How to Ship Paintings | A Step-by-Step Guide for Artists and Galleries

Introduction

 

I have been in the gallery business since 1993. Though I now own Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, I started in the business on the ground floor. My first job was in the backroom, shipping artwork for a Western Art gallery in Scottsdale. The gallery had a high sales volume, so I got a lot of experience packing, crating and shipping art of every shape and size. I shipped paintings and sculptures large and small and learned what was important in making sure artwork arrived safely.

Over the years I certainly learned some lessons the hard way – not every piece arrived safely. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, artwork would be damaged by the delivery company, and sometimes, I would neglect a minor detail, resulting in a shipping disaster. Eventually I became quite adept at it, and even though I eventually moved into a sales position and ultimately opened my own gallery, I continued to sneak into the shipping room from time to time to keep in practice. To this day I will sometimes pack and ship a piece myself – there’s something satisfying about the physical act of shipping a piece of artwork.

Shipping is both science and art, and I would like to share with you some of the lessons and techniques I’ve learned over the years.

While shipping is almost second nature to me, I know that it poses a perplexing challenge for many artists and gallerists. I know this first-hand: Some of the boxes I receive at the gallery are packed atrociously. From these boxes it is clear many artists either don’t know how to ship their work effectively. Or they know, but don’t care very much. I hope I can make your life a little easier the next time you have to ship a painting.

While this document will focus on shipping two-dimensional art – paintings, prints, photographs – I hope to have a companion document on shipping sculpture in the next several months.

Disclaimer

While the advice I’m sharing with you comes from years of practice and experience, there are no guarantees in the arena of shipping fine art. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, artwork gets damaged in transit. I cannot guarantee every piece you ship using the techniques below will arrive safely, but they will help you better your odds.

Another important thing to remember is that each painting provides its own unique challenges. While these guidelines will work in most cases, occasionally you will have to adapt them to meet the needs of your individual situation.

 

My Goals When Shipping Art

 

When shipping artwork, before I begin I have three key goals in mind. I have listed them here in descending order of importance.

Safety

One of the worst imaginable calls in the art business is from a client who has received a piece of artwork damaged in transit. No matter how great a work of art is, no matter how well you have served your collector, if the artwork arrives damaged your customer is going to be upset. Later we’ll discuss how to mitigate your client’s frustration and turn the disaster into an opportunity to provide exceptional customer service, but far better to avoid the damage in the first place.

In my experience, most damage can be avoided with careful planning and packing, and this should be goal #1 when you are shipping art.

Professionalism

I have often declared that artists and gallerists are as much in the performance art business as the visual art business. We want to convey to the collector that the work of art they just bought, or are considering to buy, is a masterpiece. Everything we do in relationship to the physical work of art should reinforce this message. When handling the art, we should do so respectfully and almost reverentially. This applies to how the art is shipped as well. When the art arrives on your client’s doorstep, you want the packaging to look like it is worthy of the artwork within, not something that fell off the recycling truck.

Efficiency / Economy / Ecology

Finally, I don’t want my shipping expenses to eat so far into my profit margin that the sale becomes unprofitable. While safety and professionalism certainly come first, those concerns have to be balanced against your costs. Yes, you could charter a jet and hand-deliver the artwork to your client to make sure it arrives safely and professionally, but this approach would be neither economical nor efficient (probably not all that ecologically friendly either). Ultimately, I want to ship the artwork for the least cost, while still maintaining safety and professionalism. These factors can be balanced, and I am going to give you advice that will save you money.

We are also fortunate to live during a “Green” revolution, when recycled materials and energy efficient transport is becoming more easily accessible. I try to use recycled materials wherever possible, and many transportation companies will allow you to buy carbon offsets for your shipments inexpensively. With a little careful planning you can minimize the environmental impact of your art shipping activity.

 

The Right Tools for the Job

 

My father-in-law is an attorney by day and an avid woodworker by night and weekend. He has an amazing woodshop where he crafts fine furniture. I stand in awe of the finely detailed and precise work he does in the shop. His success is equal parts skill, practice, talent and creativity. He can envision a piece of furniture, then engineer and execute a design that allows him to manifest the furniture precisely to his vision.

While his talent, skill and creativity are vital to execute his work, none of it would be possible without the vast array of tools he has assembled over a lifetime of woodworking.

Fortunately shipping is far less exacting than fine furniture making, but the importance of having and using the right tools is analogous. Your shipping will be simpler and safer if you have the right tools.

For about $100 you can assemble a basic shipping toolkit. I have five favorite tools I use consistently when shipping. While there may be a few additional tools that will come in handy from time to time, these tools are a good place to start.

Don’t skimp on these tools. You may pay a little more to get high quality tools, but this investment will quickly pay off in increased productivity and professionalism. A good tool will last years; you’ll want to rid yourself of a poor one as quickly as possible. In other words, you’ll actually spend less in the long run by buying and maintaining good quality tools.

 

Shipping Tools
Shipping Tools | From left: T-Square, Tape Gun, Tape Measure, Knife (Box Cutter), Sharpie, Box Sizer, Shipping Scale

 

My Shipping Toolkit Contains the Following:

Knife (Box Cutter)

A high quality, heavy-duty box cutter with lots of blades is one of your most-important, most used tools. Once you start shipping seriously, you are going to be cutting cardboard like crazy. If your knife isn’t sturdy and sharp, your cuts are going to be messy. A dull, or rickety knife will cause the cardboard to crumple and buckle rather than cut.

I change the razor blades in my knife after every five packages – more frequently if necessary. Blades are cheap, especially if you buy them in bulk.

Tape Gun

For my tape gun, I prefer one with a handle that holds 2” packing tape. Find one that provides a way to adjust the gun’s resistance, usually through a knob or screw on the tape roller. You’ll see why this is important later when I show you how to most effectively use the gun.

T-Square

A good T-Square will help you make straight, even cuts when modifying your boxes. The T-square is primarily used by builders who are installing drywall, which is typically 48” wide. I am going to recommend you buy your cardboard in 48” widths, which makes this the perfect tool for measuring your cuts.

Sharpie

Nothing beats a Sharpie for marking your cardboard for cutting. A pencil works as well, and some might argue that an errant pencil mark is easier to conceal or erase, but I like to get my score marks down quickly and boldly so there is no room for doubt. A marker line is hard to miss or confuse, and is therefore ideal for marking up your packing materials.

