In the last few weeks, I’ve been working with a client who is just starting to sell her artwork online. One of the questions that we’ve been tackling in recent weeks has been shipping. She has never shipped artwork before and it’s her biggest hurdle to jump. Probably the most daunting of tasks when you’re just starting out selling artwork – cost, packaging, couriers, customs, taxes, insurance, timing… there is A LOT to consider! So, read through the post and then download your FREE Shipping Checklist!
And it’s true, shipping scares us because it’s in many ways out of our control. Despite this being true, there are many things you can and SHOULD be doing before you send anything off to ensure that your art arrives at its final destination in the same state it left your studio.
And, if we break down each of these components, it’s not as scary as it seems! I’ve been through it all, twice actually, because I had to relearn the entire process when we moved abroad, so today I’m going to share my top tips for shipping artwork, to anywhere!
**Note: The following suggestions represent my personal advice on shipping art, but I cannot assure that your artwork will remain undamaged. Despite our attempts to craft a package that seems impervious, instances of damage during transit may still occur and when they do, there are things you can do to recover all or some of your money. I share these tips with the intention of reducing the likelihood of such incidents and what to do if it does!
Here’s what we’re going to discuss:
FRAMED / STRETCHED CANVAS ART
CUSTOMS + DUTIES
Artwork should be securely and appropriately packaged to protect it during transit. Use acid-free and archival materials to prevent damage. Bubble wrap, foam, and custom-made boxes or packaging may be necessary, depending on the size and fragility of the artwork. Depending on the size, it’s best to ship in a rigid envelope or a mailing tube. Generally, smaller pieces ship more economically in a rigid envelope and larger pieces ship more economically rolled in a tube. If you’re shipping artwork that is unframed, rolled is usually most economical, but if your artwork is framed, boxing your artwork is going to be necessary.
Let’s discuss both options:
PACKAGING ART PRINTS:
Use plastic sleeves to protect the artwork from weather during transit. Add a foam board or cardboard backing behind your artwork; Then, insert this into a rigid envelope. This makes the envelope more rigid. Use “DO NOT BEND” stickers as they always help, even it it means one person being a bit more careful with it. If you are shipping in a mailing tube, make sure the lids are taped shut and there are no moving parts or pieces inside the tube when you shake it. Consider using scrunched up tissue paper towards the ends of the tube if your art is sliding around inside.
PACKAGING CANVAS OR FRAMED ART:
Use a large-size polybag or stretch wrap your artwork. This helps protect your artwork from contact with the cardboard, bubble wrap, or any filler you are using in your packaging. Use corner protectors. Whether you include this factor in your packaging can make or break a work of art – So use it! Make one yourself (using small bubblewrap to wrap the corners) or purchase them in bulk. Then, bubblewrap your art. I add at least 2 layers of large bubble wrap all the way around the piece. Most shipping companies will recommend that at least two layers or 2” (4cm) of bubble wrap are on all sides of the artwork, but be sure to check your shipping companies requirements. This is important, because if something does get damaged, in order for a claim to be considered, the packaging recommendations would need to have been followed, so don’t skimp! Depending on the value of the art, I will sometimes use planks of cardboard on both sides of the canvas to add a layer of protection.
Tips for selecting your box: For a package to be deemed as having adequate packaging, a new box is highly recommended. Using an old box might be more sustainable but if there is damage during shipping, the shipping company won’t validate your claim if your box is reused or already a bit bent or misshaped.
**Note: Most shipping companies have an “oversized” package rate, and that’s typically any dimension exceeding 30” or 100cm. Once you go above that dimensions, the fee goes up exponentially, so keep that in mind in your pricing / shipping rates if you have pieces that once packaged will exceed this size.
A Note About Adding Filling To Your Packages:
Feel free to use any filler of your choice—whether it's eco-packing peanuts, air cushioning, or kraft paper. Just ensure that you use an adequate amount of it to provide proper cushioning. The proper method for using filler in a box is to fill it to the point of "overflow," making it challenging to close the box tightly. You don’t want any movement inside the box.
SELECTING THE RIGHT SHIPPING COMPANY
Select a reputable shipping company or art courier service with experience handling artwork. They should offer insurance and have a track record of safely transporting art.
This will vary greatly depending on where you’re located. I used to ship out of Canada worldwide and now I ship out of Mexico worldwide. While in Canada, I would use the local postal service to ship mailer envelopes and courier to ship boxed, framed art. While in Mexico, I ship everything with courier, FedEx specifically. I just have much more peace and confidence knowing I have a guarantee, policy and timeline for delivery, not to mention tracking. There is nothing more stressful than sending out an untracked order and not knowing where it is or when it will arrive. It’s just not worth it!
