Packing tape: an essential guide

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It’s easy to become a little stuck when trying to understand the world of packing tape.

While it can be simple to look at all the possible options and think they do the same thing, it’s actually little more nuanced. The packaging tape you need depends on your business, the products you’re sealing and what is right for you.

When you’re a small business, it sounds easy to stick with what you know. For example, the tape you might find in your home for domestic tasks, like wrapping presents…

In reality, you’ll probably need something a little bit more robust than everyday tape. In fact, packing tape is a great place to start when you’re looking to step up your packaging game.

Whether you want to speed up your packing times, use less materials or become more sustainable, the packing tape you use can be the catalyst for lots of these improvements. And as a business owner, the types of packaging materials you choose, will have an impact on customer perception.

So, in this month’s Packaging 101, we will break down everything you need to know about packing tape!


What is packing tape made from?


Generally, packing tape is composed of 2 to 3 main parts. Here’s a short explanation of each:


  • The backing or carrier – this the material its made from. In the case of packing tape, the backing is often made from polypropylene, vinyl or kraft paper.  Other more technical tapes might have a backing or carrier made from  other materials such as crepe paper or even cloth.
  • The adhesive – this is the stuff that makes packaging tape stick.  There are several different adhesives including acry
  • The liner – when it comes to packing tape, a liner is sometimes used on some pressure sensitive tapes or double sided tapes. It stops layers of the backing material from sticking together.

What types of material are used to make packing tape?


Packing tape can be made from lots of different materials. Here are some of the most common types of materials used to make the carrier in your packing tape:


  • Polypropylene tape – polypropylene tape (also referred to as polyprop tape) is the most common  type of packing tape you’ll come across. It’s made from polypropylene plastic, which is a cost-effective base material.  It’s strong and reasonably robust and is widely available in clear and buff colours. This kind of tape is a good, basic all-rounder for domestic, office and general transit packaging requirements.
  • PVC tape –  if you want a premium packing tape PVC is the material you need. Made from polyvinyl chloride film this kind of tape is stronger and resistant to a wider range of temperatures. This kind of tape is often referred to as vinyl tape or even premium packing tape.
  • Paper tape – a great alternative to plastic tape, paper tape is recyclable and biodegradable. You’ll find paper tape available as self-adhesive tape or gummed paper tape. Self-adhesive paper tape operates like regular plastic packing tape. it comes on a roll and can operated the same way on a tape gun or taping machine. In contrast, gummed paper tape, is lined with a water activated adhesive. It requires moistening before being applied to a cardboard box for sealing. The adhesive forms a tamper evident bond. Both types of paper tape are strong. For many businesses, swapping to paper tape is an easy way to remove plastic from supply chains and control the amount of packaging material used, as you can often use less paper tape vs. plastic tape. Click here for more information about the benefits of choosing gummed paper tape.
  • Reinforced tape – this is packing tape that is reinforced with fibres that run down and across the length of the tape. Reinforced packing tape tape is excellent for bundling heavy products, sealing and reinforcing. Ideal to use with cardboard boxes loaded with heavy product and pallet or container boxes. Both plastic and paper tape can be reinforced. You may see this referred to as cross-weave tape as well as reinforced tape.

What are the different adhesive types used on packing tape?


Most packing tape will use one of these four adhesives:


  • Acrylic – You can get water-based or solvent-based acrylic adhesives, it has great bonding properties. Water based will be cheaper than solvent based adhesives.
  • Solvent wf you are looking for long term strength, solvent based adhesives could be great for you, as it can be stuck down with low pressure.
  • Hot Melt – when heated, this synthetic resin becomes tacky which creates this adhesive. It is one of the strongest types and should be applied with an applicator.
  • Water Activated – this is a starch based adhesive used on gummed paper tape. It requires water to activate it and it solidifies as it dries.

Choosing the right packaging tape for your business


Now, you may expect packing tapes to all do the same job! While you can use them all to seal a cardboard box, the different materials and adhesive all have varying properties. So, what do they do, and how are they different?

Macfarlane Packaging Packing Tape Essential Guide


If you are looking for more packaging advice for small businesses, don’t forget to follow along with our Packaging 101 series – it’s designed to help grow your knowledge.



Different kinds of tape dispensers & ways to apply packing tape

  • Hand –  If you’re packing more than one box, you can single handedly seal it and save so much time by never losing the end of the tape! Designed for use with most self adhesive tapes, handheld dispensers often have a built in brake adjusts easily to accommodate tapes with varying unwinding speeds. It is particularly suitable for use with polypropylene and quick release tapes.
  • Manual – Manual Paper Tape Dispensers are reliable and user-friendly, it has fifteen manually set tape lengths and is ideal for use where there is no convenient electrical power supply. Perfect for light to medium usage and is compatible with either reinforced or non-reinforced water-activated tapes.
  • Auto paper tape dispensers – Electronic Gummed Paper Tape Dispenser  Moistens, cuts, and delivers pre-programmed lengths of gummed paper tape. Ideal for medium to high usage

Packing tape terminology

Let’s breakdown some key words to watch out for, that you might find in descriptions of the tapes you could purchase.

  • Burst resistance – Used as a general guide to understand the strength of that tape
  • Low noise – Refers to tape that had been designed to limit the noise pollution produced by using tape.
  • Tack – How quickly the tape bond with the surface, so stickiness. It is important to note that this can change due to the environment for example, the temperature.
  • Peel resistance – How easy it is to remove the tape from a surface
  • Pressure sensitive – Also called PSA tape, will stick to a surface due with the application of pressure without the need for a solvent.
  • Tamper evident – Allows you to see if the tape has been tampered with, this could include opening the opening the package, whether the intended recipient or not.
  • Machine tape – Is specifically designed to work with taping machines
Printed Tape

The benefits of custom tape

Branding your business and packaging is essential as it can help you create a memorable impression on consumers and let them know what to expect from your company…

Packing tape a low-cost way to brand your packaging. You can use printed tape to advertise products and services, boosting brand awareness. Tape can be printed with any design and with any message. Examples include handling instructions or your logo and strapline.

We go into more detail about simple ways to brand your packaging in a previous Packaging 101 article. So, if you want to learn more about branding your small business packaging, read our blog by clicking here.


Tape Automation

As your business grows, don’t forget your operation can grow with you! Automatic tape machines can be programmed to dispense pre-set lengths of tape, speeding up the packing process and ensuring increased yield from your tape.

If you need help with your packaging or choosing the suitable packing tape for your business, we’re here to help.

Macfarlane Packaging can provide protective packaging solutions for businesses of any size, from small businesses to national and multi-sited operations. Get in touch today…