Definitive Guide to Void Fill and Cushioning



What is Void Fill?

When Do You Need Void Fill? When Can you Forgo Void Fill?
What Functionality Do I Need From My Void Fill?

Overview of Void Fill and Cushioning Options
Packaging Paper
Corrugated Bubble
GreenWrap
Crinkle Paper
Peanuts
Bubble Wrap
Inflatables
Tissue paper
Ornament Shred

Custom Designed Box Inserts - An Alternative to Void Fill

A Summary Cheat Sheet

What is Void Fill?

We use the term “void fill” to refer to any cushioning, padding or paper you add to your shipping package in order to protect your goods in transit and/or create a beautiful presentation for recipients.

While void fill is largely a solution used in corrugated shipping boxes, it is also becoming more common in mailers, largely to add a little "wow" factor to the presentation.

There are so many different types of void fill options out there, each unique in functionality, aesthetic, sustainability and cost. Here, we describe various options - some that EcoEnclose carries, some we don't - and share what we think are the use cases, pros and cons of each.

Please contact us at support@ecoenclose.com if you are trying to figure out the right void fill and presentation solutions for your business. We love designing the perfect package for the earth conscious companies we get to work with! If you’re debating between a few of our products, order free samples today to test them out for yourself.

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When Do You Need Void Fill? When Can You Forgo Void Fill?

Consider the following questions.
  • Are my products fragile?
  • Are my products very heavy?
  • Do my products have corners that could be subject to damage (i.e. books, postcards)?
  • Does my package have significant excess space in it that could cause my products to move around and get bent, damaged or scuffed while the package is in transit?
  • Is it important to me and my brand that my customers receive a package that is unique and enjoyable to open?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, void fill should likely be part of your packaging strategy. Corrugated shipping boxes are the most likely shipping strategy to require void fill of some sort because (regardless of what your product is) they are the most likely to contain excess air. But there are certainly cases where void fill isn’t needed.

For example, EcoEnclose customers that sell hats, shirts, handbags, or items that are already packaged in a retail style box (such as jewelry that may already be in a jewelry box) can order custom sized boxes that fit their specific products well such that there is minimal excess air or fear of product movement.

Mailers do not typically require void fill, though many companies look to wrap their products for the sake of presentation. If a company is packaging something like essential oils or perfumes in a mailer, they may decide to wrap their products in protective cushioning or void fill before placing those goods in the shipping mailer.

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What Functionality Do I Need From My Void Fill?

After reviewing the above, if you’ve decided you are going to explore void fill for your packaging solutions, the next step is to be clear on which of the following purposes your void fill will serve so you can find the right solution.

Typically, your need for void fill will fall into one or more of the four following categories:

Cushioning

By cushioning, we mean you are looking for a soft cushiony layer at the bottom and/or top of your shipping container. Cushioning prevents your products from scuffing and getting minor damage in transit and adds a soft layer of protection.

Moldable Product Protection

Fragile items (like glasses and pottery as shown above) should often be individually wrapped in void fill before placing in its shipping container.

Blocking and Bracing

By blocking and bracing, we mean filling empty space in your package to hold products in place. This is often referred to as “blocking and bracing”. If you sell a few different items and end up with a box that has empty space, you’re looking for solutions to fill that space and prevent package contents from moving around in transit.

Presentation

By presentation, we mean adding those unique finishing touches to your product packaging to leave customers with a beautiful and lasting impression and showcases your brand. Some items that serve the previously described functional needs of void fill can also be used in such a way that they enhance your package presentation.

Now, read on for a variety of void fill options to help you find the right ones for your business.

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Review of Void Fill Options

Packaging Paper

Packaging Paper
Depending on how it is used, packaging paper can support the following uses: Filling empty space, full product protection, corner / edge protection and presentation and customer experience.

If you’re aiming to fill empty space, crinkle or ball the packaging paper up and place it in your box after you’ve added your products. If you’re looking to protect products, we recommend wrapping individual products up with packaging paper, adding these to your shipping package and then - if needed - adding balled up packaging paper to fill in empty spaces. If you’re going for presentation, wrap your products up with packaging paper (like you would a decorative wrapping paper) and consider using hemp twine or a sticker as a finishing touch.

All packaging paper is recyclable and compostable (woohoo!). We at EcoEnclose offer packaging paper that is made with 100% recycled material, and is available on a roll (with dispensers also available for easy parsing and tearing so you use only the amount of material you need). We have multiple options that each vary in thickness, cushioning and price.

Read on for a breakdown of our options.

A hint for anyone just starting the packaging paper journey. It may be tempting to just order the least expensive option of packaging paper, especially because in pictures, they all look pretty similar. But we encourage you to think through what you really need - how much protection, how much empty space to fill, etc. In many instances, you’ll find that with the thicker or the indented paper you can get adequate protection with significantly less paper, making these thicker options more cost effective and more sustainable in the long run. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in wrapping each product with paper, a thinner, more pliable option might work best.


