Shipping Artwork

This is a topic suggestion I received on my last post, and conveniently, as a collector purchased “Delirium” after said post, I have a piece to pack up and share process pictures of!

First, let’s talk materials. I try to save and reuse as much of my packing materials as I can. I haven’t purchased a new box in years, and in many cases, I create “frankenstein” boxes that are custom sized to fit a particular piece or number of pieces, if more than one is being shipped in the same box. I save bubble wrap, air filled pockets, and craft paper as well. I also use coroplast, which is a lightweight corrugated plastic sheet often used for signs. I repurposed one that was shamelessly left in our yard below, (and then took a few others on my street).

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So, here’s what you see:

  • Appropriately sized box. The painting is 11″ x 14″ x 1.5″ depth. This box, that Trekell sent me containing an 11″ x 14″ cradled wood panel, is perfect for the job. It had one puncture from its previous journey, but I reinforced it with several layers of tape. Most boxes aren’t really meant to be reused too often, so if the edges are soft and falling apart, make sure to reinforce it as best as you can, or use something a little more sturdy.
  • One poly bag to put the painting into. Another type of plastic bag is suitable, or seran-wrap even.
  • Coroplast sheets cut to the same size as the painting. These will be used to sandwich the artwork. Since it’s stretched watercolor paper, the very sturdy surface of the coroplast is an excellent barrier, especially since it’s also extremely lightweight and will keep your shipping costs down. Other suitable options are double layers of cardboard, foamcore, plexiglass, and masonite.
  • “Fragile” stickers. You can, of course, write it yourself, but I keep losing my giant sharpie. Plus, I love stickers, so why not have some on hand? (Note: some believe that marking your package as “fragile” invites more harm.)
  • Scissors or exacto knife to cut your coroplast, or protective material.
  • Packing tape. I usually spring for the thicker, nicer stuff.
  • Bubble wrap, air pockets, craft paper, packing peanuts, etc. Bubble wrap is my preferred protective material, since it’s so light, but I don’t always have any on hand. For this package, I’m using some craft paper from a different package, as well as the craft paper already in the Trekell box. (Note: when purchasing packing peanuts, try to use only biodegradable packing peanuts – the kind that disintegrate in water.)
  • Package flair! Like I said above, I love stickers. But I really just enjoy adding a personal touch to a big purchase like an original painting. I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve ordered something from Etsy and the packaging was done up nicely, so I try to do the same!
  • Business card, extra goodies like postcards.

So! Step one: I slip the painting in the poly bag and seal it up.

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Step two: I sandwich the painting with the two coroplast sheets, cut to the same size as the painting. I tape them together to secure them.

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Step three: I wrap up the piece with tissue paper, butcher’s string, add a “thank you” sticker and a postcard and business card. (Note: when I send my work to a gallery for a show, I typically skip the “flair” part, though I do like to include a few business cards and a thank you note for the gallery hosting my artwork).

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Step four: The painting is placed in the box and secured in place by being surrounded by stiff craft paper. Since the depth of the box is the same as the painting, I don’t need to worry about securing it anywhere but the sides to keep it from shifting too much in transit.

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Step five: I tape up the box, toss a few “Fragile” stickers on it, and then print out my shipping label online.

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Other Tips:

  • Always, ALWAYS insure original art when possible. The few extra dollars is absolutely worth it should the package go missing or is damaged in transit. Trust me on this.
  • I tend to prefer to use the USPS unless someone specifies a preference for a different carrier. The USPS is usually cheaper and faster, in my experience. My second choice is Fedex.
  • When shipping original art, always spring for Priority Mail or Priority Express. The less time in transit your piece spends, the better. It has less chances to be lost or someone’s punching bag.
  • If you plan on shipping artwork or prints often, purchasing shipping supplies in bulk will ultimately save you a lot of money. For shipping tubes, I purchase from Uline. For poly bags, I purchase from Ecoswift. For cello bags, I purchase from GT Bag Company. For other assorted materials I don’t need in massive quantities, I purchase from ebay.
  • If you’re shipping prints or small items that don’t need to be insured and don’t want to spend much, you can ship via USPS First Class Mail as long as the package is 13oz or less. This allows me to ship prints very affordably (and subsequently offer free shipping in my shop and eat the cost).
  • Guess what? You NEVER have to go to the post office if you don’t want to! You can pay for and print shipping labels from home. You only need a printer and a postage scale (a kitchen scale works too, for lighter packages). Yes, you can even print postage for international labels. I do most of my shipping through Paypal, but international labels are done through the USPS website. Package too big for the mailbox? You can schedule a pickup. It’s actually cheaper to print postage from home – you get a discount for doing so.
  • If you are shipping a framed piece with glass, please take a whole lot of extra care! I haven’t done this in years, so I don’t have many special tips on doing so, but I do recommend replacing the glass with acrylic plexiglass instead that can be easily swapped back out for glass if the buyer or gallery prefers that. Broken glass in transit can damage the fragile surface of your painting.

So, these are just tricks of the trade I’ve learned through experience over the years. I’m sure there are things I could be doing better or differently! If you have any additional tips to share, please leave a comment!