I have been shipping art around the world for the last six years, and in all that time and hundreds of paintings later, I have only had one painting damaged by the post office. I remember reading about professional art shipping boxes way back when, but they were very expensive and I was just starting out in my career and could not have afforded them. I had heard from other artists that somehow the postal workers were capable of puncturing boxes right through. What to do to protect my vulnerable canvases?
Fortunately, my husband is a man of many talents and he came up with the core idea to prevent poke through from wayward postal people. The rest comes from my own background which includes a course in package design way back in the 70's.
If you can gift wrap a package, you can create the perfect packaging for a canvas. You'll need a minimum of equipment and almost no money. Let me apologize in advance for choosing a nude to package when taking the photos for this blog entry. I just happened to be shipping it when I finally remembered to take photos while boxing up a painting. Also, it looks like I did the whole thing one handed, but that's only because I was alone and my other hand is holding the camera!
NOTE: If you are concerned about anything coming into contact with the surface of the artwork (and possibly damaging it), please read the note that follows my description of this method.
So let's begin.
Here's what you'll need:
A large sharp utility knife.
Packing tape. I buy a whole box of rolls at Staples because it's much cheaper to buy it bulk, but you can get this stuff at any dollar store.
Plastic bags. These could be from anywhere, depending on the size of your canvas. Garbage bags are good for larger packages.
A sheet of Insulating Foam from any Home renovation center. I use the least expensive they have, one inch thick 2 x 4 foot sheet for about $5. If I am shipping a large piece, I'll use the denser, more rigid version for a few dollars more.
Cardboard Boxes. This is the best part. There is a huge bin for recycling behind every store. And those bins are full of collapsed cardboard boxes of every size. So I go dumpster diving for my cardboard! My favorite stores are Pier I and a home store that carries window blinds. Perfect for big boxes.
Begin by protecting your canvas from the damp. Slip it inside a plastic bag of some kind and fold the bag tightly around it. Tape it closed with Scotch tape on the back.
Next you will be making a foam sandwich. Lay your canvas on a sheet of insulation foam and use the utility knife to cut around the edges forming perfectly matched piece of foam. Do this twice. You can also use a felt marker and then cut without the canvas on the foam, but I like expediency. The knife will not cut right through the foam, but if you continue your cut in a straight line to the end of the foam, you can simply snap off the piece.
Lay your canvas between your custom made foam pieces to create a sandwich. The foam is rigid and dense enough to protect the vulnerable face of your painting.
Now use your packing tape to bind the sandwich together. Make sure you go the whole way around the package so that the tape can stick to itself in the end. You only need to do this twice to ensure that that foam stays lined up with the canvas.
Next, you will need to lay out your cardboard. If you have an old box, cut along one edge to create a flat sheet of cardboard. Be sure that any printing on the box is facing up. That way the outside of your finished box will be free of printing and ready for a postal sticker.
You'll need a piece that is big enough to wrap all the way around your foam sandwich and leave enough on the ends to fold over. The idea here is wrap the sandwich tightly in cardboard. I lay my canvas along one edge and pick the whole thing up and start bending the cardboard around the foam until I have wrapped the whole thing. I leave an overlap on the final side and cut off any excess.
Here I am using my packing tape to hold the cardboard tightly to the foam sandwich. The same rule applies here, go all the way around so the tape overlaps itself. Tape on tape is very secure and won't lift while in transit. Now you have wrapped your canvas in such a way that it won't be shifting at all within the cardboard.
You still need to finish the wrapping job by scoring the corners with your knife. You want to follow the fold lines created at each corner, to form flaps.
Here you can see that I have folded in the side flaps and I am beginning to fold the last flaps. I make these folds on both ends of the box before continuing.
Now it's time to tape the ends shut. I use tape that goes from one end all the way around the box in one continuous length. I hold the ends tightly closed while I tape and keep tension on the tape.
