The Complete Guide to Shrink Wrap

The Complete Guide to Shrink Wrap
Published On:December 2, 2020 Revised On:August 11, 2023

Shrink wrap, a packaging solution, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding products, enhancing visual appeal, and contributing to brand identity. In this article, we will share the intricacies of the material, exploring its types, applications, benefits, and challenges when using the packaging material to protect protects.

Introduction to Shrink Wrap

In the 1960s, polyethene became popular as shrink wrap material, offering improved clarity and shrinkage properties. As demand grew, food and retail industries began using the packaging material to enhance shelf appeal and extend product shelf life. With the advent of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) shrink film, the packaging industry saw increased durability and versatility, enabling shrink wrap to cater to a broader range of products.

At its core, shrink wrap is a packaging material and process that involves encasing a product or item with a plastic film that tightly adheres to its contours when subjected to heat. This process creates a secure, sealed, and protective covering, enhancing the packaged object’s visual appeal and functional integrity. The packaging extends beyond mere containment; it safeguards products from external elements such as dust, moisture, and physical damage during transportation, storage, and display.

The transparency of shrink wrap allows for unobstructed product visibility, enabling consumers to inspect items without compromising the packaging. Its tamper-evident nature bolsters product authenticity, assuring consumers of the unaltered state of the contents. Furthermore, shrink wrap can significantly enhance the marketability of products, adding a polished and professional aesthetic that entices potential buyers.

Composition of Shrink films

The process of shrink wrap starts when the polymer film encounters heat. The film is loosely applied around the product or item, allowing flexibility and movement. The polymer molecules become more mobile and malleable upon exposure to controlled heat. As the film heats up, it begins to shrink, conforming tightly to the contours of the enclosed object. This transformation occurs due to the intermolecular forces within the polymer chains, which contract as they lose energy.

The result is a snug, protective covering that adheres to the product’s shape and seals it from external elements. The process effectively encapsulates the item, providing an additional layer of security and safeguarding it against dust, moisture, and physical damage. The composition of the wrap are:

Polymer Films: The foundation of the material is a polymer film, a thin and flexible sheet that provides the basic structure and form. Various types of polymer films are used, with the most common options being polyolefin, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and polyethene. Each type of film brings distinct attributes to the shrink-wrap process.

  • Polyolefin Shrink Wrap: Known for its exceptional clarity, the material offers high transparency, showcasing products without obstruction. It is favoured for its versatility and compatibility with various products.
  • PVC Shrink Wrap: This packaging is valued for its durability and tear resistance. It has a higher shrinkage ratio compared to other materials, which can result in tighter and more secure packaging. It is often used in applications requiring robust protection.
  • Polythene Shrink Film: They are available in different densities, providing options for various levels of strength and flexibility. Low-density polyethene (LDPE) is commonly used for light-duty applications, while high-density polyethene (HDPE) offers greater strength and rigidity.

Additives and Modifiers: Polymer films are often enhanced with additives to achieve specific properties. UV stabilizers, anti-fog agents, and anti-static additives can be incorporated to address environmental and functional requirements. These additives improve resistance to sunlight, prevent fogging, and reduce static build-up.

Cross-Linking Agents: Special additive is introduced to create a three-dimensional network of molecular bonds within the polymer. This cross-linking process enhances the film’s tensile strength, puncture resistance, and ability to withstand higher temperatures.

Different Types of Shrink Wraps

The versatile and transformative packaging solution offers diverse options to cater to various product needs and industry requirements. The four primary types of shrink wrap – polyolefin, PVC, cross-linked, and bio-degradable – each bring distinct qualities to the packaging industry.

Polyolefin Shrink Wrap: Clarity and Versatility

Composed of a polymer derived from olefin, this wrap offers exceptional transparency, enabling products to be prominently displayed without sacrificing protection. Polyolefin wrap is often the preferred choice for retail environments, where product visibility is critical.

  • High Clarity: Polyolefin’s crystal-clear appearance allows for unobstructed product visibility and branding.
  • Versatile Application: Suitable for various products, from books and DVDs to gift baskets and retail items.
  • Soft Shrinkage: Provides a gentle, even shrinkage that conforms closely to the product’s contours.
  • FDA Approved: Safe for direct contact with food products, making it ideal for food packaging.

PVC Shrink Wrap: Durability and Rigidity

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, offers different advantages, particularly in enhanced durability and tear resistance scenarios. PVC shrink wrap has a higher shrinkage ratio than other materials, leading to tighter and more secure packaging. This type of material is often used in industrial settings and for heavy-duty applications.

  • Strong and Durable: PVC’s inherent strength and rigidity make it suitable for packaging heavy or irregularly shaped items.
  • Tight Shrinkage: Achieves a snug fit around products, providing excellent tamper-evidence and protection.
  • Heat Tolerance: Can withstand higher temperatures during the shrinking process, ensuring a consistent and reliable seal.
  • Barrier Properties: Offers enhanced resistance to moisture and other external elements.

