If you ship made-to-order or fragile goods of different shapes and sizes or need to send a single odd-shaped item (like a monitor), you can’t just use any box on hand. If you’re packaging shipments like these on your own, you often have to experiment with packaging, which for expensive and bespoke items isn’t ideal.
Unlike selling and shipping mass-produced products (where you’ll work with a packaging consultant) or non-fragile items like books (where it’s low-risk to use common materials like bubble mailers), shipping fragile and custom goods without guidance can be frustrating, expensive and time-consuming.
When it comes down to it, though, you can package anything safely if you know how to identify vulnerable spots in your shipment and layer the right materials. The final result is a secure, package-within-a-package. Let’s call it the Nesting Method, which is similar to what we do professionally in-house.
Why nested packaging protects fragile packages best
Nesting your items—or creating layers and packages within packages, with internal buffers—is the surest way to protect anything throughout transit to its final destination.
Because shipping carriers process billions of parcels every year, every shipment quickly changes hands countless times in its door to door journey, enduring chutes and conveyor belts, bins and bags, shuttling between planes and trucks, before being deposited in mailrooms and dropped on doorsteps.
Another way to think about this method: consider a foot cast. When healing a fracture, you inevitably bump your foot against tables and doors, need to make sure you’re not scratching your skin and perhaps still need to walk, all while your bone has the security and rigidity to set properly. You nest your foot in soft cushioning, then heavy plaster, and maybe a medical boot for walking.
(Packages aren’t as serious, of course. But we treat them with similar love.)
With that in mind, every package needs to endure three types of transit hazards:
- Shocks – You’ll need to shock-proof shipments to cushion and keep from bending and breaking when tossed or dropped. Think of bendable bases on lamps, necks on guitars, and shatter-prone dishes.
- Scratches – You’ll need to scratch-proof shipments to protect delicate surfaces like screens and art from whatever else might scratch it in transit, like other items sharing the box.
- Sliding – You’ll need to slide-proof shipments to remove empty space inside of the box. Excess space can also hike your postage costs, so you need to use just enough material to protect while minding dimensions.
Knowing those hazards, when you’re thinking through how to package an odd-shaped or fragile item for shipment, take a close look at its material, shape, and weight to identify vulnerabilities:
- Material (surfaces) – Prep glass, ceramic, wood, and other finished surfaces for scratch-proofing by enveloping in a non-abrasive paper or foam, like waxed paper (for painted surfaces), glassine paper (for photo surfaces), or foam (for static discharge protection on electronic surfaces)
- Material (body) – Items made entirely of fragile materials will need cushioning for shock-proofing, like close-fitting cellulose wadding or basic bubble wrap, wrapped snug around the body of the item and secured with tape
Shape (stems and voids) – When items have concave or convex features, you want to fill all of the space inside and around them for slide-proofing. A monitor’s thin base needs to be supported—perhaps with cardboard or foam protectors, depending on weight. A cup’s void should be reinforced with cardboard, paper, or bubble wrap.
Weight – The heavier the item, the more you’ll need to prevent tearing as part of slide-proofing. Look to reinforced and heavy-grade materials like reinforced kraft paper or heavy-duty bubble wrap instead of lower-grade counterparts.
The best way to understand these principles is to see them in action, so let’s walk through a couple of common packaging situations, illustrating how to nest packaging.
Situation 1: Many fragile items, one box
Examples: Ceramics, sculptures, jewelry, candles
Usually shipped in sets, packaging plates, cutlery, cups, and bowls of all different sizes means keeping those items from colliding (and shattering). Using our nesting method, start with the smallest items, then add protection with each layer to shock-proof and scratch-proof, all while keeping the finished shipment snug so that there’s no empty space and is slide-proof.
Let’s say you sell hand-painted ceramic plates. Here’s what we do in our warehouse. Draw inspiration from our checklist:
- Wrap each plate with thin foam or cardboard as a first scratch-proof layer. This protects surfaces so that plates can’t shatter. (Note! If you’re shipping something with stems, like pan handles, or mug loops, add extra protection to that part of the dish.)
- Stack the plates, then wrap with a layer of thin bubble wrap to secure them together as an added security measure. Ensure that the bundle isn’t too heavy—if you have heavy items over 10 lbs each, they can crush each other.
- Instead of placing that stack of plates directly in the final box, create mini cardboard boxes, like nesting dolls, to create another shock-proofing defense.
- Wrap the mini boxes in thicker bubble wrap, then place them together in the final box, also adding bumpers to fill any extra voids. To accomplish this, we print custom boxes. You can do the same with cardboard measured to exact dimensions.
- Tape the final box, ship it out, and breathe easy.
Shyp example: See our process for Chicago Candle Factory
Situation 2: Large, delicate surfaces
Examples: Artwork, framed art, screens (monitor, television), records
One-of-a-kind paintings and framed prints come in all shapes and sizes, which means that even boxes made for art (like these) won’t always fit. Instead, use a variety of materials to create protective layers. Here’s how you can tackle packaging for canvas art:
- Scratch-proof based on surface material. If glass, cover in glass protective tape to reinforce against shattering. If painted or printed canvas, cover with acid-free wax paper as a buffer against the next layer.
- Depending on fragility, fill voids in back of the canvas with cut-to-fit cardboard for stability. This also helps shock-proof against bending.
- Wrap the canvas in thin foam as a buffer.
- Sandwich the paper- and foam-wrapped canvas in cardboard cut to the exact same dimensions as the surfaces for puncture resistance.
- Slide-proof with heavy-duty bubble wrap and stick in place with packaging tape.
- At five layers, you’re going to create a nest for your canvas by sandwiching it in cardboard. Measure the new dimensions of your bubble-wrapped piece and cut two larger pieces of cardboard to fit front and back. Cut and pop out flaps in that cardboard that will hold it in place (see photo). Place the canvas inside, wrap the cardboard around, and tape it together.
- Create the final box. Take a final measurement, then fold cardboard around and secure with packaging tape (use a stronger reinforced tape vs. clear packing tape).
- Ship it out! Safe and sound.
Shyp example: See our process for painter Anna Sidana
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