Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Packaging and posting artwork

Daffs #2

coloured pencils on Arches HP, 30cm x 20cm

copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Katherine, do you have any info or articles about packaging artwork and posting it (for commissioned work)? This is something I've been having enormous difficulty finding out about. How do other artists prepare their artwork - is there a standard or is it a variety of ways? Is it flatpacked or in a tube - if so how does one ship pencil drawings and get over the problem of smudging? How does one cut the frames or are there standard sizes? I may have to commission a work to find out! This are not questions I'm demanding answers to but the sort of questions I have that have been a stumbling block for me. If you can point me to any info, suppliers or even images so I can get an idea, I'd be very grateful!
I received this query yesterday - and it's certainly one which has perplexed me as well in the past - and, I guess, quite a few other people as well.


Postal and packaging guidelines

First some postal packaging guides from the mail and parcel people. [These have been updated as of February 2014] 

Royal Mail

This is the official Royal Mail Wrapping and packaging advice. Make sure to check dimensions.

Post Office

  • This is the Post Office Guide to parcel sizes
  • Here are the Post Office recommendations for preparation and packaging (unfortunately no longer available)
  • Plus they even do a packaging guide for e-bay customers(also no longer available)
Note that since the advent of e-bay, many larger post offices in the UK now sell a good range of packing materials.

Parcel Force

In the UK most small packets can go via normal mail. Hence unless your package is very large there is no need to use Parcel Force.

This is Parcel Force. Their service can be expensive and, as indicated, it's really only needed for larger packages - at which point you should compare prices and service offered with courier services (see below). These are the Parcelforce pages for

Us Postal Service

    This is the US Postal Service plus

    Courier services

    People have different views about the cost-effectiveness of the various carriers and courier services. They are not cheap. Well known ones include FedEx, UPS and DHL.

    You can find a summary of UK courier services for artwork on How to pack, post and ship art - Resources for Artists


    Here are some of the supplies which I know people have found useful in the past. I'm hoping there'll be a few more suggestions coming in by way of comments.

    Protection for surfaces to avoid smudging

    I'd always recommend glassine paper - which you can get from lots of different suppliers.

    Mats for works on paper

    Mats make small works look good. Larger mats on larger works can make packing a very tedious exercise and increases the risk of damage. Work out what is the maximum size of mat you can ship with ease. (What do people think?)

    Buying mountboard and then cutting your own mats and backs and taping together and then hinging a work can involve lots of profanities and expletives until you've got the hang of it! This is an understatement as I'm sure others will testify.

    There are easier ways............
    • Some suppliers sell precut mats with backs. These help to make smaller works look good.
    • Some suppliers sell mats with backs and bags - making life so much simpler! I'd just like to know where the UK equivalent are!
    • Most framers will do you a job lot of pre-cut mats with backs for standard sizes to order at less cost per item that it might cost you for a one-off.

    Archival clear bags for presentation

    Protective packing

    Protective packing I use includes:
    • bubble wrap - good for cushioning. Bubble wrap can be recycled if you are careful when unpacking - although almost always in smaller pieces.
    • board backed manilla envelopes - useful for smaller pieces. Less good for larger sizes
    • polythene envelopes - good for keeping work dry - but needs internal stiffening of some sort
    • bubble envelopes - useful and provides some cushioning but also needs a stiffener
    • poster tubes - are sold for larger/odd shaped works which are sent rolled
    • foam core in various sizes and thicknesses is light and robust - use for backing sheets or to provide a sandwich inside which the work(s) go. If taking a a sandwich approach then tape the foam core sheets together.
    • sheets of corrugated cardboard. This comes in different thicknesses. I prefer foam core as I'm always worried about what would happen if the cardboard got wet.
    • small self-assembly mailing boxes - these come in varying sizes and are best for 3D works or small consignments. Pack to fill and make sure works do not move.
    • If you buy books on the internet, some of them come in very robust packaging - which can then be recycled
    You will also find the following useful:
    • heavy duty packing tape - never ever assume glue works!
    • a tape gun - makes life so much easier! Once you've used one, you'll never ever want to use packing tape any other way!
    • sellotape
    • sticky labels in different sizes
    • waterproof marker pen

    Shipping giclee prints / drawings / works on paper

    I've personally received these from some of the best - and it's very interesting to see how others package their work! ;)

    Some ship flat and some ship rolled. On the whole it seems to be the size and shape and whether or not they are matted which seems to determine whether they are flat or rolled. Larger/odd shapes seem to come rolled and without mats. All prints seem to come without mats.

