Guide to Shipping Boxes

The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Boxes

Local and global supply chains are an amazing feat. You can ship products all around the world – whether that’s delivering direct to a customer’s doorstep or to the retailer who stocks your wares.

Shipping boxes are a key part of your supply chain, and they can make or break your business. The right boxes will get your goods safely to their destination, while the wrong ones can spell disaster. To help you with an efficient supply chain for your business, we’ve covered everything you should know about shipping boxes. 

What boxes are acceptable for shipping?

The ideal boxes for shipping are brand new corrugated cardboard boxes. These are a strong option, that with the right design, will get your goods safely to their destination.

Some couriers won’t accept your boxes if they are poor quality or being reused. If your boxes are not sealed properly, torn or damaged – they may also be rejected by your courier.

Can you ship in a normal cardboard box?

Technically, yes – a normal cardboard box could be used for shipping purposes. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a packaging expert who recommends it. Flat, traditional cardboard is not very strong, so it won’t stack up against the rigours of shipping. You can learn more in our previous blog on The Difference Between Cardboard and Corrugated Boxes.

Corrugated cardboard is recommended because it has the right strength profile for travelling long distances. There are two ways to measure this:

  1. The Edge Crush Test (ECT)
  2. The Mullen test

An ECT is used to measure stacking strength – which is how much weight can be put on your box before it breaks. This is key because most boxes are stacked on a pallet for efficient delivery.

man standing on cardboard box

The Mullen test measures burst strength – which is how much pressure your box can take. This is key because your boxes go through a lot in transit, for example severe handling from couriers or being moved around quickly in a sorting centre.

Types of boxes used for shipping

A regular slotted carton, or RSC, is the most common shipping box around the world. They come in many different sizes and can suit a wide range of industries. They work particularly well for heavy items, such as a wine subscription box, furniture, auto parts or chemicals and garden supplies.

Another common shipping box is a die cut mailer box. These are frequently used by online retailers to send small parcels to their customers. They are popular because they are easy to assemble and present nicely to the end customer.

In both of these styles, you have the option for stock boxes or custom design. Even though stock boxes are economical and fast to produce – we don’t always recommend them for shipping. It can be hard to get the right fit with standardised sizing and that could mean damaging your products in transit.

If you have the budget, custom boxes will provide the best fit and give you options for memorable branded design. They also allow you to select your own flute sizes, which means customising the strength of your box. We work hard to support our customers, many of whom are SMEs, in designing the most cost-effective custom packaging.

Read our past blogs for more:

Does box design matter for shipping?

You might think that a box spending most of its time on a train, plane or boat doesn’t need design. But don’t forget – they end up in someone’s hands at the end of their journey. Whether that’s your end customer or staff who unpack your product, the right design is key.

two cardboard boxes side by side

For example, this image shows two different designs from our customers. The box on the left is a subscription service where delivery is direct to the customer. The box on the right goes mainly to retail stores for unpacking.

Even though they’re both RSC boxes, you can see differences in design based on their purpose. The left-hand box is more focused on building up the brand. The right-hand box is more focused on providing information, such as what’s inside the box and safety advice for heavy lifting.

Common box sizes for shipping

Asking for the most common box size is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. The answer is the size (or length) it needs to be. However, we can give you some idea of what kinds of boxes are available. Here are some box types you might come across:

  • Cube: these boxes have the same length on all sides
  • Multi-Height: these boxes have a different height to width, making them highly customisable for different depths
  • Long: these boxes are longer than they are wide or tall, making them ideal for shipping items lying down flat
  • Tall: these boxes are taller than they are wide or deep, making them ideal for shipping items standing upright

We have a range of standard stock size boxes that you can order from our online store; from very small (18cm or 7”) to quite large (65cm or 25”). Check our list of common box sizes for more.

The important thing to remember is that box measurements are taken from inside the box, not outside. This is to ensure the measurements are able to show the true carrying capacity of your box. It’s a good idea to add an extra 0.25 inches around your products when choosing a box size, to give a little wiggle room.

How are shipping costs calculated?

Shipping companies typically charged based on the size, weight, destination and how the box will be shipped (i.e. air, land or sea). Pricing structures vary and the best people to ask for specifics are your shipping partner.

Does shipping weight include the box?

Yes, in almost all cases shipping weight does include the box. Which means it’s extra important that you choose a lightweight material, like corrugated cardboard, and don’t waste an inch of space.

Optimising your flute sizes can help manage shipping costs. By choosing the right flute size, you can ensure box weight is at a minimum while protection is at a maximum.

Optimising your box size is another important cost measure. Too much space and you need to pay for extra fillers. A snug fit helps protect your product in transit and stops you wasting budget on board you don’t need.

person securing a cardboard box with tape

What causes shipping damage?

Shipping damage can be a real business nightmare. It means added cost to replace products, handle excess customer service and protect your business reputation.

It is rare for a shipping company to be liable for damages – and it won’t happen at all if your packaging is deemed faulty. Here are three causes of shipping damage to watch out for:

  • A bad fit: if products are loose inside your box and can move around, then they are at higher risk of being damaged.
  • Poor labelling: forgetting to label fragile items means your courier might not be careful enough with your boxes.
  • Water damage: packaging that is not sealed properly is at higher risk of water damage, especially if travelling by sea.

How do I avoid damaged shipping?

Luckily, shipping damage can be avoided with the right box size and design. A nice snug fit and the appropriate box labelling is a good place to start. Sealing your boxes properly is another shipping essential.

Fragile items might also require extra padding – partitions and custom cut inserts can protect your goods through delivery. A double-wall box is another added strength barrier for things like glass, ceramics, appliances and electronics or alcohol bottles. 

Get quality packaging, made in Melbourne

Echo Cartons have more than 20 years’ experience in corrugated box manufacturing. We pride ourselves on our friendly team, fast service and great quality boxes. Based in Braeside, Melbourne; we’re the packaging supplier of choice for Australian SME’s. When you’re ready to kickstart a packaging order – simply request a quote.

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