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How to Shrink Wrap | U.S. Packaging & Wrapping LLC

How to Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrapping products for retail sales can be an excellent choice for business owners seeking a professional packaging option at an affordable price. It can be used to package anything from boats and electrical wires to thousands of different retail and wholesale products. However, many businesses may hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity because they aren't sure what the term "shrink wrap" refers to, nor what the process entails.

Here's everything you need to know to become a shrink wrap pro.

How to Shrink Wrap: Basics

To navigate the shrink wrap process confidently, it's often best to begin with, the basics. This doesn't just clarify the necessary steps -- it also helps you understand where and when shrink wrapping is most effective

As you brush up on the core elements of shrink wrapping, it's also helpful to have a visual reference. Here's our guide on shrink wrapping basics, complete with pictures and video guides:

1

Insert products into the heat shrink wrap material of choice. Bags, tubing, and centerfold film are the most popular options.

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insert into shrink wrap
2

Seal open ends with a heat sealer. This step is most often completed with impulse sealers, I bar sealers, or L bar sealers.

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shrink wrap sealing thumb
3

Use a heat gun or tunnel to shrink and conform the plastic material to the product.

Shrink Wrap Equipment Overview

Now that you understand the basics of how to shrink wrap let's take a closer look at the equipment necessary to get the job done. Here's what you'll need:

Shrink Film

Shrink film is a plastic that comes in four types:

  • Polyolefin
  • PVC
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene

Polypropylene shrink wrap is the least common choice for packaging, while the other three are used extensively in multiple industries worldwide. Each material offers different characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages, which you can learn more about on our blog.

Once you've chosen the best plastic for your wrapping and packaging project, you'll also need to consider the form of shrink wrap material you'll use. You have four options: tubing, bags, centerfold rolls, and single wound (flat) rolls. Our complete list of shrink wrap products includes a closer look at each option.

shrink wrapping bottles

Heat Sealer

The cost of a heat sealer is directly related to the seal width and desired production levels. For example, a small four-inch hand sealer is much less expensive than a large 24x32” L-Bar sealer — but efficiency is much less. Our guide to shrink wrap machine costs helps you navigate your options and determine which is best for your wrapping and packaging needs.

Heat Sealer

Heat Source

As the name suggests, the heat source is your tool for warming the shrink film after the open ends are sealed. This causes the film to shrink and conform to the product.

The two primary forms of heating elements are the heat gun and the shrink tunnel. A heat gun is much less expensive but also has disadvantages to consider. You can find more information about shrink tunnels and heat guns in our guide to shrink wrap machine costs.

heat gun

How to Shrink Wrap: Step-by-Step

With a firm understanding of shrink wrap basics and the equipment required, it's time to look at the process from beginning to end. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to shrink wrap like a pro:

Step One: Determining and Gathering Necessary Equipment

Effectively and professionally shrink wrapping products for retail sales requires three key elements:

  1. The proper type of shrink film.
  2. A heat gun or other heat source to seal open ends of the plastic material
  3. A heating source to prepare the plastic to shrink and conform to the product.

Note that some projects, such as gift basket shrink bags and some shrink tubing applications, don't require a heat sealer. However, the majority of shrink wrapping projects do require all three projects.

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Step Two: Measuring

Proper measurements will help determine the size and form of shrink film to consider, the size of the sealer needed, and the size of the shrink tunnel or heat gun. We recommend finding the “length x width x height” of the largest product wrapped to get the most accurate measurements. When you choose shrink film, a heat sealer, and a shrink tunnel or heat gun capable of accommodating the largest product, you also enable wrapping and packaging of every smaller item.

Depending on production levels, different sizes of plastic film can reduce waste and cost. If you’re using shrink bags, multiple bag sizes and proper product measurements are essential. The same is true for tubing when wrapping products of different sizes.

How to Measure

The best bag option is to measure each product's circumference and length. The circumference is the measurement around the product at its widest point. Here are a few formulas for reference:

Formula for Centerfold Shrink Film

Width + Depth + 2 inches = Width of roll needed

Formula for Shrink Tubing

Circumference + 10% ÷ 2 = Width of tubing needed

Formula for Shrink Bags

Circumference + 10% ÷ 2 = Width of bag needed

Length + depth + 2 inches = Length of bag needed

 
Shrink Film Width Calculator

Enter the correct measurements per label. All fields are required.

Shrink Film Width Calculator

or

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Step Three: Sealing Open Ends

Once measurements and proper film sizes are determined, the rest is simple.

Place the product in the film roll, bag or tubing. Close the sealing bar on the open ends of the film, approximately half an inch from the product, and make seals. This secures loose edges to create reliable plastic packaging.

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Step Four: Applying Heat

Once open ends are sealed, apply heat with a heat gun or shrink tunnel. If the film balloons and fills with air when heat is used, a small vent hole may be required to allow air to escape.

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Step Five: Utilization

Now that your product has been shrink wrapped, it’s safe, secure, and ready for transport or storage. This wrapping and packaging solution protects items from environmental damage, including dust and debris, moisture, oxygen exposure, and more. It’s also durable and reliable, even in temperature extremes.

Additional Shrink Wrap Resources

Since there are various shrink wrapping applications and equipment types, each process deserves its own guide. We've compiled a list of resources to help you learn how to shrink wrap no matter what your needs, products, equipment, and project specifications may be.

Visual Guides

Need to see the shrink wrapping process in action? We have just what you need. Here are our favorite how-to videos to help you get started:

 
 
 

How to Use Shrink Wrap Bags

One unique option you may consider is the use of shrink wrap bags. Affordable and user-friendly, this low-quantity shrink wrap option is best used with a heat sealer and heat gun.

To use shrink wrap bags, insert products into the bag and seal the open end of the plastic. Once sealed, use the heat gun to warm the bag, causing it to shrink and conform to interior products.

For example, a gift basket shrink bag can be inserted with the open end facing down at the bottom of the basket. You then use a heat gun or hair dryer to apply heat to the bag, giving it the flexibility necessary to conform to interior shapes and angles. However, a heat sealer is often unnecessary since the opening is at the bottom.

Here are a few video guides explaining the process and its applications:

 
 
 
Pallet Diagonal Calculator

Enter the correct measurements per label. All fields are required.

Pallet Diagonal

or

Shrink Film Width Calculator

Enter the correct measurements per label. All fields are required.

Shrink Film Width

or