Great artwork should be seen and celebrated every day, especially if it’s a piece you’ve created or fallen in love with and purchased. If you live far away, want to take your art with you, or want to start an art business it’s time to learn how to ship a painting. In this post, Red Stag Fulfillment looks at the things to consider with artwork, some risks, and why taking your time is worth it when you want to ship a painting safely.
Keep reading to ensure you can take your masterpiece with you wherever you travel next.
Determine the materials
Start thinking about how to ship a painting by considering the art itself. Consider: what paints and materials the artist used, if the painting includes a frame or is a heavy canvas painting, if it can be rolled, and other elements of the painting. Different art elements can have unique shipping requirements. For example, oil paintings should first be a wrapped painting with acid-free paper to avoid harming the painting. Bubble wrap can be your second layer to keep things safe from bumps in transit, while the acid-free paper protects the paint itself.
When you want to ship different types of fine art, review storage and handling recommendations for that specific type. Or reach out to a local college or art store. These locations will have people generally willing to answer questions about how to protect your artwork.
Think about size and weight when you ship a painting
Red Stag Fulfillment is always thinking about the size and weight of packages because we focus on heavy, bulky, and large items. Shipping artwork can easily fall into these categories because of the size and the packing materials. This means it’s always a promising idea to weigh and measure your parcel after packing the box or building the crate around your painting.
Use this dimensional (DIM) weight calculator to help. That’ll show you if the carrier bills based on standard or DIM weight and what kind of charges you can expect.
Define the recipient
After you’ve checked the painting materials and got an idea of what you need to keep it safe, think about the transit itself. What are you doing with the art? Are you moving and taking it with you? Is it something you can bring somewhere? Or are you sending or selling it to someone else across the state or country? Those answers will shift how you pack and move the painting.
Taking it with you
Many of the artists we spoke with said the best way to ship a painting is to pack it securely and transport it in your car when possible. This is true for selling an item and driving it across town or if you’re bringing artwork with you in a cross-country move. Packing it in your car makes it easy to control the packing, how paintings are stored, and the speed and safety of the vehicle itself.
In some cases, this can be cheaper for you, too. Renting a small truck to move a series of paintings gives you plenty of time and gets the paintings there quickly. While you have control, you give up insurance protection and may have to deal with large, unwieldy paintings.
Sending or selling it to someone else
If you’re sending the painting a long distance, you’ll need a carrier to help. This can be small, regional players or national brands like FedEx and UPS. This parcel shipping is standard for artists and gallery owners because they can ship paintings long distances. Items can be shipped individually, or you can ship art as an entire collection with a consolidated freight move.
Carriers will consider the DIM weight mentioned above, and each may offer different rates, fees, or requirements for paintings. Contact your preferred carrier to learn more about what they offer. Some will offer specific painting services or boxes, so you may want to reach out early in the process and after you pack it.
Packaging and protection when you ship a painting
Now let’s get into what you’re most likely here for: how to ship a painting and what packing materials to use. The mounting of the painting is your best bet for determining how to pack the painting. Here are a few of your options. Remember that you should treat paintings as fragile items.
Start protecting the painting
You start the packing process by cleaning your area. Try and remove dust, dirt, and other elements that can stick to your painting. Cleaning also reminds you to check the frame, glass, and rest of the painting for damage. Wear gloves to protect your painting if you need to handle it directly.
After you clean your workspace, lay down the painting and measure it. Take photos as you measure it to record this information and its condition during shipping. You want clear documentation if the painting is damaged.
Protection and padding
If the painting is smaller than 48” on every side, you can use corrugated cardboard pieces and double-walled boxes for shipping. It’s generally safer to crate larger items. Either way, you’ll want to add some protection to the painting itself.
Start by adding a layer of protection on the painting itself. The type of wrapping paper can depend on the type of artwork, but artists almost always recommend acid-free glassine paper. There are exceptions, like artists who like to wrap their acrylic painting in wax paper. You can buy archival-quality paper. This protects the painting and limits the chance of stains or other discoloration. Layer the paper to cover the painting including sides and edges. Use acid-free tape to secure it and tape the paper to the frame or back.
Some artists will use acid-free paper to make corner and side protectors, layering it to add girth. You can also cut foam pipe insulation and add this to the frame or edges. Don’t place foam directly on oil paintings that are still tacky because this can tear the foam and embed it in your painting.
After the paper and foam are applied, you can either layer bubble wrap around the painting or cut pieces of cardboard to protect it. Just stick to the wrap if you plan to put the artwork in a tube. If shipping in a box or crate, consider adding a layer of wrap and then placing thick cardboard on the front and back of the painting, taping it in place. This layering only works with paintings that are dry.
