The Carton Drop Test: 7 Things You Need to Know About It

by | Nov 29, 2018 | Packaging, Product Inspections, Quality Control

When you are manufacturing products overseas, it is important to take all possible steps to ensure product quality. More than that, you have to ensure that your products survive the journey from the factory to the port and then across the ocean to you.

Have you ever seen videos of airline workers handling luggage and tossing suitcases across the tarmac as if they were giant rectangular baseballs?

If so, you know that luggage is not always handled with the utmost of care. And you may not realize it, but your cartons can receive similar treatment during their journey. This is why carton drop tests exist.

Carton strength is an important consideration that importers sometimes overlook. It is essential to ensure that your master cartons can withstand being dropped multiple times and from different angles. This is essentially what a carton drop test works to simulate.

Here are 7 things you need to know about carton drop tests.

#1 – ISTA 1A Lays Out the Accepted International Standards for Drop Tests

The International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) is, according to their website, “an organization focused on the specific concerns of transport packaging.”

With that focus in mind, the association has developed a number of protocols, including ISTA 1A. It outlines acceptable procedures for a number of different tests, including vertical shock tests, alternative incline tests, alternative horizontal tests and, of course, carton drop tests.

The ISTA 1A drop test procedure is the accepted international standard.

#2 – Drop Test Height (See Chart) is Determined by Carton Weight

You may be curious about what height the carton should be dropped from.

Drop height is determined based on the weight of a carton. A carton that weighs less than 21 lbs (10 kgs) will be dropped from a height of 30 inches (760 mm), while a carton weighing 100 lbs (45 kgs) will be dropped from a height of 8 inches (200 mm).

Drop Test Height Chart

#3 – Cartons are Dropped 10 Times During Testing (See Diagram)

When performing a drop test, the carton is dropped on its most fragile corner, three of its edges, and six of its faces. In the diagram below, you can see how the faces, edges, and corner are identified.

Drop Test: Faces, Edges, Corner

In the table below you can see the details of the drop sequence. The carton will be dropped a total of 10 times.

Drop Test Sequence

#4 – After the Drop Test, Your Carton is Opened to Determine a Pass or Fail Result

Once the carton has been dropped from the appropriate height 10 different times, it will now be opened. The drop test is failed if any of the following is found.

  • Damage to the export carton
  • Damage to the product packages inside
  • Scratches, dents, or other damage to products
  • The products are not functioning as expected

If your cartons fail the test, it essentially means that they are not strong enough.

#5 – Burst Strength is Key to Passing Drop Tests

Box Certificate

This label will be found on boxes with 200 PSI burst strength.

In order to ensure that your cartons are strong enough to pass a drop test, burst strength is one of the main considerations to keep in mind.

Burst strength is a measure of a box’s resistance to rupturing. It is measured in Pounds per Square Inch (PSI). At Insight, we recommend using cartons with a burst strength of 200 PSI for protection against rupture. Master cartons should have a seal specifying the burst strength and carton manufacturer, generally on the bottom side of the carton.

This should be sufficient to pass standard drop tests. While some factories have the necessary equipment to test and verify burst strength most do not. It would be necessary to send a sample carton to a testing lab if necessary to verify burst strength.

#6 – ISTA 1A Outlines More Than Just Drop Test Standards

In addition to carton drop tests, ISTA 1A outlines procedures for vertical shock tests, alternative incline tests, and alternative horizontal tests.

These tests are much less common and aren’t done by the average importer. They require the use of specialized equipment such as a shock test machine, incline impact tester and horizontal impact test system.

Drop tests, on the other hand, are fairly common.

#7 – Drop Tests Can be Done as Part of Your Pre-Shipment Inspection

Product quality inspectors conducting a carton drop test

Insight inspectors conducting a carton drop test as part of an inspection

A carton drop test is most valuable when done on your first shipment and it can be performed as part of any pre-shipment inspection. By including it in your pre-shipment inspection, you can help ensure that the cartons you use are less likely to rupture and cause damage to your products and packaging.

By using high-burst-strength cartons capable of passing a drop test, you can be more confident that your products will make it to the country of importation unharmed.

If you are thinking of conducting a pre-shipment inspection, we recommend reading the following ebook.

