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Pressure Sensitive vs. Water-Activated Carton Sealing Tape: Are You Ready to Make the Switch?

Pantero_PackingTape_2_Color2000xPressure sensitive packaging tapes are still the most popular choice for day-to-day carton sealing. Hot-melt and acrylic tapes are economical, approved for standard USPS shipping, and perform well for most packaging and shipping applications.

But water-activated paper carton sealing tapes (or gummed paper tapes) are an increasingly popular option for high-volume shippers and fulfillment centers like Amazon—and for good reason. These tapes offer some significant advantages for shippers. Here are a few considerations for shippers considering a switch from pressure-sensitive to water-activated carton sealing tape.

Strength and Performance

When it comes to performance for carton sealing and shipping, it's hard to beat water-activated tapes. When a water-activated tape is applied, it forms a strong weld with the corrugate or linerboard carton it is applied to. Essentially, the tape becomes a part of the box. This means that it can't be peeled off like a pressure-sensitive tape—the only way to open the package is by cutting through the tape.

Using water-activated tape can reduce product loss and damage during shipment. Water-activated tapes provide superior adhesion under all temperature ranges and can easily seal packages up to 150 pounds, which is the upper limit for ground shipments by FedEx or UPS. In most cases, the carton itself will give out before the tape does. 

Tamper Resistance

Since it can't be removed, water-activated tape also provides superior tamper resistance. The tape bonds securely to the package for a gap-free seal. If the tape is cut after sealing, it will be obvious that the carton has been opened. This makes tapering and theft a lot less tempting.

Productivity

Water-activated paper tapes are applied using a tabletop tape dispenser that wets the tape and cuts it to the appropriate length for the carton. Carton sealing with these dispensers is fast and easy. In fact, a water-activated tape dispenser can improve packaging center productivity by up to 21% compared to manual tape guns.

Safety

Using water-activated tape can improve safety, too. Heavy use of manual tape guns can result in repetitive motion injuries to the hand and wrist. Using a water-activated tape dispenser may cut down on employee injuries and reduce worker's compensation claims related to repetitive use of a tape gun.

Appearance

Water-activated tapes provide a neat, professional appearance for packages. A single strip of paper tape looks more professional than multiple strips of shiny plastic tape. However, paper tapes are opaque, so they will obscure the packaging underneath. If your boxes are printed with your logo and message, you might want to consider an ultra-clear acrylic tape that lets your image shine through. Shippers may also choose custom-printed paper tapes, which put their brand and message on the tape rather than on the box. This is often more cost effective than a custom printed box.

Cost

When it comes to cost, pressure-sensitive tapes appear to have the edge. They are more economical on a per-foot basis. However, they are not always cheaper in actual use. Packaging staff often double- or triple-tape cartons when using pressure-sensitive tape to reinforce the package—and some go way overboard, with multiple cross strips and extra tape along carton edges. This is especially true when sealing very heavy cartons. Water-activated tapes only require a single strip for a secure bond that is as strong as the carton itself. Productivity improvements must also be factored into the cost equation. When you calculate savings due to improved productivity and reduced material waste, the cost of water-activated tape may be equal to or even lower than pressure sensitive tapes.

Is It Time To Switch To Water-Activated Carton Sealing Tape?

So, should you make the switch to water-activated carton sealing tape? Well, that depends. There is still a place for pressure-sensitive tape in the packaging world. To decide, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your shipping volume? The benefits of water-activated tapes will be best realized in medium- to high-volume packaging centers. If you only need to seal and ship the occasional carton, your standard packaging tape and tape gun will probably do just fine.
  • How heavy are your packages? Water-activated tapes will provide superior holding power for heavy cartons.
  • What is your shipment method? If you're shipping individual packages by parcel post or through UPS or FedEx, water-activated tapes will reduce the risks of tampering or tape failure along the way. Packages sealed with water-activated tape won't come open at the seams. If you are palletizing your cartons, the strength of the adhesive bond isn't as important.
  • What are your switching costs? There will be some switching costs for new equipment, materials and employee training. Look at your volume and performance requirements and decide if the benefits are worth it to you. For many shippers, the answer will be yes!

Not sure which kind of packaging tape is best for you? Read more about packaging tape selection or contact us to talk about your options.

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