Woo Hoo! You got a sale! Once you’ve been paid and you’ve finished your happy dance, you are left with a very important task. You must safely ship the art to your buyer.
Shipping artwork can seem like a daunting task. If it’s damaged or lost in transit, you will have an unhappy collector. Worse still, you would have to replace the artwork or give a full refund while you sort out whether the shipment was properly covered by insurance.
The number one way to protect your artwork in transit is proper packaging. Even though you will insure the work for damage and add “handle with care” stickers, it’s the packaging that is your best line of defense. Once you know the basic ways of packing art for shipping, you will be able to ship your works with confidence.
There are four options to package art for shipping. Two-dimensional work can be shipped rolled, or in a flat box. Three-dimensional work should be boxed (or double-boxed if fragile.) Over-sized and extra-fragile work should be crated.
Packaging 2D Artwork to Ship Rolled
Shipping an artwork rolled offers more protection from damage during transit than shipping it flat. This is because the round nature of the box means the carrier cannot stack a lot on top of it. Also, a round box deflects punctures from other shipments.
Artworks that are appropriate for shipping rolled include works on paper or canvas that are unframed and unmatted. Basically, the artwork is pliable enough to gently roll, and place into a shipping tube.
To package an artwork for shipping rolled:
- Start with a mailing tube that is at least 5” diameter and 0.125” thick (larger prints or thicker paper may require bigger tubes).
- To determine the appropriate tube length, add 4″ to the greatest dimension of the print. This guarantees a 2″ buffer zone at both ends of the tube.
- Slide the work into a plastic bag and roll it around a 3” diameter interior tube to provide inner support.
- Wrap the work in bubble wrap.
- Slide the work into the mailing tube.
- Lightly pad the tube ends with new, crumpled packing paper, finely shredded paper, or bubble wrap.
- Tape the plastic caps securely on the ends of the tube using packing tape. The plastic caps have a tendency to pop off in transit, so use a generous amounts of tape.
- Add “Fragile” and “Handle with Care” stickers to the outside of the tube.
- Adhere the shipping label to the tube horizontally.
Packaging 2D Artwork to Ship Flat
Shipping artwork flat offers less protection than shipping it tubed. This is because the carrier will stack many other boxes on top of your shipment. Also, it is more susceptible to punctures from other shipments.
Artworks that cannot be rolled must be shipped flat. These types of work include stretched canvas, work on stiff substrates such as wood or cradleboard, framed work, and matted presentations.
Note: You should always include a piece of acid-free foam core as part of any matting presentation.
- Use only heavy-duty boxes (275 lb. test, double-walled, and corrugated).
- Line the box with at least 2″ of flat Styrofoam on all sides to serve as a crush zone.
- Wrap the work in Styrofoam sheets or bubble wrap.
- Slide the wrapped work into the Styrofoam-lined box.
- Completely immobilize the work by filling all remaining space with clean Styrofoam, bubble wrap, or anti-static packing peanuts.
- Tape each seam of the box closed using strong packing tape.
- Add “Fragile” and “Handle with Care” stickers to the outside of the box.
- Adhere the shipping label to the top of the box.
Packaging 3D Artwork to Ship Boxed
A three-dimensional work should be shipped in a single box if it is not fragile. An artwork is considered not fragile if it can be dropped from five feet without damage. This is because most carriers use conveyor belts to move your package. While it doesn’t always happen, you must be prepared for the possibility that your box could fall off the conveyor belt to the ground. This is considered normal, and your artwork will not be insured should it break in this circumstance.
To ship a non-fragile artwork:
- Use only heavy duty boxes (275 lb. test, double-walled, and corrugated).
- Protect and cushion the work in craft paper, bubble wrap, and/or Styrofoam sheets and secure with stretch wrap.
- Nestle the work inside the interior box.
- Completely immobilize the work by filling all remaining space with clean, unused Styrofoam, bubble wrap, finely shredded paper, packing paper, or anti-static packing peanuts.
- Tape the box closed using strong packing tape.
Fragile Art Works
A fragile artwork is any artwork that would sustain damage if dropped from 5 feet. Typical examples of fragile artwork include sculpture, ceramics, and glass.