I buy the versatile Sharpie markers by the dozens so I never have to worry about running short.

Box Sizer

All of the other tools in this list have been fairly common, and are easy to find at your local hardware store. The last tool in my toolkit, the box sizer, is a tad more specialized, and may need to be ordered online. But it is indispensible once you get the hang of using it. In essence, it is an adjustable tool that allows you to create even and smooth scores on cardboard. These scores then allow you to fold the cardboard wherever you need. With a box sizer you can modify boxes to fit your exact needs, or even create boxes from raw cardboard. I actually use this tool far more frequently when packing sculpture, but it also often comes in handy when boxing up paintings.

 

Supplies

 

Just as having the right tools on hand makes it easier to pack your art professionally, having the right supplies on hand will simplify your shipping life and save you a lot of running around when you make a sale.

While packaging suppliers offer an overwhelming variety of supplies – boxes in every shape and size, tapes in every width, big bubbles, small bubbles, peanuts – you can meet most of your packing needs with just a small arsenal.

Again, the goal is to be able to do the most with the least.

Here are the supplies I try to have in my inventory at all times. While I occasionally have to special order a box for a particular work of art, nine times out of ten I can pack any two-dimensional artwork that comes my way using just these supplies:

Boxes

For my painting shipments I have three primary picture box sizes that I use.

28” x 4” x 24”

37” x 4 3/8” x 30”

36” x 6” x 42”
Your supplier’s sizes may vary slightly, but most will have boxes very close to these dimensions.

The two larger sizes are both telescoping boxes. Telescoping picture boxes are terrific because you can use just one if the artwork fits, or, if the work is larger than a single box, you can slide two boxes together to make a larger box. With a little surgery you can even slide four boxes together to accommodate still larger pieces.

The boxes are relatively inexpensive, and, when used properly, provide sufficient protection to keep your art safe in transit.

 

Telescoping Mirror Box
Telescoping Mirror Box

 

Palette Tape & Wrap (4” wide & 24” wide)

This versatile plastic wrap is perfect for giving your art a protective skin before boxing. It is very similar to the plastic wrap you use in the kitchen to cover casseroles and other food you want to keep fresh in the refrigerator. As the name implies, its main function is to wrap boxes on shipping palettes, but I will show you below how you can use the wrap as a protective coating around your art to protect against scratches and scuffs.

 

Plastic Palette Wrap
Plastic Palette Wrap

 

48” x 96” Cardboard Pads (single & double wall)

These are large, flat sheets of cardboard that can be used anytime you need extra padding or wrapping. You’ll see that I use these pads to provide an extra layer of cardboard between your art and the world, but you can also use them when you are customizing a box and end up with a gap, or when you need extra padding on a corner.

Bubble Wrap

Your kids (or grandkids (or you!)) love stomping on bubble wrap to create the satisfying little “pop.” It might be a little hard to believe that something that pops so easily has incredible power to protect your precious paintings. While any individual bubble is easy to pop, a sheet of the bubbles, working in concert, draws a surprising amount of strength by distributing pressure and impact across a wide area.

Bubble wrap both cushions the art and fills space, preventing unwanted movement within your packaging. When shipping paintings, bubble wrap should be your filler of choice – never use styrofoam peanuts when shipping paintings (more on this later).

I order two to four rolls at a time so that I always have plenty on hand. I do occasionally use the small bubble variety, but the vast majority of my shipments require me to use the larger, 1” bubble rolls.

I used to order both 36” and 24” wide rolls, but I found that I used far more of the 24”, and in the interest of space, decided to order only the 24” width, figuring that I can always use more sheets for those occasions when I need more width.

I also always order bubble wrap that is already perforated at 12” intervals. The perforations make measuring and cutting much easier and cleaner, and it costs the same as the non-perforated rolls.

We suspend the rolls on wires from the ceiling in our supply room so that the roll is out of the way and yet easy to access and unroll.

 

24" Bubble Wrap - Perforated every 12"
24″ Bubble Wrap – Perforated every 12″

 

Packing Tape

I’m only going to say this once, but I’m going to say it emphatically:

Buy the very best packing tape you can afford!

I know we’re all on budgets, and we have to stretch to make those budgets meet our ever-increasing needs. While I understand that every penny counts, packing tape is not an area where you should be pinching those pennies.

I have received packages before where the art was literally falling out of the box because the tape had failed to hold. Cheap tape is harder to apply, harder to cut, and doesn’t stick. You will end up having to use two to three times as much tape to secure your boxes, and even then you risk it not working effectively.

Cheap packing tape may actually end up costing you more, not to mention a client, especially if your artwork is damaged because the tape fails.

I always use 3.5 millimeter (“3.5 Mils” in shipping geek parlance) thick tape in 2” wide rolls. This will usually be the heaviest duty option available, but, when in doubt, ask your supplier what their best tape is, or just buy their most expensive option.

“Fragile” Stickers

I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone once said, “Plastering ‘fragile’ labels all over a package only ensures that the delivery company will toss the package under-hand instead of throwing it over-hand.”

This is probably true. I imagine that delivery company employees become pretty immune to those stickers after a while.

Even so, I use large fragile stickers on every shipment. The freight company might not pay much attention to them, but they make me feel better, and they let my clients know I care.

 

Packaging Procedures

 

Now that we have our tools and supplies together, we’re ready to begin boxing our first piece of art. Ideally, you would have a dedicated shipping area in your studio where you keep all of your supplies and tools and have a large table to work from. If this isn’t the case, clear the largest flat surface you can find – your dining room table is probably the next best candidate as it’s better to work at table height than on the floor.

Sizing

The first step in packing a painting is determining which boxes and materials you are going to use, and then planning how to use them optimally. This process begins by measuring your artwork.

I start by determining which outer box I am going to use. My general rule of thumb is that I want to find a box that gives me a minimum clearance of about 2” all the way around the artwork.

As an illustration, let’s say we have an 18” x 18” painting that is 1.5” deep. We will therefore need an outer box that is at least 22” x 22” and about 5.5” thick.

In this instance, I would use my 28” x 4” x 24” box. This is a little bigger than we need, but because this package isn’t large enough to incur dimensional weight (see section on Dimensional Weight below) we are going to be charged by the weight of the box, not the size. So this box will work just fine.

