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Everything You Need to Know about Packaging Symbols

Everything You Need to Know about International Packaging Symbols

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If you ever received packages, you must have seen one or more symbols on them. Well, those symbols are not simple graphics to decorate the package. Instead, each symbol has its meaning and purpose. In fact, the packaging symbols are known internationally. Most importantly, they are there to provide information about the product inside.

Even though using most of these symbols on packaging is completely up to the sender, these symbols are necessary. Yes, they serve as an important alert to notify the receivers or transporters about possible dangers during transit.

So, if you are about to send packages internationally or perhaps you just want to learn about what the symbols mean, here is everything you need to know about international packaging symbols!

The Purposes and Importance of Package Symbol

In brief, international packaging icons are basically a set of graphic images and letters. These symbols are there to help in identifying the type of package and its product inside. By providing the symbols on packages, not only you are guiding the receivers and transporters on the way to handle your packages. More than that, you are making sure that your products inside can arrive to the receivers safe and sound.

How Many Categories of Packaging Symbols Are There?

Understanding the meaning of international packaging symbols can benefit you when receiving or sending your packages.

So, the main symbols you should understand are classified into some different categories, such as:

  • Handling instructions and labels
  • Health and safety symbols
  • Sustainability and recyclability symbols

Do note that all the international symbols are regulated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which maintains a database of all symbols. Although you might be able to understand some symbols easily, it is a great idea to know the meaning of each symbol and how you should use it.

Handling Instructions and Labels

Handling instructions and labels provide all the necessary information to properly transport a package. Accordingly, these essential instructions are meant for both delivery personnel and receivers.

What symbols will you find in this category?

This Side Up Label


When you see this symbol, it means that the package contains a complex product that should be placed upright. Moreover, it can cause severe damage to the product inside if you move the package on its side or turn it upside down. This symbol comes in an understandable graphic as two vertical arrows pointing upwards.

When it comes to international packaging symbols, This Side Signage can be a good indication of which side to open the package from.

Handle with Care Sign


You will see the “Handle with Care” symbol as a graphic image that shows hands cupping a box. Accordingly, this symbol signifies that the box contains some intricate parts. Or else, the symbol can also mean that the box contains parts that can get damaged when mishandled.

In addition, this international box shipping symbol indicates that you should not stack the box. Also, it informs the delivery personnel that they should load and carry the box around with lots of care.

Additionally, you can also check a blog which is about how to ship a cake.

Fragile Symbol


A sign fragile is the one you need to warn people that the package is delicate and can be easily damaged. You will see this symbol as a cracked wine glass. And yes, it is usually used on packages that contain glass, or other breakable products.

Furthermore, the presence of this breakage symbol on a package indicates that the products inside the box are prone to damage. Thus, both the delivery personnel and the receiver should manage the package carefully.

Umbrella Symbol Meaning


We often perceive an umbrella as a symbol of abundance, shelter, and protection. In fact, in some cultures, the umbrella serves as a symbol of royalty and status. Also, you might have known that the umbrella is also a popular motif in Buddhist art that is defined as a parasol. Moreover, the umbrella can also be seen as a symbol of guidance.

In ancient cultures, we will find umbrellas used as ceremonial objects. Additionally, people believed that umbrellas could protect from the sun and rain.

Well, in the context of shipping box international, the umbrella indicates the need to keep the box in a dry environment. This also means that you should never leave the box in the rain. Or else, you can also use this symbol to notify that the product inside the box is not waterproof.



If you see a package with a thermometer symbol, it means that the box contains temperature-sensitive products. Although the general rule of thumb is to keep it out of the sun and the rain, some products (such as pharmaceuticals) might require storage in cooler temperatures.

Protect from Direct Sunlight


The “protect from direct sunlight” symbol means that you should keep the box away from direct sunlight. The graphic you will see is the sun with a line running through it.

Do Not Open it with a Knife

Do Not Open with a Knife

As you might thought, this symbol indicates that opening the package with a knife might damage the product inside.

The Magnet Symbol

The Magnet Symbol

This symbol forbids the delivery personnel from placing the package close to a magnet.

Maximum Stacking Height

You will see this symbol comes with a graphic of two parallel horizontal bars with a number on top. Actually, it will depend on the products inside the box. Moreover, it also depends on the strength and thickness of the box itself.

Do note that the symbol’s number should be verified because it is not always the same. For example, if the box displays number 4, it means that you can only stack 4 boxes or fewer on top of one another. In fact, stacking more than 4 boxes might cause damage to the products inside.

Do Not Lift

A graphic of a person lifting a box with a prohibition sign indicates that the box is too heavy for one person to lift alone. Instead, you might need a trolley or the assistance of another person.

