Speaking of the whole international trade flow, we can’t even imagine the number of shipments processed every day.

Some transportation hubs pass over millions of packages each day, and it is very crucial to not get lost among this mass.

There are a lot of tools that help warehouse operators and carriers to figure out what package lies in front of them.

One of the most popular means for it is various shipping marks.

Let’s find out what shipping marks are, what types of shipping marks are there and how to properly use them.

What is a shipping mark?

Thanks to the rapid advances in logistics technology, the global freight transportation infrastructure could handle enormous volumes of cargo each year.

For example, in 2008, more than $16 trillion of exported freight was delivered across the world.

Despite the overload of the flow, all operations in international freight transportation must be completed smoothly from beginning to end.

To prevent wrong delivery, accidents, losses, customs penalties or damage resulting from improper storage or incorrect handling, the worldwide trade practice presumes that each shipping unit has to be marked with the required shipping marks correctly and completely.

Another reason why the shipping marks were introduced in international trade is that all the packages have to be spotted and recognized at a distance with ease.

Such marks can help the cargo to be handled right and efficiently during the whole delivery process.

So, basically, shipping marks serve two main purposes.

First of all, they are used as identification marks for the carriers and all those engaged in the carriage and handling while in transit.

Secondly, they are used by the consignee to identify the corresponding order and ensure the correct delivery.

As for the definition, shipping marks are some symbols, words or numbers that are attached to each package unit for easy identification and handling of the shipment.

What are the main types of shipping marks?

There are several ways of how we can categorize shipping marks.

First of all, shipping marks are divided due to their placement:

  1. Package marks.
  2. Boxes marks.
  3. Pallet marks.
  4. Container marks.

Also, we can divide shipping marks into the following categories:

  1. Marks for shipments.
  2. Marks for documents.

In practice, shipping marks are used to show the description of transported goods, the origin of goods, handling information, inner package type, and quantity, net weight, gross weight, consignee details, etc.

Also, there are special shipping marks for unconventional cargo, such as fragile or dangerous goods.

Speaking of certain examples, the following shipping marks have to be printed on the boxes for the international freight:

  • buyer’s name and/or logo;
  • product reference and/or order number;
  • the net and gross weight of a single carton;
  • dimensions of a single carton;
  • number of carton (example: 1/230; 2/230; 3/230…);
  • country of destination.

For the warehouses or distribution centers’ purposes the next shipping marks might be required:

  • product reference (SKU) and/or order number;
  • other relevant information about the products: season, size, color, or breakdown of the different types of goods inside a particular carton;
  • the above information is often contained in a barcode or an RFID tag, for faster processing.

If you want to learn more about the warehousing processes, please, read our full guide on this topic.

What are the main rules when using shipping marks?

There are a few key shipping marks related rules that all involved parties have to follow.

Such include:

Rule #1. Shipping marks that indicate destination and transportation points should be applied with the help of stencil with waterproof ink on three sides of the package.

Rule #2. Shipping marks don’t have to show the real trade names of your products.

Instead of that, coded marks are used so the handlers are less aware of the contents and therefore that the goods are less subject to theft.

Rule #3. The above-mentioned codes for shipping marks should be changed from time to time to minimize any familiarity handlers may develop with the codes.

Rule #4. If the shipment requires any sort of specialist handling or treatment then the shipping marks should show it as well (this info should also be present on the bill of lading).

Rule #5. All cautionary shipping marks must be permanent and very readable.

If there are different languages in the country of origin and destination, make sure that shipping marks are printed in both languages.

Rule #6. It is highly recommended to avoid materials that are not waterproof when making shipping marks.

Rule #7. Most freight shipping will require a certain level of handling at the target destination, so it would be quite rational to print the handling instructions on the exterior of the shipping crates or cardboard boxes in the language of the destination country.

Even though the use of shipping marks is not regulated by a single law, the above-mentioned rules are obligatory and their break might cause huge issues during the delivery.

Shipping marks for the LCL shipments

When you’re shipping cargo which is less than container load (LCL), your products will be placed into a shared container with other orders.

Even though the LCL shipping is an efficient and cost-effective way of delivery, it might be quite confusing to search through all the packages inside the container and find the correct one.

Imagine if a dozen companies packed in a shared container about 50 packages which look quite similar from the first glance.

You can see where it becomes confusing, can’t you?

As long as your goods are labeled correctly with the right shipping marks, it’s easy to separate them when the container is unpacked.

