These days, you can ship just about anything in a box.
There’s a box for nearly any size or shape item.
Need a box for some perishable meat? No problem. A bulky mattress? That can easily be delivered – in a box. A fragile 18th-century chandelier? Too easy.
Rest assured, if you need to ship it, there’s a box for you.
Let’s dive right into how to measure a box, so you’ll know how to pick the right box size and style for your specific needs.
First off, you need to get the box size right.
You’ve probably heard that old saying, “measure twice and cut once.”
Well, it’s relevant to box measurements as well. Before you place a large order for custom boxes, you need to make sure you’re ordering the right size. And simply eye-balling your measurements isn’t going to cut it.
If you want a jumping-off point to help gauge standard box sizes, consider the most common size shipping box is 16”x12”x12”, a 1.5 cubic foot box.
The critical thing to remember when measuring a box is that there are two measurements – the interior and exterior. A common 16″x12″x12″ box? Those are the inside box measurements. Outside, that same box measures 16 3/8×12 3/8×12 5/8″.
As you can see, often these box dimensions can be close, but you need to know which is which to avoid costly mistakes. You’d hate to be just a ½ inch off and not be able to fit any of your products in the box.
When you see the box measurements listed in a catalog or a website, they’re typically referring to the interior dimensions.
Box sizes are measured by their internal dimensions, and are are listed in the order of length, width, and height (L x W x H).
If you’re measuring for a custom box, you should measure to the closest 1/10th of an inch. That’s pretty precise, so double-check your numbers.
Now let’s talk about the exterior measurement of the box, which will determine your shipping costs.
While shipping costs vary widely between services, you can ballpark what you might expect to pay using their specific box size guidelines. FedEx and USPS offer fairly straightforward guides.
Obviously, anything that falls outside of their basic pricing guidelines could be subject to even higher costs.
After you’ve packed up your box and taped it shut, measure the exterior, so you’ll know how much volume the box will take up on the truck. If you’re shipping in bulk, the exterior measurements will also give you an idea of how many boxes you can fit on a pallet.
So now, you should have a good grasp size box sizes you need, but now comes the tricky part.
There are virtually hundreds of box styles to choose from. I know, who would have thought there could be such a variety.
But consider for a minute all of the different products and items and things and knick-knacks that ship on a daily basis. Remember our earlier examples? Perishable meat, bulky mattress, fragile 18th-century chandelier?
You need a lot of different boxes to ship a lot of different products. And this is the nuts and bolts of packaging.
You might have the prettiest looking box. You might offer the best possible product. But a mismatch between the two can result in damaged goods or a poor unboxing experience for the consumer.
Nobody wants that.
Let’s take a deep dive into all of the possible box types and styles to ensure you have that winning combination that will make both your customers and your brand happy.
The majority of retail boxes that you’ll see lining the shelves of any brick-and-mortar store – from cereals, milk, cosmetics – come in carton boxes. While these are one of the most well-known and diverse box types available, they aren’t intended for shipping.
For our purposes below, we’ll be considering shipping needs as well. And when discussing shipping boxes, the primary box type being referenced is the corrugated box.
Most often constructed of three layers – two layers of fiberboard (container or linerboard) surrounding a fluted corrugated medium (a wavy piece of fiberboard) that helps give the box its strength and durability.
Consider the difference between a cereal box (a single sheet of paperboard) versus a basic moving box (the corrugated box). It’s easy to see why the latter is favored for shipping and fulfillment.
These corrugated boxes can be used for all manner of goods – everything from toys and electronics to foods and appliances. Even hazardous materials ship in the corrugated box if afforded the right exterior thickness and interior packing material.
The advantages of corrugated boxes for shipping include:
Corrugated boxes come in four different builds. They include:
Taking the construction a step further, there are five different fluted corrugated mediums. The flute variances are based on flutes per square foot and thickness. You can combine different flute styles in custom packaging to adjust the thickness and durability based on what you’re shipping.
So that’s how boxes are built. What about the box sizes and forms they can take?
As we noted earlier, it can be a taxing affair to count all of the ways you can shape a box.
Depending on where you look, you can choose from between 1,500 and 2,000 different options. That’s assuming you don’t have any custom packaging needs.
We’ll wait while you quietly utter “wow” to yourself.
In an effort to keep the details uncomplicated, let’s focus our attention on the most common box forms. Trust us, it’s still a lot.
There are actually six basic box styles – Slotted, Telescope, Rigid, Folders, Self-Erecting, and Interior Forms. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most widely used box styles:
Constructed from one single piece of corrugated fiberboard, these boxes are “slotted to allow for easy folding and assembly. This style of box is the most popular and widely used.
Slotted boxes also feature center slotted varieties with inner flaps that meet and other flaps with various degrees of overlap. The snap-lock bottom or 1-2-3 bottom offer a quicker set-up than a regular slotted container and can feature a top tuck or regular slotted enclosure.
