September 21, 2017

Cardboard vs. Corrugated: Why It Matters


To the untrained eye, a simple brown box made of wavy paper sandwiched between two flat pieces of paper is known as cardboard. Right? Wrong! Cardboard gets thrown around when people, outside of the packaging industry, actually mean corrugated board. So, what’s the difference?


The difference is huge!


Corrugated material is actually the stereotypical “cardboard” most people think of when hearing “cardboard box”. Corrugated refers to the ridged grooved paper found between two pieces of card stock as described above.


Whereas cardboard is actually another name for card stock. Card stock or cardboard is thicker than the standard three-ring binder paper you may have used in school but thinner than a poster.


While this may not matter to an everyday person simply trying to ship their goods, it does matter to the engineers who work tirelessly with a wide range of packaging materials. Packaging engineers meticulously consider the most effective and environmentally sound ways to safely ship products from place to place. Not only does that mean using the exact amount of material, but it also means using the right type of material.


For example, would you really want your laptop to be shipped in cardboard or card stock paper? It’s pretty flimsy and your laptop might not successfully arrive at its destination in one piece. Whereas, is it necessary to deliver a T-shirt in corrugated material? While it will certainly arrive intact, corrugated material might be overkill and certainly more expensive.


The difference is not just aesthetics or environmental; it’s also economical. Determining costs depends on a variety of factors in the supply chain such as:


Product Type

A variety of products are shipped every day. Retail products such as clothing and electronics have different needs from one another. A sweater doesn’t need nearly the same amount of protection as the latest cell phone. There is also a wide range of other industries such as food, medical devices and nuclear weapons. All of which come accustomed with their own regulatory needs and safety standards to follow.


Shipping Frequency

Is a product being shipped once or twice such as a pair of pants that may need to be returned if they don’t fit? Or is this a regular shipment, such as bananas, that gets shipped to distributors on a regular basis? The difference between a product being shipped one way, two ways or daily also has a major effect on the type of material being used to transport it.


Transport Needs

How a product is being shipped is also another aspect to take into consideration. A product being hand delivered from a brick and mortar to home, such as donuts, have much different transport needs than a heavy-duty product, like a television, being shipped from the manufacturer to the distributor. The difference between hand delivery vs. truck, boat or plane can also have many factors. Packages are tossed, bumped and even thrashed during shipment. The type of container the product is placed in must be able to withstand the shipping ecosystem.



Like most decisions in business, it always comes down to the bottom line. At EPE, our packaging engineers evaluate all these factors to find optimized protection for your product that is also economically and environmentally feasible. Failing to understand the difference between cardboard and corrugated can become quite costly to the consumer. It can mean the difference between a couple dollars vs. millions.


Suddenly, the difference doesn’t seem so innocent, does it?