Packing Tape: A Comprehensive Overview and Guide

There are so many types of packing tape on the market that it can often be hard to know which tape is the best. The fact is, no one tape is perfect for every application. Let’s demystify this subject by looking at the options available with their pros and cons.

Packing tape: plastic vs. paper

Packing tapes fall into two main groups. The larger percentage of packing tape currently used is plastic tape, while gummed paper tape is growing in popularity for its environmental and tamper-evident characteristics. Between the two is self-adhesive paper tape that uses the same pressure-sensitive adhesive as plastic tape.

There are several reasons why plastic packing tape is preferred to gummed paper tape:

  • It is cheaper to manufacture.
  • It has a higher tensile strength than paper tape.
  • It weighs less and takes up less space than paper tape, making it cheaper to store and transport. This significantly reduces the carbon footprint of its distribution compared with paper tape.
  • It produces a lower volume of post-consumer waste than its heavier, bulkier paper alternative.
  • It is more tolerant of humidity than gummed paper tape, which can be ruined if the water-activated adhesive is exposed to moisture during storage or transportation.

However, gummed paper tape also has clear benefits:

  • It has excellent environmental credentials (the tape is made from 100% natural, renewable kraft paper from sustainable sources and the adhesive is made from vegetable starch).
  • The starch-based adhesive creates a permanent bond between the tape and the carton that increases the carton’s rigidity.
  • It also performs better than pressure-sensitive adhesives when applied to low-quality or dirty cartons.
  • This permanent bond is also very tamper-evident, compared with pressure-sensitive adhesives that can be softened with heat to allow the tape to be temporarily removed and then reapplied with no visible trace.

Sitting between them is self-adhesive paper tape. This is also made from 100% natural kraft paper but uses a similar pressure-sensitive adhesive to plastic tapes. Its advantages are:

  • It doesn’t use petrochemicals.
  • It can be easily recycled along with cardboard.
  • It can be used with conventional hand-held tape dispensers like plastic packing tape.

Plastic packing tape: what are the options?

Plastic packing tape is made from polypropylene or vinyl film coated on the back with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. While most packing tape is brown or clear, pre-printed  warning tapes are also useful if consignments have special handling or processing requirements.

Polypropylene packing tape

Also known as PP packing tape, this is the most widely-used packing tape as it is cheaper to produce than vinyl tape.

General-purpose polypropylene tape tends to have a thinner plastic film which is suitable for office and light-duty sealing.

Premium polypropylene tape has a thicker plastic film and an adhesive with a higher tack that makes it stick more aggressively to cartons, even if they are made from lower-grade recycled cardboard. This makes it a good alternative to more expensive vinyl tapes, particularly as it is more easily recycled than vinyl. Some premium polypropylene tapes also feature a low-noise adhesive, making them morebsuitable for noise-sensitive environments, and unlike cheaper polypropylene tapes they are finger-tearable.

High-performance polypropylene tapes also offer excellent low-noise performance, coupled with a longer roll length (150 metres compared with a standard length of 66 metres) that means fewer roll changes in a high-use environment. As high-performance rolls have a smaller core diameter than conventional packing tapes they use a special hand dispenser.

Vinyl packing tape

The solvent adhesive of vinyl packing tape (also known as PVC packing tape) makes it the best standard plastic packing tape for adhesive strength and resistance to extremes of temperature and humidity, and a more suitable option for heavy-duty and export packaging.

Specialised plastic packing tapes

In addition to these standard packing tapes, other plastic packing tapes are manufactured to fulfil specific tasks.

Crossweave tape is reinforced with strands of glass fibre running across and along the length of the tape. Combined with a high-tack adhesive, this makes crossweave tape highly resistant to tearing and removal, so it is popular for high-security, cargo and export shipment packing.

Tamper-evident tape is a printed, highly visible tape with a difference. Its printed message warns handlers that it is security sealed but if any unauthorised attempt is made to remove the tape it immediately displays an ‘OPEN VOID’ message to alert the recipient that the contents may have been tampered with. The tape cannot be restored to its undisturbed state and even removing it from the consignment will leave behind permanent, tell-tale evidence of tampering.

Paper packing tape: what are the options?

Strangely enough, paper packing tape is the oldest type of packing tape in use, apparently invented by Thomas Edison of light bulb fame in 1912. The development of plastics saw this new ‘wonder material’ replacing almost everything else for a while and paper tape fell out of fashion.

But as the world tries to reduce its dependence on and consumption of plastics, gummed paper tape is enjoying new-found popularity; in particular, the gummed paper tape that Edison invented 100 years ago.

Paper tape falls into two categories: paper tape with a pressure-sensitive adhesive and gummed paper tape with a starch-based, water-activated adhesive. Both are made from kraft paper, a natural material from sustainable sources which is incredibly strong even when damp, yet can be torn easily by hand.

