Lots of packaging supplies have ‘counterparts’, so to speak—corrugate and chipboard, bubble and foam, stretch wrap and shrink wrap. They all operate in the ‘similar but different’ category, having similar uses but different properties. Making the right choice can be confusing, so it’s important to have the answers you need. Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to choosing the right kind of tape. There are so many types–with plenty of sub-types—that it’s easy to want to pull your hair out.

Let’s save those valuable follicles by clearing up one of the biggest tape-related questions we come across: what’s the difference when it comes to water activated tape vs carton sealing tape? As with the other counterparts on this list, it all comes down to learning what’s similar, and seeing what’s different.

Water Activated Tape

Much like how all Jacuzzis are hot tubs, but not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis, all water activated tape is actually carton sealing tape (but not vice versa). Consisting of a paper liner that’s usually kraft in color—but can also be white, colored or printed on—its adhesive is activated by water (hence its name). Once the wet tape is applied to a corrugated container, the adhesive bonds both the container and the tape together.

This bond makes it impossible to remove the tape without ripping or tearing the package, which means it’s tamper-evident—a great security feature that keeps thieves at bay, or at least lets you know when they’ve tried something. Most water activated tape comes with a fiberglass lattice sandwiched between 2 layers of paper. This reinforces the tape so it’s harder to tear and can also support more weight.

Best used for… products and shipments that are moisture-sensitive, in need of extra security, or want proof of tampering.

Carton Sealing Tape

It’s all right there in the name—an umbrella term that covers any tape meant for sealing shipping cartons. Water activated tape (bonds to a box when wet), cold temperature tape (used for temperature-sensitive shipments and locations) and quiet tape (makes less noise during unrolling) are all versions of carton sealing tape. And as you can see, each has their own features and uses.

Depending on which type you choose, you’ll find a vast number of variables that can change from tape to tape. The tape liner may be made of polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or paper. That same liner can be clear, tan, colored or printed. And the actual thickness of the liner can vary depending on its use (economy tapes are 1.5 mils thick, while heavy duty tapes are over 3 mils). Even its adhesive can vary from tape to tape, using acrylic, hot melt rubber, natural rubber or starch.

Best used for… sealing most any shipping carton (once you’ve identified its specific shipping needs).

Water Activated Tape vs Carton Sealing Tape: What’s the Best Choice?

It all depends on what the shipping carton and its contents need. Here’s a few questions to help you qualify what properties you need your choice of carton sealing tape to have.

  • Are you shipping items that are lightweight or do they have heft?
  • Are you shipping to humid, cold or snowy climates?
  • Are you packing orders in public spaces and want to make less noise?
  • Are you looking to make proof of tampering unmistakable?
  • Are you interested in using printed warnings, instructions or branding?

No matter what you’re shipping, choosing the right packing tape is paramount. With this rundown on water activated tape vs carton sealing tape, you’ve got the knowledge you need to pick the right one. If there’s any packaging ‘counterparts’ that make you scratch your head, be sure to get in touch. The Packaging Company is always happy to talk about anything and everything packaging.