Bubble Wrap vs Air Pillow Packaging: Pros and Cons

Bubble Wrap vs Air Pillow Packaging: Pros and Cons
Published On:December 2, 2020 Revised On:January 3, 2024

Void-fill packaging solutions are available in the market for providing protective product packaging. Several factors must be considered during the decision process, such as the size, weight, and fragility of the item that needs packing, shipment mode, etc. This article will share more about bubble wrap and air pillow packaging and how they can help with packaging requirements.

Bubble Wrapping

Bubble wrapping, also known as bubble cushioning, is a popular and economical packaging solution that cushion products from impact. As protective packaging, bubble cushioning is an excellent option for both cost and durability. The packaging is made of polyethene plastic bubbles encased in bubble wrap. Fragile products can be protected from scratching, breaking, or denting during shipping when using this form of cushioning.

The air between each bubble is a cushion to absorb shocks and prevent movement, reducing the overall risk of damage. Bubble cushioning also works excellently for irregularly shaped products since it allows the product to fit snugly within the wrapping material.

Suitable for use to protect small, delicate components and heavy, bulky products. For example, use bubble wrap with ½ inch bubble sizes to protect larger objects, such as a flat-screen TV and pack a smaller component or a product, such as a wristwatch with a bubble size of 3/16 inches. Find out more here on how to use bubble wrap.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Bubble wrap, a well-known and widely used packaging material, offers a range of benefits for protecting goods during shipping. Packaging presents a range of advantages, making it a popular choice for packaging delicate and valuable items. Its cushioning effect, ease of use, transparency, and protective properties suit various shipping needs. However, it’s essential to consider the environmental impact and explore more sustainable alternatives to address the growing concern over plastic waste.

Cushioning Effect: One of the most notable advantages of plastic packaging is its exceptional cushioning effect. The bubble-filled texture is a buffer against shocks, impacts, and vibrations during transit. The air-filled bubbles act as tiny cushions, absorbing and distributing external forces, thereby minimizing the risk of damage to the enclosed items. This cushioning property makes the packaging particularly effective for safeguarding fragile and delicate items such as glassware, ceramics, electronics, and artwork.

Ease of Use: Its simple design allows easy wrapping and custom fitting around items of varying shapes and sizes. The flexibility of the material permits snug packaging without the need for additional adhesives or securing mechanisms. This ease of use translates to time and cost savings, especially when large quantities of items must be packaged quickly and efficiently.

Bulk and Storage: A large volume can pose storage and shipping efficiency challenges. The packaging material can occupy a considerable space, impacting storage capacity and potentially increasing transportation costs due to the added volume.

Transparency: The see-through material enables visual identification of the contents without the need to unwrap or open the package. This transparency is especially valuable for shippers and recipients, as it reduces the likelihood of mistaken shipments and helps recipients quickly verify the contents upon receipt. Additionally, it can contribute to a more organized packing process and improved inventory management.

Environmental Impact: The packaging is primarily made from plastic materials that are not easily biodegradable. This raises concerns about its contribution to plastic waste accumulation in landfills and oceans. While some recycling facilities accept the packaging for recycling, many do not, leading to improper disposal and environmental harm. However, eco-friendly alternatives are available, such as biodegradable bubble wrap made from materials like recycled paper or bioplastics, which can help mitigate the environmental drawbacks.

Air Pillow Wrapping

Air pillow packaging is a lightweight, air-filled alternative to bubble wrap. Unlike bubble wrap, the packaging is not for wrapping and cushioning fragile products as it focuses more on blocking and bracing products during transportation.

The void-fill pillows provide excellent protection when sending delicate products through couriers or postal services when bubble cushioning does not provide enough padding. The packaging works similarly to bubble cushioning with the added benefit of instantly moulding into place when inflated, providing excellent coverage and extra support for firmly packed items inside the box, such as minute pieces of jewellery or delicate glassware.

While air pillows are often more expensive than bubble cushion packaging, their increased strength and added protection for fragile items make them an ideal choice for those looking for protection without compromising quality or price. Air pillows are produced with a compact, efficient, reliable, and user-friendly machine that can be easily integrated into existing packaging facilities. Secure items in place and prevent them from shifting within or hitting the sides of the box during shipment or handling.

Advantages and Disadvantages

This packaging method employs inflatable plastic cushions to create a protective barrier around items during transit. While air pillow packaging offers several advantages, it’s important to consider its benefits and limitations compared to other packaging options. Its inflatable design, customizability, and space efficiency make it versatile for various products. However, the environmental impact of plastic materials used in air pillows necessitates careful consideration.