Free Guide: How to Prepare for an Inspection

Are you thinking of hiring a third-party inspection company? If so, you need to be properly prepared. No one knows your product better than you do. So, make sure you give your service provider the information they need to ensure a successful inspection.

Thanks for reading! Do you have any questions about the article? Is there something else you’d like to add? Leave a comment below.

Andy Church

Founder & CEO, Insight Quality Services



    what is highest limit of drop test for heavy items.

    Like book almirah, bed or bookshelf etc,

    • Insight

      Generally 150 pounds is the limit for drop testing, which is the maximum weight in the drop test height chart above.

  2. Dharmender

    Below are the queries that I’m looking for –

    1. Is this standard only applicable for packaging Items or single Item can be tested as per above mentioned table ?
    2. Is is also applicable on Electronic hand held Items E.g. Neck Band, TWS, Earphone etc.
    3. If this is not applicable on product then what exactly standard or table i can follow for the above mentioned items in No. 2 ?

    • Insight Team

      Carton drop tests are not based on the number of items in the carton or the type of product. There could be 1 item, such as a portable generator, or 100 items, such as neck bands, in a master carton. The weight of the master carton will determine the drop height as specified in point #2.

  3. Jonathan Reyes

    How about for Plastic cabinets and drawers, as you can see this product is somehow bulky when it comes to size but do have lower weights. We always experience failure to drop test. Any recommendation?

    • Insight Team

      If your items are breaking at the drop height that corresponds to the weight of the master carton then the next step would be to undertake a packaging design review. Packaging can be designed to ensure items arrive undamaged.

  4. Wong

    How about for items more than 68kg? is it applicable to any drop test ISTA height standard?

    • Insight Team

      Generally, 68kg is the limit for drop testing as part of an inspection, which is the maximum weight in the drop test height chart above. To drop test heavier items requires specialized equipment (as outlined in ISTA 1B) and may need to be done in a specialized lab.

  5. Susan

    is this drop test suitable for glass bottle? If not, what other methods are recommeneded?

    • Insight Team

      Hi Susan,

      In some cases, you can drop test packaging for glass products. It’s essential to note that you should do the test on the outer carton, rather than on individual packages. As such, you need to invest in packaging that can withstand being dropped without breaking anything and come to an agreement with the factory about this. If your packaging requires a “Fragile” sticker, a drop test wouldn’t be appropriate. But if you’ve worked out an agreement with the factory to use packaging that can protect the glass products well enough, you can drop test them.

  6. Samson

    Can drop test be applied to products in glass bottles!?

    • Insight Team

      Hi Samson,
      Please see the reply to Susan, above.

  7. kang La

    is the drop test standard shown on #2 chart above the same for all ISTA #s ?

    • Insight Team

      This article and chart above are specific to ISTA 1A.

  8. Avie

    Does this standard also applies with products that will be shipped to Amazon Fulfillment center? Do they only do the drop test on the carton and not on the product box itself?

    • Insight Team

      Yes, this standard can be used for items shipped to Amazon. ISTA also has Member Performance Tests (ISTA 6 – xxx) that are created to reflect supply chain elements specific to Amazon’s needs and that have been determined by the ISTA Standards Council to be unique and therefore do not translate well to industry standardization. The tests may be completely original or may be modifications or variations of ISTA Procedures or Projects or other published and accepted tests.

  9. Wayne Cahoon

    UPS small box 13 x 11 x 2″ doesn’t have a burst strength certification label on them. How can I determine what that limit is? Or better yet, is there a rating

    Also, UPS states that there needs to be a 2″ cushion of packing material protecting the item. How can you have 2″ on all sides of the item when the box is only 2″ thick?

    • Insight Team

      The purpose of the ISTA test methods is to simulate the travel journey and effects on the packaging and products contained within. While we are not familiar with the packaging offered by UPS or their statements/requirements for goods that are shipped with them, it seems likely that packaging boxes they provide or sell would meet their own suggested burst strength requirements and/or suggestions.

      Testing would be required to determine the burst strength of cartons without certification labels listing burst strength. If it is necessary to have 2” of cushioning material to adequately protect a carton’s contents then this would need to be factored in when determining the carton size necessary for your shipment.


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