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How to Ship Paintings | A Step-by-Step Guide for Artists and Galleries

by Jason Horejs on 11/24/2012 · 131 comments

Introduction

 

I have been in the gallery business since 1993. Though I now own Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, I started in the business on the ground floor. My first job was in the backroom, shipping artwork for a Western Art gallery in Scottsdale. The gallery had a high sales volume, so I got a lot of experience packing, crating and shipping art of every shape and size. I shipped paintings and sculptures large and small and learned what was important in making sure artwork arrived safely.

Over the years I certainly learned some lessons the hard way – not every piece arrived safely. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, artwork would be damaged by the delivery company, and sometimes, I would neglect a minor detail, resulting in a shipping disaster. Eventually I became quite adept at it, and even though I eventually moved into a sales position and ultimately opened my own gallery, I continued to sneak into the shipping room from time to time to keep in practice. To this day I will sometimes pack and ship a piece myself – there’s something satisfying about the physical act of shipping a piece of artwork.

Shipping is both science and art, and I would like to share with you some of the lessons and techniques I’ve learned over the years.

While shipping is almost second nature to me, I know that it poses a perplexing challenge for many artists and gallerists. I know this first-hand: Some of the boxes I receive at the gallery are packed atrociously. From these boxes it is clear many artists either don’t know how to ship their work effectively. Or they know, but don’t care very much. I hope I can make your life a little easier the next time you have to ship a painting.

While this document will focus on shipping two-dimensional art – paintings, prints, photographs – I hope to have a companion document on shipping sculpture in the next several months.

Disclaimer

While the advice I’m sharing with you comes from years of practice and experience, there are no guarantees in the arena of shipping fine art. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, artwork gets damaged in transit. I cannot guarantee every piece you ship using the techniques below will arrive safely, but they will help you better your odds.

Another important thing to remember is that each painting provides its own unique challenges. While these guidelines will work in most cases, occasionally you will have to adapt them to meet the needs of your individual situation.

 

My Goals When Shipping Art

 

When shipping artwork, before I begin I have three key goals in mind. I have listed them here in descending order of importance.

Safety

One of the worst imaginable calls in the art business is from a client who has received a piece of artwork damaged in transit. No matter how great a work of art is, no matter how well you have served your collector, if the artwork arrives damaged your customer is going to be upset. Later we’ll discuss how to mitigate your client’s frustration and turn the disaster into an opportunity to provide exceptional customer service, but far better to avoid the damage in the first place.

In my experience, most damage can be avoided with careful planning and packing, and this should be goal #1 when you are shipping art.

Professionalism

I have often declared that artists and gallerists are as much in the performance art business as the visual art business. We want to convey to the collector that the work of art they just bought, or are considering to buy, is a masterpiece. Everything we do in relationship to the physical work of art should reinforce this message. When handling the art, we should do so respectfully and almost reverentially. This applies to how the art is shipped as well. When the art arrives on your client’s doorstep, you want the packaging to look like it is worthy of the artwork within, not something that fell off the recycling truck.

Efficiency / Economy / Ecology

Finally, I don’t want my shipping expenses to eat so far into my profit margin that the sale becomes unprofitable. While safety and professionalism certainly come first, those concerns have to be balanced against your costs. Yes, you could charter a jet and hand-deliver the artwork to your client to make sure it arrives safely and professionally, but this approach would be neither economical nor efficient (probably not all that ecologically friendly either). Ultimately, I want to ship the artwork for the least cost, while still maintaining safety and professionalism. These factors can be balanced, and I am going to give you advice that will save you money.

We are also fortunate to live during a “Green” revolution, when recycled materials and energy efficient transport is becoming more easily accessible. I try to use recycled materials wherever possible, and many transportation companies will allow you to buy carbon offsets for your shipments inexpensively. With a little careful planning you can minimize the environmental impact of your art shipping activity.

 

The Right Tools for the Job

 

My father-in-law is an attorney by day and an avid woodworker by night and weekend. He has an amazing woodshop where he crafts fine furniture. I stand in awe of the finely detailed and precise work he does in the shop. His success is equal parts skill, practice, talent and creativity. He can envision a piece of furniture, then engineer and execute a design that allows him to manifest the furniture precisely to his vision.

While his talent, skill and creativity are vital to execute his work, none of it would be possible without the vast array of tools he has assembled over a lifetime of woodworking.

Fortunately shipping is far less exacting than fine furniture making, but the importance of having and using the right tools is analogous. Your shipping will be simpler and safer if you have the right tools.

For about $100 you can assemble a basic shipping toolkit. I have five favorite tools I use consistently when shipping. While there may be a few additional tools that will come in handy from time to time, these tools are a good place to start.

Don’t skimp on these tools. You may pay a little more to get high quality tools, but this investment will quickly pay off in increased productivity and professionalism. A good tool will last years; you’ll want to rid yourself of a poor one as quickly as possible. In other words, you’ll actually spend less in the long run by buying and maintaining good quality tools.

 

Shipping Tools

Shipping Tools | From left: T-Square, Tape Gun, Tape Measure, Knife (Box Cutter), Sharpie, Box Sizer, Shipping Scale

 

My Shipping Toolkit Contains the Following:

Knife (Box Cutter)

A high quality, heavy-duty box cutter with lots of blades is one of your most-important, most used tools. Once you start shipping seriously, you are going to be cutting cardboard like crazy. If your knife isn’t sturdy and sharp, your cuts are going to be messy. A dull, or rickety knife will cause the cardboard to crumple and buckle rather than cut.

I change the razor blades in my knife after every five packages – more frequently if necessary. Blades are cheap, especially if you buy them in bulk.

Tape Gun

For my tape gun, I prefer one with a handle that holds 2” packing tape. Find one that provides a way to adjust the gun’s resistance, usually through a knob or screw on the tape roller. You’ll see why this is important later when I show you how to most effectively use the gun.

T-Square

A good T-Square will help you make straight, even cuts when modifying your boxes. The T-square is primarily used by builders who are installing drywall, which is typically 48” wide. I am going to recommend you buy your cardboard in 48” widths, which makes this the perfect tool for measuring your cuts.

Sharpie

Nothing beats a Sharpie for marking your cardboard for cutting. A pencil works as well, and some might argue that an errant pencil mark is easier to conceal or erase, but I like to get my score marks down quickly and boldly so there is no room for doubt. A marker line is hard to miss or confuse, and is therefore ideal for marking up your packing materials.

I buy the versatile Sharpie markers by the dozens so I never have to worry about running short.

Box Sizer

All of the other tools in this list have been fairly common, and are easy to find at your local hardware store. The last tool in my toolkit, the box sizer, is a tad more specialized, and may need to be ordered online. But it is indispensible once you get the hang of using it. In essence, it is an adjustable tool that allows you to create even and smooth scores on cardboard. These scores then allow you to fold the cardboard wherever you need. With a box sizer you can modify boxes to fit your exact needs, or even create boxes from raw cardboard. I actually use this tool far more frequently when packing sculpture, but it also often comes in handy when boxing up paintings.

 

Supplies

 

Just as having the right tools on hand makes it easier to pack your art professionally, having the right supplies on hand will simplify your shipping life and save you a lot of running around when you make a sale.

While packaging suppliers offer an overwhelming variety of supplies – boxes in every shape and size, tapes in every width, big bubbles, small bubbles, peanuts – you can meet most of your packing needs with just a small arsenal.

Again, the goal is to be able to do the most with the least.

Here are the supplies I try to have in my inventory at all times. While I occasionally have to special order a box for a particular work of art, nine times out of ten I can pack any two-dimensional artwork that comes my way using just these supplies:

Boxes

For my painting shipments I have three primary picture box sizes that I use.

28” x 4” x 24”

37” x 4 3/8” x 30”

36” x 6” x 42”
Your supplier’s sizes may vary slightly, but most will have boxes very close to these dimensions.

The two larger sizes are both telescoping boxes. Telescoping picture boxes are terrific because you can use just one if the artwork fits, or, if the work is larger than a single box, you can slide two boxes together to make a larger box. With a little surgery you can even slide four boxes together to accommodate still larger pieces.

The boxes are relatively inexpensive, and, when used properly, provide sufficient protection to keep your art safe in transit.

 

Telescoping Mirror Box

Telescoping Mirror Box

 

Palette Tape & Wrap (4” wide & 24” wide)

This versatile plastic wrap is perfect for giving your art a protective skin before boxing. It is very similar to the plastic wrap you use in the kitchen to cover casseroles and other food you want to keep fresh in the refrigerator. As the name implies, its main function is to wrap boxes on shipping palettes, but I will show you below how you can use the wrap as a protective coating around your art to protect against scratches and scuffs.

 

Plastic Palette Wrap

Plastic Palette Wrap

 

48” x 96” Cardboard Pads (single & double wall)

These are large, flat sheets of cardboard that can be used anytime you need extra padding or wrapping. You’ll see that I use these pads to provide an extra layer of cardboard between your art and the world, but you can also use them when you are customizing a box and end up with a gap, or when you need extra padding on a corner.

Bubble Wrap

Your kids (or grandkids (or you!)) love stomping on bubble wrap to create the satisfying little “pop.” It might be a little hard to believe that something that pops so easily has incredible power to protect your precious paintings. While any individual bubble is easy to pop, a sheet of the bubbles, working in concert, draws a surprising amount of strength by distributing pressure and impact across a wide area.

Bubble wrap both cushions the art and fills space, preventing unwanted movement within your packaging. When shipping paintings, bubble wrap should be your filler of choice - never use styrofoam peanuts when shipping paintings (more on this later).

I order two to four rolls at a time so that I always have plenty on hand. I do occasionally use the small bubble variety, but the vast majority of my shipments require me to use the larger, 1” bubble rolls.

I used to order both 36” and 24” wide rolls, but I found that I used far more of the 24”, and in the interest of space, decided to order only the 24” width, figuring that I can always use more sheets for those occasions when I need more width.

I also always order bubble wrap that is already perforated at 12” intervals. The perforations make measuring and cutting much easier and cleaner, and it costs the same as the non-perforated rolls.

We suspend the rolls on wires from the ceiling in our supply room so that the roll is out of the way and yet easy to access and unroll.