You’ll notice that the box depth isn’t going to give me a full 2” clearance front and back, but I’ll have over an inch. If the piece isn’t extremely fragile, this is okay. Depth isn’t as big of an issue as height and width because the edges and corners are the most damage-prone areas of the artwork. We are also going to be double-boxing our artwork, which gives us an added layer of protection.

The ultimate goal of sizing is to give ourselves enough room to buffer the artwork from the outside world, and to meet our freight company’s padding requirements. Most of the freight companies will only cover damage in packaging that gives you this 2” buffer. Be sure and read your freight company’s damage and packaging policy to confirm you are meeting their requirements.

Dimensional Weight

Another consideration when planning packaging is your freight company’s dimensional weight policy. If your delivery company always charged you shipping fees based purely on the weight of your package, calculating and minimizing your shipping costs would be pretty easy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Because the size of a package impacts the number of packages a freight company can move just as much as the weight does, the companies have come up with a way to account for both dimensions by calculating the “dimensional weight” of a package. If a package exceeds a certain size threshold, the carrier will charge you based on the size or the actual weight; whichever is greater.

Though this sounds complicated, it’s really pretty easy to figure out. Simply contact your delivery company and ask them how they calculate dimensional weight and what their size thresholds are. Many of the companies will list this info on their websites. The formula typically looks something like this:

L x W x H

166
and the company might say that any package that has a total volume over  5,184 cubic inches has to use the dimensional weight formula or the actual weight; whichever is greater.

This happens to be UPS’s current dimensional weight policy, which is why I’m using it here, but these formulas can change from time to time, so make sure you are using up-to-date information.

In our example then, we would first figure out the volume of our box. Since we are using a 28” x 4” x 24” box, we multiply those three dimensions to calculate our volume, which happens to measure out to 2,688 cubic inches. Since we are well under their 5,184 cubic inch threshold, we don’t have to worry about a big charge for dimensional weight.

When shipping larger artwork, you can often run head first into this issue. Let’s say we had a painting that required a bigger box. If we used our 37” x 4 3/8” x 30” box, we would find that our volume comes to 5,550 cubic inches. Since we’ve passed their threshold of 5,184 cubic inches, we have to factor in the dimensional weight (5,550/166), which comes to a total of 33 lbs. So, even if the painting only weighs 10 lbs, we’re going to be charged for 33lbs, since the size takes up so much space in their shipping van. Think of this extra charge as leasing van space.

Knowing this, if you find that the box has a lot of empty space inside, it might make sense to use a smaller box, or to cut it down with the box sizer so that we avoid the dimensional weight charge. In this case if we took just 3” of the length or height of the box, we would be at 5,100 cubic inches and would only be charged for our actual weight.

It still might not be worth the hassle to cut the box down or get another box, but at the very least you should be aware of the impact that size has on your shipping costs.

Size Restrictions

You should also be aware that many of the common carriers, including UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service have unique size restrictions. Check with them to find out what those restrictions are. Exceeding these size restrictions will cause you to incur additional fees and force you to seek out another delivery option.

The size of the artwork dictates the size of the final package, and there are going to be times when you simply have to go over the threshold for dimensional weight and bear the additional costs. This is not the end of the world, though, and you should certainly never compromise the safety of your artwork simply to shave off a few inches to remain under the thresholds. Again, damaged artwork costs you far more than slightly higher shipping fees.

I will discuss how to ship larger artwork in more depth below.

A Protective Skin of Plastic

I mentioned above that one of my essential supplies is palette wrap. I use the plastic wrap to protect paintings and frames from scratches and scuffs. There’s nothing complicated about applying the wrap, but the secret is to pull the wrap tightly around the artwork, applying pressure the entire time you are wrapping the painting so the wrap doesn’t become bunched or tangled. With our example painting at 18” x 18” we only need to go around the art once to cover the entire surface. However, with larger pieces you should pass the wrap over the surface multiple times to cover all of the artwork.

This next tip is hard to explain on paper, but as you wrap a larger piece you’ll see exactly what I mean:

Start wrapping on the back of the artwork.

Your natural tendency is going to be to start on the front, but if you start on the back and wrap at a straight angle all the way around once, you can then pull the wrap diagonally down the back side of the artwork to start your next row of wrap. By having your diagonals on the back, the front of the artwork is covered with smooth, straight rows of plastic, which not only protects the art itself, but also looks attractive to the client upon opening. It’s a small thing, but it will make the wrapping job look more professional.

Finally, and I’m not sure if this is superstition or science: Carefully cut small slits in the back of the plastic so that the art can breathe. I can’t imagine breathability being a huge issue for the brief time most artwork spends in transit, but one could imagine a piece of artwork wrapped for too long having issues with trapped moisture or cracking. I don’t know if this has been proven scientifically, but I can’t see any harm in giving the art some air, so I do it.

Wrapping Artwork in Plastic Palette Wrap
Wrapping Artwork in Plastic Palette Wrap

 

Wrapping Artwork in Plastic Palette Wrap
Palette Wrap II

 

 

Cardboard Padding

Now that we have given the artwork a skin of tightly wrapped plastic, we’re ready to add a thicker, stiffer layer of protective cardboard. This inner layer of cardboard is going to create a kind of second box that will greatly diminish the possibility of having a foreign object pierce or scuff your artwork. This box will also help absorb shock if the package is dropped. Most shipping companies require that freight be double-boxed before covering it for damage, and in my experience, this layer of cardboard has always satisfied the requirement for a second box.

As mentioned earlier, I always have 48” x 96” sheets of cardboard in inventory. I keep both single-wall and double-wall sheets on hand, but I almost always use the single-wall. It’s much, much easier to cut and fold, and in most cases it is more than sufficient protection. I only use double-wall cardboard when I am dealing with extremely heavy or delicate art.

You will notice that the cardboard has a grain that runs the 48” length. This makes the board easier to fold parallel to the 48” side. I try to plan my folds so that they are on this axis. Typically, the best and most efficient way to accomplish this is to have the longest side of the painting also parallel to this 48” side. You can then measure the width of the painting and double it, measure the depth of the painting and double that, then add a few inches for good measure and mark the cardboard using your T-square and Sharpie. Use your box cutter to make your cut. Now measure the length of the painting, add four inches and cut the cardboard to the proper length (this cut will be perpendicular to your original 48” side, and therefore is against the grain of the cardboard).

