What is Paperboard?

Last time you went to the grocery store or gas station, you probably walked past a wide variety of different products. Many of those items were likely packaged in a handy material called paperboard, but chances are high that you either didn’t notice it or didn’t give it too much thought beyond evaluating the product information it provided. While the actual container may not have seemed all that important, it’s actually one of the most essential factors in transporting, protecting, and marketing many of the goods you love most. What exactly is paperboard though? 

What is Paperboard? 

Paperboard is almost precisely what it sounds like. While there’s no solid differentiation between actual paper and paperboard, the latter is essentially just a thicker version of paper – usually at least .012-inches thick. It offers many different advantages to manufacturers who need to protect and contain their goods, including its lightweight yet durable nature. This makes it easy to cut and to form, while still safeguarding the item inside against harm. Not only that, but many types of paperboard are also very easy to print on or dye, which makes them an excellent marketing tool and very visually appealing to consumers. Since it is made from renewable, recyclable materials, paperboard is also a great choice for the sustainably minded shopper.  

How is Paperboard Made? 

The manufacturing process for paperboard is actually pretty simple. First, either virgin fiber or recycled paper is ground into a pulp. If virgin fibers are used, they are generally sourced from woodchips. This pulp is then formed into one large sheet and a paper machine filters out water in order to form that sheet into a web-like structure. After that, the web is pressed and then passed into a cylindrical dryer. The web pushes up tightly against the dryer, which uses steam to help even more water evaporate from the web. At this point, the web is placed between two steel rollers and the operator can determine the thickness as the web is turned into the paperboard you see on store shelves. Should the manufacturer wish to apply any coatings, they will do so after the final step of the basic process. 

The Different Types of Paperboard 

At face value, paperboard is a fairly simple and straightforward packaging material. However, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there are actually a few different subvarieties of paperboard that are important to understand. The three most popular that we’ll cover today are Solid Bleached Sulfate (SBS), Coated Unbleached Kraft (CUK), and Coated Recycled Board (CRB). Each of these offers its own unique properties that make them work for such a diverse range of packaging and containment applications. 

Solid Bleached Sulfate Paperboard 

Frequently referred to as bleached paperboard, SBS is one of the most common versions of this material. Solid bleached sulfate paperboards are constructed from at least 80% virgin wood pulp that is chemically processed and bleached. It is most often coated with kaolin clay in order to enhance its printing capabilities and will sometimes feature a coating for wet strength food packaging. SBS paperboard is white in color on both sides and is considered the most popular variety of paperboard in the United States. You’ll commonly see it used to package medical items, cosmetics, perfumes, candy, and to create visually appealing displays. 

Coated Unbleached Kraft Paperboard 

Coated unbleached kraft paperboard (CUK) is similar to SBS in that it is also made with at least 80% virgin natural wood pulp. The primary difference is that it is never bleached during the manufacturing process and that it remains a natural brown color on all sides. Even though it is brown in color, CUK paperboard can still easily be printed on or dyed, and the MET-PET variety of this type is often coated with a metalized polyester film to give it silver, gold, or other metallic-looking accents. Oftentimes, we see coated unbleached kraft used to contain medical goods, pharmaceuticals, frozen good, beverages, and also as signage or displays. 

Coated Recycled Board Paperboard 

Generally abbreviated as CRB, coated recycled board is constructed with 100% recycled material. At the end of its manufacturing process, this material is coated with a thin layer of kaolin clay that will improve an end-user's ability to print on it, making it an outstanding option for those seeking an environmentally conscious packaging material that will also appeal to potential buyers. CRB paperboard is most commonly used for items such as soap, laundry detergent, paper products like tissues, dry foods like cereal, and more.  

Paperboard Can Help Almost Anyone 

With such impressive versatility and so many advantages, it’s no surprise that paperboard is one of the most popular packaging materials out there. In fact, the global market for it is expected to surpass $240 billion by 2024, and maybe even sooner. While there are some downsides (it’s not water-resistant and is less durable than comparable plastics), it works very well for home delivery goods, on-the-go items, and much, much more. So next time you walk down the aisles of your local supermarket, be sure to check out all the products packaged in paperboard.