 

24" Bubble Wrap - Perforated every 12"

24" Bubble Wrap - Perforated every 12"

 

Packing Tape

I’m only going to say this once, but I’m going to say it emphatically:

Buy the very best packing tape you can afford!

I know we’re all on budgets, and we have to stretch to make those budgets meet our ever-increasing needs. While I understand that every penny counts, packing tape is not an area where you should be pinching those pennies.

I have received packages before where the art was literally falling out of the box because the tape had failed to hold. Cheap tape is harder to apply, harder to cut, and doesn’t stick. You will end up having to use two to three times as much tape to secure your boxes, and even then you risk it not working effectively.

Cheap packing tape may actually end up costing you more, not to mention a client, especially if your artwork is damaged because the tape fails.

I always use 3.5 millimeter (“3.5 Mils” in shipping geek parlance) thick tape in 2” wide rolls. This will usually be the heaviest duty option available, but, when in doubt, ask your supplier what their best tape is, or just buy their most expensive option.

“Fragile” Stickers

I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone once said, “Plastering ‘fragile’ labels all over a package only ensures that the delivery company will toss the package under-hand instead of throwing it over-hand.”

This is probably true. I imagine that delivery company employees become pretty immune to those stickers after a while.

Even so, I use large fragile stickers on every shipment. The freight company might not pay much attention to them, but they make me feel better, and they let my clients know I care.

 

Packaging Procedures

 

Now that we have our tools and supplies together, we’re ready to begin boxing our first piece of art. Ideally, you would have a dedicated shipping area in your studio where you keep all of your supplies and tools and have a large table to work from. If this isn’t the case, clear the largest flat surface you can find – your dining room table is probably the next best candidate as it’s better to work at table height than on the floor.

Sizing

The first step in packing a painting is determining which boxes and materials you are going to use, and then planning how to use them optimally. This process begins by measuring your artwork.

I start by determining which outer box I am going to use. My general rule of thumb is that I want to find a box that gives me a minimum clearance of about 2” all the way around the artwork.

As an illustration, let’s say we have an 18” x 18” painting that is 1.5” deep. We will therefore need an outer box that is at least 22” x 22” and about 5.5” thick.

In this instance, I would use my 28” x 4” x 24” box. This is a little bigger than we need, but because this package isn’t large enough to incur dimensional weight (see section on Dimensional Weight below) we are going to be charged by the weight of the box, not the size. So this box will work just fine.

You’ll notice that the box depth isn’t going to give me a full 2” clearance front and back, but I’ll have over an inch. If the piece isn’t extremely fragile, this is okay. Depth isn’t as big of an issue as height and width because the edges and corners are the most damage-prone areas of the artwork. We are also going to be double-boxing our artwork, which gives us an added layer of protection.

The ultimate goal of sizing is to give ourselves enough room to buffer the artwork from the outside world, and to meet our freight company’s padding requirements. Most of the freight companies will only cover damage in packaging that gives you this 2” buffer. Be sure and read your freight company’s damage and packaging policy to confirm you are meeting their requirements.

Dimensional Weight

Another consideration when planning packaging is your freight company’s dimensional weight policy. If your delivery company always charged you shipping fees based purely on the weight of your package, calculating and minimizing your shipping costs would be pretty easy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Because the size of a package impacts the number of packages a freight company can move just as much as the weight does, the companies have come up with a way to account for both dimensions by calculating the “dimensional weight” of a package. If a package exceeds a certain size threshold, the carrier will charge you based on the size or the actual weight; whichever is greater.

Though this sounds complicated, it’s really pretty easy to figure out. Simply contact your delivery company and ask them how they calculate dimensional weight and what their size thresholds are. Many of the companies will list this info on their websites. The formula typically looks something like this:

L x W x H

166
and the company might say that any package that has a total volume over  5,184 cubic inches has to use the dimensional weight formula or the actual weight; whichever is greater.

This happens to be UPS’s current dimensional weight policy, which is why I’m using it here, but these formulas can change from time to time, so make sure you are using up-to-date information.

In our example then, we would first figure out the volume of our box. Since we are using a 28” x 4” x 24” box, we multiply those three dimensions to calculate our volume, which happens to measure out to 2,688 cubic inches. Since we are well under their 5,184 cubic inch threshold, we don’t have to worry about a big charge for dimensional weight.

When shipping larger artwork, you can often run head first into this issue. Let’s say we had a painting that required a bigger box. If we used our 37” x 4 3/8” x 30” box, we would find that our volume comes to 5,550 cubic inches. Since we’ve passed their threshold of 5,184 cubic inches, we have to factor in the dimensional weight (5,550/166), which comes to a total of 33 lbs. So, even if the painting only weighs 10 lbs, we’re going to be charged for 33lbs, since the size takes up so much space in their shipping van. Think of this extra charge as leasing van space.

Knowing this, if you find that the box has a lot of empty space inside, it might make sense to use a smaller box, or to cut it down with the box sizer so that we avoid the dimensional weight charge. In this case if we took just 3” of the length or height of the box, we would be at 5,100 cubic inches and would only be charged for our actual weight.

It still might not be worth the hassle to cut the box down or get another box, but at the very least you should be aware of the impact that size has on your shipping costs.

Size Restrictions

You should also be aware that many of the common carriers, including UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service have unique size restrictions. Check with them to find out what those restrictions are. Exceeding these size restrictions will cause you to incur additional fees and force you to seek out another delivery option.

The size of the artwork dictates the size of the final package, and there are going to be times when you simply have to go over the threshold for dimensional weight and bear the additional costs. This is not the end of the world, though, and you should certainly never compromise the safety of your artwork simply to shave off a few inches to remain under the thresholds. Again, damaged artwork costs you far more than slightly higher shipping fees.

I will discuss how to ship larger artwork in more depth below.

A Protective Skin of Plastic

I mentioned above that one of my essential supplies is palette wrap. I use the plastic wrap to protect paintings and frames from scratches and scuffs. There’s nothing complicated about applying the wrap, but the secret is to pull the wrap tightly around the artwork, applying pressure the entire time you are wrapping the painting so the wrap doesn’t become bunched or tangled. With our example painting at 18” x 18” we only need to go around the art once to cover the entire surface. However, with larger pieces you should pass the wrap over the surface multiple times to cover all of the artwork.

This next tip is hard to explain on paper, but as you wrap a larger piece you’ll see exactly what I mean:

Start wrapping on the back of the artwork.

Your natural tendency is going to be to start on the front, but if you start on the back and wrap at a straight angle all the way around once, you can then pull the wrap diagonally down the back side of the artwork to start your next row of wrap. By having your diagonals on the back, the front of the artwork is covered with smooth, straight rows of plastic, which not only protects the art itself, but also looks attractive to the client upon opening. It’s a small thing, but it will make the wrapping job look more professional.

Finally, and I’m not sure if this is superstition or science: Carefully cut small slits in the back of the plastic so that the art can breathe. I can’t imagine breathability being a huge issue for the brief time most artwork spends in transit, but one could imagine a piece of artwork wrapped for too long having issues with trapped moisture or cracking. I don’t know if this has been proven scientifically, but I can’t see any harm in giving the art some air, so I do it.

Wrapping Artwork in Plastic Palette Wrap

Wrapping Artwork in Plastic Palette Wrap

 

Wrapping Artwork in Plastic Palette Wrap

Palette Wrap II

 

 

Cardboard Padding

Now that we have given the artwork a skin of tightly wrapped plastic, we’re ready to add a thicker, stiffer layer of protective cardboard. This inner layer of cardboard is going to create a kind of second box that will greatly diminish the possibility of having a foreign object pierce or scuff your artwork. This box will also help absorb shock if the package is dropped. Most shipping companies require that freight be double-boxed before covering it for damage, and in my experience, this layer of cardboard has always satisfied the requirement for a second box.

As mentioned earlier, I always have 48” x 96” sheets of cardboard in inventory. I keep both single-wall and double-wall sheets on hand, but I almost always use the single-wall. It’s much, much easier to cut and fold, and in most cases it is more than sufficient protection. I only use double-wall cardboard when I am dealing with extremely heavy or delicate art.

You will notice that the cardboard has a grain that runs the 48” length. This makes the board easier to fold parallel to the 48” side. I try to plan my folds so that they are on this axis. Typically, the best and most efficient way to accomplish this is to have the longest side of the painting also parallel to this 48” side. You can then measure the width of the painting and double it, measure the depth of the painting and double that, then add a few inches for good measure and mark the cardboard using your T-square and Sharpie. Use your box cutter to make your cut. Now measure the length of the painting, add four inches and cut the cardboard to the proper length (this cut will be perpendicular to your original 48” side, and therefore is against the grain of the cardboard).

Now, lay the cardboard flat, place the artwork roughly in the middle, and fold the ends over. Tape the overlap to seal the cardboard closed. The cardboard will naturally fold over the corners of your artwork if you’ve followed my instructions about following the grain.

The ends of the inner-box will be open, and because we allowed four extra inches at the end, you should have about two inches of empty space at either end. Instead of cutting and folding this extra space, simply squeeze the sides together to form a kind of triangle and tape it closed. By taping the ends in this way, you are creating an additional buffer at the end of the artwork that will act as a great shock absorber. I mentioned earlier that the edges of the artwork or frame are the most prone areas for damage, and by giving yourself this extra cushion, you have given the two ends of your artwork an almost impenetrable barrier.

 

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork

Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

Pinch off the end of the Cardboard to Create Extra Shock Absorbtion

Pinch off the end of the Cardboard to Create Extra Shock Absorbtion

Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

 

Bubble Wrapping

Our final inner layer is bubble wrap. Just like we did when we were wrapping the plastic around the art, we want to keep some tension on the bubble wrap as we are applying it to the artwork. Keeping the wrap tight will allow us to maintain clean edges and prevent bunching. I usually apply just one layer of wrap to the large flat sides of the art – the bubble wrap isn’t doing much in the way of protection here anyway. Next, I almost always apply a second layer of bubble wrap around the edges of the artwork. I do this by measuring enough bubble to completely circle the edges of the artwork. I fold the bubble in half lengthwise and then tape it to the edges of the painting. For our example artwork, we would need about 72” (18” x 4”), but I would add an extra foot or two to accommodate the layer of cardboard we added and to take into account the fact that the corners will steal several inches from us due to the volume of the bubbles.