You can see here that I went around my box on each end making 2 straps that hold down the flaps on the ends of the box. Now I am going around again following the narrow edge of the box. I keep going around this edge continuously until the entire edge is covered in tape. In fact, if you want real security, begin this taping leaving a small overlap that you can fold over to protect the long edges of the box and end with an overlap as well. Tape is very strong when pulled tight and stuck to itself and this method prevents any ripping along the edges of the box while in transit. Yes, it's a lot of tape, but think of it as a security measure.
TaDa! Here is the finished box. The canvas is securely wrapped in both foam and cardboard. The foam will prevent poked holes and the tape will prevent ripping. The canvas cannot move within the box. The long edges are already strong by virtue of the wooden stretcher bars.
It may take a bit of practice to keep everything tight and get your cardboard cuts right on the first try, but with a bit of perseverance this is easy. If I can do it, anyone can.
A few notes on shipping:
I have an account with Canada Post and so I can print my own labels from my computer. The USPS offers the same convenience. No standing in line, just print your label and tape it on with packing tape. You can drop off the package at any post office or put it in post box if it fits. A word to the wise...NEVER cover the Scan code on the label with tape. The shininess of the tape may prevent the scanner from picking up the code.
About choosing a shipper. I know that many artists feel they must use one of the big shipping companies (FedEx and UPS) for shipping art. In my experience, USPS and Canada Post do a great job of getting your painting where it needs to go. They are much less expensive and there is a lot less hassle and you can still insure your package. You can ship anywhere in the world without worrying.
I have had to use the big boys on occasion for really large paintings that exceed the max allowable by USPS and not only did it cost me a fortune, but you can be sure that if it's crossing a border with the big companies, it's going to get opened by customs. Take my word for it, customs officers don't give a hoot about your art. Damage will happen, or at the very least you box will arrive mangled. For some reason a box sent through regular mail, even when it crosses a border does not get inspected and ruined.
I once had a chat with a very friendly UPS guy and he told me that when they package paintings for clients (for which they charge a fortune) they use almost exactly the same method I use. So now you get to be a professional packer. WooHoo!
PLEASE NOTE: I am always shipping oil paintings and this method works perfectly for me. However, I do not build up heavy layers of paint, so my surface is very flat, and I have never had any problem with the plastic touching the surface of my work. If you are concerned with damaging the surface of your artwork, you can protect it by skipping the plastic wrapping and adding a "frame" constructed of insulation foam around the edges of your canvas. If you make the frame deeper than the canvas and hold it in place with tightly wrapped packing tape, it should prevent anything from touching the surface. Then make your sandwich and wrap the whole thing in plastic before adding your cardboard layer.
62 Responses to Fool-Proof method for Shipping Art
This is excellent. Thank you very much Laura. Just yesterday I was wondering about packaging art to ship through the mail - how timely!
Laura, thank you. This is a helpful, informative article on the intricacies of packaging paintings, which are, afterall delicate, to create complete protection during transit. I've been using UPS for some years after hearing that all packages drop from a conveyer belt into bins in the Post Office, but I now think that with packaging that's as strong as what you've created that it's probably alright. If it's a small enough piece, I usually buy a cheap clip frame to protect the painting (usually oils on thick watercolour paper) in transit. What you've shared of your way of packaging is much more cost effective & safer. My next painting is going out this way!
I'm going to bookmark this article and share it with other artists who ship their work too.
Many thanks... & for the awesome paintings!
via web48 months ago
Laura, have you thought of adding an AddThis button to your blog? They're handy for sharing articles and sites... xo
Thanks Laura. Excellent article, one of the most helpful I've seen. I especially appreciate the info about using home store foam.
Brilliant method, thanks for sharing! I'm linking to this article.
Laura, thank you for sharing this information. I am sure that many artists will find it very useful and money-saving. In addition to what you suggested, I add a layer between the painting and the plastic bag. Only to prevent the plastic from reacting with the varnish, which I have seen happen before. I use a 1/16" sheet of foam. I buy the roll from ULine and it comes perforated into 12" squares for easy tearing.
Wow! I am so glad I wrote this up. Thanks to everyone who's helping to spread the word. Artists and collectors everywhere will benefit!
