friendly flair to your business, if that’s something you value. Below you can find new trends in packaging materials and their more common counterparts, so you can make the most informed choice for your brand.

Jars for food packaging
Packaging design by K .art

Different products require different types of packaging, so depending on your product, certain kinds of packaging might not be an option for you. For example, you really can’t package jelly in a paper bag, and you wouldn’t want to pack up fresh bread in an airtight container. Doing your research on all the packaging options available to you can make all the difference in the success of your product.

Electronics packaging in plastic, sealed bags
Packaging design by K .art

Paper and cardboard

Paper and cardboard are staples in the packaging industry. Paper-based packaging can include everything from paper bags, tissue paper, paper wrapping, paper labels and envelopes. It’s convenient for carrying items, mailing stationary, wrapping food products and keeping fragile items safe. It’s not only functional, but arguably one of the most attractive forms of packaging as it’s simple, aesthetically pleasing and easily designable.

Kraft paper being used to package food items.
Packaging designed by Avenir

Then there’s paperboard—paper’s stronger and more impressive sister material. Made from paper pulp, paperboard has a similar structure to cardboard but it’s thinner and more versatile. There are a few different types of paperboard to get familiar with:

  1. Solid bleached sulfate

    This kind of paperboard has a clay-coated surface for high-quality printing and a top ply of bleached fibers for smoothness. It’s the kind of packaging that you’d see in the frozen food aisle, the cosmetic section, and it’s often used for beverages, tobacco products, perishable baked goods and dairy products.

    an example of cardboard packaging
    Packaging designed by duwi.sleman
  2. Coated unbleached kraft

    This is the sturdy, natural brown-colored packaging you’d often see packaging beers, wines, and soft drinks. It can also be used to box different kinds of cleaning products like concentrated laundry detergents or heavy hardware products. It’s strong, durable and tear-resistant. And because it’s a natural form of paperboard, requiring less processing, it’s an extremely cost-friendly option.

    Kraft paper being used to package food items.
    Packaging designed by Mj.vass
  3. Coated recycled paperboard

    This paperboard comes from recycled paper materials and has the same coating as the solid bleached sulfate option—making it an excellent choice for laundry soaps and detergents, dry goods such as pasta, cereal, cake mixes or snack boxes, and paper products like tissues.

    Joyville Coffee Roasters packaged in sealable paper bags
    Packaging design by DreamMaster
  4. Non-bending chipboard

    This material is cut to a specific shape so the box will not break down or bend in the shipping process. It can be overlaid with designable foil or prints, which can leave a lot of room for creativity and brand establishment. These boxes, on smaller scales are used for cosmetics, electronics, and jewelry.

    Durable chipboard
    Packaging design by Luana Stefan

Not only are paper options plentiful and versatile, but they’re also naturally environmentally friendly. Products like kraft paper decompose within a couple of weeks after use, so they’re great packaging options, but also won’t add to landfills.

Then of course there’s cardboard. Cardboard is often used for outer packaging and can come in two forms: pre-assembled boxes and boxes that need to be self-assembled. These are ideal for shipping products, especially products that are heavier or more fragile.

The awesome thing about paper and cardboard is that on top of being pretty environmentally friendly on their own, you can also purchase paper or cardboard packaging that’s already been recycled. If you close your eyes and think about literally anything you’ve bought in the past week, you can buy those same packaging products but eco-friendly.

Packaging your products with recycled materials is a great way to stand out to consumers and help the planet—it’s also cost-friendly. You can easily purchase recycled packaging materials like bags, boxes, envelopes, tags, tapes and tissue paper, wholesale through companies like Earthpack.

Glass

Anything involving glass packaging is going to cover your needs for jars and bottles. Where paper packaging comes down to choosing the right kind of paper material, glass packaging comes down to choosing the right shape.

For glass jars, there are economy round jars, used for mayonnaise and sauces; paragon jars, often used to package olives; hex and victorian jars for honey and jams, straight-sided jars for lotions and cosmetics, etc. For bottles, there’s everything from round bottles, often used for kombucha and soaps to wine and liquor bottles. The right glass shape you order will depend on the kind of product you’re producing, so feel free to check out different glass shapes here before deciding.

 IBEX Vodka packaged in glass bottles
Packaging designed by Esteban Tolosa

Glass bottles and jars can give your product an elevated look, while also giving items, especially food and beverage products, a long and stable shelf life. The transparency and texture of glass is distinct when it comes to comparing packaging materials.

Glass materials, made through a process of melting and molding, are also an excellent way to make your business eco-friendly. You can purchase glass jars that have already been recycled, or you can have your own jars designed from recycled materials. Glass is one of the easiest materials to recycle and it never loses its quality in the process, so it’s worth choosing the eco-friendly version of such a versatile material. You can purchase recycled glass jars and bottles through companies like Glassnow.

An example of sustainable glass packaging
Packaging design by green in blue

Rigid plastic

Rigid plastic materials are often used for storing yogurt, butter and dips. Typically made from #2 HDPE and #5 PP rigid, these types of plastics are great for storing food products and pharmaceutical supplies that many of us use everyday.

Rigid plastics are the kinds of plastic that we tend to see as containers. But they’re also the types of plastics that make up lawn chairs, crates, garbage cans and so much more. They’re extremely lightweight which makes them cheaper to ship. Additionally, they’re readily available and cost-friendly.

Coconut oil label design on plastic bottle.
Packaging designed by Wooden Horse

With the rise in environmental awareness, many companies are opting for recycled versions of rigid plastics or steering away from plastics and using glass, paper materials or newer, eco-friendly materials like bio-plastics.

