Partial overlap box with interlocking slots to temporarily close box
Corrugated plastic box used as reusable packaging

Corrugated box design is the process of matching design factors for corrugated fiberboard (sometimes called corrugated cardboard) or corrugated plastic boxes with the functional physical, processing and end-use requirements. Packaging engineers work to meet the performance requirements of a box while controlling total costs throughout the system. Corrugated boxes are shipping containers used for transport packaging and have important functional and economic considerations.[1]

In addition to the structural design discussed in this article, printed bar codes, labels, and graphic design are also vital.


Microflute box with circular security tape seal
Partially open; showing tuck flap and locking tab (tongue)
Die-cut folder for flat items such as pizza

Corrugated boxes are used frequently as shipping containers. Boxes need to contain the product from manufacturing through distribution to sale and sometimes end-use. Boxes provide some measure of product protection by themselves but often require inner components such as cushioning, bracing and blocking to help protect fragile contents. The shipping hazards depend largely upon the particular logistics system being employed. For example, boxes unitized into a unit load on a pallet do not encounter individual handling while boxes sorted and shipped through part of their distribution cycle as mixed loads or express carriers can receive severe shocks, kicks, and so forth.[2][3][4]

Ordinary shipping containers require printing and labels to identify the contents, provide legal and regulatory information, and bar codes for routing. Boxes that are used for marketing, merchandising and point-of-sale often have high graphics to help communicate the contents. Some boxes are designed for the display of contents on the shelf known as "Retail Ready Packaging". Others are designed to help dispense the contents. Popular for their strength, durability, lightness, recyclability, and cost-effectiveness, corrugated boxes are used for the shipping of a variety of items. Due to the quality and safety of packaging items in corrugated boxes, they are used widely in the food industry. The boxes handle the pressure that comes with stacking, making them ideal for easy transporting.

More than 95% of all products in the United States are shipped in corrugated boxes. Corrugated paperboard accounts for more than half of all the paper recycled in the US.

Stacking strength

One of the important functions of a corrugated box is to provide crush resistance (product protection) and adequate strength for stacking in warehouses. If long-term storage of corrugated boxes in high humidity is expected, extra strength and moisture resistance is called for. The method of loading boxes on pallets strongly affects stacking. Vertical columns provide the best box performance while interlocking patterns of boxes significantly reduce performance. The interaction of the boxes and pallets is also important.[5][6]

A box can be designed by optimizing the grade of corrugated board, box design, flute direction, and inner supports. Support from the product also provides "load sharing" and can be an important factor.[7] Box closures sometimes can have effects on box stacking strength.[8]

Box compression testing is a means of evaluating boxes, stacks of boxes, and unit loads under controlled conditions. Field conditions of stacking and dynamic compression do not have the same degree of control. Compression strength can be estimated based on container construction, size, and use parameters: actual package testing is often conducted to verify these estimates.

Handling strength

Box construction needs to be matched to its logistics system. Packages designed for controlled shipments of uniform pallet loads may not be suited to mixed shipments with express carriers.

Many items are shipped individually (in part or entirely) by express carrier, mail, or other mixed logistics systems. The demands of multiple manual handlings, automated sortation, and uncontrolled stacking in trucks or air containers put severe stress on boxes, box closures, and the contents. Boxes designed for unit load handling and storage may not be suited to mixed logistics systems. Less than truckload shipping puts more stress on corrugated shipping containers than shipment by uniform pallet loads in trucks or intermodal containers. Boxes sometimes need to be heavier construction to match the needs of the distribution system. Package testing is often matched to the expected shipping hazards. ASTM International and the International Safe Transit Association test protocols reflect this.[9][10]

Other factors

Several texts offer guidance on the box design process. The Wiley Handbook of Packaging Technology[1] offers guidance on considerations and options. ASTM D5639 Standard Practice for Selection of Corrugated Fiberboard Materials and Box Construction Based on Performance Requirements discusses material choices and box structures which may be good options for specified package performance.

