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A Guide for Artists: How to Package and Post Artwork

BoxMan

 

CONTENTS:

Section 1 - Introduction
Section 2 -  Packaging Materials.
Section 3 - Packaging Framed Artworks
Section 4 - Packaging Unframed Artworks (i.e. paintings, prints, illustrations, etc)
Section 5 - Packaging Canvas Art
Section 6 - Packaging Sculpture, Ceramics, and Other 3D Pieces.
Section 7 - Choosing a Courier
Section 8 - To Finish

SECTION 1 - Introduction

At Sable & Ox we know that properly preparing and packaging artwork for delivery to a customer can be a nervy and tense affair for many practising artists. With a piece now out of your hands, and more frighteningly not quite in your customers, there seems so much potential for things to go wrong; for your beloved work to meet an ungratified end in the form of a phone call from a customer telling you that their piece was damaged during transit. We should probably point out here that sometimes, despite all your finest efforts, accidents will happen; there is no getting around this harsh little matter, but what we can do is our utter best to reduce the odds of this ever happening, giving all parties involved a little extra peace of mind.

In this guide we are going to take you through the most important steps in preventing your work from succumbing to the most prominent problems experienced by artwork during shipment; issues like abraded surfaces due to poor wrapping, all the way to general cracks and breakages as a result of inadequate padding. We will take you through the different methods for packaging framed and unframed flat artworks, such as paintings, prints, and illustrations; finally moving on to the best approach for protecting things like sculpture and other three dimensional pieces. So, in the name of keeping things easy to follow, lets start with the basics: what packaging materials you need to get hold of.


SECTION 2 - Packaging Materials

We would just like to preface this section with some advice regarding the overall condition of the packaging materials you use: that whilst you clearly don’t want to spend a small fortune on packing supplies you should always ensure your parcel looks neat and presentable. Never, send your artwork in old or messy looking boxes, use scrap bits of newspapers or magazines as padding (not only does this look unprofessional but also offers very little in terms of actual protection), or wrap things in rubbish bags. Remember, your packaging should always reflect the quality of the piece being sent, and when done well is just one of the many subtle ways an artist can garner confidence from their customers.

Cardboard Boxes - A good quality, sturdy cardboard box is an obvious must for anyone looking to ship any sizeable item, and there are no exceptions here - for the best protection you'll want to use a 'double walled' cardboard box. If you are often shipping items of a regular size then buying boxes in bulk may be a good option in this case; it’s cheaper, and gives you a healthy supply of them. In terms of determining which size box you’re going to need always factor in the extra space required for protective filling, at least 3-4 inches is the minimum recommendation here. For those repeatedly struggling to find boxes of the right size you may wish to consider modifying pre-made ones, or even building your own, a ‘box sizer’, utility knife and raw cardboard if working from scratch is all you need to do this; there are plenty of instructional videos online which demonstrate the process.

Wooden Crate - For especially fragile or valuable items, and certainly when shipping any sizeable framed painting or sculpture, using a solid wooden crate instead of a cardboard box is going to be a must. If sending a notably large wooden crate, then we almost always advise that you use a specialist art courier. You can construct a crate yourself, buy one pre-made, or if needed have one custom made. (www.gpcases.co.uk are just one of the many UK companies who take bespoke crate orders.)

Packaging Tape - Never underestimate the importance of purchasing the very best packaging tape you can find; of all the materials you need this is the one piece of equipment you really don’t want try and make savings on. Good packaging tape is not only far more robust and forms a better seal than any of the cheaper alternatives, giving your parcel a much better chance of reaching its destination unopened and free of moisture, but it is also easier to apply and you can use less of it, saving yourself lots of added time and stress. Furthermore, if you foresee yourself doing a particularly large amount of packing, a tape gun is sure to be a wise investment.

Acid-Free Archival Paper - Archival paper is a must have item for anyone looking to ship any type of artwork. Acid-free archival quality paper is pH neutral, preventing any kind of harmful reaction when it comes into contact with a surface. Whatever you do, don’t just wrap your artwork in any old material; anything that touches your work directly should always be of archival quality.

Utility Knife - Just a useful tool to have to hand while doing any kind of packing.

Bubble Wrap - Bubble wrap is by far the best in affordable solutions for protecting your artwork during shipment. It helps to spread any pressure over a wider surface area, effectively softens the effects of forceful impacts, and works excellently to fill the empty spaces in a box or crate - ensuring your piece does not continually jostle around once packed. There are many different varieties of bubble wrap available, so make sure you choose one suitable for the size/weight of the item you are sending; for smaller, delicate items you want to use wrap with smaller bubbles, whilst for heavier pieces look to use large bubble wrap. Note: Never let bubble wrap come into direct contact with your artwork. It has a nasty habit of leaving behind perfectly round imprints from the bubbles.

