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Corrugated cardboard: History, manufacture, structure and types of corrugation

We deal with corrugated cardboard almost every day. In shipping boxes, especially in e-commerce, it is impossible to imagine everyday life in private and in industry without this flexible material. Corrugated cardboard production is an important industrial factor in our country. In Germany, around 42 companies deal with it. They make currently over 6,6€ billion turnover in the year. The tendency is increasing, even if the current energy crisis and economic development do not leave this branch of industry unscathed.

Corrugated cardboard enjoys a good reputation in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility. These are the best reasons to take a closer look at corrugated cardboard. We have compiled everything you need to know about the subject. There might be a few things you didn't know yet.


What is corrugated cardboard?

From pulp to material all-rounder

Corrugated cardboard is a cellulose product that was initially used mainly in the packaging industry. Today, the versatile material is also conquering other areas such as decoration, filing systems and much more. Characteristic of the material is its relative stability with little weight. In addition, corrugated cardboard can be printed and convincingly transports advertising messages on the way to and at the customer.

ICorrugated cardboard owes its name to the combination of at least one smooth and one corrugated web of paper. Here, up to nine paper webs can come together to form a multi-corrugated cardboard. The corrugation in the construction is not accidental.

Grippy or corrugated paper acquires great strength when combined with smooth paper webs. If you like, you are dealing with a lightweight construction system based on paper. The principle of corrugated board was discovered as early as the 19th century.

Wellpappe Wellenbahn
Wellpappe Rohmaterial

As e-commerce develops, demand for corrugated cardboard continues to rise. Not only in Germany, but worldwide. Contributing to the attractiveness of the material is the fact that the recycling rate for corrugated cardboard is very high. Today, we are already dealing with rates of at least 85% to 100%. The almost closed recycling loop speaks in favor of corrugated paper. From a sustainability point of view, corrugated cardboard is far ahead in terms of value.

In summary, corrugated cardboard has the following primary advantages:

  • flexible applicability
  • low weight with relative stability
  • depending on the type of corrugated board, resistance to
  • external influences
  • foldability
  • closed recycling loop

The history of corrugated cardboard

The first patent on corrugated cardboard construction was granted in England in 1856. At that time, it was for hat liners. This was followed in the USA in 1876 by another patent focusing on an improved paper for packaging purposes. Initially, only single wall corrugated cardboard was patented, but in the early 1880s, multiwall corrugated cardboard was also patented.

At the end of the 19th century, industrial production of corrugated cardboard began in the USA, England and later in Germany. Production machines were constructed. They contributed to the fact that gradually corrugated cardboard boxes began to replace the wooden packaging that had been widely used until then in logistics, transport and storage.

Other types and types of corrugation were created over time at the beginning of the 20th century. Corrugated cardboard increasingly conquered other areas, such as the construction sector as an insulating material. Offset printing and other printing processes for corrugated cardboard made further areas of application in marketing possible, because they could be individually designed.

Die Geschichte der Wellpappen
Strusture of corrugated cardboard EB-flute

Structure and type divisions

In the packaging industry, single to triple wall corrugated cardboard is mainly used. A double wall corrugated cardboard consists, for example, of the following layers:

  • Outer surface (top layer or liner)
  • Corrugated sheet
  • Intermediate layer
  • Corrugated sheet
  • Interior ceiling

A further distinction is made between kraftliner and testliner. While kraftliner consists of 80% recycled paper and 20% virgin fibers, testliner is made up of 100% recycled paper. This different structure makes kraftliner more tear-resistant and durable.

The shafts can be of different heights (distance between flute trough and flute crest) and the distance between two flute crests (flute pitch) can be variable. According to this, certain types of corrugations are categorized:

  • Rough shafts with a flute height of up to 5 mm and a flute pitch of up to 10 mm
  • Medium shafts with a flute height of up to 4 mm and a flute pitch of up to 7.9 mm
  • Fine shafts with flute height up to 2.2 mm and flute pitch up to 4.8 mm
  • Microwaves with a flute height up to 1.9 mm and a flute pitch up to 3.5 mm


Above and below these numerical values, there are still special flutes which do not play a major role in the packaging sector and the predominant areas of application for corrugated cardboard.

Grobwelle, Mittelwelle und Feinwelle erklärt

Designation Name Flute pitch Flute height
A Rough shaft 8mm to 10 mm 4mm to 5mm
C Medium shaft 6,8mm to 7,9mm 3,2mm to 4mm
B Fine shaft to 4,8mm to 2,2mm
E Ultra-fine shaft
3mm to 3,5mm 1mm to 1,9mm

The nomenclature of corrugated cardboard in detail

Load capacity of corrugated cardboard

For corrugated cardboard, type classes are marked with letters and sometimes also numbers. The letter classification begins with the letter A for the greater corrugation height and corrugation pitch. This is followed by the following letter designations:


  • C-flute for medium corrugation
  • B-flute for a fine corrugation,
  • D-flute for a fine corrugation
  • E-flute for a fine corrugation / microwave

Good to know: There are the further types F, G and N corrugations for tiny corrugation heights and the K corrugation as maxi corrugation above the entire table with a corrugation height above 5 mm. Additional numerical values provide information on the number of corrugations and the load capacity for a package. For example, the designation 1.10 C stands for a single flute C-flute with a load capacity of up to 10 kg.