 

 

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

 

 

The Outer Box

Now we are ready to slide this whole, neat package into the cardboard box. We want to fill this outer box as completely as possible. The number one cause of damage to frames and corners of the artwork is movement allowed by extra space in the box. You can go about eliminating this space in one of two ways. First, you can cut the box down to size (as mentioned above in the section on sizing), or you can fill any voids with bubble wrap. Either option is acceptable if you don’t have a lot of extra space. I usually choose the bubble wrap because it takes less time than performing surgery on the box. Just keep the guidelines on carrier size restrictions in mind when making this decision.

If you do end up cutting the box down, I suggest you use your T-square and Sharpie to create straight cuts. Your box will look much better if all of your cuts are straight.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about modifying the boxes, because every surgical operation is going to be different depending on the size and shape of your art. It will be easier to get good results if you tape one end of the box closed so that you are dealing with the box in its 3-D form instead of flat. If you minimize the cuts (I usually only have one continuous cut all the way around the box), you can telescope the parts of the box together to eliminate your extra space. Telescoping is great because it reduces waste and adds an extra layer of cardboard wherever the boxes overlap.

 

The Outer Box

The Outer Box

Wrapped and Padded, The Artwork May Now Be Placed in the Outer Box

Wrapped and Padded, The Artwork May Now Be Placed in the Outer Box

 

 

Taping

I consider sloppy taping a cardinal sin and I want to devote an entire section of this document to the subject of taping.

The first step to good taping is to use good tape. I said it above, but it bears repeating: Use the highest quality tape you can find. Not only does good tape adhere better, it’s easier to apply.

The next secret to good taping is tension. Almost every packing tape gun allows you to control tension with a knob on the tape wheel. I suspect that many beginning shippers (and perhaps even some experienced ones) don’t pay much attention to the tension, or they mistakenly think that the tension should be minimized so the tape rolls off more easily. Low tension will cause your tape to bunch and fold as you are sealing your box, and it will also make it nearly impossible to cut the tape.

To get the right tension, I first set it to where it is so tight that I can’t pull the tape off the roll without straining, then I loosen it just a little so that I no longer have to tug to get the tape off. In other words, you want the tension just before it becomes “impossible to dispense.”

Applying the tape is a two-handed operation. When starting on a new seam, I hold the tape gun in my right hand and use my left hand to hold the tape down at its starting point on the box. I pull the tape gun back to unroll enough tape to cover the seam, but I do this several inches above the surface of the box. Once I have enough tape, I keep it tight, line it up with the seam, and then lower it onto the box – keeping tension on the tape by pulling the gun.

Cutting the tape is an art. If you’ve tried it unsuccessfully, you know what I mean. I once saw someone pull out a pair of scissors every time the tape needed to be cut because she hadn’t mastered the art of using the tape gun’s built-in blade.

A video, or even better, an in-person tutorial would work best here, but since I can’t do that, I’m going to do my best to describe the cutting procedure.

I want to maintain this tension on the tape, so I’m going to continue pulling the tape gun toward me. Of course, pulling on the tape gun causes it to dispense more tape, and we don’t want that to happen right now. I use my right thumb as a brake, holding the roll in place. I now have a couple of taut inches of tape extending from the box to the gun. The rest is in the wrist. I want the saw-blade knife on the gun to start cutting on one side of the tape. I’m not trying to cut the whole width at once. I make this happen by turning my wrist in a clockwise motion while maintaining tension.

In short, the tape cutting process is a combination of tension created by my thumb holding the tape roll while I pull on the gun, and twisting my wrist so the blade can bite through the tape.

Piece of cake!

I encourage you to tape all of the seams of your outer box, including the short seams at the ends of each flap. This may seem like overkill, but any un-taped seam is a potential snag, and if something catches under the seam, your box could easily be ripped open.

I also always apply tape all the way around the length and width of the package to tighten everything up.

 

Seal All of the Seams of the Outer Box

Seal All of the Seams of the Outer Box

 

Dealing with Glass

For those of you who are shipping watercolors, photography, prints, or anything else behind a panel of glass, let me first say, “I’m sorry.” Shipping artwork behind glass is almost infinitely more difficult than shipping anything else. Glass is so susceptible to cracking in transit that some carriers refuse to insure anything that involves it.

Because the slightest jolt or tension can cause your glass to shatter, it is even more important that you provide ample padding and eliminate all possible movement.

As important as breakage prevention is, I feel it’s even more important to think about damage control. Basically, if the glass does break, you want to apply added protection so it doesn’t scratch, slash, or otherwise mangle your artwork. When I ship anything out with glass in it, I simply assume it’s going to break, and then focus on making sure the shards don’t destroy my artwork.

Many shipping supply companies sell 8-12” wide masking tape that is specially created for glass coverage (it doesn’t leave a sticky glue residue on the glass when you remove it). You can apply this tape to the entire surface of the glass, and, if the glass should happen to break, the resulting shards will stick to the tape instead of slashing your artwork to shreds. 3M also makes a clear film that does the same thing.

Another approach is to get out of the glass shipping business altogether. I know of an artist who does pastels, which are, of course, displayed behind glass. When a piece is sold, the artist takes the artwork to his framer, has the framer remove the glass and replace it with a sheet of clear plastic. He ships the piece to the client’s local framer where he covers the cost of new glass. The artist has built the cost of doing this into his pricing. I’m not sure this would work for everyone, but it’s certainly an option to keep in mind.

 

Shipping

 

Now that we have the artwork professionally boxed up, we’re ready to get it on its way. There are a number of options available when it comes to choosing a delivery company, and I don’t want to endorse any one in particular. Everyone seems to develop their favorites, and if you’ve found one that works for you, stick with it. If you are dissatisfied, keep trying different companies until you find one that makes you comfortable.

There are two general classes of delivery companies: the common carriers such, as FedEx and UPS, that primarily handle small to moderately sized packages, and the larger freight companies and freight forwarders that deal with larger shipments.

Generally, we will ship anything that is 30” x 40” or smaller using one of the common carriers. Anything larger will ship via a freight company or truck line.

If you are shipping infrequently, you can simply drop the package off at one of the carrier’s retail locations, give them the delivery address and let them do the rest. You will be paying retail, but you’ll also be saving yourself time and effort.

If you plan to ship in any kind of volume, however, you should set up an account with the carrier and ship using their online service. This will save you money, and often you can schedule a delivery driver to pick up the package from your studio, saving you a drive as well.

If you start shipping in even higher volume, say an average of 10 pieces or more per month, you should talk to a sales representative for the company and ask if any volume discounts are available, and if they would apply to your situation. Depending on your volume, the savings could be significant.

Most of these companies offer a variety of options for delivery time. Ground shipments can take anywhere from a couple of days to over a week, depending on the distance and accessibility of your customer. You can also use their 3-day, 2-day and overnight express services.

In theory, these expedited services are both faster and safer (the less time a package is in the delivery company’s hands, the fewer opportunities they will have to damage it!), but the costs are so prohibitive, especially for larger packages, that in most cases ground service is the only practical option.

For larger pieces you can use one of the trucking lines like Conway, or freight forwarders like Bellair Express. The freight forwarders may ship the art via air, truck or train, depending on your timing needs and budget. Unfortunately, many of these companies will only pick up from a commercial address (rather than from a private address), and may be unwilling to come to your studio no matter how hard you try to convince them it is a business.

For more on shipping large work, see the section below on dealing with large paintings.

 

Some Things to Avoid

 

Up to now we’ve discussed what you should do to ship your art safely and effectively. Now I would like to discuss some practices you should avoid.

Don’t Allow Bubble Wrap to Come in Direct Contact with Your Art

Recently we received a painting the artist wrapped using only bubble wrap. As I mentioned above, bubble wrap is great for padding your art in transit, but it should not come in direct contact with the art.

When we unwrapped the painting we could see that the bubble had stuck to the varnish. Removing it left an imprint of the bubble wrap on the surface of the entire painting. From certain angles you could see the perfectly spaced imprints of the bubbles. We had to have the artwork re-varnished before we could present it to a client who had already purchased it.

Sometimes when delivering a piece of artwork directly to a client, I will wrap the painting with only bubble wrap, but when I do this I make sure the bubbles are facing out so the flat side of the bubble wrap is turned toward the painting.

Don’t Reuse Ugly Boxes

Recycling is both environmentally conscious and economical, but every cardboard box has a lifespan. Avoid pressing a box into service beyond that lifespan, especially if you are shipping to a customer.

Even a new box is going to show signs of wear and tear when it arrives at your client’s doorstep. Using an old box is inviting trouble. As an artist, you want your client to feel that they are buying one of your masterpieces. You are sending the client exactly the opposite message if you show them you feel the artwork isn’t even worth the cost of a new box.

Don’t use Styrofoam Peanuts when Shipping Paintings

As I stated in the shipping procedures section, bubble wrap is the correct material for filling voids in your boxes. Never use peanuts for this purpose.

There are two main reasons for this. The first, and I’ll admit it’s a personal pet peeve, is that peanuts make a huge mess. This is especially true when you are shipping two-dimensional artwork. There is simply no way to get a painting, photo or print out of a box filled with peanuts without disgorging them all over the unpacking area. Peanuts are very difficult to clean up – they scatter before the broom, and often, if they’ve picked up a static charge, will literally jump out of the garbage can.

Second, and this is more important, peanuts don’t work in a painting box and can actually cause damage. Peanuts will settle to the bottom of the box and as the box gets jostled about in transit, the bottom of the box will flex and expand, allowing more peanuts to concentrate there. The space at the top of the box will be left unprotected.

Peanuts are great for packing sculptures – they have no place in a painting box.

 

Insurance

 

In spite of your best efforts in padding and protecting your artwork, damage is inevitable. Once your artwork leaves your hands, it is passing into a vast and complicated shipping network with lots of moving parts. There is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of damage, so you should plan for its eventuality and consider purchasing insurance to protect against loss.

You can insure yourself against loss in several ways. First, you can buy the carrier’s insurance each time you ship a package. The delivery companies usually offer some minimal coverage by default, but this is usually just a few hundred dollars. For an additional charge you can add more coverage. You should be aware, however, that some of the companies limit their liability to $500 for fine art. Again these policies are always changing, so it’s worth visiting your shipping company’s website or calling them to confirm their limits for fine art.