Inflatable Design: The plastic film creates cushions that can be inflated with air using specialized machines. Once inflated, these cushions form a protective layer around the products, absorbing shocks and impacts during shipping. The inflatable nature of this packaging method provides an adjustable level of cushioning, ensuring that items of various shapes and sizes can be securely packaged.

Material and Costs: The production of air pillows, including the required machinery and plastic materials, can lead to higher upfront costs than other packaging methods.

Customizability: One of the standout advantages of packaging is its customizability. Manufacturers and shippers can control the amount of air used to inflate the pillows, tailoring the cushioning to the specific needs of the packaged items. This customizability allows for optimal protection, reducing the risk of damage while minimizing excess material usage. While adjustable inflation levels offer customization, finding the optimal balance for various items can be intricate and time-intensive.

Dependency on Machinery: The packaging requires specialized machines to inflate the cushions, which could be a logistical challenge for businesses without access to this equipment.

Space Efficiency: Unlike pre-inflated packaging materials that take up much storage room, deflated air pillows require minimal space. This space efficiency can be particularly beneficial for businesses with limited storage facilities. The ability to inflate the packaging material on-site with air pillow machines reduces the need to allocate large storage areas for bulky pre-inflated packaging supplies.

Environmental Considerations: Using plastic materials raises concerns about the disposal and recyclability of these pillows. Proper recycling infrastructure may be limited depending on the type of plastic used, leading to potential waste issues. However, environmentally conscious options, such as using biodegradable or recycled plastics for the pillows, are available. Additionally, the space efficiency of deflated air pillows can contribute to lower transportation emissions, as more packaging can be transported in a single shipment.

Choosing the Right Packaging

Bubble wrap is an affordable and effective way to protect pre-packed items. Its lightweight design allows for easy storage and transport, making it an excellent choice for businesses looking for a cost-effective solution. When using bubble wrap, items will remain secure due to the air-filled bubbles in each material layer. Often, bubble wrap is used when shipping fragile items to ensure they won’t be damaged during transit.

Air pillows are ideal for void-fill applications, such as when packing large boxes without individual product protection being necessary. Although more costly than bubble wrap, void-fill pillows occupy less space during transportation and are quick and easy to install. Air pillow systems come in different sizes, making them great for shipping irregularly shaped items and larger packages where the bulk filler is optional.

Comparison on Productivity

Air pillows have a significant advantage over bubble wrap regarding productivity when filling large voids. The void-fill machines can rapidly create air pillows in seconds, making them ideal for high-volume packaging operations that need fast, cost-effective cushioning. Users only need to tear off the required number of pillows, place them in the package and close it for an adequate void fill. On the other hand, bubble wrap requires more manual work as it needs to be wrapped around delicate items manually.

Bubble wrap benefits small voids and lightweight product area items by providing uniform cushioning across all product areas. The packaging also creates a neat appearance within the box and is easy to cut into smaller pieces if needed. However, in most situations where production efforts are necessary for cost-efficiency, air pillows have an advantage with the simplicity and fast manufacturing process.

Other Alternative Packaging Solutions

Bubble wrap and void-fill pillows are excellent packaging materials, offering both cushioning and protective packaging solutions. When shipping small or fragile items, bubble wrap may not be suitable due to its large size, as it can be too bulky for the item being shipped. Furthermore, suppose the operation ships a wide range of small items simultaneously. In that case, bubble wrap is not cost-effective since there will be considerable waste when cutting the wrap down to size for each item.

In such cases, it is better to opt for poly mailers or bubble mailers as they offer protection and are much more economical. Poly bags with bubble linings can provide superior protection against dirt and dust while providing the necessary cushioning and support that smaller items need in transit. Bubble mailers also offer protection while allowing small items to be fitted in easily.


The choice between bubble wrap and air pillow packaging depends on a delicate balance between protection, convenience, and environmental responsibility. Both methods offer unique advantages that cater to diverse shipping needs. Bubble Wrap’s bubble-filled texture is a reliable cushion against shocks, while its transparency simplifies content identification.  On the other hand, Air Pillow Packaging’s inflatable design offers customizable protection and efficient storage.

At Stream Peak, we provide an extensive array of void-fill packaging solutions, encompassing both bubble wrap and air pillows for shipping. Our expertise extends to consulting on your packaging needs and enhancement strategies. Don’t hesitate to contact us for a no-obligation consultation, where our packaging engineers can visit your operations site to collaborate on optimal solutions.