Corrugated Packaging vs. Flexible Packaging


When you have to get your products to their destination safely and efficiently, you need packaging that is up for the challenge. Two excellent options are corrugated packaging and flexible packaging. 

What is the difference between the two, and what type of packaging is best for your products? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Corrugated Packaging?

Corrugated packaging is a type of rigid packaging made from multiple layers of material — outer flat elements and a wavy inner layer that has been folded back and forth. A typical cardboard moving box, for example, is made from corrugated packaging. 

Corrugated packaging is made from cellulose fibers — usually, the same pulp used to make paper. Sometimes this material comes directly from timber or wood shavings and sometimes from recycled corrugated packaging.

The two basic layers of corrugated packaging are the liner — the flat outer layer — and the medium or fluting — the inner, corrugated layer. An adhesive sticks these layers to one another. Some corrugated packaging is single-walled. Double and triple-walled packaging are also available to provide more sturdiness and stability. 

The fluting comes in sizes A, B, C, E and F. The letters indicate the tightness of the folded material. With these corrugated packaging options, A-flutes have the loosest folds, while F-flutes have the tightest. Most single-walled corrugated packaging uses A, B or C-flutes.

Pros of Using Corrugated Packaging

Corrugated packaging is ideal for a range of commercial and industrial uses. Below are some of its main benefits:

  • Strength: Corrugated packaging tends to have a high strength-to-weight ratio because of the cushioning air pockets built into its construction. It is very strong while remaining lightweight enough for easy transport. 
  • Protection: Because of its strength and rigid construction, corrugated packaging is ideal for fragile items that require robust protection. Its strong, layered structure provides excellent resistance to pressure and turbulence during travel.
  • Sustainability: Because it comes from wood fibers, corrugated packaging is 100% recyclable. It helps reduce waste and minimize strain on our planet’s finite natural resources.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Corrugated packaging is relatively economical to purchase, so it is ideal for companies looking for reliable packaging that fits their budget.
  • Ease of use: Corrugated packaging is relatively easy to use and open. Many of us have had the experience of trying to open a piece of plastic packaging that refuses to budge. Corrugated packaging, on the other hand, is easy to open with scissors, and it is simple to assemble and pack.

Limitations of Using Corrugated Packaging 

Although corrugated packaging is an excellent solution in many scenarios, it has a few limitations:

  • Deformation under pressure: Although corrugated packaging is generally robust and protective, it cannot always withstand extreme pressure. A more rigid container may be a safer option if extreme transit conditions are likely.
  • Limited utility with heavy items: Again, although corrugated packaging is relatively strong and sturdy, excessively heavy products may tear or break their corrugated packaging. These items often require harder, more supportive containers.
  • Limited weatherproofing: Remember that corrugated packaging generally comes from paper pulp. Though it is stronger than paper, it will still eventually become soggy in the rain. If weather conditions are a concern in transit, your company may want to choose an alternative.

Examples of Products That Use Corrugated Packaging

Corrugated packaging is ideal for a wide range of commercial and industrial products. Below are just a few examples of items that ship well in corrugated packaging: 

  • Houseware
  • Books
  • Electronic devices
  • Accessories
  • Retail displays

What Is Flexible Packaging?

Flexible packaging is made from more flexible materials like paper, plastic and foil. These materials can conform to the shape of the products being shipped to create a compact shape. Bags, pouches, stretch film and liners are all examples of flexible packaging.

A few different flexible packaging materials are commonly used:

  • Polyamide
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polyester
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Vinyl

Pros of Using Flexible Packaging

Below are some of the benefits of using flexible packaging for your company’s products:

  • Minimal material consumption: Many of us have had the experience of opening a large cardboard shipping box only to find that it contains a tiny item and a lot of air. With flexible packaging, over-packaging is less likely. Flexible packaging uses only the materials necessary to pack the product and minimizes waste.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Corrugated packaging is sturdy and useful but a bit drab. With flexible packaging, you often get beautifully printed packaging that catches the eye. It looks good, even in transit, and it helps boost your brand’s visibility and professional image.
  • Economical storage and transport: Flexible packaging tends to be thinner and lighter than relatively lightweight corrugated packaging. If your shipping costs are calculated by the pound, flexible packaging can help you reduce your expenses.
  • Extended shelf life: With food products, flexible packaging — especially shrink films — can seal in freshness and keep products on the shelf longer. They help keep food tasting great and minimize waste and losses.
  • Visibility on the shelf: Unlike corrugated packaging, which is designed to be unpacked right away, flexible packaging stays on your product and helps it stand out. Vibrant colors or a whimsical design on the packaging help catch the eye and interest consumers in your brand.

Limitations of Using Flexible Packaging

Even though flexible packaging has numerous benefits, it also has a few limitations:

  • Limited shock protection: Because flexible packaging is thin and conforms tightly to the product, it offers limited cushioning and shock protection in transit. Especially for fragile items, more rigid packaging may be a sturdier option. 
  • Poor recyclability: Many of the plastic polymers used in flexible packaging do not recycle well. Multi-layer packaging, such as packaging containing a layer of plastic over a layer of paper, often cannot be recycled. This packaging goes to the landfill as waste, where it can take decades to break down — a 33-year-old Mars candy wrapper that recently washed up on an English beach is just one example. 
  • Damage at extreme temperatures: At extreme temperatures, the chemicals in flexible packaging can sometimes leach into the products inside. However, if your shipping plans do not involve extended time in excessive heat or cold, this disadvantage may be minimal.

Examples of Products That Use Flexible Packaging

Below are a few examples of products that ship well in flexible packaging:

  • Food products
  • Cosmetics
  • Personal care items
  • Medical supplies
  • Clothing

Dependable Packaging From Innovative Packaging Co.

When your business needs reliable packaging for its products, make IPC your trusted source. We serve an extensive range of industries, offering everything from cannabis packaging to food and beverage packaging to industrial packaging

We offer comprehensive stock services, including turnkey packaging and warehousing solutions. Alternatively, we will gladly work with you on custom packaging solutions to represent your unique brand, from customized boxes to labels to shipping. Our extensive industry knowledge and commitment to customer service mean you’ll get the professional treatment and expert advice you count on from your business partners.

Both corrugated and flexible packaging are excellent choices — the best packaging option depends on the products that go into them. We are happy to discuss your needs with you to help you find the right types of packaging for your business.

Request a quote today, or contact us to learn more about our packaging options.