If you are planning to move or otherwise need to ship a painting, packing your artwork correctly is very important to keep it protected from damage while it is in transit. Learn how to ship a painting safely by carefully following the step-by-step instructions below.
Step 1 – Set Up a Clean Work Space
Take the time and clear a clean, open workspace. Your dining room table, an old quilt on the garage floor, or a carpeted space in the middle of the living room work best. Make sure there is enough space to turn the painting end over end in any direction.
Step 2 – Acquire Your Materials
With art packaging, using proper materials are essential to limiting damage to your art during transit. For the security of your item – and in order to insure it through your chosen carrier – you must always use new packing materials. Depending on the value of your painting and how it is framed, you may need the following:
- Blue painter’s tape
- Acid-free tissue paper
- Kraft paper
- Bubble wrap
- Packing peanuts
- Telescoping box
- Pressure sensitive packing tape
Note that when working with large items it is best to use a double walled product. Large boxes tend to crease and fold at the middle. Double walled boxes are much stronger and can handle the extra weight of a large painting. If your painting is extremely tall or long, you can use telescope boxes to make a taller box. If your painting is too large for standard box sizes or won’t fit in a telescoped box, it’s best to have it custom wood crated.
Step 3- Prepare Your Painting
When shipping paintings or other forms of art, it is important to take pictures for insurance purposes at every possible angle and stage of packing. Be sure to get close-up shots where details are needed. When taking pictures make sure you have the following:
- Pre-existing damage
- Sellable condition
- All sides
- Every stage of packing
- The outside of the finished box
- The stickers and labels on the outside of the box
If your painting is protected by a sheet of glass, remove it to pack separately. If removing the glass isn’t an option, follow these instructions:
First, place pieces of tape across the glass to prevent the glass from splintering if it breaks while in transit. Simply tape stripes vertically and horizontally on the glass until it is almost entirely covered. This will ensure that glass does not damage the print should it break during transit. Make sure the tape does not come into contact with any part of the frame.
If there is no glass you can skip the blue tape, but be sure to wrap the painting in acid free tissue paper. Packing materials are often made from chemicals that can react to the paint or stick if it gets too hot. The acid free tissue paper protects the painting from other materials and potential damage. Some recommend turning the bubble wrap out so the bubbles don’t form impressions in the work. This is fine as long as you still remember to wrap the painting first. Plastic should never come into direct contact with the paint since it may stick and peel the paint off when removed.
After following the instructions above, wrap the painting in brown Kraft paper. The kraft paper will protect the painting, frame, mat etc. from touching the packing peanuts that will be used to hold it in place in the box.
Next, wrap your painting in bubble wrap. Since the painting is protected by glass or plexiglass, or has been wrapped in tissue paper and Kraft paper, it is unlikely the bubble wrap is going to leave any impressions on the work. Only 1/2″ large wrap should be used. The small 3/16″ wrap is too small unless you use many layers. The bubble wrap serves two purposes.
- It wraps the painting and cushions the glass (if there is any). When properly wrapped you should not be able to feel the item inside the wrap. It should feel like an air filled plastic cloud.
- The wrap provides padding between the artwork and the inside edges of the box.
If the frame is fragile, we recommend hiring a professional to pack it. If you choose to pack it yourself, make sure there is no pressure on the frame by ensuring that the painting is suspended inside the box or crate to avoid damage.
Next, sandwich the picture in between two sheets of cardboard. The extra cardboard provides added protection and stability. Make sure the cardboard sheets are longer and wider than the frame itself. Fold the edges over and tape them to create an interior box to provide even more protection.
Step 4 – Pack the Painting
Box Selection and Assembly
Shipping carriers and insurance companies require at least two inches of padding on every side of an item, but we recommend going up to three inches to be safe. The bubble wrap usually adds about an inch to every side of the item, so you should need two additional inches of padding.
