Heat shrink tubing is used because it can create variable stiffness. Due to extremely-thin walls, the product can add stiffness to devices without significantly adding to the width or size of the device. Due to this effect, varying degrees of flexibility can be achieved.

Heat shrink tubing is available in a variety of colours to allow easier colour coding of wires and connections. Recently heat shrink tubing has been used more in PC modding to tidy up the interior of computers and provide a more aesthetic finish. As a reaction to this new market opening up, manufacturers have started producing heat shrink tubing in luminous and UV reactive varieties.Although most heat shrink is used to provide insulation, heat shrink tubing is also available with a conductive lining to avoid the requirement to solder a joint before covering it. This may be considered poor engineering practice.Similar to heat shrink tubing is heat shrink end caps. Shaped like small mugs, these may be used to insulate cut ends of wires or cables.Heat Shrink Tubing was invented by Raychem Corporation. Leading global producers include Tyco (which owns Raychem), 3M, and Sumitomo Electric Industries (through Sumitomo Fine Polymer).