Wrapping artwork for shipping is an essential skill for artists who sell or exhibit their work non-locally. Since artwork is literally “out of your hands” once you send it, the best thing you can do is prepare it properly to protect it from any potential environmental or handling trauma. Below are suggestions, options, and materials for how to ship framed artworks. This article helps you to professionally wrap and ship your work, for those who would prefer to do it themselves rather than hire professionals. However, remember: when in doubt, call a pro.
Protect the work by taping the glass
If your artwork is framed with Plexiglas, you can skip this step. If your artwork is framed with glass, an important step towards protecting your work is to lay special tape across the face. This is a preventative measure in case your glass breaks during shipment—the broken shards will stick to the tape instead of cutting or damaging your work. Note: some museum glass or specialized glass can be damaged by tape. Check with you glass manufacturer or framer to figure out what tape would be safest.
What kind of tape should you use?
Some sources recommend masking tape, but this can leave a film across the surface. Painters tape, a low-tack alternative to masking tape, sticks well and removes easily from glass. This is the most effective and economical tape I have found for taping glass. There also exists high-end alternative tapes or films specifically for this purpose. The tape should be applied in an over-lapping line or grid pattern, being careful not to tape the frame itself. There exists an extremely thorough article on the Tate Museum’s website called Glazing Over: A Review of Glazing Options for Works of Art on Paper that explores all aspects of shipping artworks which are framed in glass.
Wrap your artwork in bubble wrap
Once your glass is ready, cover your work in bubble wrap. The bubble wrap should have bubbles facing “out” so that the flat side of the wrap is touching your work. Wrap your artwork like you would a gift: entirely covered, but with not too much excess material. Tape all seams so that the work is sealed. As an alternative to bubble wrap, you could instead seal your work in clear poly or plastic. If you do this, you should attach corner protectors (template to make your own here!) to the frame to minimize potential frame damage. This method with clear plastic is only recommended if you have adequate foam reinforcement and a perfectly fitted crate. Wrapping works this way is usually done by professional art shippers, where they build custom-fitted crates for each piece.
Considerations for smaller framed artworks
If your artwork is small, you could ship it in a cardboard box. If you decide to ship this way, make sure that the box is large enough to allow for adequate cushioning between the work and the inside of the box (1″ or more, depending on the size and weight of your work). For cushioning, you can use any kind of foam. For extra protection, you can also put this cushioned box inside a larger box, padding the space with either foam or crumpled paper. If you decide to ship with a cardboard box, you should insert a piece of doorskin or other thin wood on either side of the work to protect from puncturing. Custom-cut thin wood can be bought very inexpensively at most hardware stores.
Crating your framed artwork
If you decide to ship your artwork in a crate, call around and request quotes before placing an order. In Vancouver, Windsor Plywood builds custom crates for very reasonable prices. You can also try professional art handlers, though their crate building fees are usually higher (see list at bottom of post).
Label your wrapped work clearly, including:
- Your return address, contact name, and phone number
- Your recipient’s address, contact name, and phone number
- Receiver’s hours of operation (if sending to a business, ie a gallery)
- Any other shipping specifications you think will protect your work, such as: “fragile”, “glass”, “do not stack”, “this way up”, etc.
A list of resources for wrapping and crating in Vancouver:
Windsor Plywood (builds custom crates)
Vevex (builds custom crates)
Denbigh Fine Art Services (custom crates, wrapping, shipping, storage, and more)
Fine Art Framing (custom framing, wrapping, crates, shipping, and more)
Thiessen Art Services (custom crates, wrapping, shipping, and more)
PacArt (CANADA-WIDE) (custom crates, wrapping, transportation, and more)