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What is Machine Film? All About Stretch and Shrink Films

Whenever finished and packaged products get sent out for distribution, they get loaded onto pallets. But lots of boxes piled high isn’t secure – so you need some way of securing the load in place. This used to be done with plastic strapping, but it’s expensive and time consuming to apply. Plus, strapping can’t be recycled or reused.

So that’s why stretch films are used now – and one variant of this is machine film. But what exactly are these films? What’s the difference between stretch, shrink, and machine film? How are they different, and when would you use one over the other? In this post, we explore shrink film, machine film and stretch wrapping for safe pallet loading.


Pallets in a warehouse, loaded with boxes. The loads are wrapped with shrink film.


What are the different kinds of packaging and loading films?

There are two main categories of wraps – shrink wrap and stretch wrap.

Stretch film

Stretch wraps are the kind you’d commonly see around a loaded pallet. Stretch film wraps fully around the pallet and the load, preventing goods from shifting in transit. They make the load safe to move, and provide protection from dust and moisture.

Read more – how much can you load on a pallet?

Just like other kinds of polythene packaging, stretch film can be made with UV additives to protect goods outdoors, with colours for easy distribution and storage coding, and can also be made for manual or machine application (as machine film, which we’ll get to shortly).

Shrink film

Shrink films are often used as a final packaging layer for consumer goods – like the outer wrapping on PS5 or Xbox game cases, or new smartphone boxes. They fit tightly as they are heat shrunk, and offer a glossy shine to the finished packaging. They are high clarity and form moisture and dust proof seals around the product, which makes them perfect for food, medical and pharmaceutical products (as well as electronics). Shrink wrapped items are also easy to check for tampering.

Shrink polythene can be used in transit, too – in the form of shrink pallet covers – but stretch films are more common.

Machine Film

Machine stretch film is designed to be applied with a stretch wrap machine. Machine film can be applied much faster than doing so manually, and comes on a core for quick, easy reloading of the stretch wrap machine. The film needs to be stretched in some way as it’s benign applied, to grip the load on the pallet – and machine film can come pre-stretched to make this quicker.

Machine films versus hand films

Is there any difference between hand stretch film and machine film?

Hand film is manually applied, and so comes as smaller, lighter film rolls. It is also designed to be put into a manual stretch wrap dispenser, and cannot be used in machines. It’s a great option for smaller scale operations, of up to 50 pallets per day. Above that number, a wrapping machine might be more cost-effective over time.

Machine film is designed to be loaded into a stretch wrapping machine, so rolls can be larger and heavier – but this isn’t always the case, and it depends on the type of machine being used (turntable, orbital, etc.).

A stretch wrapping machine can work much faster than a person, and is useful for large scale packaging and warehousing operations. It is a significant investment, but it’s the only way to optimise your packaging and distribution line past a certain point.

Get high performance machine film

To start an order for machine film from NPF Packaging, get a quote online, or call us on 01773 820415.