Now, lay the cardboard flat, place the artwork roughly in the middle, and fold the ends over. Tape the overlap to seal the cardboard closed. The cardboard will naturally fold over the corners of your artwork if you’ve followed my instructions about following the grain.

The ends of the inner-box will be open, and because we allowed four extra inches at the end, you should have about two inches of empty space at either end. Instead of cutting and folding this extra space, simply squeeze the sides together to form a kind of triangle and tape it closed. By taping the ends in this way, you are creating an additional buffer at the end of the artwork that will act as a great shock absorber. I mentioned earlier that the edges of the artwork or frame are the most prone areas for damage, and by giving yourself this extra cushion, you have given the two ends of your artwork an almost impenetrable barrier.

 

Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Sizing Cardboard Wrap to Artwork
Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection
Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection
Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection
Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection
Pinch off the end of the Cardboard to Create Extra Shock Absorbtion
Pinch off the end of the Cardboard to Create Extra Shock Absorbtion
Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection
Wrapping the Artwork in Cardboard to Add An Extra Layer of Protection

 

Bubble Wrapping

Our final inner layer is bubble wrap. Just like we did when we were wrapping the plastic around the art, we want to keep some tension on the bubble wrap as we are applying it to the artwork. Keeping the wrap tight will allow us to maintain clean edges and prevent bunching. I usually apply just one layer of wrap to the large flat sides of the art – the bubble wrap isn’t doing much in the way of protection here anyway. Next, I almost always apply a second layer of bubble wrap around the edges of the artwork. I do this by measuring enough bubble to completely circle the edges of the artwork. I fold the bubble in half lengthwise and then tape it to the edges of the painting. For our example artwork, we would need about 72” (18” x 4”), but I would add an extra foot or two to accommodate the layer of cardboard we added and to take into account the fact that the corners will steal several inches from us due to the volume of the bubbles.

 

 

A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard
A Layer of Bubble Wrap Provides Extra Cushioning and Fills the Space Between the Inner and Outer Cardboard

 

 

The Outer Box

Now we are ready to slide this whole, neat package into the cardboard box. We want to fill this outer box as completely as possible. The number one cause of damage to frames and corners of the artwork is movement allowed by extra space in the box. You can go about eliminating this space in one of two ways. First, you can cut the box down to size (as mentioned above in the section on sizing), or you can fill any voids with bubble wrap. Either option is acceptable if you don’t have a lot of extra space. I usually choose the bubble wrap because it takes less time than performing surgery on the box. Just keep the guidelines on carrier size restrictions in mind when making this decision.

If you do end up cutting the box down, I suggest you use your T-square and Sharpie to create straight cuts. Your box will look much better if all of your cuts are straight.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about modifying the boxes, because every surgical operation is going to be different depending on the size and shape of your art. It will be easier to get good results if you tape one end of the box closed so that you are dealing with the box in its 3-D form instead of flat. If you minimize the cuts (I usually only have one continuous cut all the way around the box), you can telescope the parts of the box together to eliminate your extra space. Telescoping is great because it reduces waste and adds an extra layer of cardboard wherever the boxes overlap.

 

The Outer Box
The Outer Box
Wrapped and Padded, The Artwork May Now Be Placed in the Outer Box
Wrapped and Padded, The Artwork May Now Be Placed in the Outer Box

 

 

Taping

I consider sloppy taping a cardinal sin and I want to devote an entire section of this document to the subject of taping.

The first step to good taping is to use good tape. I said it above, but it bears repeating: Use the highest quality tape you can find. Not only does good tape adhere better, it’s easier to apply.

The next secret to good taping is tension. Almost every packing tape gun allows you to control tension with a knob on the tape wheel. I suspect that many beginning shippers (and perhaps even some experienced ones) don’t pay much attention to the tension, or they mistakenly think that the tension should be minimized so the tape rolls off more easily. Low tension will cause your tape to bunch and fold as you are sealing your box, and it will also make it nearly impossible to cut the tape.

To get the right tension, I first set it to where it is so tight that I can’t pull the tape off the roll without straining, then I loosen it just a little so that I no longer have to tug to get the tape off. In other words, you want the tension just before it becomes “impossible to dispense.”

Applying the tape is a two-handed operation. When starting on a new seam, I hold the tape gun in my right hand and use my left hand to hold the tape down at its starting point on the box. I pull the tape gun back to unroll enough tape to cover the seam, but I do this several inches above the surface of the box. Once I have enough tape, I keep it tight, line it up with the seam, and then lower it onto the box – keeping tension on the tape by pulling the gun.

Cutting the tape is an art. If you’ve tried it unsuccessfully, you know what I mean. I once saw someone pull out a pair of scissors every time the tape needed to be cut because she hadn’t mastered the art of using the tape gun’s built-in blade.

A video, or even better, an in-person tutorial would work best here, but since I can’t do that, I’m going to do my best to describe the cutting procedure.

I want to maintain this tension on the tape, so I’m going to continue pulling the tape gun toward me. Of course, pulling on the tape gun causes it to dispense more tape, and we don’t want that to happen right now. I use my right thumb as a brake, holding the roll in place. I now have a couple of taut inches of tape extending from the box to the gun. The rest is in the wrist. I want the saw-blade knife on the gun to start cutting on one side of the tape. I’m not trying to cut the whole width at once. I make this happen by turning my wrist in a clockwise motion while maintaining tension.

In short, the tape cutting process is a combination of tension created by my thumb holding the tape roll while I pull on the gun, and twisting my wrist so the blade can bite through the tape.

Piece of cake!

I encourage you to tape all of the seams of your outer box, including the short seams at the ends of each flap. This may seem like overkill, but any un-taped seam is a potential snag, and if something catches under the seam, your box could easily be ripped open.

I also always apply tape all the way around the length and width of the package to tighten everything up.

 

Seal All of the Seams of the Outer Box
Seal All of the Seams of the Outer Box

 

Dealing with Glass

For those of you who are shipping watercolors, photography, prints, or anything else behind a panel of glass, let me first say, “I’m sorry.” Shipping artwork behind glass is almost infinitely more difficult than shipping anything else. Glass is so susceptible to cracking in transit that some carriers refuse to insure anything that involves it.