If you are only occasionally shipping, carrier insurance is probably the simplest and most efficient way to insure the work with the least hassle. If you ship regularly however, it makes sense to have a business insurance policy that covers your art not only while it is in transit, but at all times. You’ll pay far less in the long run for this kind of insurance than you will for the carrier coverage.

Talk to a business insurance agent and they will be able to get you a quote. We have a business policy with a fine arts “floater,” as well as an inland marine policy that gives us additional coverage for artwork. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what “floater” means, or how something called “inland marine” protects art, but we worked closely with our agent to get the right coverage and we have always been protected on the rare occasions our art has suffered damage.

There is, of course, another option: You can insure yourself. If you feel that the likelihood of damage is small enough, or that the cost of insurance is too high, you can simply cover the cost of any damage yourself.

I suspect most artists follow this course, and I can’t fault those who do; there are only so many dollars to go around, and insurance can’t always be a top priority. Often,  damage is repairable, and since you made the art you probably have the perfect skill-set to repair it!

 

Sometimes, Despite Your Best Efforts, Artwork is Damaged During Shipping

 

Dealing with Damage

On the rare occasion that damage occurs, the manner in which you react will affect your relationship with your client and the likelihood that you will recover damages from your shipping company or insurance policy.

First and foremost, it’s important that you follow the procedures laid out earlier to ship the artwork safely. You are in a far better position if your client feels that you did everything in your power to protect the artwork. You are also far more likely to file a successful claim with the shipping or insurance company if you have met their shipping requirements.

Reassure your client that your are doing everything in your power to rectify the situation. There have been times where we have provided an immediate refund for their purchase, and then worked to get a replacement piece from the artist.

Typically, when damage occurs, the shipping company will return the artwork to you. When the piece arrives, talk to both the shipping company and your insurance adjuster to find out how they would like you to proceed. Document the damage to the packaging and to the artwork per their instructions. You can never have too many photos or too much documentation.

Provide the shipping company or insurance agency all of the information they need in a timely manner.

Document all of the Damage to your Box

 

Shipping Larger Works

 

As I mentioned in the introduction, I enjoy shipping artwork from time to time. When I first opened my gallery, I would ship everything from the smallest sculpture to the largest painting.

The techniques I’ve shared here work great for paintings up to about 48” x 48”. Any artwork larger than this almost always requires a wooden crate for shipment. In the early days of my gallery I had access to a great woodshop and I would build the crates myself.

I felt I not only enjoyed shipping, but was certainly saving money by doing all of the work myself. Imagine my surprise when, several years after opening the gallery, I had a local art crater ship a large painting and discovered that the total charges for his crating and shipping services came to less than what it would have cost me to ship the piece myself.

Because the shipper did such a large volume of shipping, he was able to achieve economies of scale with his materials, and got a huge volume discount in his freight charges. It was actually costing me more to ship the art myself, especially if I factored in the time.

You will probably find this to be the case for you as well. When shipping large artwork, it will probably ultimately save you money to find someone locally to ship the work for you. Talk to other artists in your area and ask if they’ve found someone who does a good job at a reasonable price. Unless you already have the tools and woodworking experience, it simply isn’t worth the effort to ship larger pieces yourself.


Conclusion

 

Shipping artwork can be a challenge and frustration, but it has actually never been easier to ship than it is today. With the right tools, supplies and shipping procedures, you can ship your artwork safely and efficiently.

What have you learned by shipping your artwork? Do you have any tips or advice that might help other artists? Simply want to share feedback on this article? Leave your comments below.

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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 127 comments… read them below or add one }

Desley Rolph November 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thanks Jason, very valuable information. What is your experience with the plastic wrap on the surface of oil paintings, assuming they are dry enough. There is also another product that I hang onto when I find it in packaging, a sort of papery plastic wrap that seems to not stick to anything, but just lies on top. It sort of feels like the peanuts surface. You have to tape it down of course. I don’t know what it is called? I find it great under the bubble wrap.
I do like your idea of the double boxing with bubble in between.

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Davis McGlathery November 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Jason for sharing your knowledge. I advise anyone who has the opportunity to take one of your workshops, to do so. You gave one here at Gainesville, FL and it was the best and most useful I’ve yet attended.

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Fran November 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm

okay – THAT was a sensational article. Thanks for taking so much time to write a detailed article with photos.
Thanks very much – a happy holiday season to you. Fran

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Ed Keesling November 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Thank you for this excellent article on shipping paintings. I will certainly share this with the 29 Palms Gallery and the California Art Education Youth Art Month people. My problem is shipping pottery. I recently sent pots in double boxes with the pots wrapped in bubble wrap, and one handle broke in shipment. The only thing that I could have done better was to pack each piece in its own box. Do you have other suggestions?

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Carol Jessen November 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Thank you so much for such an informative article. You mentioned that when you hand deliver a piece to the client you will wrap it in bubble wrap. Having done this for 20 years, I have come up with a great “green” way to hand deliver art. I have made various size soft bags using felt lined vinyl. I sew up the sides with seam facing out so the inner felt side has no edges for artwork to hit, just felt. I have used them over and over throughout the years and they are also good to store beautifully framed work.

Thanks, Carol

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dp November 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm

We staple 1×2″ wood spacers to the inside of the box on either side. It helps prevent the box from being crushed in, and doesn’t add much weight or time. Good article.

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Bruce Peebles November 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Very informative article Jason, thanks.
Desley, I use an EPE Foam wrap such as Polycell for direct contact with paintings, freshly finished varnish coatings and photographs because it doesn’t stick to the surface or leave marks etc. It is also ideal for rolling stretched canvases before cylinder packing. It is available here in Australia from http://www.polycell.com.au/EPE_Foam.html and I get it from a packaging supply company out at Murrarie.

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Kate Stone November 25, 2012 at 1:05 am

Very informative article and I’m glad I came across it. But let me say that it is complete bogus that a painting needs to “breath.” Any art conservator will tell you that the best thing for a painting is to be hermetically sealed. Obviously that’s not possible, but the painting’s exposure to the atmosphere should be limited whenever possible, not increased.

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BOUSQUET Eliora November 25, 2012 at 1:38 am

Dear Jason,
Thank you very much for such interesting information and for the time you spent to help us all. That’s very kind of you. Best regards. Eliora

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Peach McComb November 25, 2012 at 6:13 am

Jason, you always provide the best information in a simple and easy to understand format. Thank you so much!

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Helen DeRamus November 25, 2012 at 6:16 am

Great advice. Thanks. And I would add that seal release paper is great for covering encaustic paintings. It will not stick to anything.

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Patty Wellborn August 16, 2014 at 9:32 am

I am about to send an encaustic painting overseas for the first time. Could you explain more about seal release paper? What it is and where to find it? Thank you

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Marsha Hamby Savage November 25, 2012 at 6:20 am

Fantastic article … and if there were a “pdf” document of this to be saved to home computer … that would be even better to refer to!

For those in the North Georgia area, there is a fantastic shipping company in Kennesaw GA, “Craters And Freighters”, http://www.cratersandfreightersatlanta.com/. I used them to ship seven large gallery wrap paintings to Florida. They will come to your home and pick up the artwork, carry to their facility and create crates for them. Wonderful company for anyone looking for this type of service. There might be this company in other locations.

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Margaret Peter November 25, 2012 at 6:54 am

What an amazing article and suggestions! I will never use peanuts again!
Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.
Marg

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Allen Smith November 25, 2012 at 7:16 am

Hey Jason! Great post, very necessary. My last day job, for fifteen years, I ran an art handling/shipping service out of my home town in upstate New York, Nagle Fine Arts. It’s going strong without me, I’m happy to say, for both of us. When I went to work for NFA, I made contact with the definitive source for this kind of information, and I wanted to share that with your readers. A Professional Interest Committee of the American Alliance of Museums, PACCIN (the Professional Art Handling and Collections Care Information Network) is an essential connection for anyone in the arts industry. http://www.paccin.org/content.php

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Marless Fellows November 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

Thank you Jason!
I have a new gallery in Cave Creek and I’m so grateful and appreciate your help in the matter of shipping. I’m learning so much and it sure helps to have someone explain everything about shipping in such detail. I would love to learn how to do the packaging and preparing of the artwork for shipping so as to be able to pass that savings on to my clients. I have someone who does all my shipping and I’ve handed the job over to them but if I can save some money that’s all the better. I love the plastic wrap and use it often but great idea to put it around the paintings prior to boxing. As a oil painter I also think it’s important to cute holes in the plastic wrap just in case the client doesn’t take the painting out of the plastic right away.
I’m sorry to say I’ve never met you but I’ve been in your gallery and met your parents and enjoyed them very much.
Thank you again!

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Ginette Callaway November 25, 2012 at 7:42 am

This may sound wacky, but it works for me.
I go to the local goodwill and buy cheap blankets and comforters. Whatever i can get for less than 5 dollars, I buy.
I use the comforters as wrapping and padding for larger paintings, this way I don’t have to use bubble wrap which is more expensive endless environmentally friendly. I place paintings in to huge silver trash can liners (I get them from uline).
The smaller blankets can be used to wrap smaller paintings or maybe pottery I don’t ship breakables like that so I don’t know but maybe worth trying.
My customers end up using the blankets for their pets if they have pets, or I suggest to give the blankets to a local animal shelter or animal rehab facility. The trash can liners are also reused by the customer. So most my packing materials are reused.
So far my customers responded with great enthusiasm and I had no damaged goods so far.

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Pamela Spiro Wagner September 2, 2013 at 11:13 am

I am glad someone mentioned a green alternative to all that wasted bubble wrap…There are ways to ship that do not involve new oil-based plastic. Goodwill also often sells all sorts of paper items that can be used to stabilize and package art but because it is used does not add or pull new carbon into the system.

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K. Henderson November 25, 2012 at 8:24 am

You’ve described one of the ways that I pack work.
The second method I use is to make an inside box of styrofoam sheeting. I use this particularly when shipping to shows and exhibits. It’s easy to unwrap the painting and rewrap in case the painting comes back to me.
I wish my galleries would read this article. When I send paintings to them, I always try to exude professionalism. But when they return paintings to me, OMG! You would not believe how poorly my paintings are sometimes packed. And the first thing I wonder is “Is this how they ship to collectors?”
Thanks for the article.

