Shipping art is unlike shipping anything else. Art is both fragile and incredibly valuable, making it a nightmare to transport. It’s easy to mishandle and damage. Any destruction, on the other hand, is almost impossible to undo and recover from. Each piece of art is unique which makes it irreplaceable especially when it also holds emotional significance for the owner (which it usually does). So if you need to ship art pieces, you’d better do it right. Whether you are moving a personal collection, shipping your own work to a gallery, or sending a piece you sold to its new owner, these are the things you need to know about handling and relocating art.
Is shipping art really so different?
If you are new to packing, moving and shipping, you probably have a lot of questions. One of them might be whether shipping art really is that specific. And the answer is yes, it really is. Why? Well, when you ship art pieces, your main concern is their safety. This much is probably obvious and can even be said about many other things you might be shipping such as furniture or vehicles. But the way you protect art when shipping it is unique. You must use high-quality materials specially made for this purpose or you risk damaging the piece beyond repair.
Materials you will need
So what should you use? Exact materials and their dimensions will, of course, depend on the size of the art pieces you are shipping. But in more general terms these are the items you should prepare:
- measuring tape (a shipping scale can also be useful, but is not a necessity)
- scissors, box cutters or other cutting tools of your choice
- boxes of sturdy cardboard or wooden crates (these may need to be made to measure)
- heavy duty mailing tubes in varying sizes for rolled-up artwork
- glassine paper (or acid-free archival tissue paper)
- foam boards, bubble wrap, shredded or wadded clean white paper
- corner protectors
- high-quality packing tape, artist tape or painters tape
Wherever possible, use specialty materials made for archiving, storing, and shipping art specifically. And always, always use high-quality materials. This ensures the safety of your artwork and leaves a good impression when you ship art pieces to someone else.
How to pack and ship art pieces?
Artwork can be shipped unframed, framed, or rolled up. If you are planning on moving your offices, for example, you are most likely to encounter pre-framed medium-sized pieces. If you are on the other hand sending your own artwork to a gallery or a collector, you will probably send it unframed so the new owner can frame it to their liking. The exact process of shipping an art piece will depend on its type and size.
Before you start
Measure your artwork exactly to know which category it falls under and to ensure you treat it properly. Remember that you must handle artwork with care. So keep your work surface clean and pad it with cardboard, foam or cloth. Avoid direct contact with the artwork by wearing white cotton gloves or keeping a sheet of archival between your fingers and the piece. Don’t forget to mark the boxes or crates as fragile before shipping them.
Unframed art under 48″x48″
When you ship art pieces smaller than 48″x48″, start by wrapping them in glassine or archival paper. Using the same type of material, create triangle pockets to protect the corners. You will need four 8″x8″ squares to fold in half diagonally into a triangle, which you will then fold again to create a triangle pocket. Tape the painting to a foam board or sturdy cardboard of the same or slightly larger dimensions then wrap everything in plastic to protect it from moisture. Sandwich the protected artwork between 2 pieces of foam board at least 2-3 inches larger than the artwork itself. Secure this sandwich with packing tape and reinforce the corners. Finally, pack everything into a box that leaves another 2-3 inches of space in every direction. Fill that space with bubble wrap or clean white paper. Secure the box (especially the corners) with packing tape.
Unframed art larger than 48″x48″
If you want to ship art pieces larger than 48″x48″, the process is much the same. You will simply need to use larger dimensions for your materials. The major difference is that art pieces of this size should be shipped in wooden crates rather than cardboard boxes.
When shipping framed art, all you need to do is take a few extra steps to protect the frame itself. Remove the glass or acrylic pane of the frame (if there is one) and create a large X over it with packing tape. Place it between 2 pieces of foam board, secure the sandwich with packing and seal tightly inside bubble pack. You will pack this in the same box or crate as the artwork, but separate from it. Wrap the art itself in glassine or archival paper and plastic wrap the same way you would an unframed piece, just using cardboard corner protectors for the frame. Put the protected artwork between two pieces of foam board and secure them with packing tape. If the framed piece you are shipping is under 18”x24”, use a cardboard box. If it is larger, use a wooden crate. You may need to fill the box or crate with bubble pack or shredded/wadded white paper to minimize the risk of movement inside.
Rolled up artwork
If you want to ship art pieces rolled up, get two different sized mailing tubes 8″-12″ in diameter (depending on the dimensions of the artwork). Put the artwork between two layers of glassine or archival paper and roll it around the smaller tube. Wrap everything in bubble pack sealed with packing tape. Finally, pack it into the larger mailing tube filling any extra space with bubble pack. Seal the end caps of the tube with packing tape.
Additional tips on how to ship art pieces
Still unsure that you’ve done everything you can to protect your precious art? Here are a few more tips on what you can do.
If you want to make sure your artwork gets were it needs to go safely and soundly, hiring professionals is always a good solution. Reliable moving companies like Zippy Shell Columbus offer packing and specialty services and can ship art pieces for you. This certainly takes the headache out of shipping artwork!
Insuring what you’re shipping is always a good idea, but never more so than when it comes to precious and irreplaceable things like art. Even if you take all possible precautions, things can go wrong. So invest in good insurance – you never know what can happen!