How to ship art
Kudos – you’ve finally found an ideal buyer and sold your artwork. Or, perhaps you have found an elegant piece of art that’s perfect for your home. It marries well with your home’s interior décor and style.
But that’s only half the battle; shipping is the last piece of the puzzle. Whether you’re an artist, art buyer, or gallery operator, you need to know how to ship the artwork so that it arrives at the destination in spick-and-span shape.
Do you need to move but don’t know how to ship your art pieces? Thankfully, we’ve got you covered.
In this explainer guide, we take you through the important steps of the art shipping process. We’ll focus on common 2D artwork, including framed art, art prints, art canvas, flat art prints, and paintings. Look ahead for tips, hacks, and general advice on how to save money and ensure your art shipment is safe, easy, and hassle-free.
Put together your toolkit
You’ll need a bunch of tools and supplies to get your art ready for shipping. The last thing you want is for your precious artwork to get damaged before or during transit.
Don’t skimp on this step, as you’ll need the right tools that will get the job done fast, safely, and effectively. Alternatively, you can get the supplies from your preferred art shipping company, such as USPS.
Here’s a checklist of tools and supplies you might need:
Not all art pieces are created equal. They differ in sizes, shapes, and other elements. A reliable T-square will come in handy when tailoring the box to fit your artwork. Because 48-inch boxes are popular for shipping art, a 48” T-square will fit the bill.
You’ll do a great deal of taping when prepping your art, so a tape gun is a no-brainer tool to include in your toolkit. A good tape gun can accommodate up to 2-inch packing tape and has a screw or know for adjusting its resistance.
Perhaps the most crucial tool to have handy is a multi-blade, heavy-duty box cutter. A good knife may suffice but may not be sharp and sturdy enough for frequent heavy-duty cardboard cutting. Don’t forget to have a pack of blades, too.
Anyone who knows how to ship art will have a box sizer in the toolkit. This adjustable tool is indispensable when creating smooth, even scores on cardboard boxes.
You’ll need a sharpie to mark your cardboard for sizing and cutting. A sharpie line is hard to confuse or miss, but a good pencil may do the trick if you tend to make mistakes. You can get a dozen of either if you ship art often.
Box sizes may vary depending on the shipper or supplier. For example, if you’re wondering how to ship large paintings, you may go with telescoping 48” boxes or 36” x 6” x 42” boxes. Other standard box configurations for art include 37” x 4 3/8” x 30” and 28” x 4” x 24”.
Palette Wrap and Tape
Plastic palette wrap is ideal for adding a protective layer to your art before you box it. You’ll be thankful for it when your art is scuff-free and scratch-free.
You think the world of your art, so it needs all the padding and protection it can get. That’s where cardboard pads come into the play. They’re sold in both single-walled and double-walled variants, most of which measure 48-inch by 96-inch. These pads offer an extra skin of protection between your artwork and the elements.
We all love bubble wrap, but your art will love them even more. They fill the empty spaces in the box and prevent unwanted jigs or movements that may damage your art.
Don’t forget to get plenty of 2-inch packing tape, “FRAGILE” labeling stickers, glassine paper, cotton gloves, scissors, custom boxes, packing peanuts, corner protectors, and more, as need.
Pick the right box/container for your artwork
The container you’ll use depends on many factors, including the type and size of your artwork and whether it’s framed, unframed, or glassed.
How to ship large paintings
Framed art pieces bigger than 18” x 24” should be shipped in a wooden crate. Similarly, large unframed artworks bigger than 48” x 48” are usually shipped in a wooden crate. If you’re using USPS, UPS, DHL, or FedEx, you can get a custom-built wooden crate from the carrier.
How to ship art canvases
You’d be better off shipping your art canvas in a new, double-walled corrugated cardboard box that will fit your canvas snugly. If the shape of your canvas is irregular, purchase a custom packaging or box that’ll contour snugly to the shape of your art.
How to ship unmounted paintings
Unframed artwork may be rolled up and shipped in a high-quality and presentable shipping tube. Make sure your painting can be rolled up without any damage. The tube should be 4” longer than your artwork’s shortest side, with around 4-5” for padding on either side of the rolled-up piece.
How to mail art prints
You may not be able to roll up art prints without inflicting damage to your artwork. As such, art prints should be mailed in “Do Not Bend” envelopes available from the leading shipping carriers. If they can be bent or rolled up without any hitch, you can use packaging tubes to ship them. In fact, art prints larger than A3 are much easier to roll and ship in a packaging cardboard tube.
In any case, art prints should be encased in the envelope with a clear sleeve bag for additional protection and elegant presentation, plus a greyboard backing that’s at least 1,000 microns thick.
What about smaller artwork?
Whether oil painting, art prints, or canvas, smaller artworks must be shipped in brand new, double-walled corrugated boxes. These boxes must be well-padded with bubble wrap and packing peanuts to minimize movement. Make sure the box has six inches of legroom on each side.
