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Different Types of Packing Tape

This is one of those topics in which it’s surprisingly easy to fall down the rabbit hole of industry jargon and technical information. So, let’s start with some basic advice. There’s a reason that clear, plastic packing tape is so popular and easy-to-find. For its strength, usability, and single-use cost, this type of tape can’t be beat.

Clear, plastic tape is the go-to for most individuals and their packing, shipping, moving, and storage projects. You can get it delivered from an online supplier quickly, or you can reliably visit either a hardware store or even most local grocers and know that you can find this tape. Yet, it’s not right for everybody or for every moving/shipping/storage project. Moreover, between different widths, strengths, dispensers, and number of rolls, you’re going to have plenty of options to sort through when you go to make a purchase. Learn about the tradeoffs and niche applications for different types of packing tape.

Plastic/Packaging/Pressure-Sensitive Tape vs. Paper/Shipping/Water-Activated Tape

This is the great divide when it comes to packing tape. Plastic packaging tape is hands-down the most popular choice for individual use and small-scale projects. When it comes to commercial shipping, however, water-activated tape (WAT), also known as gummed tape, is more common.  Why? It’s cheaper, especially when paired with a high-performance paper tape dispenser and accounting for labor. This dispenser can be set to pre-cut lengths. The water-activated adhesive also creates a very strong bond. Put it all together, and commercial shipping companies can create an extremely high success rate with very little material and monetary waste.

Choosing Water-Activated Tape (WAT) for Individual Use

Here it is a nutshell: If you’re like most people, you’re going to buy plastic tape with every intention of carefully applying the tape so that one piece is enough. Then, you get rushed, the dispenser doesn’t work like you expected, you start getting frustrated, and you end up applying at least two pieces of tape to every box seam you seal. That’s why many people argue that paper tape actually ends up being considerably more cost-effective.

Overall, plastic tape is still likely the most convenient option, but here are three more reasons you might think about choosing paper over plastic when thinking about different types of packing tape:

  • The single biggest reason why many people choose water-activated paper tape is heat exposure. If you’re moving across the country and your packing boxes get roasted in the car, or if you’re putting things into a self-storage unit without climate control, most pressure-sensitive adhesives can begin to fail. Water-activated tape is a better bet to hold up under these conditions.
  • WAT is also great for those people who like to overstuff their boxes slightly or those who reuse boxes until the cardboard is on its last leg. The stronger bond of water-activated tape can better hold together a box opening that no longer comes together exactly as it should.
  • Some people just ship a lot of things. Between holiday, special occasions, and birthday gifts for kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, it can make a lot of sense to invest a couple hundred dollars in a decent paper tape dispenser. If you don’t mind taking a little extra time to pinch pennies—for either your household budget or the planet’s carbon footprint—you can also buy rolls of WAT and use a wet sponge to activate the adhesive. It’s low-tech and a bit more time-consuming, but still highly effective with even minimal practice.

No matter if you’re a small business owner or simply have ongoing shipping and packing needs, this e-Commerce Weekly provides a great list of pros and cons for each type of packing tape.

Other Types of Packing Tape

  • Filament Tape: Worried not so much about the adhesive, but the tape’s susceptibly to being ripped/punctured/etc. before it’s time to unpack? Filament tape embeds fiberglass yarns for reinforced strength.
  • Color-Coded/Masking Tape: Whether it’s masking tape, dry erase tape, or some other write-on tape option, not all packing tape is just about sealing boxes and containers. Better yet, if you have a typical room-by-room packing scheme, you can get color-coded, pre-labeled, self-sticking packing tape without a big difference in cost.
  • Self-Adhesive Paper Tape: Most paper tape is water-activated gummed tape, but you can buy paper-backed tape with self-sticking adhesive. Just know that it doesn’t have the benefits of the water-activated adhesive. Instead, it’s all about the feel of “paper” tape without losing the convenience of the plastic adhesive.
  • Duct Tape: Best used for odd packing jobs that need a combination of qualities. It can be used to reinforce a failing box and creating a water-resistant seal—so long as the adhesive holds out. You can also use duct tape for protecting items within your packing boxes. That said, if you’re looking to hold multiple, medium-to-large sized items firmly in place, shrink wrap is probably an even better choice.
  • Scotch Tape: Unless you’ve already packed your items before and know exactly what you’re doing, it doesn’t hurt to have a roll of scotch tape on hand. Scotch tape won’t do much, if anything, for sealing a cardboard box, but it can be nifty for holding packing paper in place once you’ve wrapped them.