How To Ship Paintings & Sculptures to Customers Anywhere in the USA
If grinding away at your day job isn’t getting you the return on investment or creative freedom you’d like (or need right now), there are a few side hustles every artist should consider.
Given the current climate of online consumption, the top recommendation is to open an e-commerce store. If you’re tech-savvy and capable of setting up a website, or even an account on a pre-existing e-commerce store that specializes in artistic works, this is a great way to increase your exposure and sell your creative works to buyers across the country.
Now, if it were as easy as that, everyone would be running an online shop. Unfortunately, there’s more to e-commerce than creating artwork and adding it to your online store. You also need to factor in one of the more difficult facets of running a business: logistics, or—more plainly—how you get that painting, print, or sculpture into the hands of the buyer in mint condition.
At TSI, we specialize in shipping high-value and special care items like paintings and sculptures over long distances. Keep reading for TSI’s best tips and expert advice on how to ship your precious pieces safely.
How to ship paintings and sculptures
There are several methods for shipping your artwork, but these three options are typically the most cost-effective:
• Parcel shipping
• Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping
• Consolidated freight
1. Parcel shipping
Parcel shipping is a popular option for artists and gallery owners who are shipping single items, smaller pieces, or unframed/unmounted works. Parcel shipping is similar to regular mail and is provided by companies you’ll recognize, like UPS, FedEx, DHL, and USPS. This type of shipping service offers express delivery, and you may also be able to add packing services if you are unable to pack the item yourself.
TSI TIP: Parcel shipping typically includes or gives you the option to include insurance. Keep in mind that it may not cover the full value of the work, so you might have to purchase additional insurance—something you should factor into your work when you are pricing it.
Things to keep in mind when choosing parcel shipping:
• Size: You need to be aware of dimensional weight when you ship artwork via parcel shipping. Parcel shipments are typically priced based on weight, but the space they take up on the truck can also impact the cost of your shipment, especially for large pieces. Dimensional weight more accurately reflects the density of the shipment, or in other words, the amount of space it takes up in relation to how much it weighs. Different parcel shipping providers calculate dimensional weight using different standards, so always confirm before you ship.
• Cost: The cost of the shipment will be based on the level of service you choose, speed of travel, and method of packing. Prices typically range between $50 and $300, and shipping a tube is often cheaper than shipping mounted and boxed or crated artwork. Next day or express shipments always cost more than regular ground freight, no matter how they are packed.
When to use parcel shipping: ● Express deliveries ● Smaller sculptures under 70lbs (including the weight of the crate and other packing materials) that can be easily boxed and secured ● Unmounted canvases ● Prints
2. Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping
Rideshare shipping is like carpool for cargo—artists or gallery owners post their shipment on a rideshare site like Roadie or uShip, and people who are already heading in that direction will submit bids to carry your shipment. The people bidding to carry your shipment come from myriad backgrounds—they could be someone on a road trip, a truck owner/operator, or a larger logistics company. It’s your responsibility to vet your options and negotiate your services and fees accordingly.
TSI TIP: It’s especially important to vet partners carefully when shipping paintings and sculptures, as these delicate items often require special packing and shipping considerations, as well as special considerations when loading and unloading. You need to make sure your shipping partner is capable of providing the environment and services you and your goods require.
Because rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping typically does not provide tracking information or insurance, it is generally not recommended for artwork, but it is still a viable option as long as you do your research and select your shipper carefully.
Things to keep in mind when choosing rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping:
• Costs: The price of shipping using rideshare can vary and is often negotiable depending on size, number of packages, and level of involvement required. Costs typically start around $175 for single, smaller pieces, and can reach upwards of $1,000 for larger pieces or collections.
When to use rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping: ● When no special loading or transportation environment is required
3. Consolidated freight
Consolidated freight or white glove shipping services are provided by licensed and insured shipping companies, which means you don’t have to vet the provider as thoroughly as you would with a rideshare arrangement. When you ship artwork using this method, it will share space on the truck with other shipments heading in the same direction. You only pay for the amount of space your shipment takes up on the truck, which helps keep costs down.
TSI TIP: The best providers, including TSI, will connect you with a shipping company that specializes in transporting artwork. They will have access to temperature-controlled vehicles and air-ride suspension, and will provide loading and unloading by hand (instead of a forklift), as well as offering varying levels of service, including packing services if you need help packing or crating a painting or sculpture.
