Do you know how to safely pack your paintings for shipping?
I’ve been in the gallery game for over 27 years now, so I’ve seen it all when it comes to packaging and shipping artwork. Improperly packing artwork is one of the most common mistakes that I see artists making.
Think about the care that goes into creating your work and all the time you spend marketing the piece to get a sale or applying and getting accepted into that juried competition. You’ve worked so hard and the last thing you want is for your artwork to arrive damaged due to a poor packaging job. If you don’t give packaging and shipping your artwork the same level of detail as you did in creating the work you run the risk of losing out on time, money, and credibility as an artist.
Each piece of art is unique and can require a special way to package and ship. We’ve put this blog together to detail the packaging and shipping of 2D works of art such as paintings, fine-art reproductions, and photographs.
How to package your artwork for shipping
I’ve asked our preparator Maxwell Redder, an expert when it comes to handling artwork, to detail a ten-step guide to easily packaging your artwork to help ensure safe travels to its new home. Maxwell receives and ships hundreds of artworks to and from artists and clients every year. Just to give you an example, during our annual juried art competition and exhibit Art Comes Alive, we received well over 150 artworks alone shipped in from all over the country. He’s so good at what he does that artists have said that he prepped their artwork better than themselves. Some have even received their work and wondered if it was ever opened by us. Yeah, he’s that good!
Materials to have on hand when packing artwork
Before we dig into the pro-tips to get your artwork ready for shipping here are some materials you’ll want to already have on hand in your studio:
- Glassine Paper – an acid-free paper that resists grease and moisture. Comes in various sized rolls.
- Artist Tape – an acid-free tape with a low tack adhesive that can be easily removed without damaging paper or canvas surfaces.
- Brown Packaging Tape / Kraft Tape – stronger than masking tape and easy to use. Comes in two varieties: pressure sensitive and water activated. For heavier packaging consider using the reinforced Kraft tape with strong fiberglass yarns.
- Bubble Wrap – having a few different bubble wrap size varieties on hand is always good.
- Cardboard Sheets / or pre-formed boxes
- Sharpie Marker
- Measuring Tape or a Ruler
- Box Cutter
You can find all these materials at your local art store or on Uline’s website.
Ten steps to easily package your artwork for safe shipping
Follow these ten steps to help safely ship a painting, art print, or framed artwork.
- Cut glassine paper just large enough to cover the front surface of the piece and to wrap around the canvas for frame edges so that you can secure the paper with a piece of artists' tape to the back side of the piece.
- Cover the entire canvas, front and back, with a layer of bubble wrap. Roll the excess bubble wrap on the top and bottom (to provide extra protection) and tape.
- Time for a little math! Measure dimensions of canvas with bubble wrap and cut two pieces of cardboard to this size. You will put one piece on the front and one on the back and then tape them together. This will increase stability and protection.
- Cover again with more bubble wrap. Just like the first bubble wrap. This time, however, you’ll roll the excess bubble wrap to the left and the right sides and tape. Now all sides will have bump protection.
- If you already have a pre-measured box, then you can go ahead pack the artwork. Remember to fill in any empty space within the packed box with bubble wrap so that it doesn’t move around inside the box.
- If you need to make a box, then you can now measure the length, height and width of the final bubble wrapped painting to get the overall size you need for your cardboard sheets. You will need to: Add two times the width to the length and height of the box, and for fitting the two sides together you will need to add ½ inch to one of the cardboard sheets. For example, if you have a 9 x 12 x 2-inch piece, your sheets will need to be 13 x 16 inches and 13.5 x 16.5 inches.
- Cut two pieces of cardboard and score each edge by the width of the measurement. Following the example above you would score two inches all the way around.
- Cut the corner scores. Flip folds up. Flip the folds up for all scores. Hold corners in and tape.
- Now determine which of the two pieces of cardboard is the smallest size. Place the artwork in it. Slide the other cardboard piece (the lid) over the top.
- Tape and voila! You now have perfectly packed artwork, and you can label and ship as needed!
But remember! Someone ultimately has to unpack the piece so don't make it impossible to unpack. Pack the art as if you yourself were to be the one unpacking it later.
Common mistakes artists make when packing artwork
Artwork Shipping Mistake #1: Using packing peanuts!
Not only are packaging peanuts an art handler’s greatest frustration and worst nightmare, there simply is just no room for them when shipping, figuratively and literally. There’s no hiding the fact that packages are jostled around during transit. This can lead to a painting shifting inside the box and allowing the peanuts to freely move around, which creates vulnerable spots within the box and ultimately can lead to damage.
So just say no to packaging peanuts and yes to bubble wrap! Not only will the recipient of your artwork like you a whole lot better for using bubble wrap, it’s just the correct way to go when packing your artwork.
Artwork Shipping Mistake #2: Allowing bubble wrap to directly touch the surface of your art.
Since we’re on the topic of bubble wrap, an important thing to note is to not allow bubble wrap to come in direct contact with your artwork. Almost 100% of the time the plastic bubbles leave an impression on the varnish and is impossible to remove unless you re-varnish the piece. That’s why in the steps above we recommend using glassine paper as a barrier between your painting’s surface and the bubble wrap.
Artwork Shipping Mistake #3: Reusing old boxes.
I get it. Shipping artwork is pricey, and you covet any and all shipping materials and try to reuse them when you can. But for the safety of your artwork please, just don’t.
You might get away with reusing a high-quality box once when shipping artwork to a gallery, but never send a tired old box to a client who just purchased your artwork. They’ve just invested their money into your piece, the least you can do to show you value their purchase is to protect and present your artwork the best you can during shipping.