Insurances ensure that your artwork is adequately insured during transit. This helps protect you in case of damage, loss, or theft. The insurance should cover the full value of the artwork, or at least an amount that covers you remaking the piece.. Make sure to read the policy entirely, including the packaging requirements. If you don’t follow and document (meaning, take photos of your packaged artwork and box), your insurance claim won’t be valid.
Keep detailed records of your artwork, including photographs, descriptions, and certificates of authenticity. This documentation can be helpful in case of disputes or insurance claims.
Also, take a few photos of how you package each piece inside the box and the outside of the box, in case it’s lost or damaged.
Make sure to Declare Value on your item. Declaring Value is different from Insurance. Typically, this is required on a commercial packing slip. You should also include an invoice or order slip from your website that includes a description and value of your item. You’ll also have to prove the value of the item if it were to be lost or damaged during shipping. Proof would include receipts, invoices so if they’re included in the package of an item that gets damaged, your claim will move along faster. Having this documentation also makes for swifter customs entry, but we’ll discuss that in the next section.
CUSTOMS / INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING
If shipping artwork internationally, be aware of customs regulations and import/export requirements. You will likely always need to provide specific documentation and pay fees or taxes. I ALWAYS include this documentation, regardless of the destination country. But, what is required? Check your local customs requirements as they vary in each country, but typically this will include:
Commercial Packing Slip (I Ship with FedEx and use their commercial packing slip, found here).
Be sure to fill out the value, and most important the tariff code. The HTC (Harmonized Tariff Code) will vary depending on the item you’re shipping. Between Canada, US and Mexico and the Free Trade Agreement, original artwork is except from customs fees and typically the code used is 9701.10, but be sure to check the codes in your particular country as they vary.
I also provide a written letter that I stamp and sign in my office that describes the item, confirms the tariff code and that the item is customs free.
Wood-Framed Items required a wood-treatment letter stating that the wood has been treated and able to enter another country. Check with your framing company as they usually will provide this letter for you and know the way all their wood types are treated.
Invoice and Packing Slip printed from your website. Always a good idea to provide as much information as possible so that the customs officer is not wondering what is inside the package and who it’s coming from. A statement with your business name, business address and phone number are also highly recommended.
Clearly label your artwork with handling instructions and contact information. This helps ensure that the artwork is handled properly and can be easily tracked. Add fragile stickers on the packaging to further prevent mishandling.
Maintain open communication with the shipping company, the recipient, and any intermediaries involved in the shipping process. This ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding the shipment. Give your customer shipping updates along with the tracking number so they’re not wondering where their order is.
I’m sure I’ve pretty much talked you out of shipping artwork by this point, but I want to end this post by saying that I’ve shipped from Canada, the US and Mexico (which doesn’t have a very good reputation as far as shipments go), and I’ve only had ONE order damaged in the last four years. Just one! So, if you follow all of these tips it’s really not a frequent occurrence and not that scary.
If it does happen, remember your customer service and work with your customer to get them a refund, a replacement or a store credit. It’s part of the business and unfortunately sometimes you’ll have to take the loss. One important thing to add to your shop policies is your shipping / delivery policies so that all parties involved are aware of the process. Protect yourself where you can by adding these items into your FAQ/Policies page on your website. Here’s my FAQ page, which you’re welcome to read through and customize on your own website!
Also, I wanted to share a great resource that I discovered when I wanted to personalize some of my packaging. This isn’t an ad, I just really love this company because they go out of their way to make sure you get items that work for your business. When you start designing, you’ll work with an in-house designer that will ensure your font, size, layout is all legible and make sense. They’ll send you digital proofs before printing anything. I have tissue paper, postcards, care-instructions, stickers and labels with my logo and business info on it that I just love! Check them out here.
Any questions, let me know! I’m always happy to help and provide any resources to help you make your business run smoothly!
If you're new here, I'm Donata Delano. I am the creative owner and artist behind Donata Delano Art. Aside from art related tutorials, tips and information occasionally, I also post recipes, crafts and out adventures living abroad in Mexico.
As for my business, as some of you know, I run my art studio out of our home. I have a dedicated room where I paint, package and ship all my artwork to you. If you're curious about my daily life and how I run my business, I post often about my process, my studio and my work on my instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/donatadelanoart/
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Thanks for your comment and question. I would say that 99.9% of customers are very understanding and if you work to make it right, they typically don’t mind waiting for a new item or a credit.. depends on the situation. Good luck shipping!
I downloaded the checklist and feeling pretty confident to ship something now. Still nervous about things breaking but I guess customers are usually pretty understanding? What’s your experience?
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST! I’m literally terrified of shipping anything and its prevented me from selling, but I’m feeling confident to try now. So grateful!