There’s also a bellow style top that includes a folding top instead of flaps to secure the box’s top portion.
While slotted boxes are the most popular form of shipping box, the other styles we mentioned garner plenty of use. These include:
Phew. Bet you didn’t know there were so many choices for a lowly box. And the list could go on and on. We haven’t even touched on packaging design. But this gives you an idea of some of your options.
When deciding on which box size is best for your products, the cost of custom boxes is important, but also keep in mind how long it takes to assemble boxes.
You may pay more upfront for already assembled boxes, but it might be worth it if you don’t have time to devote to folding the boxes together.
Before moving on to how to choose the right box size, we would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t include a quick note on mailers.
Yes, boxes are the primary vessel for shipping the vast majority of products to your customers. However, mailers are a good alternative if the product – or your packaging presentation – may not warrant a full-blown box.
Think items that don’t require the protection a box provides (t-shirts) or flat products that would be swallowed up in a box (smartphone cases, screen protectors, or books).
Solutions such as bags, Tyvek envelopes, and padded mailers are great box alternatives. If you can’t package a number of small products together or have singular items that need little protection, a mailer might be the way to go. In some cases, they can prove considerably cheaper to ship as well.
Boxes and shipping are more than just, well, boxes and shipping.
Rarely is an item just flung in a box and shipped off. What goes inside your box is also important. And we’re not talking about the products you ship. Not directly anyway.
Void or infill is an integral part of the box-sizing process. Not accounting for how you plan to pad and protect the products you ship can lead to ordering improperly sized boxes, utilizing more materials than is necessary, or increased packaging and shipping costs.
Haphazardly piecing together your packaging may also result in dissatisfied consumers either from a less than desirable unboxing experience or damaged goods. Having packaging that’s social media shareworthy is one of your strongest marketing tools, don’t risk losing it with damaged products.
Let’s explore a handful of popular options for void fill and how they can impact the box dimensions and style that you choose.
When planning out your boxing and void fill options, it’s always a good idea to stick to eco-friendly packaging if you can.
Ecommerce, as convenient as it is, does generate its share of waste. When planning out your ecommerce packaging box needs, stay cognizant of using only what’s necessary to protect your goods and offer the best unboxing experience possible.
Additionally, using boxes and other packaging made of post-consumer waste may cost you a little more money upfront but can enhance your reputation by showing that you care about the environment.
Of course, the number one deciding factor on which box size you need comes down to the products you’re packaging.
First off, you need a box size that physically fits your items. Know the dimensions of your products. Yes, this involves more measuring (length, width, and height).
You’ll also have to decide the most efficient way to fit your product in a box.
If you’re shipping something like a rug, you may decide to roll it up and put it in a long, narrow box. But there’s not a one box fits all – even for similar products.
Case in point, I ordered a rug that was thin enough to be folded and put in a mailer. It arrived in perfect condition – all the way from Turkey. So play around and find the best box size and style for your unique products.
You know that you won’t be able to squeeze a football into a flat box. But, also make sure your box isn’t too big. Packing a single mug in an extra-large box makes zero sense. Who wants to pay to ship air? The right box size should provide a snug fit, so your product isn’t rattling around in there.
When possible, it’s a good idea to combine products as part of your shipping strategy.
If you’re shipping multiple products at one time, you can fit them together. Be sure to wrap them individually or use corrugated inserts to protect them from crashing into each other during transit.
Also, keep in mind that retail boxes usually aren’t strong enough to be shipped by themselves, as most retail packaging uses some variety of carton boxes. so you’ll have to use a close-fitting outer box for shipping – the double boxing method.
If the product is breakable, you’ll have to take some extra steps to secure it. You can use void fill like air pillows, crinkle paper, or biodegradable peanuts to cushion it.
Try several drop tests to make sure your products are safe. It’s also a good idea to do a trial run with your packaging to see if it survives any shipping abuse and arrives safely at its destination.
Many shippers recommend at least two inches of padding around fragile items. Be sure to adhere to any requirements your shipper has. You’d hate for your insurance claim to be denied because your item was improperly packed.
No matter what size, or odd-shaped item you need to ship to a customer, you can bet there’s a box that will get it there in one piece and in style.
Same as you would with any other aspect of your business, carefully plan out what your boxing and shipping needs will be before making any material purchases.
Remember, it’s not just a matter of what you ship that determines the box size and style you need.
It’s also vital to figure out how much protection an item will need, whether you’re trying to impress with the unboxing experience or simply want to stay within a budget.
So, measure away and find the right boxes for your unique products.
If you need help measuring your products to find the right box size, the custom packaging specialists at Refine Packaging can help. Request a free consultation to speak with our team of highly-talented graphic artists and engineers, who will guide you through the packaging process step-by-step to take your packaging to the next level.
Last Updated: March 1, 2023
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