If you are shipping fragile artwork, it is essential that you use a double-boxing method. Most carriers will not insure fragile artwork for damage during transit if it was not double-boxed. Don’t be fooled: the carriers will gladly accept your premium payment for added insurance when you ship the box. But if it arrives damaged, they will inspect the packaging to ensure it was sufficiently packed. And if it wasn’t, they will deny your claim.
To package a fragile artwork, use the double-box method as described below. This involves packaging your artwork in an interior box, then securing that box inside a second shipping box:
- Create an interior package using steps 1 – 5, as above for non-fragile art work. This will be considered your “interior box.”
- To determine the minimum size of the second shipping box, add 4″ to the height, width, and depth of the interior box. This provides space for a crush zone.
- Line the appropriately sized shipping box with 2″ of clean, unused Styrofoam, bubble wrap, finely shredded paper, packing paper, or anti-static packing peanuts on all sides.
- Place the interior box inside the shipping box. Add more packing material as needed to ensure that the interior box is completely immobilized and does not touch the exterior box.
- Tape the shipping box closed using regulation packing tape.
- Apply “Fragile” and “Handle with Care” stickers to the shipping box.
- Adhere the shipping label to the top of the shipping box.
Packaging Over-Sized Artwork to Ship Crated
Crating artwork means using a heavy-duty crate, typically built from wood. The wood crate is much stronger than cardboard protects the art from being crushed or punctured during shipment.
Crates are used for oversized art and art that is too fragile to ship via the standard shipping carriers.
For example, many artists who do art shows will have special crates made in which they pack their art. They pay a semi-truck driver (freight service) to deliver the crates to the next art show. This method is less expensive than shipping several pieces of art via UPS or Fed Ex.
Shipping Size Limits for Standard US Carriers
If your shipment exceeds the weight and girth limits of the standard carriers, you will likely need to crate (and freight) your artwork.
Here are the shipping size limits of the major US Shipping Carriers:
|Carrier||Max Weight||Max Length||Max Girth*|
|US Postal Service||70||108 or 130|
US Postal Service (USPS):
Packages must not weigh more than 70 lbs. In most cases, packages may not be more than 108 inches in total length and girth. (130 inches for USPS Retail Ground)
United Postal Service (UPS):
Packages can be up to 150 lbs. Packages can be up to 165 inches in length and girth combined. Packages can be up to 108 inches in length. Packages with a large size-to-weight ratio require special pricing and dimensional weight calculations.
Federal Express (Fed Ex):
With FedEx Express® U.S. services, you can ship packages up to 150 lbs.; up to 119″ in length and 165″ in length and girth. With FedEx Express international services, you can ship packages up to 150 lbs; up to 108″ in length and 130″ in length and girth.
DHL Express (DHL):
DHL Express will only accept shipments that contain pieces up to 660 pounds in actual weight and 118 inches in length.
It is important to note that you should measure the outside of your finished package with a tape measure to determine the actual girth. Do not rely on the dimensions printed on the box as they account for the interior dimensions.
How to Crate Your Artwork
If you are comfortable with woodworking, you would simply build a wood box according to the dimensions as outlined above in shipping 3d artwork, above. As you pack your wooden crate, it is imperative that you secure your artwork inside in a way that will prevent it from moving or shifting during transit.
But, for most artists, myself included, there are many benefits in paying a professional crate maker to do the job:
- Making your own crate is a large expenditure in materials, tools and time. If you are not already set up for woodworking and only use crates occasionally, it probably makes more financial sense to hire it out.
- When you hire a professional crate maker, they are responsible making sure the artwork is secured. You will want to double-check with your crate maker that they guarantee your shipment will not be damaged. If so, the cost to hire out the job translates into added insurance.
Mastering the shipping process is an important component of selling your artwork online. The number one way to protect your artwork during shipping is to package it properly. Although insurance and caution stickers offer some assurance, they do not replace proper packaging. In fact, if your artwork is not packaged properly, the carrier will deny your insurance claim, even though you paid a premium.