Stretch Wrap vs Shrink Wrap

Stretch Wrap vs Shrink Wrap
Published On:July 17, 2019 Revised On:July 25, 2023

Definition of Stretch Wrap

Stretch Wrap, also called stretch film or pallet wrap, embodies a versatile and elastic material crafted to bundle or secure items to a pallet for shipping. Typically composed of linear low-density polyethene (LLDPE) or akin materials, Stretch wrap is applied by elongating the film around the product or pallet, allowing it to contract and tightly bind the items.

It’s widely used to keep boxes and pallets together and ordinary commodities like food and paint containers safe from water, moisture, dust, and other contaminants. Stretch films are available in different widths and thicknesses to suit various applications.

Types of Stretch Wrap

There are two distinct types of stretch film; each applied using different methods: manual and machine. Hand stretch film rolls are characterised by their lighter weight and shorter length, making them more manageable for users. On the other hand, Machine stretch film is specifically designed for use with machines, offering efficient and automated applications.

  • Hand Wrap Stretch Film: Designed to be utilised manually and requires the user to apply it to the load and remove it while unloading. The amount of tension applied is determined by the user. It’s most commonly used in low-volume packaging applications.
  • Machine Wrap Stretch Film: Made with a stretch film machine, which uses the machine’s operating parameters to apply the film to a load. The parameters ensure that the packaging is always wrapped consistently. Commonly utilised in high-volume packing applications. The following are some examples of Machine Stretch Film:
    • Blown stretch film is made using a blown extrusion process. The heated resins are blown into a bubble in this procedure and then rolled into a core tube in sheets.
    • The cast stretch film uses cast extrusion, which entails feeding heated resins through a series of cooled rollers, solidifying the film.
    • A pre-stretched Film is a film that has been pre-stretched during the production process.

Whether applied manually or with machines, the ease of application makes stretch wrap adaptable to both small-scale operations and large-scale industrial settings, making it an indispensable asset in modern packaging.

Benefits of Stretch Film

The film’s inherent elasticity enables it to conform effortlessly to the unique shapes of products or pallets, ensuring a secure and taut wrap that withstands the rigours of transportation and storage. Moreover, the transparent nature of stretch wrap simplifies product identification without the need for unwrapping, saving both time and effort.

  • Cost-effectiveness: Stretch wrap is generally more economical than Shrink wrap, rendering it a pragmatic option for various businesses.
  • Flexibility and Stretchability: Its inherent elasticity enables conformity to the shape of products or pallets, facilitating a secure and taut wrap.
  • Transparency: The transparent nature of stretch wrap allows effortless product identification without necessitating unwrapping.
  • Ease of Application: Stretch wrap can be manually applied or utilised with machines, accommodating small and large-scale operations.

Applications of Stretch Wrap

Stretch wrap’s versatility and effectiveness make it an essential packaging material across numerous industries. Its ability to provide a secure and tight wrap around products or pallets makes it ideal for various applications.

  1. Pallet Wrapping: A primary function of stretch wrap is to secure pallet loads, mitigating the risk of displacement during transportation. This prevalent application is frequently witnessed in warehouses and during shipping to avert damage to goods.
  2. Product Bundling: Stretch wrap is an ideal choice for consolidating loose items, such as newspapers, magazines, or small cartons, to ensure stability and organisation during transit.
  3. Protective Covering: It serves as a protective covering to shield items from dust, dirt, or moisture during storage or transportation.

Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap is a polymer film that undergoes a significant contraction when exposed to heat. This packaging material is wrapped around an object and then heated, causing it to shrink tightly, resulting in a secure and sealed package. Another common approach involves passing the product through a tunnel on a conveyor, where the shrink wrap conforms tightly around the item. This process creates an airtight and protective enclosure.

Shrink wrap is available in various strengths, transparencies, and thicknesses, rendering it highly versatile for various applications. Its adaptability makes it ideal for providing a reliable and tailored packaging solution for diverse products.

Type of Shrink Wraps

Three main types of shrink wrap are used as a packaging material – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), polythene (PE), and Polyolefin (POF). Each shrink wrap has slightly different characteristics, such as thicknesses, clarities, strengths, and shrink ratio, making these materials suitable for specific applications.

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is a commonly used shrink wrap due to its excellent resilience, lightweight, and inexpensive cost. However, PVC shrink wrap has several drawbacks, and the most are health risks associated with the material’s manufacture and heating, as PVC emits strong, toxic odours during these operations. PVC shrink wrap is recommended for use in well-ventilated facilities.