Brenda- my blog is a part of my site, so I can't add any bells and whistles. I am twittering about it though. Maybe someone will pick it up as a guess post.
Thanks again and enjoy!
I had a friend that worked a Z Gallerie who got me all my picture frame cardboard boxes before they were thrown out (the were the perfect sizes too). When they bit the big one, I thought I had lost my free box connection, but DUH, dumpster diving sounds awesome! Thanks for pointing it out because I never would have thought of it. Seriously, the boxes at Staples are a rip off, and even buying in bulk thru Uline means I have to stack them somewhere. Thanks!
Thanks for this!
Last year, Consumer Reports did an entry on the carriers and would you believe that USPS came in at #1 all around?
I thought I was losing my mind when I was evaluating shipping costs thru USPS, FedEx, & UPS last week. FedEx & UPS were 3x the $$ than USPS!! Sheesh!
Laura - as always you are a wealth of information and I am never disappointed when I visit your site. You are truly talented!
Thanks for sharing your packing secret. It is great advice.
I have always had great luck with the USPS.
Laura, thank you for sharing this valuable information. I have not shipped many paintings as I worry about how they'll end up at the other end. I also work in pastel under glass mostly but your method could work on framed pieces and I could stick the glass with heavy tape?
Your work is gorgeous!
Cheers for now, Colleen
Hi Laura, Thanks for the packing advice. But PLEASE don't apologize for the nude! Nudes are the basis of all fine art. We all have a body. I don't know why people get so upset. All my drawing and painting is of nudes. I use colored in on paper. I send them in a tube that I buy at the Post Office. Not the best, but I live in a small town and we don't have better stores that carry the cardboard ones. It seems that people prefer their own framing, so why spend the money.
Thanks again for your packing advice and the time it took to tell us. Ciao, Carol Ann
Thanks for your wonderful method for packing art. And great job for working one-handed!
USPS won't insure artwork, though. UPS and FedEx will insure it up to $1000, if it is shipped ground or overnight.
I am always shipping from Canada so I use Canada Post, but they allow me to insure my packages. If I want to insure my package for more than the minimum allowed, I simply pay for it.
USPS should allow you to buy extra insurance regardless of the contents of your package. I know that when I have things shipped from the USA I can often choose to pay extra for insurance.
Yes you can purchase insurance from the major carriers, but some items are restricted. On the LinkedIn discussion, Dennis Snyder pointed out that _his_ insurance would not cover USPS shipments. In re-reading it and looking over the USPS regs, I couldn't find any restrictions on types of items shipped.
7. Shipping: As mentioned, we don't use USPS because our insurance company won't cover it. I use primarily UPS for shipping. I have a poll that shows a preference for UPS at 49 percent, 40 percent for USPS and Fed Ex and others in the balance. However, for larger pieces that would get into the oversize 2 and 3 categories, I have found it cheaper and better handling going air freight.
That discussion was where I found the link to this post. It had some great info on shipping. Thanks for your advice and sorry for my confusion!
Oh No worries Jim! I am only speaking from my personal experience. I'm sure UPS is great if you are shipping within the USA, the real issue arises when crossing borders. There are no customs charges between Canada-USA but the big carriers charge ridiculous brokerage fees, and the rate seems to be random.
Within Canada we have a shipper called Can-Par who are great for bigger crates.
Wishing you every success!
I know I'm late to the party here but this is a great post. Deborah T. Colter lead me here today.
I have a question? If you are shipping oils, how long do you dry your paintings before they go out? I remember hearing that oils can take months to fully dry! Thanks
Thanks for the generous comment! To answer your question, I use Liquin by Windsor and Newton as a medium for my oils and it speeds drying quite a bit. Some pigments dry much faster than others, but because I don't have a big build up of paint on my canvases they are usually dry in a week.
I bookmarked this article! Very good advice! Although packaging steals into painting time, it is still wonderful to be able to give the customer your best!
Great shipping information. If your painting is going to a gallery for a show and needs to be sent back if not sold, do you think the gallery can or will repeat this process?
Yes, the packaging can be used again for ship backs. Usually the folks who un-pack for a show like that will be careful not to do any damage to the cardboard etc.
