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Shipping Basics

Shipping is more than the last step in an order lifecycle. A good shipping strategy can set you up for success in many other areas of running a business. Learning the basics of shipping and ShipStation will help you save time and money on far more than just order fulfillment. A good shipping workflow touches and integrates with many ecommerce softwares. We’ll help you figure out how shipping fits into the bigger picture of your business.  Whether you need to discover more about new carriers, automating your shipping workflow, discover new places to sell, or understand customer demands a little better, these are the resources to help you get ship done! 


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How to Prepare and Ship a Package

To ship a package you really just need to make sure that the package is accurately weighed, sized, and packaged. If the parcel uses a service that allows for its size and weight, you’re good to go! With ShipStation, preparing and shipping a package to be shipped is simple and affordable. We offer a range of shipping services and efficiency tools that make shipping hundreds of shipments as simple as shipping one.

Materials Needed for Shipping

When you ship a package, you need to have the appropriate material. This includes boxes/packaging, packing materials, tape, and, of course, a label. 


Box or Packaging: Choose a sturdy box or suitable packaging material that can safely hold your items. Many companies use polymailers for durable items. However, if a mailer more than 0.25” thick, they will be considered a thick envelope and be rated the same as a standard package. 


Packing Materials: Use appropriate packing materials to protect your items during transit. Common options include bubble wrap, packing peanuts, air pillows, foam inserts, or crumpled newspaper.


Tape: Good quality packing tape is necessary for sealing a box securely. Even if you ship with a polymailer, a little extra tape can better protect the contents. Use a strong tape, such as clear or brown packing tape, to reinforce the seams and prevent the box from opening during transit.


Labels: The label is necessary for delivering a shipment to the recipient/customer. They can be printed onto thermal paper or printer paper and taped to the box. Thermal printers can be neater, more time-efficient, and harder to tear. We do have some recommendations for labels and we certainly have recommendations for how to print postage

How to Weigh a Package

Weight is a major factor that determines a package’s shipping rate. In order to get a proper weight, you need to weigh the parcel with all items packed inside. You can weigh the parcel at a carrier facility or post office. But if you plan on shipping multiple packages, buying a postal scale may be best. Postal scales are usually very affordable and unless you’re shipping a very heavy package, most postage scales will work. 

Do I Have to Use a Shipping Scale to Weigh a Package?

It’s advisable to only use a supported USB postage scale to weigh and ship parcels. They are best calibrated for the range of weights you may ship.  Most kitchen scales are used for weighing out very small and lightweight amounts of food. They can also be imprecise and this can greatly impact the rate you end up paying. Postage scales accurately weigh items that are between a few ounces and around 15-25 lbs. 

Important Weights to Remember

The Maximum Weight Limit for USPS First Class Mail® is 16 oz

This is the max weight for USPS First Class Mail. If a parcel weighs under 16 oz, almost everyone in the country ships it out First Class. It’s rarely any slower than Priority Mail but it is more affordable. 

The Maximum Weight Limit for USPS Priority Mail® is 70 lbs

This is certainly on the heavier side. USPS Priority Mail® allows for much heavier parcels than USPS First Class Mail®. While 70 lbs is the maximum weight for a USPS parcel, UPS allows you to ship parcels weighing up to 150 lbs. They also provide great shipping rates for heavier parcels that can give them the edge over USPS in many instances with ShipStation on UPS

Maximum Weight by Carrier

USPS First Class Mail® 16 ounces
USPS Priority Mail® 70 lbs
UPS® Ground 150 lbs
FedEx® Ground 150 lbs

How To Measure A Package

Measurements play into shipping rates differently than weights do. If packages are very large or very small this can impact the shipping cost. Additionally if a heavy parcel is also small, it may qualify for cubic pricing. If a parcel is very large and light, though, it may be charged based on its dimensional weight (also known as volumetric weight). 

Maximum Package Size by Carrier

USPS First Class Mail® 22″ x 18″ x 15”
USPS Priority Mail® 108” in combined length plus girth*
UPS® Ground 108″ in length, and 165″ in length plus girth
FedEx Ground 108″ in length, and 165″ in length plus girth

*Girth is the thickest part around a parcel. 

Have a Ship From Address and Ship To Address 

The third component that goes into a shipping rate is the distance between sender and receiver. While you may look at this in terms of pure distance between zip code and zip code, carriers rely on something called shipping zones. In the US, there are generally 9 zones. 

Select a Shipping Service

Once you have the above figured out, you’re ready to select the shipping service. A shipping service generally bases its rates on the distance, size, and weight of a parcel. But now, there is the addition of a fourth element: time. Carrier services generally charge higher rates for express services. While some services like First Class Mail rely heavily on weight, the reason for choosing a service is typically due to the delivery timeframe. Using a shipping calculator can help you determine the best shipping service. For instance, ShipStation offers a USPS shipping calculator to determine USPS shipping rates. 

Print the Shipping Label

Printing the shipping label requires you to have a printer, obviously. But the label doesn’t have to be on a label. A thermal label printer is a good idea if you are printing a lot of labels. But a regular desktop inkjet printer works just fine so long as you tape the label to the box and do not cover any of the barcode or recipient information that is able to be read or scanned.

Ship the Package

Shipping the package is as simple as dropping it off with the appropriate carrier. However, you can also schedule a carrier pickup if you use a shipping software like ShipStation. Additionally, platforms like ShipStation save you money on label costs. We offer discounted shipping rates for carriers like USPS, UPS, and DHL Express.