Depending on the contents, some corrugated boxes need extra stiffness or a heavier grade of board.[11][4] Boxes with hand holes[12] or handles sometimes need higher strength board, reinforcement attached with adhesives, or embedded fibers.[3]


Main article: Packaging engineering

Laboratory drop test to determine ability to withstand rough handling

Several packaging texts discuss factors to consider in the design of packages. ASTM International has standards D6198, Standard Guide for Transport Packaging Design and D5639. Standard Practice for Selection of Corrugated Fiberboard Materials and Box Construction Based on Performance Requirements. These suggest factors including cost (materials, labor, capital), utility, package performance, machinability, marketing requirements, logistics factors, transport hazards (compression, impact, rupture, humidity, condensation, temperature, pilferage), regulations, and others.

Packaging engineers and designers start with the needs of the particular project: cost constraints, machinery capabilities, product characteristics, logistics needs, applicable regulations, consumer needs, etc. Often designs are made with Computer Aided Design programs connected to automated sample making tables. Several design and construction options might be considered.Samples are often submitted to package testing based on ASTM or other standard test protocols such as the International Safe Transit Association. Structural design is matched with graphic design. For consumer based designs, marketing personnel sometimes use Focus groups or more quantitative means of assessing acceptance. Test markets are employed for major programs.[13][14]

The process starts by making corrugated board on a corrugating line, a long series of linked machines which may be the size of an (American) football field. A finished piece of single-wall corrugated board is a single corrugated layer sandwiched between two liners.

Skilled workers prepare job tickets for each stack of box blanks and route the blanks to fabrication machines. Printing dies and patterns are prepared on large, flexible, rubber or tin sheets. They are loaded onto rollers and the box blanks are fed through it, where each is trimmed, printed, cut, scored, folded, and glued to form a box. Finished boxes are then stacked and sent to a banding machine to be wrapped and shipped.


Regular Slotted Container (RSC)
Box blank for an RSC showing score lines, slots, and manufacturer's joint

The most common box style is the Regular Slotted Container (RSC). All flaps are the same length from score to edge. Typically the major flaps meet in the middle and the minor flaps do not, unless the width is equal to the length. The size of a box can be measured for either internal (for product fit) or external (for handling machinery or palletizing) dimensions. The manufacturer's joint is most often joined with adhesive but may also be taped or stitched. The box is shipped flat (knocked down) to the packager who sets up the box, fills it, and closes it for shipment. Box closure may be by tape, adhesive, staples, strapping, etc. Boxes are usually specified and ordered by the internal dimensions.Box styles in Europe are typically specified by a 4-digit code provided by the European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO); an RSC is coded 0201.[15]

Many other styles of corrugated boxes and structures are available. One common source is the Fibre Box Association:[16]

Examples of container designs

Retail display

Main article: Shelf-ready packaging

Main article: Endcap

Retailers often ask for merchandise to be delivered to them in shipping containers which allow the easy stocking of full caseloads. The goal is to put the case directly onto shelves and stocking locations without individually handling the unit packs or primary packages. Retailers often require products to come in shelf-ready packaging to reduce stocking costs and save labor expenses. Several specialized box designs are available.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

Government, military, and export

Many items being supplied to governments are handled very well: boxes are unitized, shipped on covered trucks or intermodal containers, and storage is in warehouses. Normal "domestic boxes" and commercial packaging are acceptable.[25]

Military materiel, field supplies, and humanitarian aid often encounter severe handling and uncontrolled storage. Special box specifications for government shipments are often applicable. Weather-resistant fiberboards, box construction, box closure, and unitizing are needed.[26]

Dangerous and hazardous goods

Doublewall box with dividers for shipping four bottles of corrosive liquid

Shipment of dangerous goods or hazardous materials are highly regulated. Based on the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods model regulations, each country has coordinated design and performance requirements for shipment. For example, in the US, the Department of Transportation has jurisdiction and published requirements in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Corrugated boxes are described in 4G requirements. Performance (severe drop test, etc.) needs to be certified for the box and contents.[27][28]

Some carriers have additional requirements.

Box closure

The means of closing a box is an important aspect of design. It is affected by the types of equipment available to production lines, the measured laboratory performance, the field performance, and the ability of end-users to easily and safely open the box.