Tubes and rolled items
If the canvas is unmounted, it can likely be rolled and shipped in a tube. Posters, art prints, watercolor and many other smaller items can also be shipped in tubes if you roll them. This is common for high-volume producers that may have a workshop to create or print artwork and designs. Roll these items and place them into a small tube that has minimal extra space. However, you want enough room to avoid damaging the canvas when the buyer takes it out of the tube. One artist told us that a general rule is the tube should be about three or four inches longer than the painting and wide enough to support a few inches of padding materials.
However, if your painting’s canvas is stretched (pulled across a wooden frame) or if it’s mounted in a frame and behind glass, you’ll need to move to a more detailed protection plan. Those are trickier because more can go wrong in transit
Glass and frame considerations
Frames can be protected with foam and other padding if there is a risk of damage. If your canvas is pulled across an internal frame, wrap it with bubble wrap for full protection. You can ship glass together with a painting or separately. Artists say you can generally add wrap and materials between the painting and the glass but should still leave some space to allow for movement. This helps prevent breaking while also limiting the chance that the painting is damaged. Add cardboard sections around the entire painting, frame, and glass to create a solid and sturdy base.
Existing or custom boxes
You can either create your own box or use an existing one to finish shipping smaller paintings. If you’re buying a box ahead of time, get one that is two to three inches larger than the painting on all sides. That’ll give you room to wrap the painting sufficiently and add extra foam or padding on the corners. Every box you use should have extra corner protection to limit the chance of harm.
The great news for individuals and artists is that carriers have started offering their own art shipping boxes and services. UPS says its stores will offer you different boxes and packing services for different kinds of art. FedEx has a variety of boxes specifically for art, though these usually work for smaller pieces.
No matter which route you take, choose a box with room for padding that you can fill. Add layers of protection to keep your artwork safe in transit. And stick with insulation, paper, and cardboard. Things like packing peanuts can settle at the bottom of the box and cause issues or even run the risk of damaging the artwork itself.
Create your own crate
Many artists will create their own shipping “crate” for moving a painting. This term is sometimes different than how we at Red Stag normally use “crate,” so we’ll briefly explain it. Please note that this technique should be reserved for artists, galleries, and professionals because of its difficulty.
Artists and galleries will start with many of the tools and methods we mentioned above. That means acid-free paper, layers of bubble wrap, foam side protection, and heavy-duty cardboard sheets. However, if the painting is wet, large, or shipped with many others, they’ll create a wooden frame around the painting or paintings.
First, everything is packed and layered together tightly, as mentioned earlier. Then, they add foam or heavier padding to the sides of the painting, often about a half-inch thick. This covers the frame, front, and back. Then, the artist will buy wood boards and Masonite hardboards to secure a wooden frame tightly to the fully packed painting.
The edges are screwed together to secure the painting. This method allows the recipient to remove the screws easily when it arrives. This crate can be fitted inside of a larger box or often can be shipped directly like that. Your carrier may have requirements or other needs, so reach out or ask a local artist before you start building yours. You can also find many guides online like this one for creating a sturdy painting crate.
Professional shipping companies will instead create a full, complete crate for shipping artwork. That’ll give the recipient a very Indiana Jones feeling when it arrives, and they open it. This usually requires special shipping and handling support, and expertise is recommended for uncrating the work.
How to ship a large painting
When it comes to how to ship large paintings, it follows many of the same steps as noted already, such as:
- Preparing the large sized painting by removing it from its frame, wrapping it in glassine paper (wrapping the frame separately).
- Protecting the corners of the oversized artwork with corner protectors like foam, which is especially important for an enormous canvas which may be more likely to be bumped during shipping, due to its bigger, bulky size.
- Wrapping the sizable painting with bubble wrap, or adding a super sized layer of cardboard where needed for support.
- Building a jumbo crate or outer box, which is a custom approach that will add to the costs, but if we’re talking about shipping a massive painting that is appraised at millions of dollars, like a recovering a large Banksy mural might require.
- Adding a shipping label, shipping, and tracking.
How to ship a painting with a carrier
After you’ve got your painting packed and secure, it’s time to take it to your carrier partner. Carrier stores can help you get the appropriate shipping option and add “fragile” labels to your artwork. Many ground and freight services will get your painting there safely.
If you’re shipping many paintings or a large crate, ask about freight services. These are generally slower but add big savings when your package is large or heavy. We rely on many freight services from companies like FedEx and UPS and believe these carriers will take good care of your artwork. And, always get shipping insurance, especially for very valuable works of art.
We hope that you enjoyed learning how to ship a painting. Keep discovering more “how-to” tips with these other posts on shipping different items: