June 5, 2024

In the world of shipping, whether you’re sending a small package or a large shipment, understanding the difference between actual weight and dimensional (or volumetric) weight is crucial. These two measurements play a significant role in determining shipping costs, and not knowing the distinction can result in unexpected charges. This guide will demystify these concepts, helping both individuals and businesses make informed decisions when selecting shipping options.

What is Actual Weight?

Actual weight is exactly what it sounds like: the physical weight of a package or shipment as measured on a scale. It is straightforward and leaves little room for interpretation. For small parcels or when shipping large, dense items, the actual weight is often the basis for calculating shipping costs.

What is Dimensional Weight?

Dimensional weight, on the other hand, is a calculated weight that considers the volume of a package. It is based on the length, width, and height of a package, reflecting the space it occupies in a carrier’s vehicle or cargo hold rather than its actual weight. The concept of dimensional weight is used by shipping companies to ensure that they are adequately compensated for lightweight, bulky items that take up significant space. The formula for calculating dimensional weight typically involves multiplying the package’s dimensions and then dividing by a standard divisor set by the shipping carrier. This pricing strategy means that if your package is large but lightweight, you might be charged based on its dimensional weight rather than its actual weight because it occupies more space in a truck, plane, or ship.

How to Calculate Dimensional Weight

While the specific divisor may vary by carrier and sometimes by service type or route, the basic formula for calculating dimensional weight is:

Dimensional Weight (lbs)=

The divisor is commonly around 166 for domestic shipments and 139 for international shipments when dealing in inches and pounds. It’s important to check with your specific carrier for their divisor and calculation method.

Which Weight is Used to Determine Shipping Cost?

Shipping companies will compare the actual weight and dimensional weight of a package and use the greater of the two to calculate the shipping cost. This approach ensures that the pricing reflects both the physical weight and the amount of space the package occupies.

Strategies for Minimizing Shipping Costs

Revise Your Packaging: Selecting lightweight materials and shifting from boxes to poly mailers can reduce costs significantly, especially across large order volumes. Considerations should include product protection, branding, and minimizing package size and weight.

Re-kit Your Products: Kitting combines multiple items into a single, custom-sized package, reducing dimensional weight and materials costs. This strategy can enhance profit margins through packaging efficiency.


To simplify: actual weight refers to the physical weight of a package measured in pounds or kilograms, whereas dimensional weight (also known as volumetric weight) represents the space a package occupies. How to use this to your benefit?Keep the box as small as you can. It’s crucial to be mindful of the volume your shipment occupies and aim to minimize any wasted space within your packaging. Being informed about how the size of your box impacts shipping costs empowers you to ship more efficiently on a global scale.