10 Lessons in Shipping Art

Shipping your pieces of art is in fact an art itself. After two major shipping disasters I have learned a few good lessons on how not to ship your art.

Horror Story No. 1

In late 2009, I was accepted into a show in Virginia that showcased young emerging artists. I had 4 pieces accepted into the show, all of which were 30″X40″. The date from acceptance into the show and the date that the art needed to be there was less than a week. In a panic, I went to a shipping company called Post Net. The company ships through a variety of other shipping companies including USPS, UPS, Fed-Ex and more. This was great because I could pick the cheapest, and quickest way to get my art to the show on time. But with four over sized pieces and having to have them design a custom sized box (made out of two plasma TV boxes) for my work, my bill was $400.00. Ouch!

Lesson #1: Pack your own art, carefully

Don’t pay for the shipping company to pack up your art. They will charge you a lot of money for boxes, peanuts, tape, and the labor to pack the art. Packaging your own art be a risk if you package it wrong.

Lesson #2: Size matters

Ask yourself if you can afford to ship your art work cross country based on the scale and weight of your pieces.

Lesson #3: Consider the value of your work and the risk in shipping

If your shipping costs are more than the work is worth, then its not in your best interested to either ship it or sell it at your current price.

Lesson #4: No clear tape and no peanuts please

Did you know your not suppose to ship artwork with peanuts and clear packing tape? Clear tape makes it difficult to open the package, using box cutters and wrestling your package trying to find which flap is still taped down can risk damaging your art inside. And peanuts are just a static disaster and go everywhere. Galleries do not like them

Horror Story No. 2

My second shipping horror story happened when I shipped a work of art out to New York for a show about pollinators, the themes were limited to bees, butterflies and birds. I submitted my bee painting to it. It was exciting, my first work in New York! I even had someone interested in purchasing the work. Although in the end they decided not to buy it, the 6 month long show was successful from my point of view…until UPS got their hands on my work. When I got the piece back, the box was crushed. And so was the art work. This shipping disaster cost me another $400 loss.

Not only was the box crushed and no longer usable, the frame is bent and my painting is cracked and not repairable. Luckily when I sent the work out, I checked the box on the shipping label for insurance.

When I went to file an insurance claim, it was denied, twice. Even though I checked the insurance box on the shipping forms, because I didn’t have UPS package it, there were no peanuts around the art, and the crush capacity of the box deemed it a moving box instead of a shipping box, I was denied the insurance.

Lesson #5: Check your ECT

Check the stamped seal on the box. It will tell you if the box is considered a shipping or a moving box.

Shipping companies won’t always tell you about this and won’t always check it before they ship the work for you. Shipping boxes will have a ECT (Edge Crush Test) number of 200-ish while a moving box (like mine) is more like 32.

Lesson #6: Know what is shipping appropriate

Moving boxes can say “Made for art, mirrors, large photos, paintings and framed work,” doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for shipping.

Lesson #7: Use insurance, but it won’t always save you

Even if you insure the package for a million dollars and take UPS to court, they won’t give you a dime if they damaged your box if they prove that in some shape or form your package was not adequately shipped according to their
regulations. Be prepared!

Lesson #8: Don’t reuse your boxes

If you previously used your box for shipping, its not deemed appropriate to reuse it. I also wouldn’t suggest building your own box out of cardboard.

Here’s a comment from Jamie Schumacher on building your own crates:

“I think wooden boxes (built or purchased) are far more durable than cardboard. I have often recommended artist that ship artwork frequently invest in more durable wooden boxes. The wooden boxes can be custom fitted with foam sheets to accommodate artwork in a variety of sizes, and using screws, can be used over and over again without tape or peanuts.
Because it’s heavier it does wind up being more expensive to ship. But the artwork inside is priceless, right?

Why take the risk? Plus, you save on cost by buying boxes less frequently and not having to spend so much on packing materials. If your artwork is of a consistent shape and size, I highly recommend it.”

Lesson #9: Fragile is more of a suggestion

Although your box maybe labeled fragile and appropriately packaged, your art will go through machines, and it can get crushed if they get caught on the conveyor belt. Packages are handled by people when they are packed into the shipping vehicles. Package and ship your art knowing your work will be handled by machines and don’t assume that someone is going to treat your piece with the care and respect it deserves. Trust me, I use to work at USPS and ‘fragile’ was seen as a suggestion. UPS also told me that to them fragile is put on the box for the package receiver so they know to carefully open the package.

Lesson #10: Choose your shipper based on experience

I’ve always heard that UPS was the better shipper for art. But that is not always the case. You need to base your shipper on the type of art you are shipping, the costs of moving the package and whether or not your material is time sensitive. If you have an extremely fragile package, consider using an art specific shipper like Artserve or Museum Services.

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