Do Not Hook

An X-marked hook on the package indicates that the box is too heavy to be carried or hooked onto something. Furthermore, the package might start to open from below if you do so.


A scope symbol represents the package’s center of gravity. Plus, this symbol also informs the delivery personnel of how evenly the products inside the package are distributed in weight.

Health and Safety Symbols

If you need to deliver unstable or ignitable materials internationally, you will have to declare it on the package to ensure safety. Besides, if your package complies with health and safety standards, you should also mention them on the box.

Here are some sign shipping boxes you will find in this category!

Food Safe

For the international symbol for “food safe” material, you will see a graphic of a wine glass and a fork. This symbol explains that the material used in the product inside the food packaging boxes is considered safe for food contact.

Mostly, this symbol indicates that a restaurant or other food business has taken measures to guarantee that the food they are serving is safe for consumption.

Moreover, this symbol might also indicate specific safety precautions that have been taken, such as using gloves while preparing food.


The caution symbol consists of an exclamation mark within a triangle. As the graphic suggests, this symbol indicates general caution and can be applied to various scenarios. Usually, this symbol comes with explanatory text underneath to provide additional information for the receivers and delivery personnel.


This symbol notifies that the product inside the box and the box itself can burn. Plus, it might cause damage when left near an open fire, smoke, hot surfaces, or sparks.

Sustainability and Recyclability

Recycling symbols are basically not mandated by government authorities. However, the symbols in this category are very much appreciated. These international icons for packaging apply to both the product of a package and the box itself.

Recycle Symbol with Slash Through It

When you see the recycle symbol with a slash through, it means that the product inside is not recyclable. Typically, this symbol is there to inform receivers that they should not place the product in recycling bins or mix it with other recyclable materials

After all, we know that not all products can be recycled. Hence, this symbol helps to prevent contamination of recycling streams by clearly indicating that the product inside is not suitable for recycling.

Corrugated Box Icon

The corrugated box symbol is also a widely recognized international packaging symbol. This symbol indicates that the cardboard packaging material is recyclable. However, the symbol does not indicate if the packaging is made from recycled cardboard. Instead, this symbol shows that the box can and should be recycled.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

This symbol means that the packaging material comes from responsibly managed forests. Mostly, you will find the symbol on packaging for paper products such as bags, boxes, and envelopes.

Recycle Sign

This signifies that a part of the box has been recycled before or made from recycled materials. Or else, it also indicates that the entire box can be recycled.

Plastic-Free Symbol

As the name suggests, this symbol indicates that the packaging material is free of plastic. Mostly, you will see this symbol for some products made from natural materials such as paper, glass, or metal.

  • The 2 symbol

This symbol indicates that the plastic used in the product is high-density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is a handy plastic when it comes to packaging. Even better, it carries a low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many types of products. Well, you might have seen this symbol on plastic containers, bottles, and bags.

  • The 5 symbol

This symbol notifies you that the plastic used in the product is made of polypropylene (PP), which is predominantly hard and heat resistant. The products are mostly for medicine bottles, yogurt cups, single-use cutlery, and some packaging for personal care products.

  • The 7 Symbols for Recycling

This symbol means that the type of plastic used in the product is difficult to recycle. Moreover, it is usually not accepted at recycling centers. For example, we can mention some products like sunglasses, compact discs, and reusable bottles.

Overall, all these recycling and sustainable symbols help in identifying the type of packaging material along with its environmental impact.

Wrapping Up

Well, there you have it; the main international packaging symbols you need to know before shipping your products. When it comes to shipping any product internationally, you will need to provide one or more symbols on your package for safe shipping. In addition, to properly ship your products, you should get the right boxes from reputable suppliers like Instant Custom Boxes.

Happy shipping!



What is the meaning of international packaging symbols?

International packaging symbols contain graphics or letters to identify the type of package along with its product inside.

What does a magnet symbol on the packaging mean?

This symbol means that you should not place the package close to a magnet.

What is the 7 symbol for recycling?

This symbol notes that the packaging contains plastic that is difficult to recycle and is not accepted at recycling centers.

What is the meaning of the 2 symbols in the packaging?

This symbol informs you that the plastic used in the product is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is readily recyclable into many types of products.

What is the glass symbol on the packaging?

The glass symbol notifies that the package is delicate and damaged easily. Mostly, the symbol is to indicate that the package contains glass or other breakable products.

How do you identify plastic packaging?

You can identify plastic-type symbols as a Mobius loop but with a number in the center.

What is the 5 recycle symbol?

This symbol indicates that the plastic is made of polypropylene (PP), which is a type of plastic that is predominantly hard and heat resistant.


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