A Guide To Packing Art For Shipping
By the Practical Artist
Congratulations! You sold some art from your web site! Now you have to figure out how to get it to your buyer. Unless you are hand delivering your work you will need to ship it to the buyer. In order to reach your buyer in a condition that does credit to you as an artist there is a real need to select both your shipping method and your packing container carefully. For packing you are going to need a lot of tape, foam core board, acid-free paper, acid-free plastic bags and foam peanuts. To pack paintings for photographs, first, wrap the art with acid-free paper and tape it together so it doesn’t move. What is acid free paper and why do you need it? Acid-free paper has a pH factor of seven or above. The pH scale is a standard for measuring the acidity or alkalinity of all kinds of products, including paper. Before 1860, paper was usually made of rag or cloth stock and high-end expensive stationary is still made this way. After 1860, paper mills began using ground up wood and mixing it with acids and bleach to save costs, all of which have a low pH factor and react with air and water to produce acidic composites. Why use acid free paper? The acidic compounds found in non-acid free paper can migrate to your art and cause decay and damage. In the short time it now takes to ship to your buyer acidic compounds probably won’t cause much damage; however, they may still leave a residue on your work that can cause it to deteriorate over time especially if your buyer doesn’t clean the work immediately after it arrives.
If the art is unframed canvas or sheet paper, you will need to make sure that it isn’t bent or folded by rough handling during shipping. In 2012, Popular Mechanics conducted an experiment to see how packages were handled by Fed-Ex, UPS and the Postal Service. According to their published results, the package was dropped around three times and flipped an average of seven times per trip. Putting “Fragile” or “This End Up” did NOT increase the care handling the package got; in fact messages like this seemed to make no difference at all. Not that most of these delivery people will be deliberately be careless, but then there wasthat internet video of one of them tossing a flat screen TV over a fence when he couldn’t open the gate… How do you avoid this happening to your expensive art? After wrapping your work in the acid-free paper mentioned above, add a tough, lightweight reinforcement to help prevent bending (extra thick cardboard or foam core works) on each side of the art. Then slip artwork in an acid-free plastic bag to help make it water resistant, and wrap the whole thing in bubble wrap and tape so it won’t move. Why do you need to use an acid-free bag when you are already using acid free paper? When the plastic bag touches your acid-free paper, acid migration can still occur. Acid migration is what happens when acid from one object touches another. Acid migration is particularly dangerous to photographs. Chances are the acid-free paper you bought can still be contaminated by non-acid free plastic because the paper doesn’t have a seal. The acid free bag will seal off the art from contamination by the rest of the packing materials and help prevent water damage. Next, make sure you fill the entire packing container with shipping peanuts or bubble wrap so there is no extra space.
Should You Ship Art With A Frame?Personally, I don’t ship framed art unless it is for a show; and I avoid shipping anyart that is under glass, because if the package is damaged during shipping, the frame itself could survive unbroken yet your art could be ruined by broken glass sliding around and cutting or scratching it. If you mustship framed art, then protect the corners with edge guards and substitute plexi for glass. If the buyer wants glass, request that they take it to a framer in their area and get it changed. The other solution would be to ship to a local framer in the buyer’s area and arrange for the buyer to pick up the art after it has been framed.
Since the above study by Popular Mechanics didn’t find much difference in handling packages with the three most popular shipping companies, you need to decide to whether use them or employ a company that specializes in shipping art, which could be expensive. However, if you are willing to pay for it, the specialty company may even pack your art for you.
What About Shipping Insurance? Whatever shipping method you use, I recommend insuring your package and including shipping confirmation. I highly advocate you ensure your art for the full price in case you have to refund the money to the buyer if it doesn’t arrive intact. A high-value insurance cost does usually ensure that the shipping company will take more care of your work because they don’t want to pay damages.
Tracking The Package.If you are shipping inside the U.S. then you should always get shipping confirmation. Unfortunately, I did discover when I shipped a painting to a buyer in Canada that I could only track it as far as the border, so I don’t recommend paying extra for confirmation if you are shipping out of the U.S. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection web site: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/301/~/mail—tracking-lost-or-missing-packages, CBP doesn’t have the abilityto track packages across the border. Occasionally a border station will hold a package for another government agency but we regular folks are just SOL. That painting I shipped across the border into Canada? The cost of shipping was almost as much as the buyer paid for it!
Speaking for myself, I now include a note on my website that I don’t ship originals out of the U.S. due to the high costs.