Corrugated box design

Corrugated box design
High graphics overlap box: die-cut for plastic handle and locking tabs

Corrugated box design is the process of matching design factors for corrugated fiberboard 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.

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



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, etc...[1][2][3]

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 display of contents on the shelf. Others are designed to help dispense the contents.

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.

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.[4] Box closures sometimes can have effects on box stacking strength.

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.

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.

Many packaging engineers find it beneficial to periodically audit warehouses and visit customer's package receiving operations. When field performance is observed or documented to have problems, a new cycle of design and testing may be justified.


Packaging engineers design corrugated boxes to meet the particular needs of the product being shipped, the hazards of the shipping environment, (shock, vibration, compression, moisture, etc), and the needs of retailers and consumers

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 performance 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.


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.

Regular Slotted Container
Box blank for a regular slotted container showing score lines, slots, and manufacturer's joint

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.

Many other styles of corrugated boxes and structures are available:

  • A Full Overlap Box is similar to an RSC except the major flaps fully overlap.
  • A Half Slotted Container (HSC) Bottom or top normally used as a shroud (cap) or base (btm)
  • A Five Panel Folder is shipped flat to a packager without a manufacturer's joint and is often used for long items. The box has five long panels, one of which fully overlaps. The ends also fully overlap.
  • A Full Telescope Box has two fully telescoping sections. The sections may be formed by staples, die-cut locks, adhesive, etc.
  • A Partial Telescope Box has two sections. The top telescopes partially over the bottom.
  • A corrugated tray is often used for display purposes or used with a shrink wrap
  • Corrugated corner pads can be used for product support and cushioning
  • Special die-cut shapes have almost endless designs and uses.
  • etc

The size of a box can be measured for either internal (for product fit) or external (for handling machinery or palletizng) dimensions. Boxes are usually specified and ordered by the internal dimensions.

Box styles in Europe are typically defined by a 4-digit code specified by FEFCO: for example a regular slotted container (RSC) is coded 0201. FEFCO styles are normally the basis for more complicated special designs that incorporate, for example, locking tabs or internal fittings.

Individual mixed shipments

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.

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.[5]

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.


Many international shipments are handled very well: boxes are unitized, shipped on covered trucks or intermodal containers, and storage is in warehouses. Normal “domestic boxes” are commonly used.

Break bulk cargo needs to be water resistant and heavy duty. Even shipments initially sent via intermodal freight transport may have subsequent logistics operations that are extreme and uncontrolled. The specific conditions in the destination port and the country of use need to be considered for design of export boxes.

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.

Some carriers have additional requirements.

Box Closure

The means of closing a box is an important aspect of design. It affects 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:


  1. ^ Singh, S. P.; Burgess (November 2001). "Package Specifications for Corrugated Boxes with Heavy Flowable Products in Single Parcel Shipments". J. Testing and Evaluation 29 (6). 
  2. ^ Han, Jongkoo; Park (January 2007). "Finite element analysis of vent/hand hole designs for corrugated fibreboard boxes". Packaging Technology and Science 20 (1): 1–76. doi:10.1002/pts.741. 
  3. ^ Lee, Myung Hoon; Park (September 2004). "Flexural stiffness of selected corrugated structures". Packaging Technology and Science 17 (5): 235–294. doi:10.1002/pts.663. 
  4. ^ Koning, J; Moody (November 1966). "Slip Pad, Vertical Alignment Increase Stacking Strength 65%". Boxboard Containers. 
  5. ^ ASTM Standard D3951 - Standard Practice for Commercial Packaging

Books, General References

ASTM Standards

  • D642 Test Method for Determining Compressive Resistance of Shipping Containers, Components, and Unit Loads.
  • D1974 Standard Practice for Methods of Closing, Sealing, and Reinforcing Fiberboard Boxes
  • D4577 Test Method for Compression Resistance of a Container Under Constant Load
  • D5118 Standard Practice for Fabrication of Fiberboard Shipping Boxes
  • D5168 Standard Practice for Fabrication and Closure of Triple-Wall Corrugated Fiberboard Containers
  • D5639 Standard Practice for Selection of Corrugated Fiberboard Materials and Box Construction Based on Performance Requirements
  • D6804 Standard Guide for Hand Hole Design in Corrugated Boxes

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