Shrink Wrapping Machinery

Shrink wrapping machines perform a vital role in packaging for almost all sectors. The scale of demand for shrink wrapping equipment can be seen in global demand predicted to reach over $1,000 million (£730 million) by 2025 according to research by


Why use shrink wrapping machines?

The key function of shrink wrapping is to:

  • protect against dust, dirt and moisture
  • prolong shelf life
  • combine multiple units in a single bundle to facilitate handling, transport and storage
  • make products tamper proof
  • enhance the presentation of retail products
  • overwrap cartons, trays, bottles and other forms of primary packaging
  • a stronger alternative to stretch wrapping


Shrink wrap also holds its shape very well, so products always look their best, which is a critical consideration for consumer products. It clearly shows if there has been any interference or tampering, an issue of prime importance for cheese, meats, prepared meals and pharmaceuticals, as well as bundles of currency or sensitive documents.

Compared to cardboard and plastic, shrink wrap is very space-efficient, taking up no more room in storage, transport or on the shelf than the products themselves. It is also lighter, so it is easier and less costly to handle and transport. It is suitable for products or groups of products of all kinds, shapes and sizes. It is often used for groups of bottles or cans, or to combine products in a multipack.

Shrink wrap is often used for transit wrapping and protective packaging for larger items, such as doors or even bricks on a pallet. It is also used to wrap and protect scaffolding, roofs, cars, vans, boats and loaded pallets.

A further key advantage is that shrink wrap machinery and materials are relatively low-cost. Smaller producers and operations can use simple shrink wrap machines with limited outlay, using either manual or semi-automatic processes. Higher investment allows for fully automatic systems, with savings on labour and the avoidance of tedious and repetitive manual work.

Who uses shrink wrapping?

The great versatility of shrink wrap gives it a role in a wide range of packaging uses in consumer-facing and industrial sectors, including:

  • fresh food and dairy
  • processed food
  • confectionery
  • beverages
  • gifts
  • household products
  • cosmetics
  • pharmaceuticals
  • personal care
  • machinery and tools
  • building products
  • games and entertainment
  • print and paper
  • electronics
  • computing


The far-reaching range of applications makes shrink wrapping machinery an important consideration for all businesses that produce or handle wrapped goods. You can find details of PPMA Members who supply shrink wrap machinery here.

How do shrink wrap machines work?

All shrink wrapping is based on wrapping a plastic film loosely around a product or group of products. The film is then heated to shrink to fit closely around the product and form a protective barrier. There are numerous variations ranging from manual to fully automated systems, each with its own advantages.

Manual shrink wrapping

The lowest cost and simplest way of shrink wrapping a product needs little more than a film dispenser, a sealing bar and a manually operated heat gun. The film is fed by a reel onto a flat surface, the product is placed on the film, and a fold of film is loosely placed over it. The seams of the film are sealed with a heated sealing bar, and a heat gun is passed over the film to shrink it to the surface of the product.

Costs are very low, but throughput is extremely limited, making a manual approach suitable only for businesses handling very low volumes of products. They are most useful for start-ups and small businesses handling small, solid products.

Semi-automatic shrink wrapping

In more advanced machines, the film is machine-fed from a dispensing reel onto a platform, the product is placed on the film which is cut to size and loosely folded over the product. A conveyor moves film and product to a sealer, and an airtight seal is made. The item is moved on rollers or a belt into the heat tunnel where the film is shrunk to fit tightly around the product. The same conveyor moves the goods from the heat tunnel to a receiving surface or container.

Automatic shrink wrapping machines

Fully automatic shrink wrap machinery is designed around a programmable control interface and automation of the product feed on a belt or rollers and of a film dispenser. With the film loosely wrapped around the product, it is sealed and fed by the conveyor into a heating unit to tighten the film. From the heating unit, it leaves the wrapping machine for labelling and further handling to prepare for distribution.

Types of Shrink Wrapping Machinery

Shrink machines, as they are sometimes known, come in a range of types, each one suited to different packaging operations.

Single-Reel Shrink Wrapping Machines

A single reel of film is stretched and cut to length, before being applied around the product, overlapping underneath the package. For example, the film can be fed onto a conveyor, the product is fed onto the film, the film is cut and folded over the goods, then sealed and heat shrunk. This approach is particularly useful for multipacks, and for packs where printed film is used and accurate positioning of the printed area on the final package is a priority.

Twin-Reel Shrink Wrapping Machines

Twin-reel sleeve wrapping machines use two rolls of film simultaneously, providing a robust wrap for packaged products. They are the ideal choice for large products (e.g. pallets, doors, multipacks of large items), this method can complete each product quicker and has a stronger result than a single reel shrink wrapper. Twin-reel shrink wrappers are suitable for low- or mid-speed output on products that have straightforward packaging requirements.

Side seal shrink wrapping machines

Shrink wrap film is reel-fed around the product and to form a loose tube along its length. Each package is sealed, separated and sent into a heat tunnel to shrink the film tightly around the goods. Side seal machines can wrap products of virtually any length.