In the packaging sector, mainly B-flutes, E-flutes and the EB-flute combination are of interest. Different load-bearing packaging can be selected, each of which - assuming uniform distribution - can withstand specific weight classes.

The European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers- FEFCO - has developed a code that standardizes shipping packaging made of corrugated and solid cardboard. Here, letter-number combinations allow immediate identification of a particular type of packaging.

Quality tests for corrugated cardboard according to DIN 55468

Quality requirements for corrugated paperboard are defined by DIN 55468. This DIN standard describes a test system with which corrugated cardboard is tested for

  • burst strength
  • edge crush resistance
  • puncture resistance


Here, DIN standard 55468 specifies grade tables with certain standard values as a quality framework. Grade table 55468-01 is particularly important.

For example, single wall corrugated cardboard 1.01 is specified to have a puncture resistance of 2.5 J and an edge resistance of 3.5 kN/m.

Qualitätsprüfung einer Verpackung aus Wellpappe
Einsatz von Verpackung aus Wellpappe

Stability and use of corrugated cardboard

Due to the different types and the use of the different liners, corrugated cardboard proves to be very variable in its stability and usability. In the packaging sector alone, a wide variety of sizes and strengths are conceivable. Corrugated cardboard is used today, among other things, as:

  • Shipping boxes and packaging
  • Product packaging
  • Warehouse storage
  • Decorative items
  • Insulation material
  • Filling material for packaging
  • Archive containers
  • Furniture

Corrugated cardboard has the most different faces. In packaging, the thinner corrugated cardboards are mainly suitable for packaging products, and the thicker ones for transport packaging.

How corrugated cardboard is made

Manufacturing process of a corrugator

Corrugated cardboard is produced in a corrugator. For production, paper webs are passed through corrugating rolls. The paper is embossed by heat, moisture and pressure. The characteristic sinusoidal corrugation of the corrugated cardboard is produced. Different adhesives are used for bonding the paper webs.

Challenges in the production of corrugated cardboard arise, among other things, from unintentional curvature (warp) of the cardboard. This can occur directly after production and is then usually the result of incorrect machine settings. Improper storage can also lead to warp in various forms later on.

Custom-printed cardboard boxes

Sustainability aspects

Recycling von Wellpappen

High recycling rates and a low carbon footprint

Corrugated cardboard is a sustainable material. Compared with other materials such as plastic, the closed recycling loop is already a reality today. Between 10 and 25 times the paper fibers can be recycled again. The industry involved is constantly working on production processes that are even more resource-efficient. In particular, this involves further reducing water consumption during production.

Among other things, the carbon footprint for corrugated cardboard has been reduced by 9% since 2015. This puts corrugated cardboard at the top of the list in terms of environmental compatibility and sustainability compared with other materials such as glass, tinplate, aluminum, or plastic.

Corrugated cardboard has its own recycling code with PAP 20. The code can be used to immediately identify the corrugated cardboard as the source material for packaging.

Corrugated cardboard as a marketing tool

Today, corrugated cardboard can be professionally printed individually. As a result, they become excellent brand ambassadors as packaging.

Suppliers and producers in e-commerce and online trade also like to use corrugated cardboard as packaging material to put their own brand in the right light. Printed packaging made of cardboard can be produced in large numbers and serves the marketing needs of a mass market.

These printing processes are available:

  • UV digital printing - directly printed corrugated cardboard
  • Offset printing - laminated corrugated cardboard
  • Flexo printing - directly printed corrugated cardboard
Bedruckter Karton aus Wellpappe mit Kartoninlay


Interesting questions about corrugated cardboard

What is the difference between corrugated cardboard and solid board?

VSolid board comprises massive cardboards made of a continuously "cast" packaging material without hollow corrugations. As with corrugated cardboard, solid board is also divided into different types and qualities (e.g. chromo cardboard, cellulose cardboard or natural cardboard). Some also involve the bonding of different layers. Solid board is less resilient than corrugated board. In the form of gray board, solid board, like corrugated board, consists of almost 100% recycled material.

Is corrugated cardboard an expensive material?

Demand and supply determine the price of corrugated cardboard. The demand for corrugated board is global. In China, in particular, demand is growing strongly.
Due to the closed recycling loop for corrugated board, there is regularly enough source material available. As production cycles are becoming more effective and efficient overall, corrugated board tends to be cheaper in comparison with other packaging materials.

Is the corrugated cardboard industry also suffering from the energy crisis?

Here, rising production costs for energy and increased raw material costs are also affecting this industry. Companies are talking about increased average prices for corrugated board base paper of 80% in October 2022 compared to October 2020. The entire industry is struggling with uncertainties and possibly temporary weakening of sales, which are emerging at the moment. Further developments will have to be awaited here.

Conclusion: Corrugated cardboard - a material with future

Corrugated cardboard is a fascinating material that scores particularly well in terms of sustainability and flexibility. It can be assumed that corrugated papers will increasingly accompany us into other areas outside of classic packaging. Here we will see how corrugated board as furniture and utility containers is conquering even more areas of our private and professional lives. Perhaps this information on corrugated board will help you to appreciate the material even more. You could repurpose one or the other shipping carton for another use of your own. There are hardly any limits to your imagination.
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