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The Differences between Polystyrene, Polypropylene and Vinyl in CD Packaging

Polyline prides itself in offering a wide variety of packaging options so that you can create a packaging solution to fit any concept or budget. We realize that the sheer volume of choices we offer may be a little intimidating to the uninitiated and for that reason we're offering this primer on the different types of plastics that are commonly used in CD and DVD packaging.

Plastic disc packaging is typically made of one of three different types of plastic: polystyrene, polypropylene or vinyl. Each of these materials has its own distinct set of advantages and disadvantages, so let's take a closer look at each one.

Standard CD boxes and trays are typically made of polystyrene, an inexpensive and very rigid plastic that can be cast into molds with very intricate detail. Polystyrene can be crystal-clear or colored and opaque. In terms of clarity, there are few plastics which match polystyrene and none that are inexpensive enough for disc packaging. This clarity has made polystyrene a favorite among post production professionals, but also causes the case's frailty – particularly around the hinges, which will break if the case is dropped.

"Polystyrene doesn't contain any rubber," explained Polyline COO Michael Schlobohm. "Rubber is what makes plastics pliable, but it also makes plastics cloudy."

When choosing a polystyrene case, you should first consider the amount of plastic the case contains. Cases that contain more plastic hold up a little better during shipping, but tend to be more expensive. If you are packaging your discs on an automated line, you'll want a heavier case that contains more plastic because it has better tolerances. Another thing to consider is how your distributor packages the discs for shipping. Most of Polyline's polystyrene cases are available with a "double box" option. The additional box gives the shipment a little more stability and has been known to reduce breakage.

Because of Polyline's liberal breakage policy, many of our customers choose the most inexpensive options (lighter CD cases inside a single carton) and order additional quantities of their CD cases, anticipating breakage during shipping.

"For some of our customers, cost is the primary factor in their media packaging decisions," said Ray Kaiser, Polyline's marketing director. "For these customers, dealing with returning CD cases that may have broken during shipping is a minor inconvenience. That's why we offer two packing options."

There are some distributors who double box all their outgoing shipments, but the extra packaging costs are reflected in their costs per piece. With Polyline's method, explained Kaiser, customers can see the added costs related to double packaging and make an informed decision based on their own needs and priorities.

Polystyrene is recyclable but, in many areas, it's still hard to find a recycling facility that will accept polystyrene. (To see if there a recycling or re-use station near you that accepts polystyrene, check out


Polypropylene is a rugged and somewhat stiff plastic. Most standard DVD cases are made of polypropylene and so are several of our alternative CD cases (such as the SLIMpak and CShell cases). The hinges of these products are considerably more durable than the hinges of polystyrene packages. Polypropylene is available in a variety of colors, both opaque and translucent, although nothing as clear as polystyrene. That is because polypropylene has rubber in it, which makes packaging made of this material pliable.

There are several polypropylene alternatives to the traditional polystyrene box. We think the most promising is the Poly jewel box (Item # MPPJBX-200), which has the same dimensions as the standard jewel box but is more resistant to breakage. We tested a variety of printed inserts and discs inside this box. Although the box is noticeably less clear than its polystyrene counterparts, we think it looks pretty darn good.

Another benefit of polypropylene packaging is that it is both recyclable and (many times) recycled. Check the product description of your favorite polypropylene packaging to determine if it has recycled content. Typically, if a polypropylene item is made of 100% virgin material, such as the Amaray brand DVD case, it is noted in the product description. This creates a case that is heavier and stronger than cases which contain recycled materials. It also creates a case that is more expensive to produce.

If it has a mixture of recycled and virgin materials, it may state so in the description, but we do not put in the percentage of recycled material a product contains. That's because the amount of virgin to recycled material tends to fluctuate. Another interesting fact about recycled polypropylene cases is that they have a distinctive scent – kind of like burnt rubber. The more recycled content a polypropylene DVD case contains, the more noticeable that scent becomes.


Vinyl (also called PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride) is one of the most commonly used plastics in the world. Vinyl can be made into a variety of translucent and solid colors.

In its native form, vinyl is a very rigid plastic. Softer, more pliable, versions of the material can be created, however, by adding a plasticizer such as rubber, which allows the vinyl's polymer chains to slide against each other. Some products, such as Polyline's vinyl sleeves and envelopes, are made exclusively of the softer types of vinyl. Others, such as our vinyl albums, contain both rigid and pliable vinyl.

The more pliable forms of vinyl are, however, prone to cracking when exposed to extreme changes in temperature. These fluctuations in temperature cause the vinyl to expand and contract, which could cause cracking. This problem can be avoided by allowing your vinyl product to slowly return to room temperature before using it. Leaving the vinyl products in their cases (in the location they will be used) for 24- to 48-hours prior to using them, provides vinyl packaging with enough time to become acclimated to room temperature.

Vinyl is a very strong plastic material and, unlike other plastics, vinyl is relatively easy to recycle. Because of these two factors, vinyl plastic items are considered more environmentally friendly than other materials.

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