Things to keep in mind when choosing consolidated freight:
• Time: Consolidated freight can take longer to ship and costs more than parcel shipping, but is typically the safest method of shipping artwork, especially large or fragile pieces—most paintings require “white glove” services, which include indoor pickup and delivery, packing, and additional insurance.
• Insurance: Consolidated freight includes basic limited liability coverage, but you will likely need to purchase additional insurance to cover the full value of the piece (same as all other shipping methods).
• Costs: If you can pack the artwork yourself, consolidated freight starts around $375. If you are shipping fragile artwork and need custom crating, the costs average closer to $900 to $1,000. If you have particularly heavy, large, bulky or valuable pieces, pricing can be more expensive.
When to use consolidated freight or white glove shipping: ● Large or heavy pieces—parcel shipping can be very expensive for these items, and is not as safe an environment, with more hand-offs between delivery legs and more room for damage ● Fragile artwork Thats a yikes from me. White glove is better for fragile. ● When time isn’t an issue ● Need custom-packing services, such as crating
6 critical things to consider when shipping artwork
Due to its often fragile and delicate nature, artwork requires special considerations while preparing and packing it for shipping to ensure it arrives in pristine condition.
1. Mounting: Whether a painting is mounted or not determines the method you should use to pack it. Unmounted canvases can be rolled and shipped in tubes, while stretched canvases should be carefully packed in boxes or crates.
2. Size: Smaller mounted paintings can be packed into double-walled corrugated boxes, but mounted paintings larger than 48” should be crated. Small sculptures under 12” or 5lbs may be safe in high-quality moving boxes with enough padding—just make sure you use a box several inches larger than the sculpture on all sides.
3. Weight: Sculptures are often made from heavy substances like stone, metal, or glass, which can increase the cost of shipping substantially, especially if you’re considering parcel shipping. Heavy items should always be packed into custom crates, and especially heavy items should be secured onto pallets for the safest transport.
4. Fragility: Paintings and sculptures are often made up of delicate components. They can be crafted using a variety of different materials with varying levels of sensitivities. While wood and stone may seem inherently strong, when carved, treated, and inserted into works of art, they can become fragile and easy to damage. Other materials, such as marble or glass, can easily show fingerprints and their surfaces can be damaged by plastic packing materials. The best way to prevent this is by packing them properly and trusting experienced professionals to handle them.
5. Temperature: Many of the materials used in artwork are temperature sensitive. Uncontrolled temperature changes can result in condensation and moisture, which can rot wood and rust metal. Materials, such as wood frames, can also expand and contract, resulting in warping or cracks.
6. Packing materials: When packing artwork, it is important to always use high quality packing materials that are in good condition. Never reuse boxes or use newspaper instead of packing paper, and never use packing peanuts, which can settle to the bottom of the box. Select boxes at least 2” larger than paintings on all sides to allow sufficient space for padding and always line paintings in acid-free, archival quality glassine paper before wrapping in bubble wrap, with the bubbles facing inward against the paper.
How to pack paintings and sculpture
Since these pieces are often intended to remain stationary, the materials they’re made up with are rarely built to be moved more than once or twice. This means that they require extra consideration and care during shipping. Follow these tips while prepping and packing you your pieces to ensure their safe arrival:
1. Clean the work surface to remove any dust and dirt 2. Measure artwork so you can choose the right sized box 3. Take pictures from all angles so you can provide proof of condition if you need to make an insurance claim 4. From here, packing depends on whether you are boxing or tubing your artwork
Read the full packing instructions in TSI’s ‘How Do Ship a Sculpture?‘ guide.”
1. Start by identifying potential problem areas, such as fragile points that are susceptible to damage 2. Measure all dimensions and weigh the sculpture so you can pack it properly and provide your shipping partner with the right information to ensure you receive the most accurate quote 3. From there, packing depends on the size of the sculpture
Read the full packing instructions in TSI’s ‘How Do Ship Paintings?‘ guide.”
When transporting artwork, you have a few shipping options available to you:
• Parcel shipping
• Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping
• Consolidated freight
Whatever method of shipping you decide on, make sure you take care when prepping, packing, and boxing your works of art to guarantee that your customers receive exactly what they ordered.
Want more information about your shipping options? Read TSI’s detailed shipping guides to learn more about these shipping methods, mistakes to avoid, special considerations, and how to properly pack your artwork.