L-sealer shrink wrapping machines

L-sealers have two sealing bars, arranged in a backwards L shape. Shrink film is folded along these bars to create a pocket through the crease of the fold. Products are placed in the crease, and the other three sides of the shrink film are sealed. The products then proceed to the heating tunnel for the film to form a tight fit around each product.


Other types of wrapping machine

Pallet wrap machines

Wrapping stacked pallets is in widespread use for storage and transportation. A common approach is to place pallets on a turntable and to wind on stretch wrap film as the pallet is turned. Shrink wrap can also be used, with heat applied by a heat gun or in a large heated chamber.

Flow Wrap Machines

Flow wrappers are also known as flow wrap sleevers. The machines deliver products as individual items or groups onto a conveyor lined with wrapping material. The film is then folded over the product and sealed by heat or adhesive to form a package. Shrink wrap film can be used for flow wrapping, with the use of a heating tunnel to form a tight wrap. Find more information on flow wrap sleevers.

Perimeter Sealing Machines

Perimeter sealing involves the sealing by heat of an open end or edge of wrapping material to form a protective package. Find out more about perimeter sealing machines here.

Overwrapping machines

An overwrapping machine takes a length of heat sealable film from a roll and folds it around a product. This product can be a single item or a bundle of almost any shape. The folded film is closed by means of heated sealing devices.

What are the types of shrink wrap film?

Shrink wrap film is usually based on polyolefin, PVC, polyethylene or polypropylene. It comes in a variety of strengths, thicknesses and clarity, so it can be used for different products according to weight and the level of protection required, including the need for protection from light.

The variety of shrink wrap materials allows businesses to make the optimum choice in terms of performance. Further consideration is increasingly being given to sustainability and the wrapping film which is recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.

Sustainable shrink wrapping

Recyclable shrink wrap

Recyclable shrink wrap is usually made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Most local authorities will accept LDPE waste from consumers, and major supermarkets often have facilities for accepting recycling shrink wrap waste. Some recycling facilities will also take in polyolefin shrink wrap.

However, shrink wrap used for healthcare or personal hygiene products or as containers around hazardous waste cannot be recycled. Also, shrink wrap film which is contaminated with waste such as food, soil, sand, paper, rubber and organic waste cannot be recycled unless the film is first effectively cleaned.

Compostable shrink wrap

Compostable shrink wrap is designed to decompose in industrial or home composting systems which have high temperatures, raised humidity and a high oxygen level. These requirements mean that the recycling stream for shrink wrap and other compostable plastics has to be separate from other recycling operations.  

Biodegradable shrink wrap

To be classified as biodegradable, a shrink wrap film must be capable of decomposition in the presence of bacteria, or other micro-organisms, under natural conditions. Biodegradable shrink wrap usually feature a significant percentage of natural raw materials such as sugar cane. The term should only be used for films that comply with EC legislation and ASTM standards concerning degradability, biodegradability, and ecotoxicity.

Shrink Wrap FAQs

How much does a shrink wrap machine cost?

Shrink wrap machines start at affordable prices for simple manual systems. As capacity, speed and flexibility increase, so do prices. Nonetheless, shrink wrapping remains one of the most attractive options for businesses of all sizes.

How do shrink wrap machines work?

A shrink wrap machine dispenses film which is loosely folded over a product. The film is then heated and forms a tight wrap around the product. The range of equipment available starts with a set-up of manually-fed film used with a hand-held heat gun. At the top end of the scale, complex, high-speed automated systems operate as a key part of large production and packaging businesses. 

What is a shrink wrap machine?

A packaging machine that wraps heat-shrinkable film tightly around an individual product or group of products. 

Is shrink wrap the same as plastic wrap?

Shrink wrap film is made from plastics such as PVC, polyolefin, polyethylene or polypropylene. Unlike the plastic wrap films known as cling film, shrink wrap is treatable by heat to shrink around a surface. 

What is an L Bar Sealer?

L bar sealers, or L sealers, are used in many shrink wrap machines to form a creased pocket of film which is used to contain a product. The other three sides of the pocket are then heat-sealed and heat-shrunk to form a secure, tightly wrapped package.

How do you shrink wrap meat?

Shrink wrapping meat follows the same core process used in all shrink wrapping systems. For the packaging of meat, the system must be hygienically clean and must operate at temperatures that do not degrade the raw product, including the heat tunnel or heat chamber. Similar considerations exist for packaging other fresh food such as dairy, fish and seafood.  

Find Shrink Wrapping Machine Suppliers with PPMA Group

See a full list of PPMA Member companies that supply a comprehensive range of shrink wrapping machinery.

Common Terminology

  • Flat rollstock
  • Centrefold film
  • Multipack
  • Thermoplastic film
  • Heat wrapping
  • Mandrel
  • Preformed shrink bags
  • Single-reel sleeve wrapping
  • Twin-reel sleeve wrapping
  • Perimeter sealing
  • Flow-wrap sleeve
  • Shrink ratio
  • Heat-shrink tubing
  • Heat gun
  • Dip tank
  • Shrink oven
  • Shrink tunnel
  • Shrink frame
  • Overwrap
  • Polyolefin
  • Crosslinking