Selecting the Right Tube Closure or Applicator

How to ensure that tubes dispense effectively, protect reliably, and look good.

by Erik Swain, Senior Editor


Sometimes the closure or the applicator is what makes the tube. By incorporating features from child-resistance to tamper evidence, and by providing crucial functions, closures and applicators are a significant selling point, both from the tube suppliers to the pharmaceutical companies and from the pharmaceutical companies to the users of their products.

Therefore, tube closures and applicators must be designed very carefully. Any innovations can lead to major advantages in the marketplace.


The design process at Andrew M. Martin Co. (Gardena, CA), for example, "depends on whether it is a custom design or if we are trying to make a niche for something," says Cliff Miller, president. "If it is customer-driven, they will have ideas of what they are looking for, and we will incorporate them. If we are doing the design, it is a case of selecting the right medium for the right part. A lot of times we will use an injection-molded base. But there are times we will have to go to blow molding or a different process to achieve the part we are looking for. And of course we have to make sure it is compatible with the package being used, whether plastic or laminate."

When liquid products are involved, he says, "flow becomes a very important consideration. Is it a thick, viscous product or a thin one? How will it be applied and what kind of flow is needed to achieve that?"

Douglas A. Stewart, vice president of sales and marketing for Montebello Packaging (Oak Park, IL), notes that "a lot of the time it's the product that dictates what cap we suggest. Some products need to be applied to a small area that is difficult to reach. Here we may recommend an extended tip that may either be integral to the tube head (neck and shoulder) or molded separately and dropped in the package for the consumer to engage. Another thing to consider is the need to show the consumer that the product has not been tampered with before the first use. This is especially important on pharmaceutical products that are applied to the skin or in the body."

If a pharmaceutical manufacturer comes to a supplier for a closure on an existing product, the manufacturer usually dictates the material choices beforehand, because those materials have already been approved by FDA for use with that product, says Arther Barrett, president of Barrett Plastics (Harrison, AR). "[The choice of material] is locked in if you want that business," he says.

Other factors to consider, says Phil Lambert, market manager­healthcare for Rexam Closures (Evansville, IN), include "the natural flexibility of the tube, which creates nuances for the closure system, especially if the tube crimples. The dexterity of your users must be considered. If the product is marketed to seniors, they may find small closure sizes difficult."

Also, the machinery used and the process required must be taken into account, says Deborah Sorensen, sales representative for Amcor Plastube North America (Granby, QC). "You have to decide whether on-line capping or hand-capping will be used," she says. "If it is a metallized cap, or one with a logo, the customer might not want to risk it getting scratched on-line."

The pharmaceutical industry rarely used to give much thought to the look of tube closures, but that has changed, especially for skin-care products, Miller says. "The designs look more like consumer products now," he says. "You can tell they're still medical, but with baby boomers not wanting to look old, the potential profitability is there for things like wrinkle cream, and that needs shelf appeal."


Child-resistant/senior-friendly (CR/SF) closures have become more of a necessity for tube applications, especially since the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) mandated that lidocaine and dibucaine, which are packaged in tubes, have CR/SF packaging. A new rule proposal, which would require prescription drugs being switched to over-the-counter (OTC) sale to have CR/SF packaging, might have a bit of an impact, though the rule is for oral drugs, not topical ones, which could limit how many tubes are affected.

"A lot of closures are so small that children can put them in their mouths," says Lambert. "That is the toughest part of the protocol to pass."

Aside from regulatory concerns, these CR/SF packaging features, and other safety precautions such as tamper evidence, have consumer appeal and may prompt pharmaceutical companies to adopt them for marketing reasons, says Michael Hoard, director of marketing, for Cebal America (Norwalk, CT). "The OTC [pharmaceutical] market is a vibrant and competitive area," he says. "Adding CR closures or a special dispensing closure helps marketers differentiate their products."

"Full-diameter, stand-up closures have also become important," Hoard says. "They help display the product on the shelf and make it easier for consumers, especially older adults, to handle the package."


Applicator design usually goes hand in hand with the head-style design, Hoard says. "In commercial tubes, there are a range of different head styles and tube diameters available, and the fitment is typically designed to the existing head style," he says. "The fitments are typically applied by the customer. If you design it from scratch, there are costs involved, from the design through the tooling for the tube and the fitment. But certain advantages could be achieved by including the applicator head as part of the tube design, rather than separate from it."

James Alexander Corp. (Blairstown, NJ) is unveiling a unit-of-use product, tentatively titled Plastic Dispensing System, that aims to combine the ease of use of tubes and ampules. Like a unit-of-use tube, it is made of plastic (polyethylene or polypropylene) and has a dispensing tip or swab that makes for easy application. Like an ampule, it is activated when something is broken after squeezing or snapping. For example, with the dropper tips, when a plastic membrane inside is squeezed and broken, the liquid comes up to the tip, ready to be dispensed. Dispensing can occur in drops or in a stream, depending on the end-use application, says Francesa Fazzolari, president of James Alexander. And, she says, there are no more worries about broken glass, as there can be with conventional ampules.