  • Polyethene (PE)

PE, Polyolefin, is commonly used for shrink wrapping in several different forms, including Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE), and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). Due to its high excellent strength and durability, PE shrink wrap is frequently used for protective packaging. The main drawbacks of this film are its lower cost, lower shrink rate, and inferior clarity compared to other varieties.

  • Polyolefin (POF)

POF, or Polyolefin, is a common type of shrink wrap growing globally because of its robustness and versatility. It has higher durability and clarity than other kinds of Shrink Wraps. The POF Shrink Wrap is an ideal alternative for ecologically aware customers as its packaging is entirely recyclable. It demonstrates quality results in the shrink rate as well. The only downside of POF is the higher cost than other types of shrink wrap.

Applications of Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap’s unique properties and versatility make it a popular packaging choice across various industries. The shrink-wrapping process involves applying heat to the polymer film, which then tightly conforms to the product’s shape, resulting in a secure and professional-looking package.

  1. Retail Packaging: Shrink Wrap is widely employed in retail settings to package various products, including CDs, DVDs, electronic gadgets, and food items. It confers a tamper-evident and visually appealing seal to enhance product presentation.
  2. Gift Wrapping: Often utilised for gift baskets and other presents, Shrink Wrap imparts a professional and refined appearance.
  3. Industrial and Marine Applications: Shrink Wrap can effectively cover boats, machinery, and equipment, safeguarding them against dust, UV rays, and moisture during storage or transportation.

Benefits of Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap offers many advantages, making it a preferred choice for various packaging needs. Its unique properties and versatility provide functional and aesthetic benefits, making it an invaluable packaging solution.

  • Affordability: Shrink wraps are a highly affordable and cost-effective packaging material compared to other available options. It minimises space usage and keeps items bundled together without using bulky packaging material, allowing users to save on storage and transport costs.
  • Convenience: The main advantage of shrink wraps is that they are versatile; the packaging can be used on many types of products regardless of size. It can cover small wires, candies, and hardware components to boats and freight trailers.
  • Durability: Shrink wraps are durable and sturdy; puncturing or tearing them requires much strength. Unlike other packaging materials, shrink wrap does not weaken or become brittle under extremely hot or cold environmental conditions.
  • Protection: Heat-applied shrink wraps provide a tight seal that protects the item. Once sealed, the package is not vulnerable to any external damage such as dirt, dust, or moisture. Some shrink wraps even provide UV protection, protecting products from harmful sun rays.

Difference between Stretch and Shrink Wrap

Stretch and shrink wrap, though they often need clarification due to their common purpose of packaging and securing items, possess distinct characteristics and application methods. Understanding the differences between these two packaging solutions is crucial for businesses to make informed choices tailored to their specific needs. The selection between stretch wrap and shrink wrap hinges on the precise needs and applications of the products.

Choose Stretch Wrap if:

  • An economical and efficient approach is sought to secure and stabilise palletised loads during shipping.
  • The objective is to bundle smaller items together without necessitating a fully sealed package.
  • Transparency plays a crucial role in the identification of products.

Choose Shrink Wrap if:

  • A visually captivating and tamper-evident packaging solution is essential for retail products.
  • Products require a durable and weather-resistant covering for outdoor storage or transportation.
  • Custom branding and printing are integral to the packaging strategy.
Characteristics Stretch Wrap Shrink Wrap
Heat required No Yes
High stretch rate in excess of 100% Yes No
Used to wrap pallets Yes Rarely
Used to wrap retail products Rarely Yes
Used to wrap industrial products Yes Occasionally
Clarity Good Excellent
Safe for direct food contact No Polyolefin Shrink Wrap (a type of wrap)
Most common thicknesses 80 Gauge 75 Gauge


Both stretch and shrink wrap offer unique benefits and applications catering to different packaging needs. Stretch wrap’s elasticity and ease of application make it an ideal choice for securing pallet loads and bundling various items, providing cost-effective and flexible packaging solutions. On the other hand, shrink wrap’s heat-shrinking process creates a tight and tamper-evident seal, enhancing product presentation and offering comprehensive protection, making it well-suited for retail packaging and delicate items.

When deciding between stretch and shrink wrap, businesses should carefully consider their specific requirements and the nature of the packaged products. Factors such as cost, ease of application, protection level, and visual appeal will play significant roles in making the right choice. By understanding the distinctions and benefits of each, businesses can optimise their packaging processes and ensure their products reach their destination securely and in optimal condition.