Shipping Artwork 101
A Comprehensive Guide on How to Ship Artwork
Shipping is one of the parts of the art business that is completely out of our own control. Despite this being the case, there are steps you can do prior to the shipping process to ensure that your art arrives at its final destination in pristine condition.
Here is my story:
I work at a UPS store as my day job, and have had to ship my art – plus – the art of many other people in all shapes, forms, materials, age, and value. Here are some tips and tricks I have gathered over my time packaging art to help others who have little idea where to start or just need a few pointers here and there. I hope this guide will prove helpful to you.
** Disclaimer: These are simply my tips and tricks to shipping art and I cannot guarantee that your art will not be damaged. No matter our best efforts at creating an “indestructible” package, damage during transit happens. These tips are shared with the hope that the chances of that happening stays at a minimum.
** Most of these tips are geared towards shippers in the United States, as this is where I live and am more accustomed to. These tips may need to be adjusted or changed depending on the carriers available in your country.
I will try to add a link to where I purchased each shipping supply accordingly. Disclosure that some may contain affiliate links. Remember to pay careful attention to different sizes.
Also, I talk a lot about UPS in this blog post simply because it’s the shipping service I am most familiar with. I don’t have a FedEx nearby, but they are fairly similar in services.
How to Package Your Art
Packaging Prints and Art on Paper
Depending on the size, it’s best to ship in a rigid envelope or a mailing tube. Generally, smaller pieces ship more economically in a rigid envelope and larger pieces ship more economically rolled in a tube.
Tips & Tricks to Shipping Art Prints
- Use plastic sleeves to protect the artwork from weather during transit.
- Add a foam board or cardboard backing behind your artwork; Then, insert this into a rigid envelope. This makes the envelope more rigid. (Fyi: Foam board is lighter than cardboard and will keep shipping costs less)
- Use “DO NOT BEND” stickers.
- If you are shipping in a mailing tube, make sure the lids are taped shut and there are no moving parts or pieces inside the tube when you shake it. (Consider using scrunched up newsprint paper towards the ends of the tube if your art is sliding around inside.
- For high value pieces of art, consider protecting the tube by encasing it in another tube or a long cardboard box. Mailing tubes can occasionally get dented during transit, so this ensures another protective layer for those really high value, irreplaceable shipments. (** Make sure nothing moves when you shake the package! **)
Packaging Canvas Paintings or Panel Art
Tips & Tricks to Packaging Fine Art
- Use a large-size polybag or stretch wrap your artwork. This helps protect your artwork from contact with the cardboard, bubble wrap, or any filler you are using in your packaging.
- Use corner protectors. Whether you include this factor in your packaging can make or break a work of art – So use it! Make one yourself (using small bubblewrap to wrap the corners) or purchase them in bulk here. I sometimes reuse the ones that come with frames I buy.
- Bubblewrap your art! I add at least 2 layers of large bubble wrap all the way around the piece. (Adequate packaging according to UPS guidelines suggests having at least 2 inches of cushioning on all sides of the item being shipped).
- Depending on the value of the art, I will sometimes use planks of cardboard on both sides of the canvas to add a layer of protection (You can buy them on Amazon or just reuse them from old packaging). Using Styrofoam planks is also an option.
Use a NEW shipping box!
Packaging material can be reused if it’s in good condition, but if you are declaring any value on your artwork, use a new box. For a package to be deemed as having adequate packaging, a new box is highly recommended. I get my picture boxes from Amazon, but you can also purchase shipping boxes from ULine.
- Make sure you are using a SHIPPING box instead of a moving box. A moving box costs a lot less than a shipping box, but they cannot withstand heavy weight and being moved around constantly. There will always be a seal on shipping boxes saying where they have been manufactured and up to what weight they can hold.
- For very large paintings (over 3 feet on two of its dimensions) or paintings with very high value, I recommend getting a double-corrugated box. Otherwise, a single wall box works just fine.
- I recommend side loading boxes, because they are more adjustable than those that are top-loading. If one dimension doesn’t work, it takes a lot less effort to cut off or add more to one end of the box.
- Boxes are less expensive when you buy them in bulk. If you do not need that many boxes, you may be able to purchase one at your local packaging store (*cough cough* UPS store *cough)
Adding Filler to Your Package
- You can use whatever filler you like: Packing peanuts, air cushioning, kraft paper… Just make sure you properly use enough of it (Also, packing peanuts aren’t friendly for the environment and are in-fact banned in several states in the USA)
- I usually just reuse air cushioning but you can also get huge pre-inflated rolls for around $13 on Amazon here, if you are interested.
- The correct way to use filler in a box is to “overflow” the box so that it is very hard to close the box. This ensures that nothing moves in the box when you shake it because everything is tight inside. If you shake the box, you should hear little to no movement inside (I know, it’s a weird explanation but that’s what I do every time I finish packing a box. I shake it. If there are loose pieces in there, it’s no good.)
*Optional: Add a fragile sticker or two. I’ll admit it doesn’t make as much of a difference as good packaging, but it’s still a good thing to add.
According to UPS standards, adequate packaging should be able to withstand a drop from 4 ft high (The height of the conveyor belt system). If you’re confident your box can do that, you have made yourself a very good box 😉
How to Package and Ship Other Art-forms
Now for details about shipping other items (e.g.: Pottery, sculptures, etc)
- There will be slight adjustments that will need to be made for different items, but generally, enclose the item in a poly-bag (These here are 2mil – not too thin) to protect the item if the box were to get wet. Add newsprint paper and large or small bubblewrap accordingly.
- Make sure to add at least two inches of cushioning (bubblewrap – not paper) on all sides if the item is fragile or of high-value.