When looking for art shipping boxes, first try a telescoping box which is a two-piece box intended for odd-shaped items. Follow the instructions below to make a telescoping box:
- Don’t tape anything until the boxes have been telescoped. When you close the lids of the box it pushes out the side by about 1/4 inch. Doing this will prevent the boxes from sliding evenly into position.
- Position the boxes so their height is 6 inches greater than your painting. Use packing tape to tape the middle first where the boxes come together.
- Only now should you tape up the bottom of the box. At this point you can treat it like a regular box.
Fill and Seal
After assembling your box, fill the bottom with 3 inches of packing peanuts. Alternatives to packing peanuts include: foam sheets, foam corners, cardboard corners, hexacomb sheets, bubble wrap as void fill, air pockets and more. Never use newspaper since it will void any cargo insurance policy or declared value coverage policy.
Insert the painting into the center of the box and fill in the remaining negative space with void fill. Fill the box partially with void fill and then gently shake the box to allow the fill to settle. Once they have settled, add more void fill and once again gently shake to settle. Do this until the box is full, making sure there are at least 2 inches on all sides of the item with at least 3 inches on the top and bottom. The peanuts should be heaping into a small pile on the top of the box. When you close the lid it will depress the excess peanuts down, making the item as secure as possible. After closing up the top, seal all seams using pressure sensitive packing tape that is at least two inches wide.
Standard Packing Principles for Shipping Art
- Minimum of 2 inches of padding on all sides – even more for fragile or heavy items.
- When shipping art, make sure you use a new corrugated box that is appropriately rated for your item. Every box is stamped with its rating. Most single walled boxes can safely hold 40 pounds. If your item weighs more than 40 pounds a double-walled box or wooden crate might be a safer choice.
- The item(s) should never be able to move in the box.
- Remember to settle void fill before sealing the box.
- Seal all seams.
Step 5 – Ship your Painting
When choosing a shipping method, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Small parcel carriers like FedEx, UPS, USPS, DHL etc. have size restrictions and typically will only handle packages up to 150 lbs. Some limitations are even smaller. For example, FedEx Home Delivery will only take packages weighing up to 70 lbs. Paintings vary in size, so you want to make sure you have a good understanding of the carrier limitations before you start getting quotes.
- Freight – Larger paintings will have to be sent freight if a small parcel carrier won’t take them. Freight shipments need some additional attention, detailed below.
- Furniture movers/Blanket wrap movers- Many furniture movers are also fine art movers – capable of moving paintings with little to no other packing than the furniture blankets.
When selecting a shipping service, consider that the longer your painting is in transit the more opportunity it has to get damaged. The most valuable artwork should be shipped express to minimize handling and time in transit. Typical ground transportation takes up to 5 business days. Also, fine art shipping is best done early in the week so your painting doesn’t sit in a warehouse over the weekend.
Freight can be a great way to ship art. There are specialty art transporters who only carry artwork, but charge a higher rate for this dedicated service. If you ship with a common carrier make sure to clarify the insurance rules as some policies do not cover original works of art. This exclusion is quite common with the free coverage usually offered by the freight company. Common carriers are great because they are inexpensive and you can usually classify your art as household goods and get inexpensive rates.
Shipping a painting via freight requires additional preparation that we did not discuss above. You still have to pack the painting as specified, but you also must have it palletized so that the carrier can easily move the painting. The average pallet weighs about 45 pounds. This weight will increase your cost of shipping.
Last Step – Insure Your Painting Shipment
Unfortunately, accidents can happen in the shipping and transportation industry. Safeguard yourself against such misfortune by taking the proper steps needed to insure your art through your chosen carrier. Beware that carrier’s insurance is often very tricky to deal with which is another reason why is it often better to use a professional Pack and Ship company to properly package your artwork. These professional Pack and Ship companies usually have a specialized insurance policy for fine art that can be very reasonably priced.
If you are sending an extremely valuable work of art it is best to trust packing or crating to professionals who will assume responsibility if it is not packed correctly.