I have used this method successfully for "round trips"...no worries!
Super! Thanks for responding so quickly. My husband was ready to build
another plywood crate to send a painting to the OPA Show in Colorado
usually costing around $100 because of the weight.
That's funny, it was an OPA show where I used a box for return shipping...and Congrats! I hope they won't need to use it because your painting sells.
I am so glad Jason! Good luck with your shipping!
Thanks so much for posting such a detailed description of packaging and shipping art. I have vintage art work to sell, yet had no idea how to ship it properly. Now thanks to your blog post, I do.
Thanks for letting me know Hanie! Glad I could I could help.
Thanks so much - very informative and useful. I am on my way to Lowe's tonight to buy the foam!
Great article and a real money-saver. Thanks for sharing! :)
Thanks for all the tips to ship art.
I'm actually looking to ship 2 paintings from my parent's house in New York to Australia, but USPS claim the dimensions exceed their permissable limits (1 painting is 36x36x3, and the 2nd is 42x29x1).
We tries contacting UPS/FED EX for rates, but their quote was astronomical, even more than the value of the art. The art holds more emotional value for us, hence we are keen to ship it Australia.
Any suggestions on alternate postage methods? Interestingly though, the smaller art work was sent from Australia through Auspost and they charged us a reasonable cost, and it was delivered to the US by USPS, so surprised to learn USPS can't ship out of USA!
I appreciate any advice you can provide, thanks.
I have shipped to Australia in the past and I used Canada post, so your best option is USPS. However, if you are over their size limit, there is not much you can do. I have 2 suggestions to keep the size as low as possible. First, if the paintings are framed, ship them without the frame. Second, for the larger painting, I would suggest you get the thinner, stronger type of foam insulation. It's denser than the cheaper stuff and it may bring your size down enough. If it's the difference between 4 inches deep and 3 inches deep, it might work? If you ship the larger painting alone that is.
I wish you good luck!
Thank you so, so much for creating this. I just starting out with painting last year, so I'm not trying to ship to galleries. However, I've been too scared to even gift or sell to friends and family back home, because I don't want to ruin things by shipping them badly. Your method seemed the best and most cost-effective for someone like me. Finding this guide really made my night!
thank you! was on the brink of buying a bunch of expensive boxes. hoorah, recycling. hoorah, ingenuity.
This is a very instructive and common-sensical approach to shipping canvases. Thank you! I'm looking for something equally sensible and inexpensive for framed watercolors under glass/plexiglass. Anyone have any ideas other than Airfloat, etc.?
It seems to me that you could still use this method. What if you "sandwiched" the artwork with the glass between sheets of foam and then added the frame with one more layer of foam. A triple decker so-to-speak. Then you can pad the sides and wrap the whole thing in cardboard.
I have never shipped glass, but it seems like it would be a secure way to do it.
Maybe someone else who has tried it will ring in on this...I hope so!
et bien c'est super gentil de nous montrer votre méthode pour emballer les tableaux. Merci beaucoup
great advice, thanks !
just wondering if you have any experience with shipping large-ish framed works ? large as in about 1m x 70cm, and framed with wood and acrylic,
do you think this would be possible with the normal postal service ?
It sounds like your package will be just on the edge of what's allowable by your country's postal carrier. It depends where you are, but I know that Canada post will accept "oversize" packages....but the cost skyrockets.
In any case, you simply need to figure out how big the package will be and then go to the postal website. There you will be able to enter the destination and size/weight. The website will let you know what services are available for your package and what the costs are.
One other thing....if you are shipping a framed work, you need to add padding (in the form on foam) around the outside edges as well.