Aesthetically, it also coordinates well with the finish of uncoated cardboard for a more natural organic look. And when it comes to recycling, paper tape can also be recycled along with cartons; unlike plastic tape, it doesn’t need to be separated before the pulping process.

While paper and gummed paper tapes may lack the strength of some plastic tapes, glass fibre reinforcement greatly increases their strength. When its adhesive has dried, gummed paper tape also offers greater dimensional stability that will maintain the integrity of the carton.

Self-adhesive paper tape

Paper tape offers a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic packing tape while retaining the versatility and ease of use of pressure-sensitive adhesive. This means it can be used with conventional hand-held packing tape dispensers as it doesn’t require water to activate the adhesive. 

Gummed paper tape

Gummed paper tape is the ultimate in high-performance carton sealing. Its starch-based adhesive creates a permanent bond with the fibres of the carton that cannot be easily broken. This creates a tamper-proof seal that prevents unauthorised access to the contents. Any attempt to open the carton will be immediately visible, whereas if it is warmed, tape with a pressure-sensitive adhesive can be peeled back and repositioned without a trace.

Packing Tape Adhesives

Pressure-sensitive adhesives

Also known as a ‘wet’ adhesive because it remains in a semi-liquid state – this requires light pressure to be applied to the surface of the tape for it to adhere.

There are three main types of pressure-sensitive adhesive used on plastic packing tapes, although some tapes use a hybrid adhesive that is a combination of two of these adhesives.

  • Solvent adhesive is the most aggressive type of adhesive used on all types of pressure-sensitive packing tapes, particularly with vinyl tape as both are more suited to extremes of temperature.
  • Acrylic adhesive is versatile, adhering well to a variety of surfaces and having a long service life. It is also used for PP, PVC and paper packing tapes as a cost-effective option with a lower environmental impact.
  • Hot melt adhesive is a more environmentally friendly alternative to both solvent and acrylic and is used on Eco Paper Tape.

Water-activated adhesive

Starch-based water-activated adhesive is only used on gummed paper tape. The adhesive is moistened with water just before the tape is applied to the carton and dries almost immediately, forming a sturdy, permanent bond. As we have already mentioned, this makes it a popular choice for secure carton sealing but it is also the most environmentally friendly tape currently made.

When cartons that have been sealed with gummed paper tape are put through the pulping process the adhesive dissolves into harmless starches, whereas pressure-sensitive adhesives form a sticky sludge that requires further processing. The kraft paper is pulped down along with the cardboard and reused.

Packing tape dispensers

Most people are familiar with hand-held packing tape dispensers or hand case sealers, as they are also known. While these vary a little in small details and features, they remain essentially similar in design.

A comfortable, ergonomic handle allows the user to easily place the end of the tape on the carton and a roller presses evenly on the tape as it is applied. A serrated blade then neatly cuts the tape from the roll and a flap above the blade ensures the trailing end of the tape is pressed against the end of the carton.

Hand case sealers are available for 48-50 mm (2-inch) and 75 mm (3-inch) tape widths.

For higher-volume operations, an automatic or semi-automatic case sealer may be used. This feeds the filled carton between two taping heads, which simultaneously seal the top and base of the carton.

heavy-duty manual gummed paper tape dispenser is capable of holding a larger diameter roll of tape. The preset dispensing length can be manually adjusted and a lever dispenses an exact length of pre-moistened tape.

Busier packing operations such as order fulfillment centres are more likely to use an  electronic gummed paper tape dispenser. In semi-automatic mode, this will moisten, cut and dispense a single strip of tape to a predetermined length. In automatic mode, each press of a button will dispense another strip cut to the same length, or the dispenser can be programmed with a strip sequence. For example, if several identical cartons require an ‘H’ seal, the dispenser will produce one long strip followed by two short strips.

Packing Tape Brands

Last but not least, let’s talk about packing tape brands. Some of these need no introduction – 3M Tape, Scotch Tape, Gorilla Tape, Tesa Tape, Vibac Tape – and undoubtedly their reputation is well-deserved. But it is a reputation that needs to be guarded and that often results in a higher price due to more stringent quality control and the cost of better quality raw materials.

Lesser-known names such as Advance Tapes, Tickitape, Ultratape, V-Pro, Greyhound and E-Tape may not have the same reputation, but buying a branded packing tape will guarantee consistent quality without ‘paying for the name’.

At the other end of the scale are unbranded packing tapes. These may not have a brand name printed inside the core or on the box and this is for a good reason; they are more likely to be spot-purchased to take advantage of good deals. If this more competitive pricing is passed on, the consumer also benefits; they are knowingly buying a product at an attractively lower price and are prepared to risk some variation in the specification or quality of the tape.

If you’d like to review the packing tape options now available, call us at Westmount Packaging on 01892 839080 or email