Bio-plastics are made from plants such as corn and mushrooms, and can be turned into bottles resembling those of traditional plastic materials. They are biodegradable and the perfect eco-friendly alternative. You can check out and purchase containers made from plants here.

Soft plastic

Soft plastics usually consist of one of three types of plastics:

  • Low-density Polyethene (LDPE)
  • High-density Polyethene (HDPE)
  • Polypropylene (PP).

This film is ‘soft’ in structure and is usually used for different kinds of plastic films, plastic bags, shrink wrap and bubble wrap.

Soft plastics have been used for a long time, and for good reason. These types of plastic are a cheap and readily available material that keep products safe in all stages of packaging.

Bubble wrap being used to package an item
Commonly used bubble wrap for inner packaging, via Toronto Trailers

However, all kinds of new, fun alternatives have made their way into the market due to the environmental impact of soft plastics. For example, you can choose to package your products with corrugated paper instead of bubble wrap.

Corrugated paper is a great material to use because it’s eco-friendly, in most cases even safer than bubble wrap and it’s affordable. It’s similar to kraft paper, but designed with a specific texture that grips items and simultaneously cushions them—perfect for glass products and other fragile items.

Corrugated paper, or greenwrap, as an eco-friendly alternative to bubble wrap. Both images via Eco Enclose

Greenwrap is another alternative, very similar to corrugated paper, that’s taking the market by storm. It’s biodegradable, is often competitively priced as bubble wrap and takes up less space when shipping.

For food products, instead of wrapping them in thin plastic films, this company has made it possible to package products in edible films so that you can enjoy the product and have the packaging as a little snack for later.

edible food packaging
An example of a creative alternative for food packaging, via Kolabtree
plant-made plastic bag
Plant-made shipping bag. Image via The Happy Bag Company

There’s even completely compostable mailers! Companies like Hero Packaging provide affordable, 100% biodegradable mailers in sets of 25 to 100. Global Sources offers containers made from bamboo and glass for cosmetic containers, bottles, boxes, tubes and lids. Whatever material that interests you, there’s a market out there waiting to help you deliver and package in an eco-friendly way.

You can also choose to explore paper and plant-based materials that might be an eco-friendly alternative to the packaging material you’re after, or you can also choose to partner with places that specialize in recycling soft plastics so that you can still use the dependable packaging you need without any worry of harming the environment.

Plastics, their alternatives and their recycled versions, are all excellent options to consider in the packaging material decision process.

Aluminum and foil

Aluminum is an abundant material, naturally 100% recyclable and a versatile packaging solution. Its ability to protect products and mold to any shape, make it especially remarkable. Aluminum packaging can be used for everything from soda cans, to toothpaste tubes, to labels and jars, and so much more.

Aluminum foil is perfect for food items like candy bars or for food items requiring bag packaging like certain varieties of snacks. It also works in conjunction with other materials like glass as an excellent label material.

An example of aluminum bags]
Packaging designed by by K .art
Three Kingdoms Beer co. aluminum can design
Packaging designed by Andreask84

More rigid aluminum products can act similar to plastics, where they’re lightweight but still sturdy and able to store wet items. These can be perfect for insulated containers for food, cosmetics, lotions, soaps, cleaning supplies, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

It’s silvery and glittery, which makes it appealing and eye-catching amongst competitors- and despite its ostentatious appearance, it’s one of the most low-cost packaging materials you can get your hands on.

Innovative packaging materials

As mentioned earlier, all kinds of new packaging materials are hitting the market daily. From containers made from eggshells to paper made from seaweed, there’s even more options to explore amongst traditional materials and their eco-friendly alternatives.

Eggshell Packaging

Egg packaging carton
Eggshells are now being used for packaging materials. Design by Agi Amri

Researchers and scientists at the American Chemistry Society recently figured out how to make nature’s perfect container into a type of bioplastic. The eggshells add strength to other forms of bioplastics and when combined, make the perfect eco-friendly, durable plastic alternative.

Seaweed Packaging

Seaweed packaging
Edible film made from seaweed. Image via Material District

Seaweed packaging is cool because not only is it innovative and environmentally friendly, but it’s also edible. Seaweed packaging is similar to paper and plastic films, and can even be turned into “plastic” bottles and food cartons. Recently, seaweed extracts have been used to provide edible capsules of water to runners. It’s cheap, currently accessible and it’s becoming more versatile everyday.

Mushroom packaging
Mushroom Packaging assembling their sustainable packaging

Mushroom Packaging

Mushrooms are the new up-and-coming packaging material because not only do they make excellent bioplastics, but they can also resemble cardboard and sturdy paper containers. Eco manufacturers, Mushroom Packaging, custom order mushroom packaging to precisely fit the size and shape of your product. It’s highly adaptable and an excellent option to consider if you’ve got the budget room.

Biodegradable Packing Peanuts

Biodegradable packing peanuts are exactly what they sound like, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional packing peanuts and they’re typically made from plants. Funpak sells them in all kinds of fun shapes and colors so even down to the inside of the package, you can really establish your brand and design.

red, white and blue star-shaped, eco-friendly packing peanuts
An example of FunPak’s creative alternative to packing peanuts

Whether you choose bubble wrap or one of its environmentally-friendly alternatives, thinking about your inner packaging is just as important as figuring out what to put your products inside of.

Perfect your packaging

Putting your product in great packaging can be the difference between moderate success and becoming the next big thing. We live in a really cool time where new innovations are hitting the market every day and more common packaging materials are available at the tip of your fingers.

And we also live in a time where being sustainable is imperative. Whatever you want for your brand, the packaging solutions are already out there, waiting for you. Connect with one of our packaging designers today and wow your customers with innovative packaging that makes your product truly unforgettable.

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