Because the slightest jolt or tension can cause your glass to shatter, it is even more important that you provide ample padding and eliminate all possible movement.

As important as breakage prevention is, I feel it’s even more important to think about damage control. Basically, if the glass does break, you want to apply added protection so it doesn’t scratch, slash, or otherwise mangle your artwork. When I ship anything out with glass in it, I simply assume it’s going to break, and then focus on making sure the shards don’t destroy my artwork.

Many shipping supply companies sell 8-12” wide masking tape that is specially created for glass coverage (it doesn’t leave a sticky glue residue on the glass when you remove it). You can apply this tape to the entire surface of the glass, and, if the glass should happen to break, the resulting shards will stick to the tape instead of slashing your artwork to shreds. 3M also makes a clear film that does the same thing.

Another approach is to get out of the glass shipping business altogether. I know of an artist who does pastels, which are, of course, displayed behind glass. When a piece is sold, the artist takes the artwork to his framer, has the framer remove the glass and replace it with a sheet of clear plastic. He ships the piece to the client’s local framer where he covers the cost of new glass. The artist has built the cost of doing this into his pricing. I’m not sure this would work for everyone, but it’s certainly an option to keep in mind.

 

Shipping

 

Now that we have the artwork professionally boxed up, we’re ready to get it on its way. There are a number of options available when it comes to choosing a delivery company, and I don’t want to endorse any one in particular. Everyone seems to develop their favorites, and if you’ve found one that works for you, stick with it. If you are dissatisfied, keep trying different companies until you find one that makes you comfortable.

There are two general classes of delivery companies: the common carriers such, as FedEx and UPS, that primarily handle small to moderately sized packages, and the larger freight companies and freight forwarders that deal with larger shipments.

Generally, we will ship anything that is 30” x 40” or smaller using one of the common carriers. Anything larger will ship via a freight company or truck line.

If you are shipping infrequently, you can simply drop the package off at one of the carrier’s retail locations, give them the delivery address and let them do the rest. You will be paying retail, but you’ll also be saving yourself time and effort.

If you plan to ship in any kind of volume, however, you should set up an account with the carrier and ship using their online service. This will save you money, and often you can schedule a delivery driver to pick up the package from your studio, saving you a drive as well.

If you start shipping in even higher volume, say an average of 10 pieces or more per month, you should talk to a sales representative for the company and ask if any volume discounts are available, and if they would apply to your situation. Depending on your volume, the savings could be significant.

Most of these companies offer a variety of options for delivery time. Ground shipments can take anywhere from a couple of days to over a week, depending on the distance and accessibility of your customer. You can also use their 3-day, 2-day and overnight express services.

In theory, these expedited services are both faster and safer (the less time a package is in the delivery company’s hands, the fewer opportunities they will have to damage it!), but the costs are so prohibitive, especially for larger packages, that in most cases ground service is the only practical option.

For larger pieces you can use one of the trucking lines like Conway, or freight forwarders like Bellair Express. The freight forwarders may ship the art via air, truck or train, depending on your timing needs and budget. Unfortunately, many of these companies will only pick up from a commercial address (rather than from a private address), and may be unwilling to come to your studio no matter how hard you try to convince them it is a business.

For more on shipping large work, see the section below on dealing with large paintings.

 

Some Things to Avoid

 

Up to now we’ve discussed what you should do to ship your art safely and effectively. Now I would like to discuss some practices you should avoid.

Don’t Allow Bubble Wrap to Come in Direct Contact with Your Art

Recently we received a painting the artist wrapped using only bubble wrap. As I mentioned above, bubble wrap is great for padding your art in transit, but it should not come in direct contact with the art.

When we unwrapped the painting we could see that the bubble had stuck to the varnish. Removing it left an imprint of the bubble wrap on the surface of the entire painting. From certain angles you could see the perfectly spaced imprints of the bubbles. We had to have the artwork re-varnished before we could present it to a client who had already purchased it.

Sometimes when delivering a piece of artwork directly to a client, I will wrap the painting with only bubble wrap, but when I do this I make sure the bubbles are facing out so the flat side of the bubble wrap is turned toward the painting.

Don’t Reuse Ugly Boxes

Recycling is both environmentally conscious and economical, but every cardboard box has a lifespan. Avoid pressing a box into service beyond that lifespan, especially if you are shipping to a customer.

Even a new box is going to show signs of wear and tear when it arrives at your client’s doorstep. Using an old box is inviting trouble. As an artist, you want your client to feel that they are buying one of your masterpieces. You are sending the client exactly the opposite message if you show them you feel the artwork isn’t even worth the cost of a new box.

Don’t use Styrofoam Peanuts when Shipping Paintings

As I stated in the shipping procedures section, bubble wrap is the correct material for filling voids in your boxes. Never use peanuts for this purpose.

There are two main reasons for this. The first, and I’ll admit it’s a personal pet peeve, is that peanuts make a huge mess. This is especially true when you are shipping two-dimensional artwork. There is simply no way to get a painting, photo or print out of a box filled with peanuts without disgorging them all over the unpacking area. Peanuts are very difficult to clean up – they scatter before the broom, and often, if they’ve picked up a static charge, will literally jump out of the garbage can.

Second, and this is more important, peanuts don’t work in a painting box and can actually cause damage. Peanuts will settle to the bottom of the box and as the box gets jostled about in transit, the bottom of the box will flex and expand, allowing more peanuts to concentrate there. The space at the top of the box will be left unprotected.

Peanuts are great for packing sculptures – they have no place in a painting box.

 

Insurance

 

In spite of your best efforts in padding and protecting your artwork, damage is inevitable. Once your artwork leaves your hands, it is passing into a vast and complicated shipping network with lots of moving parts. There is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of damage, so you should plan for its eventuality and consider purchasing insurance to protect against loss.

You can insure yourself against loss in several ways. First, you can buy the carrier’s insurance each time you ship a package. The delivery companies usually offer some minimal coverage by default, but this is usually just a few hundred dollars. For an additional charge you can add more coverage. You should be aware, however, that some of the companies limit their liability to $500 for fine art. Again these policies are always changing, so it’s worth visiting your shipping company’s website or calling them to confirm their limits for fine art.

If you are only occasionally shipping, carrier insurance is probably the simplest and most efficient way to insure the work with the least hassle. If you ship regularly however, it makes sense to have a business insurance policy that covers your art not only while it is in transit, but at all times. You’ll pay far less in the long run for this kind of insurance than you will for the carrier coverage.