To do so, the parties involved in the delivery need to take several steps:

  1. Your supplier has to correctly label your package and include its code in the transportation documents.
  2. The shipping company puts several packages from various suppliers in a single container with a special number.
  3. The shipping company includes info about all the packages inside such a container in the transportation documents.
  4. When the goods get to the country of destination, it is easy to find your package with the help of container number and transportation documents.

So, as a buyer, you have not much to do with the process of labeling your goods.

However, if something goes wrong due to improper marking, you can require the compensation for such cargo.

Shipping marks for the Amazon FBA

We believe that the vast majority of our readers are already familiar with the Amazon FBA concept (if not, please, read our full guide on this matter).

So, if you try to ship your products to Amazon FBA, there are additional labels that will need to be put on the cartons.

Amazon has a quite strict marking and packaging requirements for freight to be accepted to the warehouse.

Basically, you have to visit your Amazon FBA page, select products that you want to send, create and print barcodes for them.

Please, watch the following Amazon video guide for FBA labels.

How to mark dangerous goods?

Proper marking of dangerous goods increases the security of transportation due to extreme care with which they are proceeded.

As you can see from the picture below, there are six marks which have to be placed on the box with dangerous goods.

Also, there are special marks for the limited quantity and excepted the number of dangerous goods:

If you are not familiar with the topic of the dangerous good, you can check the following Bansar guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to make shipping marks?

Generally, it is the seller’s obligation to prepare your package and apply all the needed shipping marks.

However, it wouldn’t be superfluous to understand how the shipping mark has to be created.

Here are some general recommendations:

  1. Shipping marks can be both printed and handwritten, however, the latter ones are more difficult to read.
  2. More important information should be easy-to-reach.
  3. Depending on the type of product you want to ship, appropriate warning signs may need to be printed on the cartons as well (for example, if the product is easily damaged, use a “fragile” sign).

What shipping marks are required when exporting from China?

Practically the same shipping marks as in the rest of the world.

The only difference is that it is better to print all shipping marks both in English and Chinese.

What different shipping marks mean?

Needless to say that there is a big choice of shipping marks used in international trade.

In practice, there is no single document or webpage where you can see all existing shipping marks.

If you want to learn more about various shipping marks and their looks, please, visit this guide.

Also, you can check some popular marks in the picture below.

Which documents should contain shipping marks? Are there some exceptions?

Practically every document connected with international trade requires the use of shipping marks.

Some documents may cover almost all of the shipping marks that are related to your package, while other documents may refer to one or two shipping marks.

The packing list should speak of as much shipping marks as possible.

In addition to the packing list, the bill of lading and commercial invoice should cover the related shipping marks.

Speaking of the exceptions, the bill of exchange should not cover any shipping marks on it, except the letter of credit number.

The bill of exchange is a negotiable instrument and the format of the bill of exchange regulated by the local law.

What kind of shipping container markings are used in international trade?

# 1. Container number is the main marking which can be found on the door.

It is an alphanumeric sequence made up of four alphabets and seven numbers.

# 2. The check digit is basically a part of the full container number, which can be used to identify if the above-mentioned number is valid or invalid.

# 3. Container owner or lessor, which is the entity that owns or operates the container.

This could be a shipping line or a container leasing company.

# 4. Max gross is the maximum weight that the container can carry including its own tare weight.

# 5. ISO Code is given to each container to avoid any ambiguity in naming the container.

For example, in different countries, a standard 20′ container is called Dry Van (DV), General Purpose (GP), Standard (SD), Normal, Dry Container (DC), etc.

As these terms are all different, as a standard, the ISO code of 22G1 is used to denote that the container in question is a 20′ container.

# 6. Classification society label for type testing, which can be achieved after the container is tested for its strength, cargo, and seaworthiness.

# 7. The weight of the container is the actual weight of an empty container and this is given by the manufacturer at the end of the manufacturing and labeling process.

# 8. Max payload is the maximum weight of the cargo that can be packed in the container.

The misdeclaration of this weight by the customers has severe consequences both to life and property.

# 9. Cube is the maximum volume in the cubic capacity that can be packed into the container. 

Unlike weight, it is not possible to over pack the container by volume as it will be quite evident.

# 10. CSC, ACEP & other certifications (every container should have a valid safety approval plate called Container Safety Convention plate or CSC to be used in international trade).

What does the umbrella symbol mean on the packaging?

You might be familiar with the umbrella symbol on packages due to its popularity.

It means to keep the package away from rain or damp conditions.

Another popular symbol is the thermometer sign.

This symbol is generally found on packages that contain food or drinks.

Shipping marks, labels, and symbols – is it the same?

Shipping marks are a very loose term.

Practically any symbol, word or number can be considered as a shipping mark in export and import transactions.