The Difference Between Shipping Boxes and Shipping Cartons, Pt. 1

Is there one?  …Oh, you didn’t hear my question?  It was: what is the different shipping boxes and shipping cartons?  Before taking on this job of writing about packaging and shipping supplies, I would have just assumed that there was none.  In fact, I would have assumed that “carton” was just another word for “box”, and vice versa.  Well, apparently there is a difference.  I scoured the internet for information, searching websites and discussion forums (apparently this question has been asked by more than just myself, and by people who do not write about packaging and shipping supplies.  That is kind of surprising if you ask me, but who am I to judge?).

I have to take a minute to relay what the average Joe was saying about how shipping cartons are or are not the same thing as shipping boxes.  Many of the posts were liberally seasoned with phrases like “omg” and “haha” along with some keyboard emojies that meant to exhibit a great sense of humor, or a sense of bafflement, or even just an expression of being unamused.  If you are so unamused by a question (“who cares?”), then why even bother replying to it?


Perhaps the two most popular answers were: same thing different name, and shipping cartons hold boxes/are compartmentalized.  It seems that both answers are correct.  Yes, you can call a box a carton, and you can call a carton a box, especially depending on which part of the world you live in (as one deeply insightful and well-travelled individual so graciously pointed out).  Another part-time, unofficial anthropologist discussed the history of the orignal words.  For example: carton comes from the Italian word cartone, which means “pasteboard”, and cartons just so happen to be made out of paste/cardboard.  But it’s also true that sometimes a carton holds several boxes (and the example of a carton of cigarettes was used again).  This small-time anthropologist went on to deduce that a “boxwood” is a type of tree, and since boxes were originally made out of wood that is how they got their name.  However, nowadays, most boxes are also made from cardboard, making “shipping cartons” interchangeable with “shipping boxes”.

The whole thing apparently really baffles people, and I don’t blame them.  One thing is for certain, though, and that is that customers tend to use the word “box” and people actually in the packaging and shipping industry tend to use the word “carton”, and this will be discussed further in part 2.