How To Pack Paintings for Safe Shipping
Shipping paintings may seem straightforward, but if you’re new to selling and shipping your artwork or it’s been a while since you packed your last painting, you may be missing some key steps that will help you:
● Select the right packing method
● Protect your painting as it moves through the transit system you’ve chosen for shipment
Keep your creations in good condition during the shipping process by following these steps.
Special Considerations for Shipping Paintings
As an artist, ensuring your work arrives in the same condition it was in when you shipped it off is paramount. After all, customer satisfaction is everything when it comes to repeat business and reputation. People are generally understanding of shipping mishaps when they do happen, but they may be less forgiving if their one-of-a-kind artwork is damaged. Any steps you can take to decrease the risks, no matter how over-the-top they may seem, will go a long way. Keep these special considerations in mind when packing your paintings for shipping:
● Is it mounted on a frame? Unmounted canvases can be rolled and shipped in tubes that are at least 4 inches longer than the shortest side of the piece. The tube should be wide enough to accommodate 4-5 inches of padding. Stretched canvases should be carefully packed in boxes. If your painting is framed under glass, you’ll need to take extra precautions to protect the glass and limit any damage if it does break in transit.
● How big is the painting? Small pieces can be shipped in fresh, unused double-wall corrugated cardboard boxes. Anything larger than 48” on one side should be crated. Larger artwork will also be priced differently—carriers, such as USPS, FedEx, and UPS may have size limitations or price your shipment based on dimensional weight.
● How valuable is it? Artwork can be immensely valuable, both financially and sentimentally. For particularly valuable works of art, it’s highly recommended that you purchase additional insurance based on the value of the piece (not its weight) to ensure you’re covered in case it does sustain damage. Paintings must be properly packaged according to strict requirements in order to be insured. The best consolidated freight shippers will provide packing services that comply with insurance requirements.
● Is it fragile? Paintings, especially stretched canvas, are delicate. No matter what size of painting you are shipping, packing them properly to prevent puncture and other damage is essential.
● How many are you sending? If you ship or are planning to ship a lot of artwork, you may want to set up recurring shipments with a consolidated freight shipper. This can save you time and streamline the shipping process, making it easier to get your artwork to your buyer as quickly and as safely as possible. With the best freight shipping companies, recurring shipments can be scheduled in as little as a single email.
7 Mistakes to Avoid When Shipping Paintings
You may be familiar with the materials used to create your work and know how to handle them accordingly, but there are a few mistakes that novice shippers may not be aware of the first few times they pack up paintings for shipment. Keep your pieces pristine by avoiding the most common errors:
1. Not wearing gloves. Skin oils can damage the surface of the paint and other high-gloss art. Protect your artwork while you handle it by wearing nitrile or cotton art-handling gloves.
2. Using poor quality tools and packing materials. Low quality packing materials can compromise the security of your packing job. Avoid reusing boxes for packing artwork, and don’t use newspapers in place of newsprint or packing paper—the ink can easily bleed and leave marks on your work. Always use the highest possible quality packing tape and an efficient tape gun—cheap tape is harder to apply, harder to cut, and it doesn’t stick as firmly.
3. Using the wrong size box. Your box should be a minimum of 2” larger than your painting on all sides to allow sufficient space to pad your artwork. There are three common box sizes for shipping paintings: 28″ x 4″ x 37″, 37” x 4 ⅜” x 30”, and 36” x 6” x 42”. Telescoping boxes are also available. Paintings larger than 48” on one side should be custom crated.
4. Not protecting corners. The corners and edges of your painting are the most susceptible to damage. Make corner protectors using cardboard cutouts or purchase pre-made corner guards. Protect the edges of your painting by padding it adequately.
5. Using packing peanuts instead of bubble wrap. Packing peanuts will settle to the bottom of the box, leaving your painting susceptible to damage. Instead of packing peanuts, always use bubble wrap to pack paintings. Large, 1” bubble wrap is typically recommended.
6. Not lining your painting before wrapping in bubble wrap. When bubble wrap comes into contact with unprotected painted surfaces, it can stick and leave a visible mark. Prevent this by wrapping your painting in acid-free, archival-quality glassine paper before securing it with bubble wrap.
7. Packing artwork too early. As you are almost certainly aware, different types of paint have different dry times and some can appear dry when they are still slightly tacky or malleable. Make sure your painting is completely dry before wrapping it up for shipping.
How to Pack a Painting for Shipping
Packing a painting is a fairly straightforward process, but in all its straightforwardness, it can be easy to overlook some of the steps and leave your creations unexpectedly vulnerable to damage.
The first thing you will want to do is gather the appropriate materials:
• Tape measure
• For mounted artwork: Double-wall corrugated picture or mirror box
• For unmounted artwork: Sturdy shipping tube or appropriately-sized box
• Glassine or acid-free archival tissue paper
• Artist tape or painter’s tape
• Cling film or shrink wrap
• Cardboard corner protectors
• Bubble wrap
• Sheets of corrugated cardboard, foam-core, or hardboard
• High-quality packing tape
• “FRAGILE” stickers
• Tissue paper
• Packing paper
• Plastic sheets or an appropriately-sized plastic bag
• A camera
With the necessary packing materials in hand, you can begin packing your painting(s). Every piece is different, but these steps are a good place to start:
1. Clear a work surface. Wipe it down with a rag to remove dust and dirt, then pad it with protective material like a cutting mat, cardboard, foam, or thick cloth to prevent scrapes and scuffs.
2. Measure your artwork. Use the tape measure to determine the length, width, and depth of your painting. This will help you select the right sized box or shipping tube—look for a box that provides a minimum or 2” clearance on all sides. There are three common box sizes for shipping paintings:
○ 28” x 4” x 24”,
○ 37” x 4 ⅜” x 30”
○ 36” x 6” x 42”
Telescoping boxes are also available.
