I’ve had several questions about the best way to ship paintings so I thought I’d share with you my best advice. I have shipped hundreds of paintings through the years and I can honestly say that I’ve only once had a painting damaged. This particular incident was when I shipped a rolled up painting in a cardboard mailer tube. When my client received it, it literally looked as if it had been run over by a truck. I don’t think any change in packaging could have avoided this one!
How to package a painting
So to the first thing I do is find a box that is 4- 6 inches larger than my painting in length and width. You want to allow a minimum of 2- 3 inches of padding around all sides. For larger heavier paintings you will want quite a bit more. When it comes to padding artwork, more is always better!
Boxes- where to find them
I try to reuse boxes when possible. I save any box that comes to me that seems like it could be used for a painting. I don’t like using boxes that have a lot of images printed on them because it just seems unprofessional. Amazon boxes are great though and I feel good about giving perfectly good boxes a second life. If you are reusing boxes, you will want to make sure that the old label and any bar codes are covered up! You don’t want this to mess up where your painting gets delivered to!
Don’t ever wrap a recycled box in brown paper to cover up the printing on it!
Here is why. The paper can rip while the package is being shipped and the label could come off with it.
Buying big boxes
If I need a large flat box and I don’t have one in my stash, I will buy a mirror box from The Uhaul Store. These are priced really well and you can tape several of them together if needed to make a large flat box which will fit a painting perfectly.
When I ship small paintings, like 8×8 up to 18×24, I will usually just pad them with bubble wrap and paper. For larger paintings I have another trick. I will buy pipe insulation from Home Depot and wrap it around the perimeter of the painting. This works really well because it’s the edges of the painting that are the most vulnerable. The pipe insulation comes with a slit down it so if fits nicely like a cuff over the edges of my panel. Then I will still pad the front and back with several layers of bubble wrap. I don’t suggest using the pipe insulation if you are shipping a canvas because the cuff fits too tightly where it touches the front of the painting and could cause dent in the canvas.
I package all my own paintings. It takes a lot more time than just dropping them off at Fedex and saying take care of it, but I think I probably do a better job and it saves my clients a huge amount in shipping charges.
After I find my box and put several layers of bubble wrap and possibly also pipe insulation around my painting, I will pad the bottom of the box with crumbled paper. I have a huge 3′ wide roll of thin white paper that I bought on Amazon. It’s 1000 ft long and it has lasted me over two years now.
Then I place the painting which is already wrapped several times with bubble wrap into the box. I’ll continue to place more crumbled paper around the sides and finally the top. You want your painting packed tight. It shouldn’t move inside the box at all.
Here’s another little tip!
Include a thank you note! I wish I always remembered to do this because it’s so important. You are sending a piece that you worked your hardest on to someone who is going to love it! It’s worth taking a few minutes to put it into writing and tell them how much you appreciate their purchase and business!
Once I have my painting packed tightly into the box I close all the seams with tape. A LOT of tape. When it comes to how much tape. I say “more is more”! You don’t want any seams spitting open for any reason and it just makes your box stronger.
After I make the shipping label, I get out my sharpie and write FRAGILE everywhere! I write it on every side of the package. Sometimes several times on each side. I want anyone who comes into contact with this box to know that it is not just any old package. It is super important! Like my use of tape, it’s probably excessive but after all the work that I put into my paintings, I don’t want to take any chances!
Where’s the best place to ship paintings?
I’m sure there are a lot of opinions on this but after trying out Fedex, and UPS, I’m back to using the USPS. Here’s why. They let you insure you package for whatever amount you declare that it is worth. You should only insure it for the amount your client paid because if you ever had to file a claim, I believe you would need to prove the value. You will pay anywhere from $3-$50 for this insurance but it is totally worth if for the peace of mind. I just include this amount in my shipping costs. And, yes, I have my client pay for shipping.
The problem with Fedex is that they will only allow you to insure your artwork for the value of the materials. As artists, I’m sure you understand that a painting worth thousands is created from about $50 worth of materials so this just doesn’t add up.
The post office is also so much cheaper than the others and since I’m passing this cost on to my clients, I don’t want to hit them with a huge extra charge after they just spent a lot of money on their painting.
I did learn a lesson this Christmas. If it’s possible avoid shipping paintings in the month of December!
I know that due to the pandemic, this year was different. The post office was slammed with delivering gifts that everyone was shipping to friends and family who they might otherwise just see in person. Everything took so much longer! I sent a very large painting to Houston on December 10th. It got there January 12th. Luckily, my client was very understanding and since I sent her the tracking number, she was able to keep tabs on it as well as I could. Next year, I am going to put December 1st on my calendar as the very last day that I will ship paintings out to have them guaranteed to my clients by Christmas. I will also hopefully relieve some of the holiday stress that I always seem to feel with December becomes a season of crunch time.
I hope you found this advice helpful and will reference this article the next time you need to ship a painting. I cannot promise that there is no chance of a damaged painting but the right packaging sure helps! Sometimes a shipping tube get’s run over by a truck and there is not much that can be done but that is just the chance we take and that is why we insure our packages. Good luck and Happy Painting!