Packaging Symbols Explained: An A to Z Guide

Whether you’re sending a package or receiving one, you must have noticed the wide range of signs and symbols that cover the box. Packaging symbols represent various storage, delivery, and handling instructions for exporters. They also provide product safety and recycling information for end customers.

Table of Contents

Though some symbols are intuitive and easy to understand, others are much more confusing. So, here is your ultimate guide to packaging symbols to cut through all this confusion.

Important Packaging Symbols

Following are the most commonly used symbols present on shipping boxes and cartons. These symbols have been categorized into four groups for better understanding.

  1. Package Protection Symbols
  2. Package Handling Instructions
  3. Health and Safety Information
  4. Recycling Details
Packaging Symbols

Packaging Symbols for Protecting Contents

Package protection and care symbols are necessary for any product susceptible to damage during shipping. These symbols reflect the product properties without divulging the contents of the package. A logo identifying packaging products is more convenient than a written summary.

Fragile Products

Fragile Products - Banner

Some products are more prone to damage during shipping than others. Protection symbols explain the degree of care required to handle a package.

  1. This Side Up 

This common packaging symbol indicates the package contains a complex product that must be placed upright at all costs. Storing or moving the box on its side or turning it upside down will cause severe damage to the contents. You can easily identify this symbol as two vertical arrows pointing upwards.

Example: Heavy Machinery and Laboratory Instruments.

  1. Fragile

Products that can easily break or shatter from unexpected shocks or jerks are labeled as fragile. The symbol here shows a wine glass with a crack indicating the fragility of the contents.

Examples: Glass and Porcelain Products.  

  1. Handle with Care

Handle with care symbol provides slightly different instructions from the fragile symbol. These products won’t crack or shatter easily but they will get damaged if mishandled. So packages with this symbol must not be stacked and placed down gently.

Examples: Smartphones, Television Sets, and Laptops.

  1. Do No Open with Knife

Using a knife to open the package may result in the contents being damaged. This symbol provides safety instructions to the end user.

Examples: Pillows, Books, and Mattresses

Safe Storage and Packing Symbols

Environmental Considerations - Banner

Some packages contain sensitive materials that are weak to environmental effects like water, UV light, or cold. Environmental protection symbols provide instructions for proper storage of packages.

  1. Avoid Direct Sunlight

Sunlight can easily pass through most packaging materials and certain products can degrade from UV exposure.

Examples: Posters, Book Covers, and Liquids.

  1. Temperature Sensitive

Temperature sensitivity markings on a package show the allowable temperature range for storing and shipping the package. This symbol is very important for long distance and international shipping.

Examples: Food Products and Liquids.

  1. Avoid Placing Near Magnets

Sensitive electronics must not be placed near magnets as their magnetic forces can cause serious damage.

Examples: Hard Disk Drives.

  1. Keep Dry

This symbol is used for products that must absolutely avoid direct contact with water. This symbol will occasionally have just the umbrella, but commonly you will see rain drop(s) symbol accompanying it.

Examples: Electronics and Paper Products.

Package Handling Symbols

Handling instructions provide all the necessary information needed to properly transport a package. These instructions are meant for both delivery personnel and customers. The following packaging symbols are commonly found on commercial products which ship together in large quantities.

Package Stacking

Package Stacking - Banner

Stacking instructions provide necessary information for package storage. These instructions play a critical role in keeping the internal contents safe.

  1. Do Not Stack

Some packages are designed to prioritize visuals and aesthetics over structural strength. These packages are not meant to be stacked on top of one another as the packaging material will buckle under the weight. The symbol here shows two boxes stacked with the top one crossed out.

Examples: Gift Boxes

  1. Stacking Height

Even sturdy packaging has its limits, and can only withstand a certain amount of weight. Such packages come with a stacking height guide. The symbol here shows multiple items safely stacked up to a certain limit. Here the number in the middle indicates the maximum allowable stacking height.

Examples: Milk and Juice Cartons.

Weight Information

Weight Information - Banner
  1. Package Weight

For heavier products, the supplier will often list the weight on the box. This symbol prominently shows the total weight with the necessary units.

  1. Center of Gravity

Center of gravity is the point where most of the package weight is concentrated. For long packages, the side with this symbol will be heavier, as it carries most of the product weight.

Lifting the Package

Lifting the Package - Banner

Manufacturers often print moving instructions in the package which describe the recommended lifting procedure.

  1. Requires Two People to Lift

This symbol signifies that a package is either too big or too heavy for a single person to lift. You may be able to lift such packages by yourself but it is not recommended.