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Gloria Chadwick November 25, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thank you. I consider this a Christmas gift to artists. It can be frustrating trying to find the right shipping box when you don’t have time to order a readymade art product box and this article provides a confident solution . In particular, I believe those on the receiving end of art show competitions will find your article most beneficial and wouldn’t it be great if they could reference it in their prospectus.
Thanks again and Happy Holidays .

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Murray Wagnon November 25, 2012 at 9:27 am

Thank you Jason for an excellent article. You might think about adding it to the next printing of your book.

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Sarah November 25, 2012 at 9:32 am

Thanks for generously sharing your expertise. So far haven’t shipped any of my art, but will save this invaluable and well-illustrated advice.

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George Kougeas November 25, 2012 at 9:35 am

As an art installer and former gallery owner I must add PLEASE use BROWN or TAN tape on plastic or bubble wrap. Especially if the packing materials need to be re-used to ship the work back. Clear tape almost always has the person at the receiving end going at the package with a knife because you can’t see the seams, frustrating and unsafe.

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Bonnie Maffei November 25, 2012 at 9:36 am

Jason,

This is a question that’s been on my mind for some time. Thanks for providing detailed instructions on how to ship a painting!

Ciao!
Bonnie

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Stan Bowman November 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

A very good and useful article.

Let me add some additional info based on my shipping of client work in my giclee printing business. I find it really difficult to get boxes at good prices as Uline seems to be the best source, and if you want larger sizes you have to pay for truck deliver which is a lot more expensive than UPS which is their usual shipper. Also Uline has minimum amounts which are mostly more than I need or want. Besides Uline I have not found another good source for boxes.

Except for FedEx. Recently I tried two of their “art boxes”. They are really well designed and can accommodate art of different sizes up to about 30×40. No bubble wrap is necessary as the interior has a sheet cardboard system that allows for this, for artwork to be positioned securely for shipment. Now two shipments is only two, but these boxes seem pretty darn good and they are easy to assemble.

I also have to say that a local packer told me they once used plastic palettte wrap when packing an acrylic painting and when it arrived the plastic pulled off some of the acrylic paint in the process of unwrapping. She no longer uses plastic palette wrap. Personally I go to Lowes and get boxes of clear 4 mil sheet plastic in 100 ft. rolls and cut it to fit the artwork I am shipping.

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Katherine Manisco FLS November 25, 2012 at 10:08 am

Jason.
After years of shipping my work to galleries, still something to learn!
Your article was so practicle, great to see photos of packaging!

Katherine Manisco FLS

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Theresa Bayer November 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

Hi Jason, This is a great article with lots of valuable info. Thanks for your generosity in sharing it. Re. peanuts, I seal them securely inside plastic bags to create my own custom sized packing. They ship very well that way, stay in place, and are nice and neat. The “peanut bags” I packed for mail-in art shows have come back to me intact. Again, thanks for a great article– the part about adjusting the size of the box was especially helpful.

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Fred Sklenar November 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

Very informative. I must say that I have been shipping my art for years and have discovered most of your insight the hard way: experience. One problem I never knew about was using bubble wrap directly on varnished surfaces. I am happy to report I have never had the unfortunate experience of varnish bubble imprints. I guess I was lucky for most of my bubbles were not up against the paintings. What a horrible thing to happen en route. We artists must learn to be “jacks” of all trades. Thanks for this important information. Well done.

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Sheldon Ganstrom November 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

Thank you Jason for an excellent article. I look forward to your article on shipping breakable sculpture. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.

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JoAnne Warren November 25, 2012 at 11:39 am

Thanks Jason! The paper that Desley Rolph refers to is I believed called Glassine paper. I use it when doing collage work and need to use weights to assure adherence. Even if any of the matte medium I use as a glue leaks out the glassine paper doesn’t stick to the artwork. I imagine it would add an extra layer of non-stick protection under the plastic wrap on an oil painting.
Also, I have shipped many watercolors under glass successfully by surrounding the frame with foam pipe insulation. Available at any hardware store in different sizes and thicknesses (it looks like a foam tube) . Get the kind that has a slit down one side, open at the slit and slip on over your frame. If your frame is 18″x18″ cut two lengths at 18″ and 2 lengths at 20″ so you completely encase the frame and overlap at the corners for extra protection. Then using the plastic palette wrap, wrap the entire piece tightly stretching the wrap a bit to ensure the foam will stay in place and not slip. I also use Jason’s glass taping technique just in case, and also use the inner box covered with bubble wrap inside the outer box. Since using the pipe insulation I’ve never yet (knock on wood) had a piece of glass break during shipping. The customer I last shipped to told me she saw the shipper drop the box on her porch from waist high and was amazed when she opened the package that the glass was still intact.

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Delilah November 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Thanks, I’ve learned a few things from this information and I will share it.

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Roger Lawrence November 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I have past experience in packing and shipping electronic controls and they required special cartons to survive shipping. Packages can be accidentaly dropped during shipment. Most damage occurs on the corner of the box. I suggest you test your package design. Use a framed blank stretched canvas or panel inside your package do an 8ft. drop test. Take it to a shipping dock that is designed to unload ong haul trailers. (Most retailers will let you walk out on the shipping dock for your test.) Hold the carton straight out at at eye level. This is about an 8 ft. drop. Hold the carton so it will land one of the corners. Drop your test carton and you will find the corner will normally crush a little. Open your carton to see if there is any damage inside. If you find no damage your carton has a good chance of surviving most shipments.

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Susie Cipolla November 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Jason – Thank-you so much for a very informative and comprehensive article. Very useful!

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Nancy Current November 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Thank you for a very good article and the informative responses. I’d like to address Ed Keesling’s issue of shipping ceramics. I ship my glass paintings, and have learned from friends to double-box using foam in both boxes so that the work is entirely surrounded by foam. The best foam is new and therefore not compacted by previous use. Since foam occupies all the air space, there is no way for the artwork to migrate toward the edges and thus get damaged if the box gets rough treatment. The second issue with things like ceramics or glass is their weight, because heavy works should be in custom-made crates. If they are heavy, even double-boxing with foam is not enough protection. Perhaps Jason will also write an article on shipping sculpture.

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Fran Decker November 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Great article! I have been doing all of this with the exception of the palette wrap, never heard of it, could you tell us a brand name so I can get some? Thanks again!

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JOHAN LOWIE November 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Beware wrapping your painting in plastic when it is varnished, it can stick to the painting doing damage to the work. (even when it feels dry) I use brown paper and carpet lining.

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Ray Maines November 25, 2012 at 2:44 pm

We use a product called ‘Glasskin’ from Airfloat when shipping pastels with glass. – Comes in a wide roll (18 inches?), has a removable adhesive on the back and is VERY effective. It has proven a lifesaver on several occasions. Presumably they’re still producing it — We haven’t ordered any in a while.

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Sandra L July 22, 2014 at 12:17 am

I checked out Airfloat and found these great shipping boxes also: http://airfloatsys.com/product/strongbox-lined/ They are not that expensive considering the time and material cost of packaging and customizing boxes. Thanks for the tip.

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Connie McCoy November 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I need to know of a good art shipper for artwork from San Diego to Cincinnati.
The piece is 6.5 ft x 11.5 ft., so I’d rather the shipper box the painting. Can you advise anyone?
Thanks so much, Connie

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Marcia Dayton November 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Dear Jason,
Thank you for posting this information. It was a great find for me. I have been looking for my notes from your webinar on this topic. Now I can add the information next to your book. I plan on having Stan Bowman make some copies of my paintings and to ship them as you have suggested.

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Janice Schoultz Mudd November 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Thank you, Jason and everyone else for the great tips. This is information close to the heart of every artist. I will be sure to share this on facebook.

I made the same mistake with bubble wrap once, with the same results – only once. Now I first wrap the paintings in brown mailing paper and then in a clear plastic bag, taped closed with shipping tape in case the package comes into contact with water.

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Gail Sawatzky November 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Excellent article! Thank you Jason.

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kerry snider November 26, 2012 at 5:38 am

Thank you for the article Jason. I wonder if it is unprofessional to use mirror boxes from u-haul or moving companies? Where do you find big pieces of cardboard for making your own boxes? Thank you, Kerry

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Jeanean Songco Martin November 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

Hello Jason, thank you for posting this very informative and helpful article. I saved it and passed it on to my students and colleagues. I already use some of your methodology for packing, however, I use a harder outer box. I recently sent a very large painting to California and built a wooden crate for the outer box. My husband used to be a mailman and he knows how the word FRAGILE can be ignored by some. It is more costly to use the wooden outer box but I think it is worth the extra cost to know there will definiely be no damage. Thanks again!

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Linda Champanier November 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

Thank you very much for the wonderfully informative article. The suggestions in the comments are also very helpful. I’ve had good luck with commercial art boxes (http://www.masterpak-usa.com/masterpak.htm), but they are expensive, so I pre-pay return shipping of the empty box back to me. I like them because the cardboard is very dense.

I would be concerned about putting plastic directly against the painting surface. It seems like putting a good sheet of acid free paper on the painting front before wrapping it with the palette wrap would give some extra protection – or at least make me feel better.

One last thought – I try to remember to attach my contact information to the back of the painting.

Thanks again!

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Joyce Wynes November 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Thanks Jason for this very informative article. It was a refresher as I attended your webinar on this subject the last time you had it in a webinar. I actually referred back to the webinar when I had to send 2 paintings last year and followed it step by step. My paintings arrived in great condition and your webinar was a valuable resource. As I went and picked them up after the exhibition, I shudder to think about someone packing the package to return paintings to me in the future. I might think about including a shortened instruction sheet that tells how to repackage it for return. And thanks to all the wonderful suggestions in the comment section. Great advice all around.

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Penny Burke November 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Great timing for such an informative article! Thanks, Jason. I have 3 framed prints to carefully package and ship to 3 different addresses next week in Ma. and this really spells it out. Last month, I was fortunate to safely ship the original out to Ca. from here in NH. But the kicker was, I didn’t dare use ground transportation so I used 3 day air with Ins. UPS highly recommended the air since few hands were likely to handle the box. It cost me over $100. but I had peace of mind and the buyer was thrilled when she received the painting… well, so was I!