Pallet Wrap or Polywrap - An incredibly versatile plastic wrap, similar to cling film, which is perfect for binding your protective materials around an artwork. Furthermore forming a protective skin that will shield against moisture.

Foam Board (only needed for flat artworks - framed and unframed) - Easily found in any frame or arts and crafts store, suitably sized sturdy foam boards are another essential item you will need to get your hands on. They should be at least 1.5cm thick, be big enough to form a 1” lip all the way around your artwork, and if coming into direct contact with a piece need to be of archival quality. Foam board is especially important when shipping unframed artworks, as this is what keeps your art flat and crumple free, but are just as necessary when protecting framed items and indeed the frame itself. If you cannot find any suitable foam board a piece of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard will do just fine.

Cardboard Corner Protectors - Whilst not always 100% imperative, these cheap and easy to attain bits of protective padding will go a long way in protecting the most vulnerable parts of a flat artwork, i.e. the corners. They can be purchased from any good framers or art supply shop, and are even easy to make yourself if you so wish (a quick Google search should yield all the information you need here).

Clean Shredded/Wadded White Paper - Whilst more of a necessity for shipping pieces of sculpture or particularly large paintings for example, having some spare shredded or wadded white paper to hand will never be a bad thing; allowing you to fill any problem spaces between your bubble wrapped artwork and the box or crate it is sitting in. Moreover, whilst perfect for packing sculpture, try not to use Styrofoam peanuts as a substitute for wadded paper when sending any kind of flat artwork, they don’t provide as good protection, are very messy, and to top it all off don’t do the environment much good either.

‘FRAGILE’ Stickers - How much attention these stickers actually draw from persons handling your artwork is certainly debatable, but where a quality courier service is concerned they will make a positive difference. Ultimately though, it’s the consideration that counts and lets the customer know you care enough to do the utmost in order to get their purchase to them in one piece. We would also strongly recommend using ‘THIS SIDE UP’ stickers, particularly in the case of shipping 3D artworks.


SECTION 3 - Packaging Framed Artwork

1. Place the framed painting on a flat, sturdy surface; something like a workbench or large table is ideal. Make sure the surface of the table is smooth and isn’t going to scratch the frame or glass/acrylic pane.

2. Using two lengths of diagonally placed masking tape make a large “X” across the acrylic or glass pane of the framed picture. This is simply a safety precaution, and will help to keep the majority of shattered pieces in place should the pane break. Do not use anything other than masking tape for this job, the last thing the customer wants is sticky residue left behind on the glass.

3. Carefully wrap the framed artwork in acid-free archival quality paper. Remember, anything which touches your work directly should be of archival quality.

4. Place two pieces of foam board or heavy duty cardboard that are just slightly bigger than the frame on either side of the artwork, forming a small lip around the entire piece and sandwiching the painting between these two protective layers.

5. Carefully wrap your artwork in at least two layers of pallet wrap or other plastic sheeting; creating a neat, moisture repellent barrier around the painting, paper, and card or foam.

6. Now place cardboard corner protectors on the wrapped package. Again, these are not essential, but are cheap and help support the section of the frame most susceptible to damage.

7. Using packaging tape to keep it in place wrap the artwork in at least three layers of bubble wrap, perhaps more if there is enough space in the box. Depending on its size you may have to wrap the piece both vertically and horizontally for adequate coverage, taking special care to make sure the corners are well reinforced. The whole package should now feel compact and secure.

8. If you wish you may want to repeat step 4 and sandwich your artwork between another two layers of foam or cardboard, again holding them in place with packaging tape.

9. Remembering to put down a layer of foam or bubble wrap for your parcel to sit on, place the wrapped package inside your box or wooden crate.

10. Fill any empty space inside the box or crate with bubble wrap or shredded/wadded paper. Once done, carefully rock the box back and forth, feeling and listening for any movement inside; if the package seems too loose when you do this you will need to add more padding, doing so until everything sits snug.

11. Completely seal the box with packaging tape taking extra care to make sure the corners are well supported. If using a wooden crate you will most likely be using screws to keep it closed.

12. Finally, adhere the ‘FRAGILE’ stickers and shipping label to the package; in order to help make sure these don’t drop off during the journey covering them in clear sellotape is a good idea. If you are not using stickers clearly write any relevant information on the box in permanent marker.


SECTION 4 - Packaging Unframed Artworks (i.e. paintings, prints, illustrations, etc.)

When it comes to unframed limited edition prints or original artworks, posting works in a tube is highly discouraged, especially if the piece is on paper. Rolling your work can damage paints and inks, stress the fibres of the paper and even cause creases and tearing if the roll is somehow squashed.

1. Gently wrap the artwork in acid-free archival quality paper. Try not to touch the piece directly while doing this, using either white cotton gloves or placing some acid-free paper between your fingers and the artwork while wrapping. Remember, anything which touches your work directly should be of archival quality.