You can also get a wide variety of picture or mirror boxes that are perfect for shipping mounted and framed pieces. As a rule of thumb, the box should be at least 6” longer and wider than your artwork.
How to package art for shipping
Prior to shipping your framed art, you must package it appropriately. Simply follow these steps to do so:
As mentioned, a pair of oil-free gloves will come in handy. You see, your hands often contain natural oils that can leave unsightly marks on your precious artwork.
Prepare your work surface
It really pays to be extra careful and gentle with your treasured work of art. That’s why you need to pad the work surface with a cloth, bubble wrap, or cardboard to prevent scuffs, scrapes, and scratches.
Wrap with glassine paper
Place an archival-grade, acid-free glassine paper on your flat work surface, then lay your artwork face down on the paper. Next, wrap the excess leaves of paper to create snugly wrap. This should be done as if you’re wrapping a book, so make sure to secure the glassine paper (and not the artwork) with packing tape.
Secure your artwork
For extra protection, use packing tape to secure a thick cardboard sheet onto the glassine paper.
Put your ensemble in a plastic sleeve bag
Now, encase your artwork [plus cardboard and glassine paper] in a presentable plastic bag. If you’re an eco-warrior, you can use a paper bag instead.
You must wrap everything again in bubble wrap. Don’t forget to secure the whole thing with packing tape.
Ensure corners are protected
With your precious piece wrapped with bubble wrap, you’ll need to use corner protectors to safeguard corners against possible bumps and squeezes.
Prepare the box
For additional protection, sandwich your artwork in between two styrofoam sheets. Don’t forget to secure both styrofoam sheets with packing tape.
Box, seal, and label
When boxing, don’t be shy with the taping hand. Make sure the corners of the shipping box are reinforced, as well. Finally, add the “Fragile” label to see to it that your artwork gets to the destination intact.
Now that you have boxed your art, it’s ready for shipping! Some people use another box for an added layer of protection. But that may increase the overall cost of shipping.
How to ship art canvas (when rolled)
The steps we covered above will help you ship a framed painting or framed art canvas. But what about an unmounted or unframed art canvas?
Here are the key steps you must follow:
Get two packing cardboard tubes
The larger tube should be at least 8 cm; something tighter than that will damage your artwork. The smaller tube should be at least an inch smaller than the larger one; this will be used to roll your piece with so that it can fit snugly into the actual shipping tube. Both tubes must be crafted from firm cardboard.
Wear your gloves
We can’t overemphasize the importance of wearing gloves before handling an artwork.
Prepare the surface
Lay a sheet of glassine paper on your work surface, then put your artwork on top of it. It’s okay if the piece lay on either side. Now, place another sheet of glassine paper on top of the canvas.
Roll the artwork
Roll your canvas with the painted surface out. This will prevent the painted canvas from crumbling or cracking. Use packing tape on the glassine layers to secure the roll.
Lay bubble wrap on the surface and roll it over everything. Make sure to use bubble wrap to seal both ends and tape with adhesive tape. This will waterproof your artwork.
Insert into the larger shipping tube
Slide the bubble-wrapped artwork gently into the bigger tub. You can now carefully put the lid on top of the tube to secure the canvas.
Seal, label, and ship
You must seal the tip, making sure that it’s tight to prevent moisture entry. Next, place the “Fragile” and “Do Not Bend” labels on the shipping tube. You can now mail or ship your artwork using a preferred carrier.
Shipping artwork this way is more affordable since it’s more compact and lighter. However, it may create opportunities for damage if you’re not careful enough.
How to ship watercolor paintings (even when partially dry)
Wondering how to ship watercolor paintings when they are not fully dry? We get it: paintings can take a while to dry and set. But you don’t need to wait for that to happen before you ship them to the buyer or gallery.
There’s an excellent method for shipping wet watercolor paintings. Aside from watercolor paints, this can be quite useful for oil artwork which can take 1-2 years to fully dry.
To do this, you’ll require a customized wooden crate or frame. For the frame, have it custom-built such that it’s 15mm thin. Use screws to secure your artwork inside the custom frame.
The next step is to place the cover on top of the wooden frame. We highly recommended using a completely and tightly enclosed wooden frame cover. As such, small particles won’t find any way to fall inside and ruin your wet painting.
Next up, you’ll have to place the whole frame, cover, and holder inside a plastic wrapper. This way, you can wrap the whole thing with a generous layer of bubble wrap. Set two layers of styrofoam sheet and sandwich the artwork in between them.
Add corner protectors, packing peanuts, and then box everything up. Your partly wet watercolor or oil painting is ready for shipping! Remember to add the “Fragile” label on the shipping box.
Don’t forget to get insurance for your artwork
Even with the best and most careful packing and shipping, your artwork can still become damaged, get lost, and whatnot on transit. For some extra peace of mind, be sure to get your artwork insured before you ship it out.