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MV November 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

In my 30+ years as an artist, packing and shipping small, medium and large paintings as far as Japan & Australia, I can tell for personal experience, this packing technique might not be the most recommended. If the painting is framed I can almost guarantee the frame will get damaged upon arrival. Not mentioning the packaging material is not that eco-friendly or safe for the painting. The last thing any serious artist would want to use plastic wrap to wrap any artwork as it’s not acid free and can potentially ruin the painting in the long run. Packages can go through extreme temperatures, both hot and cold and anything that’s not acid free can transfer to the surface of the painting very easily. Bubble wrap, especially on thick layers of oil paint, can leave a mark on the canvas, and I know this for personal experience. An important piece that is always missed when shipping artwork are corner protectors, which can be easily made out of thick cardboard, and contrary to popular belief, should be placed on the inside to protect the corners of the painting/frame. Double packaging is good, but it’s always recommended to leave at least 1-2 inches in between the inner and outer boxes and have enough cushioning material in this area to protect the artwork from damage.

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Susan K Campbell September 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Thank you for your input. It is always good to get 2nd and 3rd opinions and certainly experience is the best advise.

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Victoria Pendragon November 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm

…and I thought I was doing a good job!
A really thorough article and very helpful.
Thank you!

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Roxsane K Tiernan November 27, 2012 at 6:17 am

Thanks for providing an excellent guide . It is great to have clearly explained, tried and true information. Now I understand how UPS prices better. I shipped a large piece–image 22×30 plus framing–a short distance–cost $306. It was worth it.

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Pat Siegner November 27, 2012 at 11:37 am

Jason, your article on how to ship paintings is very informative. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it and then share it! You are very much appreciated!

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Martha Galuszka November 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Terrific article… good tips throughout… disturbing pictures of the torn painting with the broken stretcher bar… what a wreck!
I do like mirror boxes if I can afford them because they’re really heavy cardboard. But my packing ideas come from camera gear aluminum suitcases: for my original prints (under glass) that are mostly less than 24″x26″ I build my own “clamshell” box from 4ft x 8ft sheet corrugated board. I cut several strips of additional cardboard (to whatever thickness the box is deep) to line each side… I run some masking tape around them to make “sticks” then tape into place inside the edges of the box so nothing shifts. Then I put down a sheet of foam core in the center, add several layers of foam sheeting that I get in the fabric store that sells all kinds of sheet foam for making pillows or recovering sofas, etc., (which can be 8″ thick even!) I wrap the framed art in either bubble wrap or the thin foam sheeting that you can get at the “job lot” store. It comes on a 4ft wide roll (by ?) and is used as underlayment for linoleum flooring and is really cheap. A roll will wrap about a dozen frames for around $15-18… much cheaper than bubble wrap. I place the art in and wrap more plastic on it if needed to make sure it’s snug and repeat the foam sheeting on top, a foam core piece again and tape on an information sheet with my address and the destination info with phone numbers for all, and instructions for saving the wrap for returning the art… then tape it up like you said with good quality packing tape or duct tape. The shape of the box makes it obvious how to open it, the layers can be put back in to reuse for return shipping. I don’t use wood boxes because most of the shows I ship to are explicit that they don’t want to deal with wood. The Uline company does carry everything one would need but it’s only reasonable $ if you can buy quantity.
I once sold a 24″x36″ painting to a businessman from Germany and the packing, insurance and shipping fees through UPS cost almost as much as he paid me for the painting!!! Luckily he could afford it but that alone might have scared off another buyer. But my way has never arrived broken and I’ve shipped across the country many times with UPS, Fedx and USPS. I prefer the post office for small pieces.

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Diane Mann November 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Thanks Jason for a great article. I work exclusively in pastels and always dread the thought of shipping. I actually don’t enter competitions for fear of shipping. I used to use museum glass but my framer now has museum plexi, which won’t break. It more expensive than the glass, but has the same qualities i.e static free, protections from the sun. Worth a try for something that might not make it with glass covered with tape. My biggest concern however, is by throwing the boxes around on FedEx or UPS, even overnight, the chance of pastel dust all over the inside of the glass or plexi increases.

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Cindy Schnackel November 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm

GREAT info, thanks so much for generously sharing this publicly!

Agree with the comments about using nonstick paper where packing material comes in contact with the painting’s surface. Besides Glassine paper which I can get at the art supply store, I have had good luck using ordinary baking parchment, which is fairly inexpensive and readily available in grocery stores.

Also, though I’ve safely shipped small, fairly durable pieces US Postal Service, I have only used Fed Ex to ship paintings or larger painted work, because they have very nice art boxes, and they insure it if they pack it. I do take some nonstick paper though, and insist it be used under any plastic material.

Good point about your time being worth something, and I agree, building your own crates is probably not the best use of your time, when there are co’s that do a good job of it for you. We already must spend a lot of time on the business aspects of art, so I don’t want to become a carpenter, too, I want to keep as much of my time for making art, as possible.

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Andrea D. La Vigne November 28, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Great article. One point I might add. I don’t remember the source, but I heard that you should never ship by common carrier late in the week, as your package could sit in their warehouse over the weekend.

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Mary Aslin November 29, 2012 at 9:33 am

Thank you for the generosity of information with this lengthy and informative article that I’m sure took a lot of time to prepare!!

I recently had a local packaging and shipping company build custom boxes lined with hexafoam for shipping three large pastel paintings (two 21 x 30 and one 25 x 24). Each box cost about $130….far more than what I could have done it for myself. But as they were so sturdy, I could rest assured that the glass would not break and having this company do it for me freed up my time for other things. These boxes were also very, very professional looking. Each client received their painting without damage and also commented that they were happy to have the box in case they ever needed to move the painting. In my angst at spending the money for the boxes, I reconciled that very professional packaging was what the client deserved for paying a large sum for my work, and that presentation–from start to finish–matters.

Thanks for a great article!!

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Mike Schwed November 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm

My sister is a longtime online seller, who told me of her frustration with the hassles and expense of shipping larger pieces. She got me started on a project to design a canvas which could be disassembled for shipment, then shipped in a tube. I have worked out what I feel to be a workable solution which allows the frame to be shipped to the artist in a tube, painted, then rolled and shipped to the gallery or patron. If you would like to see my progress, you can see it at bigdaddycanvas.com.

MIKE

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Avalon Hicks November 30, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Simply-Many Thanks for the info!

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gregorylent December 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm

what to do about the TSA and their crappy repack habits? god, i hate them

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Polly Moore December 4, 2012 at 8:59 am

Very helpful info. Although I primarily ship prints and ceramics, this is great information to have handy! Thanks fo much!

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Karine Swenson December 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Hi,

I loved this thorough and well-written article. There is one part that I had to say something about and that is I would NEVER put plastic wrap right up against my oil paintings. I find it a little perplexing that you advise against bubble wrap against the surface of a painting, but not plastic wrap. Maybe you don’t get bubble impressions, but there is still the likelihood of sticking with plastic. I use Glassine paper as the first layer against the painted surface, and then bubble wrap. Others have also mentioned this in their comments.

Otherwise, great article. Thanks.

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Janice Schoultz Mudd December 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

I saw the saddest result of inadequate packing yesterday. An artist located in Saigon had shipped a matted and framed watercolor for an international show to the U.S.. No plastic wrap no plastic bag, just cardboard protection. The whole package was soaking wet when it arrived. The watercolor paper was severely buckled, some of the paint had been released in the process and the entire matting was destroyed. This is an extreme case but so sad when it happens.

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Timothy Chambers December 13, 2012 at 8:48 am

Great, very helpful article, Jason. I love that you are a very practical, hands-on gallery owner who speaks so well to the artists you sell. I’ve bookmarked this page for quick reference. Thanks, Jason!!

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Cathy McClelland December 17, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Thank you very, very much for sharing in such a pictorial and informative way that us visual people can understand. I pay to get my artworks packed and sent overseas but now I may have enough courage with such an excellent explanation to follow to have a go at doing it myself.

Thanks Jason.

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BOB LINGLE January 29, 2013 at 10:01 am

JASON: Thanks for you very comprehensive and scientific description on methods on shipping art. Bob

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Susan Blackadar February 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I have avoided shipping a framed painting under glass perhaps to my detriment, but with these instructions I clearly see how safely it can be done. Thank you for the well informed step by step instruction.

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kiai March 14, 2013 at 8:05 am

I always feel bad about using plastic anything and try to reuse as much as possible. DuPont makes Tyvek, a polyethylene material that is burnable and allegedly does not release dioxins when burned. All plastics should be like this. Then we could have power-generating incinerators so it won’t end up in landfills and the ocean.

Thanks for the article. I feel much more confident about shipping artwork.

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Robert Bowden April 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thank you Jason for a very comprehensive article. I wish I had read it a month ago as I shipped 2 large paintings from Pittsburgh to a patron in Florida and both arrived with damage to the frames by the shipper.
Robert Bowden

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Kirsten Elizabeth Gilmore April 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

Thank you for the professional article–and especially for the clear, step-by-step images. I’m curious about the plastic wrapping. I have been using 4 mil. plastic sheeting so that acrylics would be protected, but would not adhere to the surface of the wrapping. This method works, and does not stick in any temperature. But your method would be easier and less expensive. I fear acrylic sticking in the heat, though. Have you ever had issues with that?

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Jason Horejs April 4, 2013 at 10:30 am

Good question Kirsten. We’ve never had an issue with the plastic palette wrap we use sticking. If anyone were going to have this issue, it would be a gallery in Arizona (which is where we are located). It might make sense to test it out on several pieces as your mileage may vary.

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Kirsten Elizabeth Gilmore April 7, 2013 at 11:27 am

Excellent! Thank you. I will try that. Is it also archival for longer-term storage? I was unsure whether to wrap paintings in tyvek for archival storage, then re-wrap them in plastic palette wrap prior to shipping or to just stick with the plastic wrap for both storage and shipping.

