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    How to Choose Packaging Materials

    Packaging Material Properties, Advantages, and Criteria for Selection


    1. Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)

    • Extremely cost-effective, lightweight, and rigid foam.
    • Compare to Dow’s Styrofoam™ brand of EPS.
    • Structurally strong, moisture resistant, and good thermal insulation (insulation R-value of 4.0 per inch).
    • Computer-guided cutting and two-dimensional shaping eliminates the need for expensive dies.

    EPS is created by heating and pressing beads of the chemical styrene together to form a highly insulative foam. Polystyrene is mostly air, which is why it makes such a good insulator, and it is often used for packaging hot and cold items. You may have seen this foam in cup shape holding your hot chocolate or surrounding fresh steaks you ordered online!

    Best use: EPS is an extremely cost-effective packaging material offering thermal insulation and structural rigidity with a compression strength of 1,000 lbs. per square foot. It is extremely versatile and may be fabricated into customized shapes and forms with our computer-guided cutting systems to duplicate any line pattern, eliminating the need for expensive dies or molds.

    2. Polyethylene (PE)

    • Durable and lightweight closed-cell foam, used for packaging heavier items.
    • Excellent vibration dampening and high resistance to chemicals and moisture.
    • Laminated, extruded, polylam, cross-linked polyethylene.
    • Easily custom die-cut/fabricated or cut into pads or blocks.

    PE foam is formed by adding two chemicals together. The chemical reaction causes the foam to expand rapidly, creating millions of air bubbles. As the foam hardens into its final form, the bubble walls remain intact and do not release any of their gas. Air is blocked from passing from bubble to bubble, which results in a firm, rigid, and durable foam. It provides strong cushioning, as the bubble cells will compress slightly under pressure. This foam is preferred for protecting heavier objects since it can withstand more weight.

    Best Use: PE is tough and resilient, commonly used for cushioning relatively high-value and moderately fragile items. It is available in a wide range of densities and colors. It has high-tensile and high-tear strength to withstand long periods of heavy use. Depending on its density, it is generally very rigid, with less give than flexible polyurethane. It is a very strong and resilient cushioning material that is not damaged by initial impacts and recovers to maintain protection against repeated shocks. It can be cut into pads or blocks or custom die-cut to fit specific shapes.

    3. Polyurethane (PU)

    • Lightweight, open-celled foam.
    • Abrasion resistant, able to absorb shock and recover its shape quickly.
    • Ideal for protecting lightweight, delicate objects.
    • Easily custom die-cut/fabricated, cut into pads, or convoluted (egg crate).

    PU foam is formed by combining two chemicals. The chemical reaction causes the foam to expand rapidly, creating millions of air bubbles that stay open as the foam hardens into its final form. The end result is a flexible, sponge-like material that compresses and cushions as force is applied to it. Air easily passes from cell to cell within the foam, making it highly shock absorbent. Polyurethane foam comes in a variety of densities.

    Best Use: Polyurethane has the ability to absorb shock from an impact and recover its original shape quickly. Its physical performance characteristics make it ideal for protecting fragile items. It can be cut or fabricated into many formats such as end cap assemblies, top and bottom trays, convoluted (egg crate), or custom-fitted padding. Convoluted polyurethane foam has interlocking peaks and valleys that gently cradle products while firmly holding them in place. It is available in various densities and colors. The antistatic pink version is ideal for cushioning circuit boards and other static-sensitive items.


    Corrugated is a three-layered cardboard product most often used for boxes and other packaging supplies. It’s made by combining two sheets of kraft paper separated by a layer of crimped kraft paper. This middle layer of crimped kraft paper has air pockets that give the corrugated enough bounce to protect whatever it is holding.


    Our hardwood comes in a variety of species, including maple, oak, and birch. We source most of our hardwood from Canada. In general, hardwood is a sturdier subset of wooden materials because of its increased density. Hardwood is likely not heat treated when we receive it and undergoes that process on the property. We use hardwood in applications where rough-cut lumber is needed.


    Our softwood comes in multiple varieties including spruce, pine, and fir. However, we mainly manufacture pine products. We source most of our softwood from the United States. Index Packaging’s standard crate uses 1″ x4″ softwood cleats. Softwood is a less dense material and therefore more flexible. Its resistance to splitting makes it a great solution for industrial shipping products and residential structures.


    Plywood is composed of laminated layers of veneers of hardwood and softwood. These layers are rotated 90° to each other for additional strength. We utilize different types of plywood products such as CDX (rough on all sides) and G1S (good on 1 side). We use plywood for everything from ATA case panels and dividers to crate paneling and ramp manufacturing. Plywood is the perfect panel product that is a compromise of weight, price, and strength.

    Packaging FAQs

    The basic starting points for any packaging project:

    • Select the right outside container(s). Use a rigid box with suitable strength.
    • Cushion the contents from shock or vibration. Use enough lightweight packing material so the contents do not move when the box is shaken.

    Consider and determine your major objectives:

    • Do you want to avoid damage?
    • Are you trying to reduce costs?
    • Are there problems with your present packaging?
    • How will the product be shipped: UPS, common carrier?
    • What is the cost of the product to be shipped?
    • How important is the price of the packaging relative to the product’s value?
    • Does the product require custom protective packaging?
    • Does the custom packaging need to fit an existing box?
    • Does the product require anti-static protective packaging?
    • Does the product need protection from moisture?
    • Does the product require the maintenance of a certain temperature?
    • How important is the labor cost of packaging your product?
    • How breakable is your product?

    Inside dimensions are always used when listing box measurements and are given in the sequence of length, width, and depth (height). A good rule of thumb is that the depth is where the box opens; if you were to put a yard stick through the to opening to opposite end, that is the depth. Of the remaining two dimensions, length is the longest and width is the shortest.

    Density refers to the internal structure of a particular foam and is not a measurement of foam firmness. Firm foam is not always high-density foam. Density is defined as the weight in pounds of one cubic foot of material, or pounds per cubic foot (pcf).