VCI Shrink Film

Formulated with Vapor Corrosion Inhibitors (VCIs), the material offers a multifaceted solution by safeguarding products against corrosion while providing adaptability for various applications. The VCI Shrink film is useful in industries where metal protection is paramount.

  • Corrosion Protection: It releases vapour corrosion inhibitors, creating an invisible shield that guards metal surfaces against the corrosive effects of moisture, oxygen, and other environmental factors.
  • Versatile Application: Designed to protect diverse metal products, from automotive parts and machinery components to industrial equipment during storage and transportation.
  • Secure Shrinkage: Achieves a tightly wrapped seal that conforms seamlessly to the contours of the metal item, ensuring comprehensive coverage and protection.
  • Visual Inspection: Transparent composition enables effortless visual inspection of the packaged metal items, allowing for quick assessment without compromising protection.

Cross-Linked Shrink Wrap: Resilience and Strength

Cross-linked shrink wrap takes the concept of durability to another level by introducing a specialized cross-linking process. This process creates a network of molecular bonds within the polymer, resulting in enhanced tensile strength, puncture resistance, and the ability to withstand higher temperatures. Cross-linked shrink wrap is particularly well-suited for applications that demand exceptional toughness and protection.

  • Extreme Durability: Withstands rough handling, impacts, and external pressures, making it ideal for industrial and heavy-duty packaging.
  • Puncture Resistance: Guards against sharp objects and potential damage during transit or storage.
  • High Shrinkage Force: Achieves a tightly secured seal that remains intact under challenging conditions.
  • Heat Resistance: Can tolerate higher shrink tunnel temperatures without compromising its properties.

Bio-Degradable Shrink Wrap: Nurturing Sustainability

As environmental concerns grow, the packaging industry evolves towards more sustainable practices. Made from renewable resources such as plant-based polymers or compostable materials, bio-degradable shrink wrap offers the benefits of traditional shrink wrap while significantly reducing its environmental impact.

  • Eco-Friendly: Reduces reliance on non-renewable resources and minimizes waste in landfills.
  • Compostable: Can be broken down naturally into harmless components, promoting a circular and sustainable packaging cycle.
  • Versatile Applications: Suitable for various industries, particularly those seeking eco-conscious packaging solutions.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Meets stringent environmental standards and regulations

Best Practices for Shrink Wrapping

Adhering to best practices is essential to ensure a seamless packaging process. From product preparation to achieving optimal shrinkage and preventing mistakes, this section will share more about the key steps and strategies for shrink wrapping.

Achieving Optimal Shrinkage

Before beginning the process, ensure the items are clean and free from dust, moisture, or contaminants. Any debris on the surface can interfere with the adhesion of the film. Next, organize and group items to be shrink-wrapped to maximise efficiency during the packaging process. The proper arrangement helps prevent unnecessary handling and minimizes the risk of damage.  Delicate or sharp-edged items should be appropriately cushioned or protected to prevent puncturing or tearing of the shrink wrap film during the shrinking process.

Choose the appropriate film based on the product type, size, and characteristics. Different films have varying shrinkage rates, so matching the film to the item is crucial for achieving a snug and professional result. Always Maintain consistent heat levels during the shrinking process. The heat should be evenly distributed to avoid over-shrinking or under-shrinking, which can lead to wrinkles or uneven coverage.  While heat is necessary for shrinking, excessive heat can cause distortion, damage, or even melt the shrink wrap film. Monitor and adjust heat settings as needed.

Avoid Common Mistakes

Inadequate sealing can result from insufficient heat, pressure, or incorrect placement of the shrink wrap film. Ensure that all edges are properly sealed to prevent air pockets or openings. Applying excessive heat or allowing the product to remain in the heat tunnel for too long can lead to over-shrinking, distorting the product or causing the film to tear.

Products not tightly secured within the shrink wrap can shift during the shrinking process, leading to uneven coverage or compromised protection. Rough handling of shrink-wrapped products after the process can lead to damage or premature unravelling. Educate handlers on proper handling techniques to preserve the integrity of the packaging. Before full-scale production, conduct tests on a sample product to fine-tune the process and ensure the desired results. Testing helps identify potential issues and allows adjustments to be made.


Shrink wrap’s ability to safeguard, present, and authenticate products showcases its significance in diverse industries. Polyethene’s clarity and versatility, PVC’s durability and rigidity, cross-linked enhancements, and the eco-consciousness of bio-degradable options offer choices to meet diverse packaging needs. Stream Peak delivers premium shrink-wrap materials and services. For more information about packaging solutions, feel free to contact our packaging engineers for an appointment.