Air cushions versus paper and what type of air pillow should I use?

This tutorial will examine which type of in the box packaging materials to use and what packing terms mean to safely pack and ship products. In terms of labor, the ability to quantify using paper vs. air cushions is common asked questions and must be observed and analyzed through time studies. This is done by having the same associates pack the same cartons and voids with two different materials (paper and air pillow packaging) and calculating the throughput rate and cost of the materials. Consumer experience should also be considered, that is way we did not include packing peanuts in this discussion. Packing peanuts provides a highly negative experience with the end user opening the box.

air cushions versus paper, void fill packaging 

How to analyze Paper versus Air Cushions

In terms of price, many analyses have been done comparing the two substrates (paper and air pillow packaging) and depending on the size of the void being filled, more times than not, inflatable air cushion are the overall winner. Since air is in the bag, it is more cost effective, can take up more space and easier to dispose of.


Inflatable packaging uses air pressure to secure and hold products in place inside the shipping container, and provides an air barrier of cushioning while paper requires it to be pushed into every nook and cranny of the box.


As a note of interest, in cold conditions, the volume of air will decrease, causing extra space inside the package and increasing the risk of product damage. Very hot conditions can cause the air bags to expand, which can create stress on the seam of the shipping container. Altitude variations can also affect the volume of air inside the air bags. Traveling from high to low altitudes (for example, packaging a shipment in Denver, Colorado and shipping to Orlando, Florida) will cause the air bags to decrease in size, and traveling from low to high altitudes will cause the air bags to increase in volume. But no real need to worry – air cushion are designed to flex and expand when needed, still providing optimum protection.


Which Air Cushion Should I Use

Inflatable void fill cushioning, commonly known as air bags or air pillows, inflate-on-demand. Protective packaging yields a significant cost saving as compared to other types inside the box packaging materials, such as kraft paper, foam-in-place or molded pulp inserts. Reduce costs for shipping and storage by creating a secure fit inside the shipping package with nominal material inside the box, minimizing dimensional weight charges, and preventing shipping damage to reduce product losses and returns.


Unique perforations also enable the packer to easily select just the right amount of material needed, reducing material waste, lowering your cost per cubic foot and creating less weight per package.


Void fill is kind of like the catch-all of packing terminology phrase and packing method. The idea is to simply place the items in the box and use air pillows to fill any empty space between the products and the box. By filling these voids, you are helping to prevent movement during shipping—and consequently, potential damage to your products in the process. Void fill, square bags (really rectangular in shape) designed to prevent product movement inside the box during shipping. Void fill can protect your products in several ways such as blocking, bracing and corner protection. The most common forms of void fill are 4x8” and 8x8” inflatable air cushions.

 air pillows packaging, void fill, how to pack

To block and brace a package is the method used with flexible but strong packing materials, such as air pillow packaging. Arrange the air cushions in such a way that will absorb any shock energy and direct it towards the strongest point of the product during shipment. This method is also great for when your products aren’t perfectly shaped. A perfectly shaped product is general a square or rectangular box. If you are a packer or shipper, you’ll have to find a way to pack your product safely; block and brace will usually ensure your product will arrive safely. Place air pillows along the sides and on top of the item so all space has been filled. For Block and Brace applications, we recommend using 4×8” or 8x8” square bags.


If your product is more rectangular or square-shaped, we recommend you pack using the corner protection method. Place air cushions around two opposite corners of your product so the item is secured in the middle of the box. The pillows should fill the space between the corner of the item and the corner of the box. Repeat this process on the diagonally opposite corner, and repeat this until the item is secure. This will keep the product from moving around during transit. Corner protection is ideal for a box in a box packing approach and will help reduce damage claims.


The wrap method should be used when you are packing single, fragile items or items that may not have outer packaging to begin with. You might be surprised how many product fall into this category, everything from handmade crafts, to glass picture frames. Wrapping is a method that you have probably used time and time again in your personal life when you are moving things from one place to the other. The wrap method is done when you place the item at the end of the packing material, in this case air bubble shaped air cushions, and roll it until the item is completely covered on all sides. Place the wrapped product into the box and make sure that all the wrapped layers are tightly wound. If there is any movement in the box, try using a smaller box so things fit snugly. For wrapping, we recommend using our bubble wave material. It has superior air transfer qualities that will give it better protection than traditional bubble.


Now that we know air cushions can be used in a variety of ways to provide the best possible cushioning – to reduce damage claims what else is there? Lastly, another major benefit of air pillow packaging is, in a world where being green and environmentally friendly is important, a benefit when you dispose of the air pillows after a carton is shipped is that they can be popped and are reduced to less than 1% of their original volume when deflated. For the environmentally conscious, the deflated air cushions can be dropped off at a recycling center. Inflatables are easy to use and don’t cause scratched on the product you ship, dryness of the hands or paper cuts. It has a fairly short learning curve if a company is packing with paper and switches to inflatables. Air cushions are the right solution for packing and shipping your valuable products.