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Pallet Shipping 101: How to Palletize a Shipment

Small Business

Palletizing goods is essential in transporting them safely and securely. But what is the best way to palletize and are there any best practices to ensure the safety and security of goods as they’re moved between locations?

In this article, US Packaging & Wrapping explains what palletized shipping is and how it differs from non-palletized shipping, and offers tips for securing loads for transport.

What is Palletized Shipping?

Palletizing a shipment is the act of packing goods onto pallets in preparation for transport.

Pallets are essential for the stability and protection of shipped products and are especially effective in moving goods from one location to another. The most often-used equipment for moving pallets are forklifts and pallet jacks.

Examples of goods transported on pallets can be seen at every local store. Individual packs, boxes, or containers purchased come in a master case that is palletized and shipped to the store. Workers then break down the pallet load and stock the shelves with individual units.

Wrapped Pallet on Manual Fork Lift

Palletizing vs. Non-Palletized Items

Non-palletized products constitute any items that aren’t transported on pallets. Generally, non-palletized items are either too small or too large to ship on pallets – and each shipping method comes with its pros and cons.

Here, we present the pros and cons of palletized shipping vs. non-palletized shipping:

Palletized Shipments


  • Quick and convenient – All it requires is a forklift or pallet jack for transport. The pallets can be stored on racking and moved as needed.
  • Reduced labor costs required in unpacking due to the ease with which pallets can be unloaded via forklift. This means that any money lost in purchasing pallets is made up for in reducing labor costs.
  • Effortless security of items while also protecting those unloading the pallets, resulting in product shipping with a lower risk of product damage and saving companies on hazard costs for both workers and products in the long run.


  • Pallets costs can be a slight drain on finances but the money saved by using pallets in both the protection of goods and the lowering of labor costs usually offsets this issue.
  • Take up room in a container – meaning that extra containers or forms of transport may be required to ship large quantities of goods. This can cost a company extra in fuel and holding fees.
  • Sourcing specialty pallets can be tricky - Standard pallets are relatively easy to source, but specialty pallets can be difficult to find at an affordable price.


  • Avoid the costs of pallets – which can prove expensive over a long period. It could save crucial capital that could be placed into other urgent business areas.
  • Less storage space is taken up by pallets – meaning that more products can be packed into shipping crates and containers, while the holding costs per crate drop.
  • Avoid Sourcing Headaches - specialty pallets or pallets for export can be challenging to source and costly.


  • Potential for product damage – because products aren’t secure, they are more exposed to movement and impact, which could, in some situations, lead to significant losses when entire shipments of goods are damaged during transit.
  • Loader injury – if products aren’t palletized, they’re naturally looser in storage, which could result in products falling and causing potential injury to workers unloading the equipment.
  • Labor costs are higher as unloading un-palletized goods takes significantly longer than using a forklift to unload pallets. This could result in another large money sink for companies, as they’ll have to employ multiple people for a job that could have been done with one worker and a forklift.
How To Load Your Pallet

Step 1: Load Configuration

The first step involves understanding the load configuration of the stock that is being transported.

This includes recording the product dimensions, weight, and handling needs to ensure each shipment is appropriately planned to avoid any mistakes or mishaps that can lead to damage.

Load configuration is a necessary preparation step in the palleting process. Without it, a company can damage stock during transit and put loading staff at risk of loose or improperly secured stock.

This stage also includes planning for the heaviest cargo to be loaded first – at the bottom of the shipment – to maintain a low center of gravity and provide a stable base.

Load Type

Loads come in three different types; knowing how to store each safely is essential. Some wrapping machines or photo eyes will not wrap certain load types, so it’s important to check what types of loads are accepted before palletizing shipments.

Type of pallet load:

Pallet Load Types
  • Type A Load: When the contents of a pallet are flush with each other and form a perfect cube.
  • Type B Load: When the different-sized items on a load form a cube without flushed edges.
  • Type C Load: Like Load B, Load C is a pallet made up of packages with various shapes and sizes that are also unevenly stacked.

Pallet Style

Pallets also come in various styles that help support different load styles, weights, and methods of pallet transportation.