2. To keep the archival paper in place over the length of the journey, your next step is to wrap the artwork in a at least two layers of pallet wrap or other plastic sheeting. This will also create a moisture repellent barrier around the artwork.

3. Starting with four 8”x 8” square pieces of archival paper (you may wish to alter the size of these squares to better fit your work), you will need to make four right-angled triangle pockets. To do this simply fold each of the squares diagonally in half to create a triangle, and then each of those triangles in half again to make your triangular pocket.

4. Place each of your triangular paper pockets over each corner of the artwork. Then, taking special care to ensure the tape only sticks to the paper pockets, tape the wrapped artwork to a piece of foam board or thick cardboard which is just slightly bigger than the piece itself - giving your work a rigid backing for postage.

5. Wrap your work in another one or two layers of pallet wrap.

6. Using packaging tape to keep it in place, wrap the artwork in at least three layers of bubble wrap, perhaps more if there is enough space in the box. Depending on its size, you may have to wrap the piece both vertically and horizontally for adequate coverage, taking special care to make sure the corners are well reinforced. The whole package should now feel compact and secure.

7. Now place cardboard corner protectors on the wrapped package. Again, these are not essential, but are cheap and help support the section of the artwork most susceptible to damage.

8. Place two pieces of foam board or heavy duty cardboard on either side of the wrapped artwork and securely tape these in place, sandwiching the painting between these two protective layers. The edges of the foam board or card should extend about 3 inches beyond that of the bubble wrap.

9. Remembering to put down a layer of foam or bubble wrap for your parcel to sit on, place the wrapped package inside your box or wooden crate.

10. Fill any empty space inside the box or crate with bubble wrap or shredded/wadded paper. Once done, carefully rock the box back and forth, feeling and listening for any movement inside; if the package seems too loose when you do this you will need to add more padding, doing so until everything sits snug.

11. Completely seal the box with packaging tape taking extra care to make sure the corners are well supported. If using a wooden crate you will most likely be using screws to keep closed.

12. Finally, adhere the ‘FRAGILE’ stickers and shipping label to the package; in order to help make sure these don’t drop off during the journey covering them in clear sellotape is a good idea. If you are not using stickers clearly write any relevant information on the box in permanent marker.


SECTION 5 - Packaging Canvas Art

1. Gently wrap the canvas in acid-free archival quality paper. Try not to touch the piece directly while doing this, using either white cotton gloves or placing some acid-free paper between your fingers and the artwork while wrapping. Remember, anything which touches your work directly should be of archival quality.

2. To keep the archival paper in place over the length of the journey, your next step is to wrap the artwork in a at least two layers of pallet wrap or other plastic sheeting. This will also create a moisture repellent barrier around the canvas.

3. Place two pieces of foam board or heavy duty cardboard that are just slightly bigger than the canvas on either side of the artwork, forming a small lip around the entire piece and sandwiching the painting between these two protective layers.

4. Using packaging tape to keep it in place, wrap the artwork in at least three layers of bubble wrap, perhaps more if there is enough space in the box. Depending on its size, you may have to wrap the piece both vertically and horizontally for adequate coverage, taking special care to make sure the corners are well reinforced. The whole package should now feel compact and secure.

5. If you wish, you may again sandwich the wrapped canvas between two pieces of foam board or heavy duty cardboard, securely taping these in place. The edges of the foam board or card should extend about 3 inches beyond that of the bubble wrap.

 6. Remembering to put down a layer of foam or bubble wrap for your parcel to sit on, place the wrapped package inside your box or wooden crate.

7. Fill any empty space inside the box or crate with bubble wrap or shredded/wadded paper. Once done, carefully rock the box back and forth, feeling and listening for any movement inside; if the package seems too loose when you do this you will need to add more padding, doing so until everything sits snug.

8. Completely seal the box with packaging tape taking extra care to make sure the corners are well supported. If using a wooden crate you will most likely be using screws to keep it closed.

9. Finally, adhere the ‘FRAGILE’ stickers and shipping label to the package; in order to help make sure these don’t drop off during the journey covering them in clear sellotape is a good idea. If you are not using stickers clearly write any relevant information on the box in permanent marker.


SECTION 6 - Packaging Sculpture, Ceramics, and Other 3D Pieces.

We always recommend posting 3D artworks in a wooden crate as oppose to a cardboard box. However, providing the piece is reasonably small (less than 12” is a good guide) and not too fragile, a large enough cardboard box will suffice. In either case, just make sure there is enough room around the piece for plenty of padding (at least 3-4 inches).

1. Begin by wrapping the piece in acid-free archival quality paper. If however you are confident that bubble wrap will not abrade any surface finishes or paints feel free to skip to step 3.