Kraft Paper: This the “everyday Jane” of packaging paper, and is the type you are probably used to seeing in online orders you receive at home. Its a brown kraft paper that is versatile and effective. We offer three different types of kraft packaging paper. While all of our kraft packaging paper is the same price, you’ll see that they vary in length, with the thinner, lighter weight papers having more square footage per a roll than the thicker, sturdier ones.

30# Kraft Paper:
The thinnest option we carry. A roll has 1200’. 30# kraft paper is thin and very pliable. It is a good option if you are just trying to fill a little bit of excess air in a package to hold a product in place. Because of its pliability, it is also a good option if you are trying to wrap a somewhat oddly shaped item (and need to wrap the packaging paper around the shape).

40# Kraft Paper:
This is the industry standard thickness and weight for void fill. A roll has 900’. If you crumple it in a ball, it doesn’t “give” as much as 30# so even though it is slightly more expensive than 30#, it is ultimately a more cost effective and sustainable solution when you’re trying to fill a moderate amount of excess air in a package because you can use less to hold an item in place. It also works well for wrapping items, and is a better solution than 30# if you want to ensure sturdiness and strength to your product wrapping.

60# Kraft Paper:
The thickest and sturdiest of them all! A roll has 600’. Our favorite part about our 60# kraft packaging is that it is postal approved. That means it is sturdy enough for you to use to wrap up your product AND ship it - basically allowing you to create your own mailers from packaging paper. It is a great solution if you have a lot of air to fill (again, you’ll need less material to provide the same amount of protection and “give”) or want a very strong, durable wrap to your product. Because of its thickness and strength, 60# packaging paper is not as pliable and is more difficult to crumple or work with. But, if strength and protection is what you need, the added effort could be well worth the improved functionality and reduced material use you experience.

Indented Kraft Paper: I can’t lie, I love this product! By “indented” we mean that the paper has ridges and bumps across it, adding texture and a small amount of cushioning. If you just need a bit of protection and want to avoid the eco sadness of bubble wrap and the slight operational complexity of GreenWrap, this is a great option for wrapping products. It makes for a sleek and aesthetically pleasing final presentation. This has 360’ per roll.

Newsprint Paper: A thin, 30# packaging paper option. This roll has 1700’. Like 30# Kraft packaging paper, this option is extremely pliable and great for balling up to fill small pockets of air, or wrapping your products (especially oddly shaped products) to provide some basic protection in transit. Unlike our kraft packaging paper, this option is off white, giving it a more sleek and modern aesthetic and finish.

Bogus Paper: A relatively thick, 50# packaging paper option made from a combination of recycled kraft paper and newsprint. This is our only 50# packaging paper option, making it thicker and more protective than our 40# kraft paper, but thinner than our 60# kraft paper. It is a great option to fill in moderate air pockets. It is our only grey packaging paper option, a color that complements the branding and packaging scheme of many companies we work with.

A final note on packing paper.
If you don't ship that many items, or don't find yourself needing void fill often, you might be able to use newspaper or other scrap material you have at home for void fill! Your customers will appreciate your creative upcycling!

We know that making sense of these various packaging paper options can be confusing! We encourage you to order free samples of any you are considering so you can see, feel, and crumble them yourself to find the right one for your needs.

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Corrugated Bubble: An EcoEnclose Alternative to Bubble Wrap

An EcoEnclose exclusive! Corrugated bubble is made from shredded corrugated, typically made out of the unusable portion of our corrugated sheets after they are cut into shipping boxes. So, not only is our Corrugated Bubble 100% recycled (95% post-consumer!), recyclable and compostable, it is also upcycled!

Corrugated bubble can be used in several ways.

Create a nest or a ball: Stretch the corrugated bubble out and then crumple it up to make “corrugated nests” to be used as void fill or cushioning under your product.

Wrap your products: Order appropriately sized Corrugated Bubble and wrap your fragile products in it before placing inside your box.

Lining the bottom and top of your box: Order bubble that fits your box perfectly and use it as a soft pad to line the bottom or top of your box (or both!). Often, when we do custom inserts (see below for more detail on these), we incorporate corrugated bubble liners for a final dimension of protection.



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GreenWrap: Another Alternative to Bubble Wrap

GreenWrap is a spectacular option when you need the molding and protection of traditional bubble wrap, but want something far more sustainable (read: made with SFI certified materials and fully recyclable and biodegradable) and beautiful.

GreenWrap has two layers, a white tissue paper / liner layer and an outer layer that comes in a brown or white option. The dispenser (which is built into the box the GreenWrap ships in) is used to expand the outer layer of the GreenWrap, giving it a cushion and a unique texture and look.


Many companies wrap their products individually in GreenWrap (as you would with bubble wrap). As you can see from the above video, its a beautiful finish! Some companies use GreenWrap more as a filler, lining their boxes with it to create a cushion or nest that they can place products in.

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Crinkle Paper



Note that EcoEnclose does not currently offer crinkle paper. Crinkle paper is exactly what it sounds like, shreds of paper that are crinkled up like an accordion. It is made out of paper and is fully compostable and recyclable. It is used to fill boxes, cushioning products and holding them in place to keep them from moving around, and it makes for beautiful presentation.