Common Pallet Styles

Pallet Load Types
  • GMA Pallets: GMA stands for Grocery Manufacturers Association, which recommended a standard pallet size of 48”x40” to make the distribution process smoother. GMA pallets hold up to 4600 lbs.
  • Two-Way Entry Pallets: These are reversible pallets that provide forklift access from two sides as opposed to one, making the arrangement of pallets much easier.
  • Winged Pallets: Winged pallets have a deck board that hangs over the stringers, which allows a slightly heavier load to be placed on the pallet.
Pallet Load Types

Step 2: Spacing

Spacing is essential when it comes to palletizing. The tighter products are bound together, the more stable the entire load is.

When pallets are stacked, spaces or gaps in products can cause shifting during transport. The end result could be toppled boxes upon arrival or falling boxes after the stretch film is removed from the load.

Proper spacing can also increase the number of items on each pallet. Fitting an extra row or layer of goods can help reduce the shipping cost per item. In addition, during storage, space is maximized to fit as many products as possible.

Pallet Load Types

Step 3: Inspection

This step involves thoroughly inspecting the pallet, ensuring there are no loose or hanging objects or any structural issues with the pallet itself. This is to avoid the pallet getting stuck or falling apart during transit.

Broken or obstructed pallets are a hazard that can cause injury or worse to unsuspecting loaders. For the sake of worker well-being, and to minimize the amount of space wasted during transit, it’s essential to inspect each pallet before it gets shipped out.

Pallet Load Types

Step 4: Secure

The final step in the pallet loading process involves securing the products to the pallet itself.

This usually involves using stretch wrap – also known as pallet wrap – to secure all the products tightly together. Wrapping is used to promote the pallet's structural integrity and ensure products don’t fall from the pallet and break or become lost during transit.

This can be done manually or using a pallet wrapping machine – saving time and money on labor costs when dealing with high-volume orders. A stretch wrap machine acts as a turntable for palleted loads, allowing the stretch wrap to be applied effortlessly and providing coverage over the whole palletized load.

How to use a Shrink Wrap Machine

Pallet Load Types

Corner protectors are required for taller loads to maintain balance and avoid damage to the top of the pallet during transport. It’s also essential to carefully store taller packages to avoid the top of the pallet becoming dislodged and causing potential injury to workers during unloading.

How To Secure Your Load

A secure load is the cornerstone of any swift, efficient, and injury-free shipping process.

There are several key considerations when securing packages to ensure that they are transported in the safest way possible:

  • Unitize Pallets: It’s essential to divide products into separate, tight units on pallets to avoid products from shifting too much during the transportation process, mitigating stock damage and increasing retained revenue.
  • Stack Evenly: When stacking pallets before transit, it’s important to make sure all items are stacked evenly with balanced surface area distribution. Poor stacked pallets are harder to store and more likely to break during transit, leading to higher carrying and replacement costs for damaged products.

Use a Wrap or Strap: When securing pallets, it’s essential to use a durable stretch wrap or pallet strapping to ensure all items are secure and won’t slide off during transportation. Items that slide off the pallet can be damaged, or cause injury to people unloading stock. It also interferes with the structural integrity of the pallet, making the pallet itself more likely to break.

Pallet Load Types

How To Label and Document Your Shipment

Before being shipped out, every item on a pallet must be labeled according to the carrier’s labeling instructions.

This typically includes phone numbers of both the carrier and client, as well as address information and a product name that accurately describes what the shipment contains.

Shipment information should also be available to both the carrier and the client in a shipping manifest or bill of lading (BoL). This is to avoid products going missing during stock counts, ensure all pallets are shipped to the right destination, and make sure any missing stock can be delivered correctly when found.

Usually, when a shipment arrives at a warehouse it comes with a label reading ‘inspect fully’, so it’s essential to thoroughly investigate the shipment and its labeling to ensure all the details are correct.

This is to avoid miscommunication in the quantity and condition of the palletized shipment and its contents and ensure all stock is accounted for and replacements won’t need to be shipped.

Pallet Load Types

How To Load a Shipment onto a Truck

Before loading any shipment onto a truck, all pallets must be adequately secure and pose no structural risks.

Loading docks are the easiest way to load palletized shipments onto a truck. Using a pallet jack or forklift can quickly move loads onto the truck. When arranging the shipment, it is essential to keep pallets arranged for easy loading and unloading; by keeping the pallet opening facing the front and back.