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mrbibby June 4, 2013 at 2:42 pm

never have the word “FRAGILE” on a package – this virtually guarantees your shipment will be damaged in transit. I have friends who work in post office and they say that packages with those markings are always targeted by employees. Think about it – marking something as fragile is implying that they treat non-marked packages like basketballs, in effect you are insulting them. Same thing goes for moving companies.

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mrbibby June 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm

a great link for horror stories from people who shipped stuff with ‘FRAGILE’ or ‘do not bend’ on the packages
http://www.etsy.com/teams/7722/business-topics/discuss/6440979/page/1

a link that give actual evidence for more damage to packages marked fragile. There is a popular mechanics article link in there that goes into detail:
http://boingboing.net/2010/11/23/mail-carriers-will-a.html

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R Glen July 14, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I applaud your attempt to help but based on my expertise you should never, ever wrap an exposed painting in shrink wrap. The only material that should come in contact to the actual work is acid free paper. Then you can wrap the work with another wrap.

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Janet Jorgensen July 17, 2013 at 4:10 am

My question is: I’m here in the valley as well. You mentioned a shipping company you’ve used for very large pieces? I never saw a name??? Please email me and let me know. Seeing your article came at the perfect time. My son moved to Boston several years ago and he has a huge piece of artwork he’s wanted me to ship to him. Always been afraid but his 30th birthday is 8/1 and I’d like to get to him as a surprise. After reading your article I’m a little more confident. : )

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dawn August 8, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Any advice?: I have purchased the most beautiful painting, but on receiving it, bubble wrap left marks on the varnish. I shipped it back (wrapped tightly in saran wrap) and when the artist received the painting, all of the bubble marks were gone. She re-wrapped it in saran wrap (2-day shipping to avoid heat) and shipped it back. Now, it has lines from the saran wrap scattered randomly on the painting. What can be done to solve this dilemma?

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Jason Horejs August 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Dawn – do you know the medium – is it oil or acrylic? Do you know if the piece was varnished?

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Gilly August 26, 2013 at 3:08 am

Jason, thank you for the information. I’m considering selling work on line now but many of my recent pieces, which are the style I would be advertising, are framed and behind glass which I feel is necessary. Can you explain how I would ship a heavier more fragile piece should the work sell? I work directly onto the back board then mount and frame. They wouldn’t be presentable delivered unframed as the edges of the image are ragged and show paint samples from when I’m working. Kindest Regards, Gilly Beech

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Jason Horejs August 26, 2013 at 10:57 am

Gilly – we ship glass in much the same way I’ve described here. We may add another layer of bubble, and I use wide masking tape (12″ wide) on the glass to protect the art if the glass is broken. By taping the glass, if it shatters, the shards stick to the tape and don’t scratch the art.

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Kelli August 26, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Great information, thanks for sharing! A question about insurance: it’s always seemed to me that shipments should be insured for double the sale price. If the piece is lost or damaged, not only do I have to refund the purchaser’s money, but I’ve also lost compensation for my supplies and many, many hours of my time. What is the standard practice?

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Jason Horejs August 27, 2013 at 8:13 am

Insurance is always a tough one – it can be expensive, but on those rare occasions when artwork gets damaged, you’re glad you paid for it. Insuring it for double the value would be excessive, and the insurance company would probably refuse the claim. If you think about it, the client paid you for the piece already, so you have that money, then if the art gets destroyed you get the insurance money to pay the client their refund, but you still have the original money that the client paid you to compensate your for the time and materials.

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Kelli August 27, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Of course! It’s so obvious and I can’t believe I had to have it spelled out for me. Thanks for taking the time.

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Jason Horejs August 27, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Not at all Kelli – and believe me, I’ve had many times where the obvious didn’t seem so obvious.

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Sue August 29, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Hello Jason,

Thanks so much for your fantastic advice on shipping artwork, definitely very helpful. For someone who is new to this, I was wondering if you have had any experience with shipping art that uses shells or other natural items and whether there are any boarder security requirements specifically to the USA.

Thanks
Sue

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Jason Horejs August 29, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Sue – I’ve shipped a variety of multi-media pieces and have never had any issues. The Homeland Security Department has a list of things that you can’t ship without declaring them, and as long as you’re not shipping something on that list, you shouldn’t have any issues. I would advise you to pack the artwork assuming that a Customs agent might open it and have to repackage it, so try not to make it too complicated to remove from the box.

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Michael September 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

Thanks for the useful tips. What about protecting the painting with a paper instead of plastic wrap? is there special paper you can place on top of the painting, or is the plastic wrap better?

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Susan K Campbell September 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

This article is SO valuable! I never thought of using an inner AND outer box. Thankfully my work has not been damaged, but certainly there is a risk that puts my stomach in knots as I wouldn’t know how to repair a broken painting! Thank you for taking the time to teach us!

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Epe Foam September 16, 2013 at 4:27 am

useful info…. we are suppliers of polyethylene Epe foam product and if you have any need please contact us.

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Dmitry Kodzasov October 23, 2013 at 6:11 am

Thank you for the article. I used to work for 3 Years in a shipping company in Russia, that deals with artworks. We used this way of packing too. This way of packing is great, when u are shipping artworks within a city. If you want to send an artpiece to some other place with a plane, I would be wise to use wooden or plywood (plywood does not need to be fumigated) crate as a “outer box”. But if u do not have possibility to create or order a crate, cardboard can also be used, although it is risky. Thank you again for the article. Enjoyed it.

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marie November 8, 2013 at 4:15 am

AMAZING! merci Jason for this lesson of grace!

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Valerie Capewell November 10, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Hi Jason,

I just wanted to say thank you for such a thorough description of safely shipping art.

Valerie Capewell

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Judy November 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I have been successful in shipping framed pastel paintings within the continental US, but now am wanting to ship one to Hawaii and am concerned about the pastel dust shifting during air transit. The only way I can think of is to remove the art from the glass and frame, pack the art between foam core, then package and ship the art and the frame separately. That way I know the pastel would arrive safely. The recipient would have to re-frame the piece. Is there a better, reliable way to ship framed pastels with glass via air travel?

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Nadia December 5, 2013 at 3:23 am

Thank you so much for sharing this article! What is your experience with using Plexiglass in stead of real glass in a framed drawing? I am in South Africa and I am almost sure glass would not make it if I ship abroad. I make photo realistic pencil drawings on paper and will be horrified if any damage come to them. What are the dangers to my drawing if I opt for the Plexiglass in stead of glass?

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Scott Knudsen December 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I am in the process of getting some custom cardboard boxes and Polystyrene Corner/Edge protectors made for my Floatmount photographic prints (photographs mounted on a piece of 3mm Dibond).

First I plan on wrapping the Floatmount image in a plastic bag to protect it from rubbing and moisture.

Next I am planning on using 2″ Strips of foam with a 4mm notch cut 1″ deep in them for the edges, which will also end up protecting the corners. There will be approximately 1″ of protection around the 3mm Floatmount image.

This will be slid into a custom sized, double walled end loading box.

In packaging it this way, nothing will be touching the front or back of this image except for the polystyrene edge protectors that are 1″ around it’s perimeter. I would like your opinion on this. I am really not wanting anything like bubble wrap, Styrofoam, Honeycomb Cardboard, extra cardboard, etc. to be touching the Floatmount. I am thinking that any excess force against the face of the box will transfer to the image if there is anything touching it. Can you give me your opinion on this?

I could go with triple walled cardboard, or single wall with honeycomb cardboard or Styrofoam for extra stiffness and still find a way to keep it away from the image. I am really not sure why everyone wants to pack their photographs/paintings etc. with stuff touching them that can be forced into them?

If anyone else packages like I plan on doing I would like to hear from you. Thanks.

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Scott Knudsen December 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I should have noted that the images are 20.25″ X 36″ in size and weight about 5 lbs. The surface of the image does have a laminate on it.

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Krutika Art Gallery December 9, 2013 at 5:26 am

Thank you.

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Louise Diamond December 10, 2013 at 11:51 am

thank you so much for taking the time to write this detailed “How To!” this is perfect, very specific. i will be making reference to this before shipping any of my art work!

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sara capulet January 7, 2014 at 6:26 am

thank you so much for the info,this is really helpful :)

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Mary Armstrong January 16, 2014 at 10:53 am

Thank you for all the info on packing and shipping. I will have an oil or acrylic 22 x28 inch(maybe larger) & likely framed, to ship east coast. Packing properly is a huge concern. Adding insurance is another. If framed then need to do the best protection for the corners of the framed art. Your info was a great help.

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Julie January 22, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Great info, thank you so much! Had an amateur’s question about packing and shipping a very large oil painting (6′x4′ canvas stretched on wood frame), hope you can help: I contacted the Navis company and got quotes both for crating and freight-shipping the piece as is and for breaking it down and rolling it for shipment (presumably to save money in transit) — this thing has to go from Cincinnati, Ohio to Juneau, Alaska, so there’s no easy way. The first estimate was $1,200-plus, for pick-up in Cincy, professional prep/flat packing in double-corrugated box, shipping (via truck to Seattle and then barge to Juneau), and insurance; and the breakdown/roll option was even more: $1,500, plus the cost of re-framing the piece here assuming it survives. Is this crazy-expensive? The painting itself is valued at around $2K, though of course it’s worth more to me, otherwise I’d just leave it in storage in Ohio. I will be back there myself this spring and could perhaps take it into FedEx for reasonably good packing and ship through them, but as you say the over-size fees might eat up any potential savings… Thanks in advance for any advice or other suggestions.

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Jason Horejs January 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Julie – that does seem costly. I would recommend finding someone to box or crate the piece up for you and then see about shipping it through freightquote.com. You should be able to ship it for far less than the quotes you are getting. We ship artwork overseas frequently, and I’ve never had costs that high for a piece of similar size.

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Grant January 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Hi.. What happens when the canvas is bigger than the maximum size cardboard box that I can find? My artwork is 35″x35″ ? Is there a supplier than can supply this size box? Thanks.

Anyone?

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Jason Horejs January 26, 2014 at 11:28 am

Grant, look for telescoping mirror boxes. They are definitely available in sizes large enough to fit that size work.

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Grant January 26, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Thanks Jason.. I’ll give that a try.

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Patricia Lintner January 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Jason, this article is so helpful and I have found it to be the best! I have recently went back into doing my art and have never shipped it before, so this is exactly what I was looking for.