For paintings larger than 48” on one side, as well as particularly valuable or fragile pieces, the shipping experts at TSI recommend custom crating. Crating is the safest, most secure way to pack large or valuable paintings for shipping. The best shipping partners will offer on-site custom crating by experienced professionals, in addition to indoor pickup and delivery.
3. Take photos from all angles. If your work sustains damage in transit and you need to make an insurance claim, you’ll want dated photographic evidence of the condition the painting was in before you sent it.
4. Put on your protective gloves.
If you’re boxing your painting:
1. To protect the work from discoloration, stains, or marks from other packing materials, wrap the painting in acid-free, archival-quality paper. Ensure this protective paper covers all sides and edges, then secure it in place with acid-free artist’s tape. Make corner protectors out of the paper by cutting four squares and folding them in half twice diagonally to form triangles. Tape the free/open side of the triangle so it forms a pocket, then affix to the corner of the painting.
2. Wrap the painting in shrink wrap or cling film. Pull the shrink wrap tightly around the artwork so that it doesn’t get bunched or tangled. Cut small slits in the back so your painting can breathe—airflow can help prevent trapped moisture and any resulting damage to the surface of your artwork.
3. Add a layer of cardboard padding. This creates a sort of “internal box” that will significantly reduce the possibility of a foreign object piercing or scuffing the painting. It will also help absorb shock if the painting gets dropped. Cut the cardboard so that you leave 2 extra inches at each end, then bring the two sides together to form a triangle on the top and bottom edge, and tape it closed. This creates an additional buffer at the edge of the artwork that will absorb shock and help protect the edges and corners—the two most vulnerable areas of a stretched canvas. Tape a narrow piece of cardboard to the open sides to seal the internal box.
4. Protect corners using cardboard corner protectors.
5. Add a layer of bubble wrap. Pull the bubble wrap tightly to maintain tension and prevent bunching, taking care that the bubbles face outward to prevent indentations or impressions. Double-wrap the edges of your painting to protect these vulnerable areas.
6. Sandwich the wrapped painting between foam boards for added protection. Tape the boards together firmly, but not tight enough to apply pressure to the art.
7. Slide painting into the outer box. The most common source of damage to paintings is from movement allowed by extra space in the box. Cut the box down to a smaller size if necessary, or fill the box as completely as possible with additional bubble wrap—not packing peanuts.
8. Tape the box shut. Tape all seams of the outer box, including the short seams at the end of each flap. Any untaped seam can snag and easily rip open if something catches it. Only use high quality, heavy duty packing tape that’s at least two inches wide. Duct tape and other household tapes are not sufficient.
9. Label as “FRAGILE” and “HANDLE WITH CARE”.
PRO TIP: If you’re shipping your unframed prints in a box, stack them together vertically in the same appropriately-sized box, between two taped cardboard sheets.
If you’re shipping unframed/unstretched work in a tube:
1. Place the artwork atop two sheets of acid-free, archival quality or glassine paper cut to a size that is at least 2 inches larger than the artwork on all four sides to protect it from discoloration or staining. Ensure the protective paper covers all sides and edges. Paper-based artwork, such as drawings, prints, watercolor paintings, or photographs, should be placed face up. Fabric-based art, such as linen or canvas, should be placed face down to prevent cracking or breaking. If you’re shipping multiple pieces in a single tube, place a sheet of glassine paper between each work. Layer the art from largest to smallest, and make sure each piece is facing the same direction.
2. Roll paper-covered artwork around a smaller tube for added support. Don’t roll it too tightly to avoid damage to the painting. Secure the roll with artist’s tape.
3. Roll the artwork in a layer of bubble wrap and seal with tape.
4. Slide roll into outer tube.
5. Fill extra spaces with bubble wrap, taking care not to crush the edges of your painting.
6. Seal with packing tape and label as “FRAGILE”.
If your artwork is framed:
1. Place your framed artwork glass-side down on a sheet of packing paper and wrap it like a gift, taking care to fold and tape the edges. For extra protection, after wrapping it in packing paper, wrap the frame in at least one layer (ideally two layers) of bubble wrap, with the bubble-side against the frame, and place cardboard corners on each corner of the frame. 1” bubble wrap will provide the most effective protection. If the frame is especially large, place the paper on the glass, followed by a layer of bubble wrap and a sheet of cardboard on either side of the frame. Tape the cardboard sheets to each other and place cardboard corners on each corner of the frame.
PRO TIP: Don’t let the bubble wrap touch the glass surface of the frame—it can leave difficult to clean marks.
2. Small- to medium-sized frames can be packed together in an appropriately-sized box, with a sheet of cardboard placed between each frame. Large frames should be packed separately in their own specialty boxes, or crated for the most protection.
3. Fill any empty space in the box with shredded or crumpled packing paper to prevent shifting.
4. Seal with packing tape and label as “FRAGILE”.
When it comes to shipping artwork, packing is everything. Keep your clients happy and ensure your pieces arrive in mint condition by packing them properly and selecting the safest shipping method based on the size, value and fragility of the piece. For self-packing:
• Gather the appropriate packing materials
• Use new, undamaged materials
• Take precautions during packing such as wearing protective gloves
• Carefully pack the items
• Properly seal the boxes and tubes with high-quality packing tape
• Label the box as FRAGILE so handlers know to take extra care during the shipping process
Especially large, valuable, or fragile paintings should always be custom crated.
For detailed information about how to safely pack and prepare your painting for shipping, read TSI’s comprehensive guide to shipping paintings to learn more about special considerations, mistakes to avoid, and step-by-step instructions.