When loading pallets onto a truck with a forklift, keep the pallet load slightly off the ground until close to the trailer. When close to the truck raise the pallet until slightly higher than the trailer and slowly move forward until the pallet is entirely in the back of the truck. Slowly move the forks from the pallet. From there, a pallet jack inside of the truck is often needed to move the pallet into the right location for transport.

Once the pallets are inside the truck, it’s vital to secure them further with ratchet straps to avoid items shifting around during transit and causing damage to the truck or the other products stored in the van.

Loading a truck is often done with a forklift, and if this process is handled poorly, it can result in both the damage of goods and injury to workers. So, here are a few essential tips for loading a van with a forklift:

  • Always be aware of hazards in the surrounding area before loading.
  • Make sure the load doesn’t exceed the forklift’s weight limit.
  • Adjust the width of the forks to ensure they are as wide as needed to accommodate the load.
  • Make sure the load is balanced correctly on the fork.
  • Ensure the fork is fully under the load.
  • Do not move the forklift while raising or lowering the load.
  • Tilt the load back slightly, to prevent it from falling forwards.s
  • Never leave a forklift unattended with a load raised.

What To Do If Your Shipment Arrives Damaged

Sometimes poor palleting or unforeseen circumstances can result in shipments being damaged or missing products. If you sign for damaged shipments, note in detail every possible flaw with the shipment. If the product is not salvageable, reject the shipment and return it to the sender without unloading it from the truck.

Next, contact the sender as soon as possible to inform them that the stock has arrived damaged, as they are responsible for the shipment and transport.

It’s best to communicate what is happening via email to allow for plenty of detail to be included, alongside visual evidence. An email also provides an electronic log that proves the incident has been reported. Be sure to list the date the stock arrived and the exact identification of the stock, usually found on the label.

The seller may ask the client to return the item as part of the refunding or re-shipping process, but without damage noted on the Bill of Lading it is impossible to win a freight claim.

If damage is found, it must be listed on the BoL – a document issued by the product carrier to acknowledge receipt of cargo. If this isn’t done, an insurance claim with the freight company is impossible, even with video evidence.

For more information on safely and securely palletizing shipments, contact our packaging experts today.

Alternatively, browse our range of pallet wrapping solutions, including stretch wrap, pallet strapping, and a range of pallet wrapping machines – saving you time and money on your next project.

Pallet Load Types

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: How do you calculate shipping for a pallet?

A: The cost of shipping a pallet depends on the size of the pallet, as well as its weight. The average pallet size is 48 x 40 inches and can be stacked three ways – quarter-stacked, half-stacked, and full-stacked. Each pallet type has different weight limits and will incur separate costs. Shipping is calculated by combining these factors with the cost of transport itself and handling fees.

Q: Is it cheaper to ship by pallet?

A: While investing in pallets means upfront costs, the money saved due to stock protection, and space efficiency vastly outweighs the initial outlay. So, with proper handling, shipping by pallet is typically cheaper than alternative methods – but exact costs may depend on the size and weight of that pallet

Q: Why do pallets need to be heat treated?

A: Exporting palletized goods requires the wood used to be heat treated for several hours to exterminate any possible living organisms in the wood.

Q: How much stretch film do I need to wrap a pallet?

A: That is difficult to determine based on the size of the pallet and the stretch rate during application. For a rough range, eighty to two-hundred feet of stretch film can be required for pallet shipping.

Q: What is the safest way to ship a pallet?

A: Dedicated freight loads are the safest way to ship pallets. This keeps the load from being handled from the shipper to the consignee. They cost more, but reduce the handling LTL loads often require.

Q: What if pallets topple during shipping?

A: Toppling can break and damage products. Thoroughly inspect the loose items and if any damage is found, reject the load and return it to the shipper. If you are the shipper, consider thicker stretch film, more top wraps, or strapping and stretch film combined.

Q: What if a pallet is lost during shipping?

A: Unfortunately, pallets can come up missing. Freight companies can perform a 'dock check' in different hubs to locate the missing shipment. Good freight insurance will be the best protection if the shipment is not found. Be sure the protection will fully cover the shipment before leaving.

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