Filling the Void
Even with access to cost effective custom cardboard boxes, it’s very rare for suppliers sending out multiple products to have the right box every time and not require some kind of void fill.
Void fill, of course, has two functions: to stop the contents of a box rattling around in transit, and to do so in a way that doesn’t scratch or damage them in any way.
The options available today are many – packing peanuts, air cushions, foam packaging, brown kraft paper, white news offcuts, shredded tissue – and it can sometimes be difficult for a newcomer to decide which is best for their product and their business.
We’ve been taking a look at some of the main options on the market today and weighing up their advantages and disadvantages to see why you might choose one over another.
Put the term ‘void fill’ into a popular search engine and this is what will crop up as the majority of the top results. It’s been around for over 50 years (the original was patented on 21 December 1962 by one Robert E Holden, a much underappreciated hero in packaging history in my opinion!), but is still an incredibly popular solution for a number of very good reasons.
Firstly, it’s very light, so it isn’t going to impact on your delivery costs too much when you’re using a third party courier; secondly, it’s very soft, yet still holds contents in place thanks to the clever way the pieces interlock; thirdly, it’s quick to use – all you need to do is tip it into the space and you’re ready to go; fourthly, it’s very flexible, and can be used effectively in just about any size gap; fifthly, modern versions are very environmentally friendly, mostly being made from recycled materials of various kinds and also 100% degradable (so they won’t be filling any voids in the planet for long!); and finally, people trust it – they know it works!
On the other hand, and there’s really no getting away from this, it’s incredibly bulky and of relatively low value. That makes it difficult to ship around the country in any cost effective way. We charge less than £20 a bag for our packing peanuts – but each bag measures 15 cubic feet. It doesn’t take many to fill the average delivery van.
For those using it, that bulkiness can make them awkward to store, unless you have a big warehouse – and there aren’t too many businesses able to carry that kind of space on a regular basis these days. It’s the kind of consideration you need to take into account when deciding which solution to opt for – calculate what kind of packing volume you’re likely to need, then work out if you actually have the space to store it.
Brown kraft paper
Scrunching up sheets of kraft paper and dropping the result into the space in your cardboard boxes creates a strong and effective void fill product. Unlike packing peanuts, you don’t usually need to fill every square inch, because it’s strong enough when scrunched to fill some of the space and still hold the product in place. That makes it cost effective.
And although the rolls of paper can be big, you get a lot more packing space out of them once you’ve scrunched them up. The other positives about it are that not only is it environmentally friendly, but that people just like it. This is the same stuff which, wrapped around a package and tied up with string, Julie Andrews sang about so positively in The Sound of Music.
Yes, you’ll need a machine to do the scrunching and they can be expensive to buy, but they can easily be rented, so you can spread out that cost over a number of years. And many can also be neatly incorporated into a packing station, so they don’t take up as much space as you might expect either.
However, scrunching can make it quite bulky, so it’s generally more practical to be used for cushioning and dealing with bigger spaces, rather than everyday void fill. And the edges can be quite sharp (as anyone who’s had a paper cut will know), so for products with a delicate surface, there could be a danger of scratching or scuffing.
Instapak foam packaging
This is one of the new kids on the void fill block, and is perfect if you’re putting different fragile products into the same size box, because it effectively creates customised foam packing around whatever you put in it.
You get a flat bag, place it in your carton and put your product on it. You then tap on a button and the bag self-inflates gently around your product, enveloping it in soft foam. If you close the lid, the bag stops inflating when it reaches it. And you end up with one brilliantly protected product.
The advantages should be self-evident. First of all, as you’re starting with a flat bag, it takes very little space to store until you actually need it. Secondly, it’s quick to use – once you’ve set it inflating, you can just close the lid and move on to the next parcel. And thirdly, it can be used for just about any product, as it molds itself to the shape of whatever it is it’s protecting.
It has a more limited use than other options and you’d really only want to use it for fragile items which need a reasonable amount of padding between them and the sides of the box.
It’s also not the cheapest option, so you wouldn’t want to use it for low value goods. But for luxury items, there’s no doubting that it adds a real touch of professionalism that’s bound to impress your customer when he or she opens their parcel.
Air cushion packaging
Like packing peanuts, bubble wrap is a bulky product that’s disproportionately expensive to transport and store considering its unit cost. The problem is, of course, that the majority of what you’re transporting and storing is just air.
This idea lets you inflate the bubbles as and when you need them, so all you have delivered are rolls of flat polythene. That makes it just about the biggest space-saver of all the items listed here.
You can get different profiles of film to do different jobs – wrapping, interleaving, block and brace and void fill – so this clever product can in fact replace several others, not just traditional bubble.
You do need to buy the machine to inflate the bubbles, but compare the cost of the sheets of film against their immediate competitors and you could have it paid off and be in credit ever so quickly. In fact, we reckon that if you’re buying 10 bags of packing peanuts or five rolls of 1500mm x 200m bubble wrap a month, you’d already have saved by the end of the first year (even allowing for the cost of the machine) and be quids in by the end of the second.
You can set the machine up to do a full roll, so if you’re organised, you won’t even have to wait for it to be ready to use. In fact, I’ve been trying to come up with any kind of disadvantage for this idea, and haven’t yet succeeded.
White news offcuts
If you want something that’s cheap and cheerful, yet still totally effective, scrunching up these sheets of paper by hand and dropping them into your box is not a bad call. If you’re not sure what they are, it’s basically newspaper paper without the print. It’s also the sort of paper they use to wrap your fish and chips at the local chippy (health and safety regulations having long seen off the use of actual newspapers).
Naturally, they’re not as strong as brown kraft paper, and you probably wouldn’t use them to fill too big a space, if for no other reason that it would take a while to do. But look at it the other way: they’re much softer and gentler than kraft paper and ideal when you’ve only got a small space to fill.
Nor are they likely to get you singing like Julie Andrews every time you use them – but, then again, they might just bring to mind great bags of chips you’ve eaten, which can’t be a bad thing.
This does the exact opposite to white news offcuts. This adds colour (usually) and a genuine sense of luxury to opening a parcel. So you wouldn’t want to use it to fill the space around car parts (unless they’re destined for Penelope Pitstop, perhaps) or electronic components, but they’re absolutely perfect for gift items, cosmetics and hampers, for example.
These are some of our most popular void fill solutions, but there are many others around. Let us know which you prefer and why you’ve chosen them.