Box closures include:[29]


  1. ^ a b Foster, G A (22 September 2009), "Boxes, corrugated", in Yam, K L (ed.), Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, Wiley (published 2010), pp. 162–178, ISBN 978-0-470-08704-6
  2. ^ Singh, S. P.; Burgess (November 2001). "Package Specifications for Corrugated Boxes with Heavy Flowable Products in Single Parcel Shipments". Journal of Testing and Evaluation. 29 (6): 570. doi:10.1520/JTE12403J.
  3. ^ a b Han, Jongkoo; Park, Jong Min (January 2007). "Finite element analysis of vent/hand hole designs for corrugated fibreboard boxes". Packaging Technology and Science. 20 (1): 39–47. doi:10.1002/pts.741. S2CID 135760649.
  4. ^ a b Lee, Myung Hoon (September 2004). "Flexural stiffness of selected corrugated structures". Packaging Technology and Science. 17 (5): 235–294. doi:10.1002/pts.663. S2CID 137700468.
  5. ^ Malasri, S (February 1980). "Stacking Strength of Corrugated Boxes". Proceedings of the IESTOC 2022 Conference Crossref: 10.23953/Cloud.iestoc.515. 20 (1). Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  6. ^ Whitish, W J (1972). "EFFECT OF RELATIVE HUMIDITY AND TEMPERATURE ON STACKING PERFORMANCE, Project 2695-9" (PDF). The Institute of Paper Chemistry. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  7. ^ Koning, J (November 1966). "Slip Pad, Vertical Alignment Increase Stacking Strength 65%". Boxboard Containers.
  8. ^ Sheehan, R (August 1988). "Box and Closure: Partners in Performance". J. Packaging Technology. 2 (4). Technical Publications Inc.
  9. ^ ASTM D4169. Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems.
  10. ^ ASTM D7386. Performance Testing of Packages for Single Parcel Delivery Systems
  11. ^ "Corrugated Boxes with Heavy Flowable Products in Single Parcel Shipments". Journal of Testing and Evaluation. 29 (6): 570. doi:10.1520/JTE12403J.
  12. ^ Singh, J (2008), "The Effect of Ventilation and Hand Holes on Loss of Compression Strength in Corrugated Boxes", J Applied Packaging Research, 2 (4): 227–238, retrieved 2 April 2018
  13. ^ Twede, D (2001). Cartons, Crates and Corrugated board (PDF) (Second ed.). Institute of Packaging Professionals.
  14. ^ Hanlon, J F (1998). Handbook of Package Engineering (3 ed.). CRC. Press. pp. 18–29.
  15. ^ International Fibreboard Case Code, FEFCO, 2007
  16. ^ Fibre Box Handbook (75 ed.). Fibre Box Association. 2016.
  17. ^ "Kirin's Corner Cut Carton to be exhibited at MoMA". Kirin Holdings (Press release). 7 October 2005. Archived from the original on 1 August 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  18. ^ US 6073833, Desrosiers, Marc; Jette, Luc & Tremblay, Jean-Pierre et al., "Shelf ready shipping container", published 2000-06-13, assigned to McNeil-PPC Inc. 
  19. ^ US 5881884, Podosek, Edward, "Shipping and display carton and blank therefor", published 1999-03-16, assigned to Avery Dennison Corp. 
  20. ^ US 8342335, Couture, David G., "Shelf-ready shipper display system", published 2013-01-01, assigned to Rock-Tenn Shared Services LLC 
  21. ^ US application 20050184139, Gasior, Wayne, "Display-ready case", published 2005-08-25, assigned to Georgia Pacific Corp. , since abandoned.
  22. ^ US 6523692, Gregory, James W., "Fold-in-half shipping/display box", published 2003-02-25, assigned to Fort James Corp. 
  23. ^ US 5372299, Edgerton, Jr., Eric; Jannone, John D. & Whelan, Kenneth et al., "Combined product shipping and display box", published 1994-12-13, assigned to BASF Corp. 
  24. ^ US 5657872, Leftwich, Robert Blake; Matthews, Linda Susan & Burda, Timothy Paul, "Shipping/display container", published 1997-08-19, assigned to The Procter and Gamble Company and Stone Container Corp. 
  25. ^ ASTM Standard D3951 - Standard Practice for Commercial Packaging
  26. ^ Maloney, J. C. (July 2003). "The History and Significance of Military Packaging" (PDF). Defence Packaging Policy Group. Defence Logistics Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-09-15.
  27. ^ ISO 16104 - 2003 Packaging - Transport packaging for dangerous goods - Test methods
  28. ^ Hazardous Materials Packaging Training Program (Second ed.). Fibre Box Association. 2022.
  29. ^ ASTM D1974, Standard Practice for Closing Corrugated Boxes

Books, general references

ASTM standards