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Flexible Packaging vs Rigid Packaging: Which one should you use?

Among the many types of packaging, packing design itself can be broadly classified into two: flexible and rigid. As you can imagine, each kind is suitable for a particular type of product. But how do you decide the right packaging design for you? What are the pros of opting for flexible or rigid design? What are the drawbacks of the two?

Let’s explore.

Understanding Flexible Packaging and Rigid Packaging

Flexible packaging is lightweight bags or pouches sealed using heat or pressure. For example, stand up pouches with a ziplocklaminated tubes, vacuum pouches, etc. In keeping with the name, flexible packs can be modified or customized with ease. They are manufactured at low costs but offer minimal protection from compression or perforation.

Flexible packaging - Rigid Packaging vs Flexible packaging
Courtesy: www.flintgrp.com

Rigid packaging is at the other end of the spectrum. Packs with rigid designs usually include tin cans, cardboard or plastic boxes, or glass containers. For example, aerosol spray cans, soda cans, self-locking cartons, bottles, jars, and so on. They are heavier, more expensive than their flexible counterparts, and offer better protection.

Rigid Packaging - Rigid Packaging vs Flexible packaging
Courtesy: static1.squarespace.com

With growing consumer needs and an increase in purchasing power, the global rigid packaging market is set to cross $800 Billion by 2024. The flexible packaging market is predicted to have a 3.95% growth rate to reach $299 Billion by 2024. However, recent trends show 49% of brand owners switching to flexible packaging to reduce production costs.

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Flexible Packaging vs Rigid Packaging - Key Differences

Both flexible and rigid packaging have a wide range of uses in the present packaging industry. They have exclusive, as well as overlapping areas of application. The differences, however, lie in construction, durability, customizability, and pliability.

#1— Weight and Size of Packaging

When it comes to the weight of the packaging, rigid packaging is heavier than flexible packaging. That’s because rigid packaging is often made from denser and thicker materials. For example, paperboard boxes, tin cans, or glass bottles. Flexible packaging such as sealed pouches, on the other hand, uses lighter materials such as plastic or polypropylene.

The size of the packaging depends on the requirements. Rigid packages generally take up more space as they cannot be squeezed together when bundled. Rigid packaging is meant to prevent the deformation of its inner contents. Flexible packages are flat, can bend easily or be bundled together to save space. This makes flexible kraft paper or poly mailers the go-to solutions to ship soft goods.

#2— Durability and Barrier Properties

Rigid packaging better protects its contents. But, it’s prone to external deformation. For example, the surface can be easily dented or scratched, damaging the surface or print. Flexible packaging does not dent or deform easily. Although such packs could be damaged during shipping if pierced by a sharp object, flexible packaging is less likely to be affected by cosmetic abrasion.

Fragile products are usually shipped using rigid packaging. Electronic items— such as computer processors, smartphones, cameras, televisions— come in rigid packaging coupled with protective packaging like styrofoam or air pillows. In all these cases, the cost of rigid packaging is often a very small fraction of the actual product cost.

Flexible packaging is often used in low-cost products in the food and cosmetics industry. Chips, biscuits, bread, milk, frozen food, sauces, creams – all come in flexible packaging.

Flexible Packaging in the Food Sector:

Flexible packaging is dominating food packaging trends. That’s because of its protective properties. For example, retort pouches are becoming increasingly popular owing to their construction. They are made up of multiple layers of polymers and often metalized sheets, such as aluminium. This offers chemical and thermal shielding to the products on the inside. The pack offers an air-tight barrier, prevents exposure to light and heat, and is temperature tolerant to help retain the freshness of its contents. A classic example is the Paper Boat pouch that’s broken the conventional trend of using rigid cartons for beverages to adopt flexible packaging.

Paperboat Flexible Packaging

However, there are exceptions too. The Pringles packaging, for instance, is rigid packaging made from tin and cardboard, with an inner layer that offers great protection.

Pringles Packaging

#3— Branding and Customization

Flexible packaging is easily customizable. You can choose from multiple printing methods to add any color or graphic that reflects your brand. Moreover, the shape and size of flexible packaging can be easily customized. This advantage lets you can come up with a unique design to make your product stand out on shelves.

Rigid packaging is difficult and comparatively expensive to customize. For example, when it comes to printing, designs have to be printed separately on paper and then pasted using adhesives adding to the cost. To stay sturdy, rigid packaging shapes can’t be customized to a great extent either.

#4— Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of packaging depends solely on the materials used. Rigid paperboard or corrugated cardboard boxes, flexible packaging made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polypropylene (PP) can be easily recycled.

However, recycling becomes difficult when materials are mixed. For example, paperboard boxes are lined with plastic films or plastic pouches with metallic laminates.

Which Packaging Should You Use?

When it comes to choosing between the two kinds of packaging designs, there’s isn’t a right or wrong. There are certain factors that will have a significant impact on your decision. Such as,

  • Budget: Flexible packaging has lower manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping costs; they take up less shelf-space. 
  • Type of Product (Solid, Liquid, Gas): Flexible packaging is preferred for products in a liquid state. Whereas, gaseous products come in rigid packaging.
  • Perishability of Product or Special Requirements: Flexible packaging offers better barrier properties. Hence most frozen food comes in packets. But in the case of products that require protection from extreme heat or protection from crushing, rigid packs are preferred.
  • Shipping and Transportation Conditions: Flexible packs withstand being thrown or tossed without damaging its contents. On the other hand, rigid packs are easier to stack and store.
  • Is the Product Edible: Flexible packaging is the more favoured choice for food items owing to its barrier properties.
  • Consumer Experience: Rigid boxes are easier to store. They are kept longer - and hence can carry sensitive information about the product like expiry date or certain instructions. Flexible packaging is easily disposable, offers the ability to be resealed and is easier to carry and open.
  • Branding: With its ability to customize, flexible packaging can be printed with attractive graphics to catch a consumer’s attention. Rigid packaging, on the other hand, can add a high-end appeal to items. 

When it comes to choosing the right kind of packaging, there are various testing methods to help you make a better decision. Flexible packaging testing methods can help you check tensile or seam strength, and leakage, among other things. Rigid packaging testing methods examine dimensions, overfill capacity, and more.

Take time to plan out your budget, package design, materials, and marketing goals, to decide on the best packaging for you. And if you have any questions, post them in our comments section. Our packaging development experts can help you with the right solution!

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