Talk to a business insurance agent and they will be able to get you a quote. We have a business policy with a fine arts “floater,” as well as an inland marine policy that gives us additional coverage for artwork. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what “floater” means, or how something called “inland marine” protects art, but we worked closely with our agent to get the right coverage and we have always been protected on the rare occasions our art has suffered damage.

There is, of course, another option: You can insure yourself. If you feel that the likelihood of damage is small enough, or that the cost of insurance is too high, you can simply cover the cost of any damage yourself.

I suspect most artists follow this course, and I can’t fault those who do; there are only so many dollars to go around, and insurance can’t always be a top priority. Often,  damage is repairable, and since you made the art you probably have the perfect skill-set to repair it!

 

Sometimes, Despite Your Best Efforts, Artwork is Damaged During Shipping

 

Dealing with Damage

On the rare occasion that damage occurs, the manner in which you react will affect your relationship with your client and the likelihood that you will recover damages from your shipping company or insurance policy.

First and foremost, it’s important that you follow the procedures laid out earlier to ship the artwork safely. You are in a far better position if your client feels that you did everything in your power to protect the artwork. You are also far more likely to file a successful claim with the shipping or insurance company if you have met their shipping requirements.

Reassure your client that your are doing everything in your power to rectify the situation. There have been times where we have provided an immediate refund for their purchase, and then worked to get a replacement piece from the artist.

Typically, when damage occurs, the shipping company will return the artwork to you. When the piece arrives, talk to both the shipping company and your insurance adjuster to find out how they would like you to proceed. Document the damage to the packaging and to the artwork per their instructions. You can never have too many photos or too much documentation.

Provide the shipping company or insurance agency all of the information they need in a timely manner.

Document all of the Damage to your Box

 

Shipping Larger Works

 

As I mentioned in the introduction, I enjoy shipping artwork from time to time. When I first opened my gallery, I would ship everything from the smallest sculpture to the largest painting.

The techniques I’ve shared here work great for paintings up to about 48” x 48”. Any artwork larger than this almost always requires a wooden crate for shipment. In the early days of my gallery I had access to a great woodshop and I would build the crates myself.

I felt I not only enjoyed shipping, but was certainly saving money by doing all of the work myself. Imagine my surprise when, several years after opening the gallery, I had a local art crater ship a large painting and discovered that the total charges for his crating and shipping services came to less than what it would have cost me to ship the piece myself.

Because the shipper did such a large volume of shipping, he was able to achieve economies of scale with his materials, and got a huge volume discount in his freight charges. It was actually costing me more to ship the art myself, especially if I factored in the time.

You will probably find this to be the case for you as well. When shipping large artwork, it will probably ultimately save you money to find someone locally to ship the work for you. Talk to other artists in your area and ask if they’ve found someone who does a good job at a reasonable price. Unless you already have the tools and woodworking experience, it simply isn’t worth the effort to ship larger pieces yourself.


Conclusion

 

Shipping artwork can be a challenge and frustration, but it has actually never been easier to ship than it is today. With the right tools, supplies and shipping procedures, you can ship your artwork safely and efficiently.

What have you learned by shipping your artwork? Do you have any tips or advice that might help other artists? Simply want to share feedback on this article? Leave your comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

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172 Comments

  1. Thanks Jason, very valuable information. What is your experience with the plastic wrap on the surface of oil paintings, assuming they are dry enough. There is also another product that I hang onto when I find it in packaging, a sort of papery plastic wrap that seems to not stick to anything, but just lies on top. It sort of feels like the peanuts surface. You have to tape it down of course. I don’t know what it is called? I find it great under the bubble wrap.
    I do like your idea of the double boxing with bubble in between.

    1. I was wondering the same thing, about the palette wrap; I’m thinking you are referring to a kind of thin foam wrap, perhaps?
      But yes: Excellent article! Thanks, Jason.

      1. Jason,

        Spot on! We are a family owned business which we make handcrafted art panels in wood and metal. Your method is preferred to insure damage-free results. We basically use these guidelines to ship within the US, as well as internationally. In the 20 years that we’ve been in business, we only have had 2 damaged packages. The damage occurred when the large box slip and dropped during handling by the carrier. This is valuable information!

      2. Jason,

        Great article. Could you tell me your preference for the tape dispenser, since it’s so important to get the right one. Thanks.

      3. Thank you for very valuable information! If shipping larger such as 48×60 what’s the best most cost efficient way to ship!

      4. Do you have a preferred gauge for this stretch wrap? I’m wrapping fluid paintings with very thick paint layers of pouring medium, so they can be stickier and more imprint/dent-prone than regular acrylic paintings. Thanks!

      5. hi
        Thanks for those useful tips.
        I should mention that one of my paintings came back from a gallery with rather thin plastic film on it, which I didn´t take off for a few weeks. Now a lot of it has stuck to the surface. It will probably come off, but an annoyance to be avoided.
        All the best
        Jessica Dunn

  2. Thanks Jason for sharing your knowledge. I advise anyone who has the opportunity to take one of your workshops, to do so. You gave one here at Gainesville, FL and it was the best and most useful I’ve yet attended.

  3. okay – THAT was a sensational article. Thanks for taking so much time to write a detailed article with photos.
    Thanks very much – a happy holiday season to you. Fran

  4. Thank you so much for such an informative article. You mentioned that when you hand deliver a piece to the client you will wrap it in bubble wrap. Having done this for 20 years, I have come up with a great “green” way to hand deliver art. I have made various size soft bags using felt lined vinyl. I sew up the sides with seam facing out so the inner felt side has no edges for artwork to hit, just felt. I have used them over and over throughout the years and they are also good to store beautifully framed work.

    Thanks, Carol

  5. We staple 1×2″ wood spacers to the inside of the box on either side. It helps prevent the box from being crushed in, and doesn’t add much weight or time. Good article.

  6. Great advice. Thanks. And I would add that seal release paper is great for covering encaustic paintings. It will not stick to anything.