  1. Do Not Try to Lift

Packages that are significantly heavy carry the “do not lift” symbol. This symbol is particularly useful for small packages that are deceptively heavy.

  1. Lift Using a Trolley

This symbol is used for heavy products that are difficult to carry by hand, even if you have multiple people. Trolleys or weight lifters are strongly recommended for such packages.

  1. Do Not Use Hook to Lift

This symbol is placed on packages that are too large or heavy to be lifted by a hook. Using hooks to carry such packages will cause the bottom of the box to tear open.

Health and Safety Symbols

Volatile or ignitable materials need to be declared on the package surface to ensure safety. If your package complies with certain health and safety standards you can mention them on the box as well.

Product Safety

Product Safety - Banner

Safety symbols show that the product and packaging have passed some form of quality control inspection.

  1. Food Safe

This symbol shows that the packaging material is safe for food packaging. Food safe is a manufacturer’s branding and is not regulated by most countries.

Examples: Fruits and Vegetables.

  1. CE Mark

CE stands for conformité européenne (European Conformity). Packages that carry this symbol need to comply with European health and safety standards. Using the CE logo without permission can land you in legal trouble. 

Potential Hazard 

Potential Hazard - Banner

Packages that contain volatile materials or carry the risk of ignition must be printed with hazard warnings. Good packaging correctly conveys all the important information about the handling of a product.

  1. Flammable

This symbol is used If the contents of a package contain a risk of flammability.

Examples: Paper Products

  1. Caution

This symbol is a general hazard warning and is always accompanied by additional text at the bottom.

Example: Chemicals and Batteries.

Recycling Symbols

Recycling details are not mandated by government authorities but are very much appreciated. These international packing symbols apply to both the contents of a package and the cardboard boxes.

Packaging Properties

Packaging Properties - Banner

Some recycling symbols show helpful information about the packaging materials.

  1. Recycle Symbol

This Mobius loop symbol shows that the packaging material is recyclable in theory. A percentage symbol in the middle of the symbol shows the percentage of recycled material incorporated into the packaging. 

  1. Tidy Man Symbol

This symbol is just a gentle reminder that you should properly dispose of the packaging. In the UK, the tidy man is an easily recognised symbol, but other countries may find it out of place.

Package Certifications

Package Certification - Banner

If the package has been certified by a third party, you can print its symbol on it. 

  1. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)

The FSC will certify that the product packaging uses wood from well-managed forests. It ensures that the packaging meets the necessary sustainable criteria. It is not a legally mandated standard.

Note: Permission from the FSC is required before using their symbol.

  1. Corrugated Case Association

This symbol shows that the cardboard packaging material is recyclable. It does not indicate if the packaging is made from recycled cardboard. Other unofficial cardboard packaging symbols exist to inform customers that they are made of recycled materials.

Plastic Recycling Symbols

The plastic recycling symbol is a guide to help you find the type of plastic material used in the manufacturing of your product. The following is a simple table showing the different symbols and their corresponding details. 

  1. Plastic Types
Recyclable Plastics - Banner

These packaging symbols convey information that is crucial to local recycling efforts. You can specifically relate these plastic types to your personal carbon footprint. Plastic-type symbols are similar to a Mobius loop but with a number in the center.

126. PET/PETEPolyethylene TerephthalateWater Bottles, Condiment Containers & Mouthwash BottlesGreat
227. HDPEHigh Density PolyethyleneMilk and Juice Containers, Plastic Bags & Shampoo BottlesGreat
328. PVCPolyvinyl ChlorideDrain Pipes, Automotive Interiors & Medical DevicesGood
429. LDPELow Density PolyethyleneToothpaste Tubes, Furniture, Freezer Safe Food BagsPoor
530. PPPolypropyleneBottle Caps, Straws, & Medicine BottlesGood
631. PSPolystyreneDisposable Cup, Plates, Egg Cartons & Take Away ContainersVery Poor
732. MiscellaneousOther PlasticsCD, DVD, Sunglasses & Nylon ProductsVery Poor
Brief breakdown of recyclability of plastic

Why Choose Packoi for your Packaging Needs?

Packoi is your one-stop shop for custom packaging and printing solutions. We offer a wide range of fully customizable box and bag designs. Our low MOQs and fast turnaround times are second to none. 

A successful business requires high-quality packaging services that showcase its brand in the best light. Choose Packoi for our best-in-class customer service. Contact us Now!

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Hey there, I’m Shelly!

I really enjoy the packaging and printing industry because my work makes my clients’ products more beautiful and enjoyable. If you have any questions about packaging and printing, feel free to contact me!

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