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Cardboard vs Corrugated Board: What’s the Difference?

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hand holding playing cards with word "cardboard" and hands holding shipping box with word "corrugated"

The cardboard box: a term almost as ubiquitous as the simple brown boxes it refers to. Except… those brown boxes aren’t actually cardboard. When speaking with a packaging manufacturer you will hear a lot of terms thrown around — but what do they actually mean? And what is the difference between cardboard and corrugated?

The “Cardboard Box”

When most people use the term “cardboard box”, what they are actually referring to is a corrugated box. Corrugated board is typically made of at least three layers: two outer layers of linerboard, and an inner layer of fluted (wavy) medium. Cardboard only has one layer: a thin, stiff pasteboard. It is used to make playing cards and signs. The structure of corrugated board makes corrugated boxes much stronger than the sum of the individual layers. However, a box made of actual cardboard would offer little protection.

Corrugated Board: A Closer Look

The strength and versatility of corrugated board makes it an excellent material for a variety of uses. It can form anything from simple shipping containers to complex POP displays. And — by switching up the flute type and linerboard used — it can be thick and cushiony or thin and precise, white or kraft.

view of inside of corrugated board, one sheet of fluting between two linerboards

The arrangement of the linerboard and fluting enables a wide variety of different types of corrugated board. Some of the most common include:

  • Single Face: one sheet of linerboard, topped with one sheet of exposed fluting
  • Single Wall: two sheets of linerboard sandwiching one sheet of fluting
  • Double Wall: three sheets of linerboard and two layers of fluting, one between each layer of linerboard
  • Triple Wall: four sheets of linerboard and three layers of fluting, one between each layer of linerboard

Corrugated is also naturally recyclable. In fact in 2020, people and companies recycled 88.8% of old corrugated containers. Most corrugated boxes also contain recycled material, making corrugated an eco-friendly packaging solution.

From intricate retail displays to simple brown shipping boxes, corrugated board has become a part of our everyday lives. And by understanding the terminology — you can make sure that the next time you order packaging your manufacturer will know exactly what you want.

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