- For shipping several pieces of pottery or for items with sharp points or edges, you may want to use foam sheets like these.
- If the item is too complicated to pack by yourself, you can always take it to a UPS Store or other packaging store to have it packed. When the UPS Store packs up an item, you have the Pack & Ship Guarantee, meaning that that UPS Store takes up the responsibility of packaging the item correctly up to UPS Standards. If your package gets lost or damaged, you are automatically guaranteed reimbursement for the amount of value you declared on your package.
- Otherwise, if you packaged it yourself, UPS will perform an inspection to make sure it was properly packed before verifying reimbursement for the amount of declared value you added to your package.
Services to Use to Ship Art
Shipping Art Prints (or other Small, Light, Low-Value Items)
To save on costs, I generally ship my art prints via the United States Postal Service. Most prints will cost around $5.00 to ship domestically via First Class Package Service and if lost, they can always be reprinted again.
Fyi: If your package is over 1 lb, it’s going to be more expensive: That is when the price jumps to around $10 or more.
Shipping Original Artwork
I personally do not ship original art with the United States Postal Service. The tracking and claims system isn’t very reliable, and I have therefore heard too many horror stories of high-value items getting lost and not seeing a penny of it returned to the sender.
I recommend shipping anything of value through FedEx or UPS. Both are similar services, but I will mostly talk about UPS, as that is the shipping carrier I am most familiar with.
- If you are shipping through a UPS Store, get a quote for your package here.
- UPS guarantees their delivery dates unless they specify otherwise. If your package arrives late (And it wasn’t due to severe weather conditions or conditions UPS has no control over), contact the UPS Store and they can start on the refund process for you.
- Make sure to Declare Value on your item. Declaring Value is different from Insurance and most carriers will only let you Declare Value on the item. This means that you must be able to prove the value of the item if it were to be lost or damaged during shipping.
- Proof would include receipts, invoices, cost of repair, or any listing of the item found online.
- (For UPS) If your item is lost or damaged, it is NOT RECOMMENDED that you handle it by yourself with UPS, unless you used your own shipping account number. If you shipped via the UPS Store (I’m not sure about FedEx’s rules on this – sorry!), contact that UPS Store FIRST (NOT UPS the company), and tell the UPS Store what happened. They will either start a tracer or start the claims process accordingly. If you go ahead and talk to UPS without talking to the UPS Store that shipped your package, it’s likely that the claims process will get slowed down more than it has to be.
- Damaged packages are stressful, so this will hopefully help if it unfortunately ever comes to that.
- You can also set up a Shipping Account through UPS or Fedex through their website. If you use their services often as a business, you will be able to get a better rate than the retail price of shipping. If you do this option, you print out your own shipping label and drop it off at an appropriate drop off location or get a driver to pick up the package from your location (There is an additional fee oftentimes for this option)
Here are a Few Extra Pointers on the Cost of Shipping
If you are shipping UPS, there is a jump in price for cost of shipping when one dimension of the box exceeds 30 inches. If you would like to spend less than $100 on shipping artwork, keep the dimensions of the box below 30 inches.
Shipping to Alaska and Hawaii can cost almost as much as International Shipping. Keep this in mind.
Shipping Artwork Internationally
International shipping is a lot more trickier. I generally leave the shipping service we use up to the buyer, as they are the ones who will be paying the shipping cost for the artwork. Here are a few pointers and tips on shipping internationally, so that both you and your purchaser will be well-informed when it comes to international shipping. Remember, clear communication is key!
- United States Postal Service International Shipping is the least expensive service: Though I find that most international shipments will cost AT LEAST $100. Make sure to get an estimate beforehand to let the buyer be aware.
- Transit time can take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months.
- Tracking is often-times only available inside the United States (Although there are some exceptions). Once it leaves the USA and enters another country, they use their own tracking system and carriers.
- Other International Carriers include DHL, UPS, and FedEx. These are more reliable, but are more expensive.
- These carriers will oftentimes guarantee their delivery dates and have a much better tracking system, even if outside the country.
- DHL specializes in international shipping, and thus are most reliable (In my opinion)
- Most artists, when shipping large original canvas art internationally, will take the canvas off the stretcher bars, roll the artwork and ship it in a tube. It is safer for the artwork and less expensive for the buyer to have it re-stretched upon delivery instead of it being shipped fully stretched.
- Go to your local UPS store or FedEx Office and they will create the customs documents for you. Otherwise, you will be responsible for including all the needed documentation with the package.
- With high-value items comes Duty fees, charges that will have to be paid on the receiver’s end when they receive the package. That Duty fee depends on the cost of the item and the country it is being shipped to. There are ways people get around it, but I recommend letting the buyer know ahead of time and googling what the duty costs are for that country.
- Make sure to have the receiver’s phone number: It is REQUIRED for all International packages.
Shipping Art Through Freight
There are some pieces of art that are simply too large to go via regular shipping. Instead, these pieces can be crated and sent via Freight. UPS Stores will do the crating and freighting for you, and will be able to give you an estimate for that.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find companies that specifically focus on transporting artwork. A quick google search will be able to help you locate the nearest one to you.
- Just a reminder to Declare Value on your Freight Shipment!
- Freight Shipping is expensive: It may cost you $500 or more – Keep this in mind.
- A cheaper option is to take the canvas off the frame, ship it in a tube, and get the painting re-stretched. This will be less costly than freight shipping.
And now we come to the end of the blog post! I’m so sorry this was such a long, hefty blog post – but I hope you learned something new that you can add to your packaging and shipping knowledge bank! If there’s a question you have or something I haven’t gone over in this blog post, feel free to comment down below.
And thank you for taking your time to stop by my blog – it is an honor… as always 🙂
Until next time my friends,