While shipping smaller works of art is almost always less expensive to do it yourself (and this is one of the best how-to turotials I've seen), if any sculptors or artists need to ship their large or unusually shaped pieces Navis Pack and Ship is an excellent resource. We differ from the other shipping companies in that we specialize in custom crating for items that weigh a ton (literally!) or just can't fit in standard sized boxes. Plus, we actually do care about art and are very careful to make sure your works arrive in pristine condition.
thanks for info....have you good idea about rolling a 48X48 in oil canvas in a tube and mailing??...thanks Wayne
thanks for info...any ideas about shipping 48X48 oil canvas ..in a tube...as I have detached it from frame? thanks Wauyne
That's a large painting to ship, on or off the stretcher bars. It's been a very long time since I shipped a rolled canvas, but if I remember right, it is possible to get good strong shipping tubes at your local post office. If they don't carry them, I would suggest you try one of the big office supply stores.
Laura, this simple little blog just was like an eye opener to me. The few times I have shipped a painting, I have used foam core art board but I hated that it was really expensive just to mail the package. Foam insulation is an amazing idea. Thanks for sharing!
I am about to ship my first painting and although I've looked at many videos and blogs regarding how to package a painting this is the best method I've seen. Thank you very much for sharing this.
Do you think this would work for art already framed with glass? I need to ship from FL to IL and CA
I have never shipped art under glass, but it seems to me that if you removed the glass and sandwiched it between its own layer of foam, as in: make another layer to the shipping sandwich, it would work. I would tape the glass to the foam so it can't slide around. Maybe add a strip of foam the whole way around the outer edges of the sandwich as well.
Just a suggestion!
You can ship framed and glassed artwork, but it's better to isolate the piece rather than just pack it in foam.
Tape the glass with painters tape to keep it together if it does break.
Put it in a plastic bag.
Put framers corners on all four corners and use packing saran wrap or packing tape to secure.
Use several sheets of cardboard top and bottom that are at least two inches wider on each side than the piece. Before taping up the sandwich, notch each side of the cardboard to match the width of the frame. Make the notch about 3 or four inches wide. Sandwich the piece between the cardboard.
Saran wrap or tape the cardboard around the piece so you have "ears" to keep the framed work from touching the outside edges of your box.
Now put this package inside a box that fits the outer cardboard. Wider cardboard keeps the frame from shifting, and if the corners get mashed, it doesn't shock the glass, and doesn't ding the corners.
You can use the foam box for this trick, but a double or triple weight box will work as well or better, as long as it fits the sandwich snugly.
That's brilliant. I love the notching idea to keep the glass in place and secure. Thanks for adding your expertise!
Thank you for your beautiful artworks and the packaging idea is awesome.
Thank you for taking the time and effort to help us all! It is much appreciated! I have sold some art and now I feel like I can handle the challenge thanks to you!
I've just had my first pastel painting accepted in the NC Statewide exhibit and was trying to figure out how to ship it without buying the "special" boxes. Pastels are obviously very fragile and have to be under glass. How would you suggest that I package it? I have heard from other pastel artists that I should ship it via USP or Fed Ex because they hand load the items onto the trucks. What is your opinion? Thanks
Thanks for getting in touch. A few other people have asked the same question about works under glass. I did my best to answer, but others have also lent their expertise. I'd like to suggest that you look through the comments and see if you find a solution that suits you.
Ginger! I forgot to say congrats on the exhibition!!! Good luck!
How have you handled shipping paintings to Europe. I have some work going to France for a festival. The packaging is not a problem, it is more who to use for shipping and since they are not going to be sold and returned to me, how would I fill out customs forms?
Your article is excellent. Would love your thought on this>
I have shipped to Europe on several occasions and always used Canada Post (that might be USPS for you). I had no problems, but I did not need to secure return shipping. On the occasions where I needed to have return post pre-paid, I used UPS. Canada Post does not provide return shipping labels, but I would check with USPS if you are in the USA.
Sorry I couldn't be more helpful!
Thank you, one more question, I am so confused as to how to list it for customs.
there is no section for this. ANy thoughts?
Hmmm...my most recent shipment to Europe was work done on wood, so I just listed it as wood. Heheheh...not very helpful huh? However, if there is no "art" section, maybe you can find canvas and wood?
Actually I think you should phone your local post office and see if they can help. They should have more know-how than I do.
Lovely - thanks for the help. I'm on my first attempt to ship a picture. This is just the help I needed. Thanks.
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