  7. Thank you Jason!
    I have a new gallery in Cave Creek and I’m so grateful and appreciate your help in the matter of shipping. I’m learning so much and it sure helps to have someone explain everything about shipping in such detail. I would love to learn how to do the packaging and preparing of the artwork for shipping so as to be able to pass that savings on to my clients. I have someone who does all my shipping and I’ve handed the job over to them but if I can save some money that’s all the better. I love the plastic wrap and use it often but great idea to put it around the paintings prior to boxing. As a oil painter I also think it’s important to cute holes in the plastic wrap just in case the client doesn’t take the painting out of the plastic right away.
    I’m sorry to say I’ve never met you but I’ve been in your gallery and met your parents and enjoyed them very much.
    Thank you again!

  8. A very good and useful article.

    Let me add some additional info based on my shipping of client work in my giclee printing business. I find it really difficult to get boxes at good prices as Uline seems to be the best source, and if you want larger sizes you have to pay for truck deliver which is a lot more expensive than UPS which is their usual shipper. Also Uline has minimum amounts which are mostly more than I need or want. Besides Uline I have not found another good source for boxes.

    Except for FedEx. Recently I tried two of their “art boxes”. They are really well designed and can accommodate art of different sizes up to about 30×40. No bubble wrap is necessary as the interior has a sheet cardboard system that allows for this, for artwork to be positioned securely for shipment. Now two shipments is only two, but these boxes seem pretty darn good and they are easy to assemble.

    I also have to say that a local packer told me they once used plastic palettte wrap when packing an acrylic painting and when it arrived the plastic pulled off some of the acrylic paint in the process of unwrapping. She no longer uses plastic palette wrap. Personally I go to Lowes and get boxes of clear 4 mil sheet plastic in 100 ft. rolls and cut it to fit the artwork I am shipping.

  9. Hi Jason, This is a great article with lots of valuable info. Thanks for your generosity in sharing it. Re. peanuts, I seal them securely inside plastic bags to create my own custom sized packing. They ship very well that way, stay in place, and are nice and neat. The “peanut bags” I packed for mail-in art shows have come back to me intact. Again, thanks for a great article– the part about adjusting the size of the box was especially helpful.

  10. Thank you for a very good article and the informative responses. I’d like to address Ed Keesling’s issue of shipping ceramics. I ship my glass paintings, and have learned from friends to double-box using foam in both boxes so that the work is entirely surrounded by foam. The best foam is new and therefore not compacted by previous use. Since foam occupies all the air space, there is no way for the artwork to migrate toward the edges and thus get damaged if the box gets rough treatment. The second issue with things like ceramics or glass is their weight, because heavy works should be in custom-made crates. If they are heavy, even double-boxing with foam is not enough protection. Perhaps Jason will also write an article on shipping sculpture.

    1. Hi Nancy. Inteeesting to see your response. I am trying to mail a framed with glass painting that is 50 inches long and 33 inches wide. USPS was going to charge $400 to box it and mail it. Looking for a better alternative. Marlys johnson

  11. Beware wrapping your painting in plastic when it is varnished, it can stick to the painting doing damage to the work. (even when it feels dry) I use brown paper and carpet lining.

  12. We use a product called ‘Glasskin’ from Airfloat when shipping pastels with glass. – Comes in a wide roll (18 inches?), has a removable adhesive on the back and is VERY effective. It has proven a lifesaver on several occasions. Presumably they’re still producing it — We haven’t ordered any in a while.

  13. I need to know of a good art shipper for artwork from San Diego to Cincinnati.
    The piece is 6.5 ft x 11.5 ft., so I’d rather the shipper box the painting. Can you advise anyone?
    Thanks so much, Connie

  14. Dear Jason,
    Thank you for posting this information. It was a great find for me. I have been looking for my notes from your webinar on this topic. Now I can add the information next to your book. I plan on having Stan Bowman make some copies of my paintings and to ship them as you have suggested.

  15. Thank you, Jason and everyone else for the great tips. This is information close to the heart of every artist. I will be sure to share this on facebook.

    I made the same mistake with bubble wrap once, with the same results – only once. Now I first wrap the paintings in brown mailing paper and then in a clear plastic bag, taped closed with shipping tape in case the package comes into contact with water.

    1. What plastic bag do you use, may I ask? And do you have a preference for brown mailing paper that is both flexible and strong? Thank you.

  16. Great article. One point I might add. I don’t remember the source, but I heard that you should never ship by common carrier late in the week, as your package could sit in their warehouse over the weekend.

  17. Hi,

    I loved this thorough and well-written article. There is one part that I had to say something about and that is I would NEVER put plastic wrap right up against my oil paintings. I find it a little perplexing that you advise against bubble wrap against the surface of a painting, but not plastic wrap. Maybe you don’t get bubble impressions, but there is still the likelihood of sticking with plastic. I use Glassine paper as the first layer against the painted surface, and then bubble wrap. Others have also mentioned this in their comments.

    Otherwise, great article. Thanks.

  18. I saw the saddest result of inadequate packing yesterday. An artist located in Saigon had shipped a matted and framed watercolor for an international show to the U.S.. No plastic wrap no plastic bag, just cardboard protection. The whole package was soaking wet when it arrived. The watercolor paper was severely buckled, some of the paint had been released in the process and the entire matting was destroyed. This is an extreme case but so sad when it happens.

  19. Great, very helpful article, Jason. I love that you are a very practical, hands-on gallery owner who speaks so well to the artists you sell. I’ve bookmarked this page for quick reference. Thanks, Jason!!

  20. Thank you very, very much for sharing in such a pictorial and informative way that us visual people can understand. I pay to get my artworks packed and sent overseas but now I may have enough courage with such an excellent explanation to follow to have a go at doing it myself.

    Thanks Jason.

  21. I have avoided shipping a framed painting under glass perhaps to my detriment, but with these instructions I clearly see how safely it can be done. Thank you for the well informed step by step instruction.

  22. Thank you for the professional article–and especially for the clear, step-by-step images. I’m curious about the plastic wrapping. I have been using 4 mil. plastic sheeting so that acrylics would be protected, but would not adhere to the surface of the wrapping. This method works, and does not stick in any temperature. But your method would be easier and less expensive. I fear acrylic sticking in the heat, though. Have you ever had issues with that?

    1. Good question Kirsten. We’ve never had an issue with the plastic palette wrap we use sticking. If anyone were going to have this issue, it would be a gallery in Arizona (which is where we are located). It might make sense to test it out on several pieces as your mileage may vary.

