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Stretch Wrap vs. Shrink Wrap: What's the Difference?

Pantero_StretchWrap_187087019.color2000What's the difference between stretch wrap and shrink wrap? Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but they are very different processes with different ideal applications.

Many people say "shrink wrap" when they actually mean "stretch wrap." In a nutshell, shrink wrap involves heat, and stretch wrap doesn't. Here's how to know which is right for you.

Stretch Wrapping vs. Shrink Wrapping

Both stretch wrap and shrink wrap are made from thin sheets of plastic, which is most commonly clear. But while they may look similar on the roll, they are different materials and function differently. Put simply:

  • Stretch wrap is a stretchable plastic film that is wrapped around a pallet or object under tension. Stretch film clings to itself, so it is self-holding when applied. When wrapped tightly, its natural elasticity holds the load together securely. Stretch film is typically made of a thin polyethylene plastic.
  • Shrink wrap is a thin polyolefin plastic. Rather than wrapping multiple layers of material, a single layer of shrink wrap film is draped loosely around an object. When heat is applied, the material shrinks to conform tightly to the shape of the item being wrapped. The film can be shrunk to fit by placing the wrapped object in an automated conveyor-belt shrink tunnel or oven or by using a hand-held heat gun.

Advantages and Applications for Stretch Wrap

Stretch wrap is highly versatile and can be used for a wide range of applications. It provides protection from moisture and dust and holds objects securely. Here are a few of the key advantages of stretch wrap:

  • Highly cost effective
  • Can be applied by hand without special tools
  • Can be used with heat-sensitive products
  • Comes in a broad range of types, gauges and colors for different applications, including opaque and UV-resistant varieties
  • Resistant to punctures and tears
  • Provides a secure hold to prevent load shifting


Stretch wrap is commonly used for palletizing, load stabilization and bundling objects for inventory management or sale. It is most effective for wrapping loads that are fairly regular in shape, such as boxes on a pallet. However, heavier gauges can also be used for more irregular loads.

Advantages and Applications for Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap has its own uses and advantages. Like stretch wrap, it provides protection against moisture and dust. It conforms more tightly to the shape of an object, providing a more secure hold for highly irregular items. Some key advantages of shrink wrap include:

  • Better clarity for product visibility
  • Tighter hold for irregular objects to reduce shifting
  • Less chance of damage to the surface of the item
  • Minimizes oxygen in the package
  • Prevents leaks
  • Option to be ventilated for breathability

Shrink wrapping is a great choice for protecting individual products and packaging them for sale. It is widely used for food packaging, such as trays of meat, poultry, fish, cheese or vegetables. The close fit minimizes oxygen in the package and therefore reduces spoilage. It is also used for packaging many consumer products. While it is sometimes used for palletizing, this is less common and typically only used in situations where the object to be palletized is highly irregular. Very large irregular objects—such as boats, patio furniture or industrial equipment—are sometimes shrink wrapped to protect them for storage or transport.

Which Do You Need—Stretch Wrap or Shrink Wrap?

Whether you need stretch wrap or shrink wrap, we've got you covered. We carry a variety of stretch and shrink films for every application and the tools you need to apply them. Contact us to learn more!

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