Using great pictures for examples really made the difference.

I really appreciate the time you took to help so many.

Warm Regards

Patricia

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Emmy MacKenzie February 10, 2014 at 10:19 am

Thanks Jason! Excellent posting.

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Erica Humes February 15, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Incredibly useful article – just what I was looking for to reference. Had a question regarding the Palette Tape & Wrap – does it ever damage paint to the canvas because it is directly applied? ie; in extra humid or moist conditions. I have not shipped artwork, but plan to start up – was curious how directly wrapping the canvas with palette tape works. Thanks!

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Fay Prince February 19, 2014 at 10:09 am

Thank you very much Jason!
Really great info/ advice here… I appreciate all your experience! ❤

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Catherine February 28, 2014 at 5:55 am

Such a lovely and informative web page. I have saved it to my reading list as I begin to ship my work for the first time. Thank you. Catherine Hart

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Eloa Jane March 3, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Thank you for the information. It was very helpful. My artwork is created on wood panel and therefore sturdier than canvas but I will be following your steps the same way for safety . Thanks again! Eloa Jane

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Andrew Harrison March 4, 2014 at 7:20 am

Afternoon,

I just stumbled across this article and whilst it’s very in depth and the stages you go through are well documented I certainly would not wrap my artwork like that. I am an art technician with a world renowned shipping company based in London with which I go to galleries and clients houses to wrap their paintings / sculptures on a daily basis. Some are extremely valuable and I think anyone here in London or the UK witnessed me using cling film on that picture above I would get sacked straight away.

That is the wrong material to use. When the work is transported around worldwide it is subjected temperature change, sometimes very hot if in the middle east for example. In that heat the plastic will sweat and condensation will form then go on to the picture surface which could result in damage. This could get mouldy if left for a considerable amount of time (customs for example).

We wrap our paintings completely in tissue (from a roll) then a thick layer of polythene which sealed with tape so no moisture can get in. It is then wrapped in thick card (but not like your card wrapping. So that all edges and corners are sealed away from the outside. This is perfectly adequate if the work is not travelling abroad by air.

If it is travelling by air then the work needs to be cased despite it’s size (only heat treated timber can be used when constructing a case like this, plywood is exempt.)

If the picture surface has lots of texture it should go into a travel frame, with no material touching the surface.

My apologies for the rant but it I felt it had to said as too many times I have had my work damaged now from bubble wrap. Some of my paintings have been damaged beyond repair by gallery technicians. Most artists use this material against the picture surface which is not advisable. It doesn’t really provide much protection and after one use it’s virtually wasted. This is now why I personally build cases for all my artwork and since doing so they are much better off for storing them and transporting them. I’m even starting up a custom casing company here in London for artists to house their work (which is to be launched this year.)

My apologies for this rant, and there certainly isn’t one right way to wrap and ship artwork. It is however a method used in the industry over here. So long as it gets where it needs to go in one piece.
Cheers,
Andrew Harrison

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Louis Wing March 28, 2014 at 10:05 am

Jason,

Let me say this is truly solid information on how to prepare artwork for shipping. As you demonstrated, it’s really all about the steps you take before it goes out the door.

You really took a great deal of time to outline what you would do to prep and ship a piece of art, and I think you’ve done more than most people ever would. As a result I am sure you’ve had more pieces shipped (and more importantly) received in good condition. I am convinced that if more people did what you do, they’d have beautiful art on their walls instead of bad shipping experiences.

In full disclosure – I work for a shipping company, and so I’ve heard all the horror stories about how people had their shipments damaged, but 99 percent of the time the items were just not prepared well. You are correct in saying that a boxed shipment gets touched a dozen or more times before it reaches the final destination, and even with our best efforts, inevitably some shipment do get damaged – it just happens.

I know a few people in your world talk about the woes of insuring art shipments, and I’d like to comment on that!

I would love to offer you and your readers our Art Shipping services, in which we CAN include insurance. NOTE: There are caveats to what shippers like ourselves will insure, and how that relates to the methods in which the items are packed.

Specifically, we can add insurance when there is a “stated value” that can be proven: The customer has to have a receipt showing what was paid for the item. If that item was say $50K (for example), then you’d have to have an appraisal for that, a necessary step for an insurance underwriter to write a policy. For my company – Anything over $1900 in value has to be crated (not boxed).

Also, and VERY IMPORTANT here – Most shippers won’t insure something that is “self-packed” – if you want to purchase insurance, it has to be “Professionally Crated.”

We always ask how something was crated, and for most people they assume that a few layers of loose cardboard and a massive tape job is just that, but as you clearly pointed out – it’s not.

To be considered “professionally crated” you would have a company do this – basically build a tough, wooden box around the item that is wrapped as you are carefully describing. Most UPS stores offer this service and we (TSI) will accept an item for shipment (and insure it) if it’s been crated by a reputable company like a UPS Store.

What often happens – When we book a shipment for a job like this and we send someone out for pickup – our people will often not accept an item for shipment when we see a “home packing job” that someone says they crated. I say this because people will swear it’s crated! When we show up for pickup and see it’s a cardboard mess, our policies and insurers won’t let us accept that. While this makes for unhappy customers, we don’t want to set ourselves or the customer up for failure.

So the nut of that is – it’s important to take the time to really get it done right, and to have something professionally crated if you’re looking to have an art shipment insured.

I know this sounds like a lot of effort to go through, but as you would probably agree, if the artwork is valuable enough to the owner, no amount of preparation can be enough.

After reading your post here on how you’d prepare something, I think most people could send a painting and be successful. I wish more people would “take pride” in their packing efforts as you have, because the end result would be much better.

We welcome the opportunity to quote an item for shipping and to include insurance (depending on stated value and level of packing) as an option for those looking for more peace of mind.

Please read more about our Art Shipping services at http://www.transitsystems.com/art_shipping/ – and I can say without hesitation that we’d be less expensive than FedEx or other outfits.

Have a great day, and again thanks for taking the time to outline the careful steps you’ve taken, as I think many people will benefit from it. You clearly have experience that most people just don’t have.

Regards,
Louis

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Michael Farber April 6, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Great article. Saved me from making mistakes. After double boxing my art work, I purchased a few cans of insulating
foam from the hardware store and shot foam between the two boxes. Seems to help insulate the art.

Mike

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Marisa D. Aceves April 8, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Thank you for the excellent information on packaging and shipping a painting for sale. This is one of the most thorough explanations I have found. I noticed that in your article you mentioned telescoping mirror boxes. Have you found any companies that sell mirror boxes that are a reasonable price.
I would appreciate any information that I can get.
Thank you for your time.

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Victoria April 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

Hi. Thank you so much for this detailed tutorial! I just sold my first painting, and I was wondering how on earth to mail it!!! :D

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Hazel Stone May 3, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Thanks, Jason, for the very useful information for shipping. I have shipped many paintings in Airfloat boxes and they get worn going back and forth for exhibitions. A new box for a SOLD painting would definitely be the best presentation for the customer.
Question: For work exhibited in your gallery, what information should be on the back of the painting? I noticed that only Penny’s name, title and possibly the inventory number were on the back of her canvas. Is the artist’s address, email, phone number ever used. I have been printing up my own self stick labels with my name, address, title, medium, image size, frame size, and price with all information written in. The label is affixed in the upper left hand corner of the back of the painting, then my business card is affixed below that. I would appreciate information from you about this subject. Thanks. Hazel Stone, Phoenix, AZ

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Jason Horejs May 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

The gallery will remove any personal cards/business cards that contain your personal contact information.

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Lakshmanan June 10, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Hey Jason, Thanks for detailing the precautionary measures perfectly. I would like to discuss some more details with you and get your recommendation on packaging Art Works, both Paintings & Photography from our Gallery in India. Please let me know how to contact.

Regards..

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C. Fischer June 20, 2014 at 4:48 am

Thank you so very much for having taken the time to write such a valuable how-to guide.
Just what I needed to read! It was so well written and helpful.
It was very kind and generous of you to share all that you have learned.
Great day to you!
C.F.

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Carol Cooke July 1, 2014 at 12:16 am

Hi Jason,
I have just sold my first acrylic painting to someone in the USA. Is is possible to take the canvas off the frame and ship it that way. Then the client could reattach it to a frame at the other end. I could the send it in a roll container making it less expensive and harder to damage. There must be a reason why this is not done, . The acrylic would crack maybe. What would you say about this idea?

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B. Strickland July 1, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Just wanted to say thank you for writing this article. It was clear, concise, and held my attention.

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Cj July 3, 2014 at 9:03 am

Thanks for this article and great information on framing. Since I tend to paint abstractly or cubist, the “wrapped around the frame” style suits my paintings. However, if framing is needed I always end up using a nice black matte frame to contrast the primary like colors to enhance it instead of competing with the art. Problem is the thick edges become costly to frame. Keeping the canvas dimensions to a minimum of say 3, I would imagine you could swap out frames if needed for presentations in case client wants something else?

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Chantey Dayal July 4, 2014 at 8:23 am

Hi Jason,
This is so well written and full of great tips. I am gearing up for the largest shipment I’ve ever had to do, and I’m feeling REALLY intimidated. I need to ship several paintings in many sizes (some quite large) to L.A. in September and I am currently living on Vancouver Island (yes on an island!) in Canada. Can you recommend any shipping companies that could do this well and, dare I say, affordably? I would really appreciate any advise you might have. One option that I am actually considering is driving them there myself but if I can avoid that, it would be great.
Peace, Chantey

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Janis July 17, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I am new at shipping paintings and was wondering how to carefully ship a painting with a gloss varnish which I feel would stick to plastic and be destroyed. is there anything like a special non stick paper to wrap a glossy painting to avoid sticking and imprinting?

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Kaz Jones August 20, 2014 at 12:35 am

I’ve just started selling my art via Artfinder and have been wondering about the best way to package and ship it out – this article is exactly what I need!

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Bibi August 26, 2014 at 7:34 am

Hi Jason, thanks for your fantastic article (and your books!)
I have a question about what is reasonable for shipping costs. I’m asked to ship a framed painting overseas, the box would be 27x33x6″ and weigh 4 lbs. With ups it would cost me $416 and with fedex $411. I find that incredibly expensive but is this a normal price?

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