This post focuses on shipping two-dimensional art – paintings, prints, or photographs. It’s important in making sure artwork arrives safely, despite your best efforts, artwork could be damaged by the delivery company, a few pointers below may help you.
I want to convey to the buyer that the work of art they just bought, or are considering to buy, is a masterpiece. When the art arrives on your customer’s doorstep, you want the packaging to look like it is worthy of the artwork within, not something that fell off the recycling lorry.
Ultimately, I want to ship the artwork for the least cost, while still maintaining safety and professionalism. I try to use recycled materials wherever possible, with a little careful planning you can minimize the environmental impact of your art shipping activity.
What will you need?
Shipping Tools – T-Square, tape gun, tape measure, stanley knife, permanent marker, cardboard to make boxes, 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. Blades are cheap, especially if you buy them in bulk. Boxes are relatively inexpensive, and, when used properly, provide sufficient protection to keep your art safe in transit.
Plastic Wrap – This versatile plastic wrap is perfect for giving your art a protective skin before boxing agaist scrathces and scuffs. It is very similar to the plastic wrap you use in the kitchen to cover casseroles and other food you want to keep fresh.
Bubble Wrap – 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.
Packing Tape – Buy the very best packing tape you can afford! I understand that every penny counts, packing tape is not an area where you should be pinching those pennies. 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.
“Fragile” Stickers – Optional but I use large fragile stickers on every shipment, they make me feel better, and they let my clients know I care.
Right, Lets Start Packaging
The first step in packing a painting, photograph etc. 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. The ultimate goal of sizing is to give ourselves enough room to buffer the artwork from the outside world, and to meet our courier company’s padding requirements. Be sure and read your courier company’s damage and packaging policy to confirm you are meeting their requirements.
Dimensional Weight – Another consideration when planning packaging is your courier company’s dimensional weight policy, check this with your courier service.
A Protective Skin of Plastic – I use the plastic wrap to protect paintings and frames from scratches and scuffs. With larger pieces you should pass the wrap over the surface multiple times to cover all of the artwork. I then get my hairdryer and give it a gentle warm blast, the plastic shrink wraps it’s self to the painting. Carefully cut small slits in the back of the plastic so that the art can breathe, a piece of artwork wrapped for too long can have issues with trapped moisture or cracking.
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 artwork 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.
Bubble Wrapping – Our final inner layer is bubble wrap. 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 and then tape it to the edges of the painting.
The Outer 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, or you can fill any voids with bubble wrap. I usually choose the bubble wrap because it takes less time than performing surgery on the box.
Taping – 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.
Dealing with Glass – For those of you who are shipping watercolors, photography, prints, or anything else behind a panel of glass can be a problem. 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.
Another approach is to get out of the glass shipping business altogether, replace it with a sheet of clear plastic, the customer can always have glass put in if required and be reflected in the sale price.
Your Ready for Shipping!