The main downside is that it can be a little bit messy and cumbersome (with little strands of crinkle paper falling out every time you grab a fistful), both to use and for recipients to discard. Additionally, crinkle paper can be expensive – its base cost, and the cost of shipping the product to your warehouse – so it can be cost prohibitive for some.

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Peanuts

EcoEnclose does not offer packing peanuts. Loose fill peanuts are those “S” shaped pieces made with expanded polystyrene (what you get when you inject plastic with air) that can be dumped into a box to fill in all of the excess air. They are easy for shippers to use, and offer good product protection.

While they do offer effective protection, they also have some important downsides. Peanuts are annoying for recipients as they are difficult to clean up, and often cling to things and people. They are not aesthetically pleasing and make for a very underwhelming unboxing experience for recipients. And, most importantly, they come with major environmental challenges. Recycled content options are available (though not with any post consumer waste); however, they are extremely difficult to recycle. You have to find a specifically designed “difficult-to-recycle” facility for them, a step the vast majority of consumers will not make. And, they are very costly and unsustainable to ship – unlike many other void fill options that are stored in “compact form”. This also means they require lots of room to store.

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Bubble Wrap


EcoEnclose does not offer bubble wrap.

Here’s a little bit of a fun fact - Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes invented bubble wrap when they found a way to seal pockets of air in between two plastic shower curtains to create a three-dimensional pattern of tiny bubbles that they had hoped would become a new wallpaper!

Bubble wrap has a lot of benefits for fragile items – its moldable, offers great protection, and let’s face it – is super fun to stomp on and pop when you’re done. There are bubble wrap options with a sticky side to them, so they can easily wrap around a product and stick to itself without needing tape.

There are some pretty major downsides though. Thus far, bubble wrap is not available with much - if any - recycled content. Bubble wrap can be recycled, but it is rare that a recipient would know they can recycle their bubble wrap at grocery store drop offs. If you happen to be using bubble wrap, be sure to encourage your customers to bring their bubble wrap with them when recycling all of their plastic bags at drop off locations. And finally, like peanuts, bubble wrap is typically not stored in compacted form so it is expensive to get it delivered to you and takes a lot of room to store.

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Inflatables



EcoEnclose does not offer packing peanuts. These small plastic pillows of air are becoming more common and can be used for void fill or blocking and bracing. They have their advantages. You can fill in spaces in boxes quickly and easily, with fairly minimal material. They are stored uninflated and flat.

Inflatables don’t, however, make for a good presentation. They often encourage companies to become lax about their box sizes and the amount of empty space between their products and their shipping boxes – which leads to more expensive, less eco friendly shipping and customers who become frustrated with what appear to be wasteful practices. They also only make sense if you have an expensive “air filler” machine, so are only feasible for companies of a certain size. And, once you buy a machine, you are committed to a single supplier for your inputs.

Finally, inflatables are certainly not a sustainability superstar, even beyond the fact that they encourage the use of excessive, wasteful boxes and the shipping of large amounts of air. While they are becoming available with some amount of post-industrial recycled content and can be found in biodegradable and grocery-drop-off recyclable options, the majority of them are still made with virgin poly and are not recycled.

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Tissue paper



Tissue paper is not great for product protection or blocking and bracing; however, it is makes for beautiful presentation. It can be a strong addition if your shipper box fits your products snugly, but you want to add one layer of presentation for the recipient. Many companies actually use tissue paper to wrap their products before placing into their boxes or bags. EcoEnclose tissue paper is made with 100% recycled material is fully recyclable and compostable.

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Ornament Paper Shred

Ornament Paper Shred

Like tissue paper, the Ornament Paper Shred that EcoEnclose offers makes for great presentation and can add a wow factor to your package. It is also thick enough to offer cushion and protection to your box. Our shred is made from 100% post-consumer & post-industrial content and is recyclable and naturally biodegradable. It is made from 80# paper with indentations on it, so the paper itself is actually thicker and more durable than our other packaging paper options. It is 15" wide, making it narrower than our other packaging paper and comes on a roll of 360'. It is a light brown color that complements the 'organic' look that many companies we work with are striving to achieve.

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Custom Designed Box Inserts - An Alternative to Void Fill

Custom Box Inserts Custom Box Designs

If you’ve come this far you may be wondering - is there anything else besides these traditional void fill and presentation options I can consider for my company? If you sell a standard product set (i.e. you typically sell four soaps at a time or have a package of five small perfumes that is very popular), you might consider a custom designed box insert. This is a great option for lightweight, moderately fragile items.

Learn more about our custom insert design services here to learn if this is the right solution for your business.

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A Summary Cheat Sheet

The following table summarizes how different void fill options could be used, and what functional needs they can meet, depending on how they are utilized.

Void Fill Option Cushioning Moldable Product Protection Filling Space, Blocking / Bracing Presentation
Packaging Paper (flat, unindented) X X X
Indented Kraft Paper X* ** X
Corrugated Bubble X X X X
GreenWrap X X X
Crinkle Paper X X X
Peanuts X X
Bubble Wrap X X
Inflatables X
Tissue Paper X
Ornament Shred X X ** X

*Indentation offers more protection than flat packaging paper
**
Can be used for this but not recommended to be used solely for this purpose


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