    If shipping flat then my practice is as follows
    • wrap a sheet of glassine around a drawing and tape glassine together so it does not move
    • use a robust but lightweight form of support to avoid bending and/or postman who can't or won't read 'Do not bend' stickers (they don't and never assume they do - you MUST pack on the basis that they won't). I tend to use two lightweight sheets of foamcore either side taped together. Sheets of corrugated card can also work well.
    • If you are sending a small consignment of drawings for framing (for an exhibition) then the boxes that Amazon books come in work extremely well!
    • slip the package inside a plastic bag (helps to make it waterproof)
    • you should now have a rigid waterproof pack - now choose a suitable envelope. My preference is for padded with bubble wrap lining or a waterproof envelope for larger works and the manilla with board envelopes for smaller ones.
    • make sure you fill/seal the envelope so that the inner package cannot move around. Movement is what damages corners and leads to packages coming apart!

    Shipping framed and/or glazed works

    Personally I think it's a huge and expensive mistake to ship framed works. Only frame shops make money from frames. Plus the shipping becomes very complex and you're probably shipping a frame which they want to change anyway! Really. One of my framers says most of his business comes from people who are having frames replaced! Plus the money customers save on having the frame shipped could be spent on a nicer frame at their end - do you need any more reasons?

    Never ever assume that people packing your work to send it back again will take the same care as you do. Take away the anxiety by providing them with the materials which make it easy for them to do a good job.

    If you must ship framed/glazed works...........
    • keep all the strong boxes sent to you which used to house art materials and other stuff. You will need them if you are going to construct your own box.
    • Airfloat Strongbox is used by a lot of people in the USA. I think it's often a preferred solution by many who ship work to exhibitions/competitions when they know it may well need to come back again - but be packed by somebody else. It has the advantage of being capable of reuse. Opinions differ as to whether or not they consider them expensive - and I guess this probably relates to your perspective on how many times each one gets used.
    • Airfloat Glass Skin - if you must ship glazed work then you must also to take extra precautions. I've witnessed the unpacking of a work where the box had been wrecked. The frame had some mild damage but the real damage came from the glazing having broken and the glass then rattled around next to the surface of the picture - and damaged it. It's preferable to use perspex - and many competitive exhibitions refuse to accept works glazed in glass.
    • Air cushions - you may have received goods sent with air cushions but my check round indicates that these are only going to be available to those companies handling lots of packages who can invest in the machinery and supplies. Looks nice - but there are alternatives.
    • edge guards and corner protectors are very useful for frames which must be stored stacked prior to an exhibition. However not all galleries will allow you to keep them on - they take up space!
    • my framer always wraps the frames of my works for competition submission in cling film - using one of these

    Be green - and recycle

    My final recommendation would be to look at anything you receive or buy with a view to whether the packaging can be recycled. In a world which is becoming increasingly green I don't think too many people are going to object to recycled packaging being used so long as it did the job and the external surfaces were all clearly marked with addresses etc. In any case you can always include a slip saying that you're reducing your carbon footprint through recycling!