"We used our 29 years of experience with glass ampule droppers and swabs, during which we engineered and developed many tips," she says. "We learned what works best for which chemicals. The dispensing features from the glass ampule package translated fine to plastic."

The product will first be available in 2- and 5-ml sizes, which allow for the same tips as glass ampules. Soon to come are 10- and 20-ml sizes, and for those "we developed a new size of tip, using the same materials for a larger orifice," Fazzolari says.

Another unit-of-use tube product with a special applicator is the MicroDose from Unicep Packaging Inc. (Sandpoint, ID). It is a single piece that has a long, narrow tip that is tapered and angled, and it needs no additional dispensers, tips, or secondary units that can add to cost.

"As an applicator, it is ideal for materials that need to be applied with precision and control," says Steve Dilts, Unicep's director of sales and marketing, noting that it has found wide acceptance in the dental market and some other healthcare fields. "It's modeled after a tip on a dental instrument, and allows the user to maintain a line of sight. We did a great deal of study to determine the best tip angle. With this tip, you are able to see what you have dispensed. And the tip is long enough to access difficult or awkward-to-reach sites."

Customers' requests have also prompted more sizes to become available. The original dispenser was 0.1 ml, and now they are as large as 1 oz.

Material choice was based on flexibility, because finger pressure is required for dispensing, so low-density polyethylene (LDPE) was the pick. Higher-barrier materials are being investigated for future use.


There are a wide variety of choices that must be made when picking the right tube closure or applicator, and a wrong decision can have serious consequences. No longer are a piece's deficiencies tolerated because of one or two strengths. Every feature and function must be top-notch.

"You need to have something that's aesthetic, performs dispensing functions properly, and protects all properties of the product," Lambert says.


Andrew M. Martin Company, Inc.
16539 S. Main St.
Gardena, CA 90248
Tel: 800/64-MARTIN or 310/323-2000
Fax: 310/323-2265
Products: PVC unit-dose tubing packs and injection-molded plastic squeeze tubes for liquids, gels, and creams.
Innovations: Poly Squeeze tubes available in PP or LLDPE and Amco Pillow Paks in medical-grade PVC.

Romaco Inc.
104 American Rd.
Morris Plains, NJ 07950
Tel: 973/605-5370
Fax: 973/605-1360
Web site:
Key Contact: Bernie Conlon, director of packaging sales
Products: Tube fillers
Innovations: Tube-closure stations featuring metal and hot-air systems mounted simultaneously.

Montebello Packaging
124 Madison St.
Oak Park, IL 60302-4206
Tel: 708/386-2700 or 800/548-TUBE
Fax: 708/386-3453
Web site:
Key Contact: Douglas A. Stewart, vice president, sales and marketing
Products: Montebello is a global leader in aluminum tubes for the pharmaceutical industry.
Innovations: Montebello M-PURITY tamper-evident neck seals and caps, M-DECO print transfer photo- quality tube graphics, M-TELESCOPAK tube-packing system.

CP Packaging (A Division of algroup wheaton)
1075 Cranbury South River Rd.
Jamesburg, NJ 08831
Tel: 609/655-4880
Fax: 609/655-5718
Web site:
Key Contacts: Richard W. O'Connell, general manager; Greg Shaw, director, business development
Products: Patented unit-dose plastic tubes that are used by the pharmaceutical, diagnostic, and biotechnology markets.
Innovations: Unit-dose tubes.

Unicep Packaging Inc.
1702 Industrial Dr.
Sandpoint, ID 83864
Tel: 208/265-9696
Fax: 208/265-4726
Web site:
Key Contact: Steve Dilts, director of sales
Products: Contract packaging in the MicroDose, a one-piece LDPE unit-dose dispenser.
Innovations: Full-wrap adhesive labels are available for 0.5- to 8-ml sizes.

Cebal America
101 Meritt 7
P.O. Box 5121
Norwalk, CT 06856-5121
Tel: 203/845-6315
Fax: 203/845-6341
Web site:
Key Contact: Michael Hoard, market manager, Glaminate tubes
Products: Plastic and Glaminate tubes suited for the healthcare industry.

James Alexander Corp.
845 Route 94
Blairstown, NJ 07825
Tel: 908/362-9266
Fax: 908/362-5019
Web site:
Key Contact: Francesca Fazzolari, president
Products: Unit-dose dispensing systems for the pharmaceutical industry.
Innovations: A new single-use plastic dispensing system offers package integrity and ease of use.

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