Dimensional Weight vs. Actual Weight

Dimensional Weight vs. Actual Weight

Dimensional weight is just as crucial as an actual weight when shipping freight. Calculating dimensional weight vs. actual weight can help solve various shipping problems. Freight weight calculates differently than weight for parcel shipping, but how exactly do we determine freight weight? Well, it depends on the carrier. Some carriers use dimensional weight (DIM) for billing, and others use actual weight. With the different ways carriers determine freight weight, you are probably wondering what the difference is and why shippers need to know.

Here’s help with clarifying dimensional weight vs. actual weight for shippers, what they are, and what you need to know.

Dimensional Weight vs. Actual Weight Background


The air freight industry created DIM weight. Air freight carriers noticed they were handling a lot of lightweight packages. These packages took up a lot of space on the aircraft.

While an aircraft can carry much weight, the cargo space is limited. From the carrier’s perspective, if the packaged cargo is light, it makes more sense to charge by how much a package SHOULD weigh—based on the package size—than it does to charge based on the package’s actual weight. So, they invented DIM weight. To put it simply, dimensional weight is used in the shipping world when space is limited.

What Is Actual Weight?

Actual weight is how much your cargo weighs, including packaging (which is very important to include and often forgotten). For actual weight, you want to weigh your shipment after it’s been fully packaged using a certified freight scale. The carrier will be sure to consider the load, so don’t fudge on the weight. Measuring the dimensions of crated freight is a simple matter of measuring the crate’s length, width, and height.

When measuring the dimensions of a palletized shipment, the length and width should be the same as the length and width of the pallet. Your cargo cannot hang over any of the edges of the pallet. The height measures as a straight line from your cargo’s highest point to the bottom of the pallet where it touches the floor.

Estimating or “being close” to the actual weight of your fully packaged shipment is not an accurate weight measurement. Carriers always measure and weigh cargo during the inspection process. Suppose you aren’t precise in your report for weight and dimensions during the freight quote process. This will result in a billing adjustment after the shipment is complete. It could also end with additional charges, like a change of freight class.

How to Calculate Dimensional Weight

DIM weight is sometimes referred to as volumetric weight. Having learned a lesson from their colleagues in the air freight business, LTL freight carriers have started using DIM weight in increasing numbers. DIM weight takes a package’s length, width, and height into account when calculating cost. If the box is 15-inches long, 20-inches wide, and 18-inches high, you multiply 15x20x18, which comes to 540 cubic inches.

A carrier will calculate the DIM weight by dividing the cubic volume by a factor it calls “the divisor.” Each carrier uses its own divisor (or set of divisors), so the DIM weight for one carrier may not be the same as the DIM weight for another carrier. Some carriers publish the divisors they use for different types of shipments, so it’s possible for a shipper to determine the DIM weight for that carrier.

Ultimately, you will want to know whether or not a carrier uses DIM weight. Odd as it may seem, it’s possible to book a shipment based on actual weight and have the carrier bill based on DIM weight if it is more than the actual weight.

A Word on Density


If you follow our blog, you probably know where this word on density is going. But it’s important and bears repeating. Many factors affect LTL freight rates, and density is one. The denser your cargo is, the better for your budget. That’s because lower-density load takes up more space on a freight truck than higher-density cargo.

Shipping 300 pounds of ping pong balls (lower density) and 300 pounds of bricks (higher density) have the same actual weight, but the packaged ping pong balls will take up more space in the truck than the packaged bricks. That means you will pay for the extra space your cargo takes up. So, the best thing you can do is package your shipment as densely as possible.

Partner with a 3PL like FreightCenter


What’s a shipper to do to ensure a successful outcome? Partner with a third-party logistics company (3PL) like FreightCenter and get all the insight into how carriers ship your freight, including how they determine the shipping cost. Find the suitable carrier for the best rates with our extensive network of carriers and use our powerful TMS that streamlines the process for you.

Don’t let freight weight confuse you or keep you from shipping your cargo. Let our experts answer your freight shipping questions by calling us at 800.716.7608 You can also use our free online quote tool!

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