2. To keep the archival paper in place over the length of the journey, your next step is to wrap the artwork in a at least two layers of pallet wrap or other plastic sheeting. This will also create a moisture repellent barrier around the artwork.

3. Using packaging tape to keep it in place, carefully wrap the top half of the artwork in bubble wrap; how many layers you use here all depends on the fragility and form of your work, but remember to reinforce any especially delicate sections of the piece.

4. Overlapping with the bubble wrap applied to the top half, now wrap the bottom half of the piece in bubble wrap in the same way as described above. Ensuring your work is now completely covered use packaging tape to seal the seam where the two sections of bubble wrap meet, also securing any loose edges or gaps. If your package at this stage doesn't feel quite secure, keep wrapping it until you are happy.

5. Place a good three to four layers or bubble wrap across the bottom of the box or crate, and then fill a ⅓ of it with shredded/wadded paper or Styrofoam peanuts; if you are using a cardboard box make sure to reinforce it’s bottom with packaging tape using the H-taping method before you do this.

6. Create a shallow well in the paper or peanuts and place the piece inside of it. Now fill the rest of the container with shredded/wadded paper or Styrofoam peanuts, as to completely encase your work; ensure this padding is packed tightly around piece in order to reduce any chance of internal movement.

7. If using a cardboard box, securely seal it shut with packaging tape, taking special care to reinforce any openings and gaps. When it comes to sealing a wooden crate, this should only ever be done using screws so the recipient may easily open it - never glue or nails; how many screws you use entirely depends on the size of the crate. You should clearly mark which panel is the one to be removed by writing ‘UNSCREW THIS PANEL ONLY’ across it in bold letters.

8. Finally, adhere ‘FRAGILE’ and ‘THIS SIDE UP’ stickers as well as your shipping label to the package; in order to help make sure these don’t drop off during the journey covering them in clear sellotape is a good idea. If you are not using stickers clearly write this information on the box in black permanent marker.


SECTION 7 - Choosing a Courier

Note (insurance): Insurance is always going to be a major consideration with whichever company you decide to send your artwork with, and should always be attentively researched prior to finalising any decision. Always ensure you have adequate coverage in the unfortunate event of an accident - never assume that basic insurance packages are going to be sufficient, and always make sure your courier is aware of the value of your item.

Choosing the right company to deliver you artwork is a real tricky endeavour. The sheer choice can often seem overwhelming, making just knowing where to start a challenge in itself. Normally you have two main choices: using a professional art courier, or using a more general post service. In the case of well-packed, small, more robust items, the special delivery services of companies like Parcelforce and Royal Mail will normally serve you just fine. However, there are sometimes variables that will require you seek out the skills and know-how of specialists in the area of transporting art, companies such as Aardvark Art Services or Pack & Send for example. Delivery companies who specialise in artwork not only have a wealth of experience under their belt to work from but use specialist shipping materials and techniques when packing your artwork to ensure the best possible protection. So, what kind of factors may prompt the use of a professional art courier?

Size and Weight - Probably the most significant consideration in all of this, if you have an especially large or heavy item to send somewhere, something like a piece of furniture or large painting for example, then hiring a specialist art delivery company should always be considered. Items which are large and weigh a lot can be incredibly tricky to pack well if doing so on your own, and if not looked after properly during transit can very easily be damaged under their own weight. Of course you may still decide you want to do the packing yourself, and just use a specialist service for moving the piece.

The Value of Your Work - Regardless of size, weight, or anything else, if your piece is of high value you should always send it with a dedicated art courier.

Special Requirements - Whilst largely never the case, sometimes artworks may have to be transported in line with very specific requirements; this could be anything from making sure a piece is transported under stable humidity conditions, all the way through to having it delivered to some remote, hard to reach location. Whatever the challenge is, if seems as though it takes specialist procedure, you will want to use professionals.

The Destination - The further away your piece is being sent the longer it remains in transit, and the longer it remains in transit the more chance it has of getting damaged - let alone the different climates it may find itself in; for these reasons alone you will most certainly want to consider a dedicated courier for international shipments.

How Often You Ship - If you are shipping enough items on a regular basis some couriers will offer you special perks, such as reduced rates, and the chance to dispatch items in bulk; so keep this in mind before deciding who to post your work with.


SECTION 8 - To Finish

Remember, no one is in a better position to decide what kind of treatment your artwork needs than you. This guide, like all others, should be read as a set of constructive guidelines, which help you make the most informed decision possible. And, if ever in doubt, don’t forget that you are always welcome to contact one of the team here at Sable & Ox for further advice.

We’d like to leave you now with a tip from our very own Anna Whitehouse, a piece of advice which while we don’t recommend you practically test, does make for a good measure to do your packing by: that if you would be happy to drop your box on the floor then you are ‘ready to post!’.

Please feel free to leave any thoughts or suggestion of your own in the comments, you can even send us an email if you’d like.


Author: Luke Matheson


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