    These are things I save
    • bubble wrap
    • brown paper
    • books by post boxes
    • big padded envelopes (if I managed to get them opened with wrecking them) where you can easily cover the old addresses with a label and reuse. Even if you can't they can be reused inside other external packaging.
    • classy plastic bags! If I'm not sending in a waterproof bag then anything I send always gets wrapped in a plastic bag - just in case the postie forgot to look at the weather forecast when he leaves a parcel outside a door. So I keep all my bags from National Galleries and art museums, interesting book stores and posh shops! Fortnums and Hatchards are the best!
    Now, there are bound to be lots of people reading this who have their own 'best tip' or 'really reliable supplier' and I'd be delighted if you'd post whatever it is as a comment below. I'm really looking forward to reading them because although I've worked out a system which works for me I'm always keen to hear good tips!

    NOTE:  If you find any links which are not sending you the site you expected to visit please let me know. This is an old post and links become out of date as websites change.


    Felicity said...

    Wow, a really excellent post and loads of useful and interesting links. Thank you for writing this, it's something I've been in the dark about for ages. I've heard of the clear bags and you've confirmed what I thought, that these things, and many other useful items don't seem to be available in the UK. I like the recycling advice - I'm kicking myself for throwing out an Amazon box yesterday but I now know what to do with those Harrods bags!

    vivien said...

    a very good and useful post :>)

    I never cut my own mats - I did learn how to but with the mistakes, muttering and swearing at errors and the time it took where I could be painting .... I decided to leaveit to my framer.

    If you regularly use the same framer he should offer you an 'artists price' after a while. Mine does.

    It also means I can pick up the phone, give him the measurements and collect it/them the same day, ready to go. Same with frames.

    Tina Mammoser said...

    Thank you thank you thank you! I have been trying to find the Nomafoam U foam protectors for AGES! (it's in your "edge guards" link) But since I previous got them 'reclaimed' from a local framer who threw them away I didn't actually know what it was called or where to order it. :) Hoorah!

    And I can second the handywrap clingfilm too. I put this around the outer areas of my canvases to prevent rubbing against the box. Discovered that happens the hard way when my matte paintings were coming back with slightly buffed/shiny areas only at the edges.

    Petra Voegtle said...

    There are multiple ways to recycle packaging materials and save things which can be reused. F.e. I use old cartonage which has become too worn as the outer box as a protector (inner box) to slip inside a newer one.
    There is one material which can nearly replace everthing else including corner protection: bubble wrap. Never use this too sparsely.
    A tip: look in Ebay - you get rolls of bubble wrap for ridiculously few money! I can only recommend it.

    Maggie Stiefvater said...

    Great post, Katherine, and definitely a good question. I sold my daily drawings on eBay in 2006-7 (over 500 pieces) and shipped out all of them. I only ever had three or four get damaged.

    There's a thread on WetCanvas that talks about packaging work that I contributed to (along with many others -- I'm Piper2.

    Basically the simplest is the most effective. You want to prevent two major things: rubbing and bending. Well, you'd also like to prevent spending a bumload on packaging too.

    I recycle all of my packaging now -- it's just irresponsible not too. So that means all my cardboard boxes get sliced up with a box cutter to be made into flat braces and outer packaging, and any sort of fluffy packaging gets stuffed in a box in the corner of my studio.

    Often with a large piece I'll wrap a piece of paper around it and then tape that paper to the bottom of the box to prevent rubbing. (Of course all of my work is sprayed with fixative to keep the pigment mostly in place.) If it's a small piece, I'll sandwich it between two pieces of cardboard and call it a day. If it's larger and I'm worried about bending, I put it in a shallow box, wrap it and tape it to the bottom, and then backfill it with peanuts or clean plastic grocery bags, etc.

    Always remember that if your packaging isn't obvious, tell your client where the artwork is located within the packaging so they don't accidentally slice it with a box cutter!

    Basically you can't go wrong if you imagine someone tossing the box back and forth between two postal employees and then standing on it. ;)

    TheWhiteSeal said...

    I just found your blog, it was a great read! On the subject of sticky labels a while back i found a british labels company who printed me some sticky labels for a really low price. If interested then it may be worth taking a look at their website as they did many types of label printing.

    Silver Jewellery said...

    Great article, very thorough. We get all our packaging from Davpack including the edge guards you mentioned.

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