Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap (not to be confused with stretch wrap) is a plastic film that secures loads by shrinking once heat is applied. It’s great for not only securing a load, but also protecting it from the elements.

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Category

What are the different categories of shrink wrap?

Ultraviolet (UV) – prevents exposure to the sun’s rays.

Colored / Product Concealing – used for privacy, color-coded organization, and branding.

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Color

Style

Typically clear, unless opting for a special category of shrink wrap, such as Ultraviolet (UV) or product concealing.

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Core Diameter

Dimension

The inner diameter of the roll.

What core diameter do I need for shrink wrap?

The answer ultimately depends on what’s required by your shrink wrapping machine, wrap stick, or handles.

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Film Style

Use Case Specific

Centerfold - folded in half lengthwise before going on the roll to create a pouch for the product.

Single Wound - flat without any folding and put on the roll. 

Shrink Tubing - closed on two sides before going on the roll making it ideal for cylindrical objects.

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Gauge

Unit of Measurement

A measure of shrink wrap film thickness.

What is film gauge?

Gauge is a measurement for film thickness. One gauge is equal to 0.254 microns.


What gauge shrink wrap do I need?

Characteristics and common use cases for different gauges of shrink wrap.
Characteristics and common use cases for different gauges of shrink wrap.

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Material

Construction

The plastic film used to construct the shrink wrap. There are three main types.

Polyolefin (POF)

What is POF shrink wrap?

POF is one of the more popular forms of shrink wrap due to its durability and versatility. It’s durability means you can purchase POF shrink wrap in thinner gauges, decreasing roll change-over. 


Why is some POF shrink wrap perforated?

POF has great seal strength and puncture resistance, which makes it ideal for securing irregularly shaped items. However, sometimes POF needs to be perforated before use to prevent air pockets when shrinking.


How does POF shrink wrap react to temperature changes? 

Unlike PVC, POF is less affected by temperature changes due to its durability. 


Can I recycle POF shrink wrap?

Yes - it’s 100% recyclable.


What is POF shrink wrap used for?

Given it’s glossy and clear look, POF is perfect if product presentation matters. It doesn’t break easily under tension, which makes it great for bundling multiple products. As a result, it’s used most commonly for retail or consumer products.

Polyethylene (PE)

What is PE shrink wrap?

PE commonly comes in three forms: 

  1. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) - high strength-to-density ratio; recyclable; used for heavy-duty wrapping like bundling produce on farms.
  2. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) - density lower than HDPE (as you could probs guess); resilient to impacts, moisture, chemicals; recyclable; recyclable; used when heat-sealing is necessary 
  3. Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE) - most flexible and common PE. Better for stretching than shrinking compared to other PEs; recyclable; used for wrapping pallets and heavy loads.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

What is PVC shrink wrap?

PVC used to be the most popular choice of shrink wrap material, but it’s popularity has declined due to safety concerns. 

Is PVC shrink wrap safe?

PVC poses health risks due to the harmful fumes it produces when heated. When using PVC, it’s important to have a well-ventilated facility for safety. As a result of these risks, PVC has been banned in several countries, including Canada.


How does PVC shrink wrap react to temperature changes? 

At low temperatures, PVC becomes brittle, while at higher temperatures it wrinkles. Since it can become brittle, avoid using it to bundle multiple items.


Can I recycle PVC shrink wrap?

PVC shrink wrap is an ASTM #3 recyclable material, which means it can’t be recycled in most cases. Check plastic lumber manufacturers in your area, as some will accept it.


What is PVC shrink wrap used for? How do you use PVC shrink wrap?

Commonly used for wrapping inedible items: CDs, DVDs, etc.

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Microns

Unit of Measurement

The thickness of the shrink wrap film. One micron is equal to one millionth of a meter. One gauge is equal to 0.254 microns.

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Roll Diameter

Dimension

The outer diameter of the roll.

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Roll Length

Dimension

The total length of the shrink wrap when unrolled.

How much shrink wrap do I need?

The answer will ultimately depend on your usage rate, but if you’re looking to wrap a pallet, you can use this calculator to get a quick estimate.

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Roll Width

Dimension

The horizontal width of the roll.

How wide should shrink wrap be? What size shrink wrap do I need? 

Similar to Roll Length, the answer will depend on the products you’re wrapping and your usage rate.

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Shrink Temperature

Performance

Depending on the material and thickness of the shrink wrap, the temperature at which it shrinks to size will vary. Shrink direction, speed, and percentage will also vary depending on this temperature.

Shrink Direction / Orientation

There are two options for shrink orientation: bi-axially oriented or preferentially oriented.

  1. Bi-axially oriented - shrink equally in both directions (Machine Direction or Cross Direction).
  2. Preferentially oriented - shrinks differently in either direction using less film and preventing product distortion in the process.

Shrink Percentages

If opting for bi-axially oriented film, it’s still possible to lower shrink percentage by selecting custom percentages (e.g., 40/40, 20/20). If product appearance matters, opting for a high level of “Free Shrink” will alter the amount of shrink in a film before it makes contact with a product and improve its appearance – especially on difficult shapes and sizes. 

Average shrink temperatures and rates for different gauges of shrink wrap.
Average shrink temperatures and rates for different gauges of shrink wrap.

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Thickness

Dimension

The thickness of the shrink wrap film material. Usually measured in microns or gauge.

Frequently Asked Questions

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We’re always working to improve the quality of our knowledge base. If there’s anything you think we’re missing or needs changing on this page, let us know.

What’s the difference between shrink wrap and stretch wrap?

The primary difference is shrink wrap is more commonly used on individual products (e.g., CDs, DVDs), while stretch wrap is used more commonly to secure products on a pallet. Both can be used in either context, but each have natural properties that make them more conducive for one application than the other. You can learn more about stretch wrap here. Beyond usage, one important distinction is that shrink wrap needs heat for application, while stretch wrap doesn’t.

How strong is shrink wrap?

Strength of shrink wrap will ultimately depend on the gauge and material. Read both sections above to learn more.

Is shrink wrap harmful?

PVC shrink wrap is banned in certain countries due to its harmful fumes. You can read about the safety of different materials under “Material” above.

How much is shrink wrap?

With prices constantly changing and 100s of vendors out there, the easiest way to find out is with Response.

Do I need a particular shrink wrap machine?

Depending on the application, yes. For shrink wrap, you’ll need a heating device, such as a heat gun, to properly shrink the film.

Will a shrink wrap machine cut & seal the shrink wrap all at once?

Yes, most do!

Can a hairdryer replace a shrink wrap heat gun?

No! You’ll need a heat gun if you want a professional look and feel since the fill needs to reach 300ºF to properly shrink. Fortunately, heat guns are affordable. 

What gauge of shrink wrap do I need?

Typically: 75 gauge for products <12 lbs; 100 gauge for products <30 lbs.

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