The packaging material you need to ship an item depends on the fragility of the item and how valuable it is, but there are three general kinds of packaging material: void-fill, surface protection, and cushioning. Foam packaging material is more durable than some other kinds of packaging, like the ever-popular bubble wrap for example. Foam can stand up to more abuse.
- For surface protection, foam packaging sheets (typically made of Polyethylene) work well around an item; they won't scratch or add any appreciable weight to your package, and they provide a little cushioning protection as well. In fact, if you use enough of this material, it can serve as cushioning and void-fill, too. But since the sheets weigh very little and aren't too dense, they are better at protecting goods that are also light, as opposed to really heavy shipments.
- Polyurethane (PU) and Polyethylene (PE) foam are similar in attributes. They're low in density and supple, cushioning your shipment well if the item doesn't weigh a truckload. For most of the items people ship, enough of this foam packaging material will make for good cushioning.
- Styrofoam, or Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging material is lightweight and offers less protection than its foam brethren described above. Heavy items can often suffer 3-foot drops during shipping, which is where this foam won't provide as much protection as the others. However, it's quite cheap and will generally do the trick when used in conjunction with some other packaging material. Void-fill packaging material can help...
- For your void-fill needs, foam peanuts are a great solution. This foam packaging material, when used to surround some cushioning foam, will greatly help in fitting your cushioned item into a box and will reduce movement, which is an important strategy when using foam packaging material. Keep in mind that the peanuts will settle a bit over time in a package, so overloading the box slightly is a good idea when using the foam peanuts. Make it a tight fit!
- Another option for foam packaging material is the foam-in-place kits that allow the shipper to actually mold the foam to surround an item and hug its shape, tailoring it to match the shape of the item. For an example of this, check out the Instapak Foam-in-Place Packaging. As long as you use the proper density and make sure that the foam disseminates evenly around the item, the result will be a very safe and secure shipment. Hooray, foam packaging material!
- The foam-in-place kits are sort of an average shipper's best approximation of what has to be the safest kind of foam packaging material - engineered foam. This foam packaging, made from any one of the poly foams described above, is what your home electronics come packaged in when you buy them. Hopefully you've saved the original foam packaging material for your electronic equipment - this is a sure-fire way to safely ship it anywhere with confidence.
The best advice is not to skimp on packaging when it comes to valuable items. The heavier they are, the more packaging they should have. Don't just rely on the low-density foam packaging material with heavy valuables - if you have questions, talk with a shipping professional at UPS or FedEx. They can guide you in choosing the best foam packaging material for your particular shipment. As long as you have good surface protection, cushioning and void-fill, using foam packaging will be a good way to go.