Considerations when choosing packing tape


In the world of packaging, there are some products it’s perfectly understandable that people might struggle a bit, and need some help deciding on the best packaging solution for their business. Heat sealers, for example, or plastic strapping. But surely, one would think, packing tape is packing tape? You unroll it, attach it to the lid of your cardboard box and it holds it down. Job done!

Well, yes and no, because when you take a few minutes to look into the subject a little deeper, you could find that it’s a little more confusing than you might have been expecting.

Sticky decisions
At first glance, the straightforward, low cost solution would appear to be polypropylene tape, and in many cases it is. But even that’s not the end of it because, once you’ve got that far, you need to work out the relative advantages and disadvantages of acrylic, hot melt and solvent tape. Is it worth paying that little bit extra to buy branded products, like 3M Scotch tape? And why would anyone not choose low noise tape if there was an option?

And, of course, polypropylene isn’t always the right choice, otherwise that would be the only tape on offer. So in what circumstances is vinyl or glass reinforced filament packaging tape a better route to follow?

You might also be wondering if there is any practical difference between the clear and brown packing tape; well, that’s the easy bit – there isn’t.

Hot Melt Polypropylene Tape (Synthetic Rubber)
This is usually going to be the lowest cost option which, along with its initial fast tack properties and reliable seal on cardboard boxes, will often make it the packaging tape of choice. It’s not as good at sticking to different surfaces as acrylic tape and it won’t cope with extreme temperatures and rough or recycled board as well as solvent tape; it will also yellow with age – although not as quickly as solvent. But if you just need your cardboard boxes securely sealed so they can be safely shipped from A to B, those minor quibbles don’t come into the equation.

Water Based Acrylic Tape
Will generally cost a bit more than hot melt tape, but comes with enough useful bonuses to make those extra few pennies per roll more than justified. For starters, it works just as well on glass, wood, metal and many plastics as it does on cardboard. Where it really scores well, though, is in its resistance to ageing, discolouration, weathering and sunlight. Add to those its excellent clarity and visual appeal and you have a tape that is particularly popular in the food packaging and consumer product industries, where appearance is going to be vital. Last but not least, the seal on cardboard strengthens over time as the adhesive seeps into the fibres of the box, making it ideal for cartons likely to have a long shelf life.

Solvent Based Tape (Natural Rubber)
This is probably going to be the most expensive option, but it does come with what is often described as a far more aggressive adhesion – in plain English, that means it’s a lot stickier. It’s also far better at dealing with extreme temperatures, damp conditions and high humidity, all of which make it ideal for use on heavy duty and export packaging. It’s just as effective when used on uneven or rough surfaces, as well, although it does yellow with age far more quickly than the other options.

Branded tape
Branded products will always cost a bit more, whatever you’re buying, but what is it you’re actually paying for? Some people will swear they can’t tell the difference between, for example, Nescafe and Tesco instant coffee and wonder why anybody wastes their money paying more for the former. Others will decry the latter as a cheap imitation and never touch it. Tape is no different.

3M Scotch tape is probably the best known name in the world of packaging tape, and is one which people trust – many won’t use anything else. Many suppliers will also sell unbranded tape, which costs less and which a lot of users buy regularly and are more than happy with. Occasionally, someone might try it out and it doesn’t work for them.

Basically, for everyday packing it’s a perfectly good choice. But you may find that it isn’t the strongest tape around, nor is it ideal for long-term sealing, damp conditions or extreme temperatures. Chances are, however, that you won’t notice the difference – except for the fact that once you make the switch, you’ll end up paying a lot less than you did before.

Low Noise Tape
The advantage of this option is fairly obvious given the name, and in a busy packing room, the difference is very noticeable. A dozen people using normal tape will make considerably more noise than a dozen people using low noise tape, and this is undoubtedly something worth giving serious thought to if the working conditions and hearing of your operators are things you care about.

Nevertheless, there’s no escaping the fact that under certain conditions and on some surfaces, it offers less adhesion than the standard tape. But, as with the unbranded tape, there’s every chance it will work perfectly and the only change you’ll notice is that it’s a lot quieter around the workplace than before.

Vinyl Tape
For starters, vinyl tape is stronger than polypropylene and lasts longer under the sort of conditions under which polyprop will fail, such as extreme temperatures and long-term storage. It also exhibits handy resistance to humidity, chemicals and moisture. Those bonuses alone could well make vinyl worth the little extra you’ll need to pay for it. Conversely, it’s also the easiest to tear by hand, which means you probably won’t need a dispenser to use it.

Glass Reinforced Filament Tape
You may think some of our other tapes are strong, but none of them compares to this. You can tear the average roll of tape with smart use of the teeth; try that with this stuff and you’ll most likely end up with your teeth forcibly extracted and stuck solidly to the still intact tape. With a vertical tensile strength of 150lb/inch and sometimes more, this is seriously heavy duty tape that will stick to metals and plastics as well as cardboard.

This really is the tape you’re going to need to think about when packaging cardboard boxes ready for export, because that phenomenal strength will hold the carton together through the roughest treatment likely to be dished out. And although that stronger performance does naturally come at a higher price, that’ll be quickly wiped out when you have to use twice as much standard packing tape to achieve anything like the same degree of carton strength and stability.

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Rick Stanford

Rick has been a salesman in the packaging supplies business for more than thirty years. Now semi-retired, he divides his time between tending his allotment in north Devon, getting depressed at the continuing travails of his home-town football club Macclesfield Town, and sharing his considerable experience and knowledge with the readers of the Davpack blog. Davpack

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