      1. Jason, Great tips. Also wanted to ask you if your workshop “How to get into galleries and sell more art” is relevant for artists abroad. I am an artist living in the UK and need help getting my art off the ground. Many Thanks

  23. Excellent! Thank you. I will try that. Is it also archival for longer-term storage? I was unsure whether to wrap paintings in tyvek for archival storage, then re-wrap them in plastic palette wrap prior to shipping or to just stick with the plastic wrap for both storage and shipping.

  24. Great information, thanks for sharing! A question about insurance: it’s always seemed to me that shipments should be insured for double the sale price. If the piece is lost or damaged, not only do I have to refund the purchaser’s money, but I’ve also lost compensation for my supplies and many, many hours of my time. What is the standard practice?

    1. Insurance is always a tough one – it can be expensive, but on those rare occasions when artwork gets damaged, you’re glad you paid for it. Insuring it for double the value would be excessive, and the insurance company would probably refuse the claim. If you think about it, the client paid you for the piece already, so you have that money, then if the art gets destroyed you get the insurance money to pay the client their refund, but you still have the original money that the client paid you to compensate your for the time and materials.

  25. Hello Jason,

    Thanks so much for your fantastic advice on shipping artwork, definitely very helpful. For someone who is new to this, I was wondering if you have had any experience with shipping art that uses shells or other natural items and whether there are any boarder security requirements specifically to the USA.

    Thanks
    Sue

    1. Sue – I’ve shipped a variety of multi-media pieces and have never had any issues. The Homeland Security Department has a list of things that you can’t ship without declaring them, and as long as you’re not shipping something on that list, you shouldn’t have any issues. I would advise you to pack the artwork assuming that a Customs agent might open it and have to repackage it, so try not to make it too complicated to remove from the box.

  26. This article is SO valuable! I never thought of using an inner AND outer box. Thankfully my work has not been damaged, but certainly there is a risk that puts my stomach in knots as I wouldn’t know how to repair a broken painting! Thank you for taking the time to teach us!

  27. I have been successful in shipping framed pastel paintings within the continental US, but now am wanting to ship one to Hawaii and am concerned about the pastel dust shifting during air transit. The only way I can think of is to remove the art from the glass and frame, pack the art between foam core, then package and ship the art and the frame separately. That way I know the pastel would arrive safely. The recipient would have to re-frame the piece. Is there a better, reliable way to ship framed pastels with glass via air travel?

  28. Thank you so much for sharing this article! What is your experience with using Plexiglass in stead of real glass in a framed drawing? I am in South Africa and I am almost sure glass would not make it if I ship abroad. I make photo realistic pencil drawings on paper and will be horrified if any damage come to them. What are the dangers to my drawing if I opt for the Plexiglass in stead of glass?

  29. I am in the process of getting some custom cardboard boxes and Polystyrene Corner/Edge protectors made for my Floatmount photographic prints (photographs mounted on a piece of 3mm Dibond).

    First I plan on wrapping the Floatmount image in a plastic bag to protect it from rubbing and moisture.

    Next I am planning on using 2″ Strips of foam with a 4mm notch cut 1″ deep in them for the edges, which will also end up protecting the corners. There will be approximately 1″ of protection around the 3mm Floatmount image.

    This will be slid into a custom sized, double walled end loading box.

    In packaging it this way, nothing will be touching the front or back of this image except for the polystyrene edge protectors that are 1″ around it’s perimeter. I would like your opinion on this. I am really not wanting anything like bubble wrap, Styrofoam, Honeycomb Cardboard, extra cardboard, etc. to be touching the Floatmount. I am thinking that any excess force against the face of the box will transfer to the image if there is anything touching it. Can you give me your opinion on this?

    I could go with triple walled cardboard, or single wall with honeycomb cardboard or Styrofoam for extra stiffness and still find a way to keep it away from the image. I am really not sure why everyone wants to pack their photographs/paintings etc. with stuff touching them that can be forced into them?

    If anyone else packages like I plan on doing I would like to hear from you. Thanks.

    1. I should have noted that the images are 20.25″ X 36″ in size and weight about 5 lbs. The surface of the image does have a laminate on it.

    2. Do you mean to sell these Floatmounts Images to the public in stand up fashion?
      May I suggest that you put them in in Print Sleeves (Clear Image Bags LTD.), with a floating Foam Core backing from (Bainbridge Corp.) behind your Images inside the sleeves and sealed from behind to make up a real nice presentation piece for your sales!

  30. Hi.. What happens when the canvas is bigger than the maximum size cardboard box that I can find? My artwork is 35″x35″ ? Is there a supplier than can supply this size box? Thanks.

    Anyone?

  31. Incredibly useful article – just what I was looking for to reference. Had a question regarding the Palette Tape & Wrap – does it ever damage paint to the canvas because it is directly applied? ie; in extra humid or moist conditions. I have not shipped artwork, but plan to start up – was curious how directly wrapping the canvas with palette tape works. Thanks!

  32. Great article. Saved me from making mistakes. After double boxing my art work, I purchased a few cans of insulating
    foam from the hardware store and shot foam between the two boxes. Seems to help insulate the art.

    Mike

  33. Fabulous info – I do get into a panic sending my art through the post, that feeling of lack of control and worry until it reaches its destination safely. I’m definitely adding those tools to my kit and following your advice think it will put my mind at ease. Thanks H

    1. I use a super smooth product called glassine ordered in rolls, re-usable from Uline. Especially for oil based paints/resins/encaustic/varnished pieces. It doesn’t stick to those surfaces that never quite set. It keeps the soft stuffing from making imprints in the art.

  34. Hi Jason,

    Thorough information on a very important subject. I’ve been following some of these recommendations in my shipping already, but now I have learned a lot more tips and tricks. Thanks for sharing!

  35. This is really helpful. I am looking for shipping company in Dallas to ship some paintings to China. Any advice is welcome. Thanks.

  36. The USPS will do standard insurance up to $5,000. Neither UPS or FedEx will cover that much. You must pack the artwork according to USPS specifications (2″ outside spacing), which if you follow Jason’s criteria, qualifies. I shipped a 40″x 40″ painting from Texas to Washington DC, but because of its size felt more comfortable placing a piece of the lightest weight Masonite available over it cut to size. Yes, it cost more to ship but the painting arrived intact with no damage whatsoever.

    1. Dear Jackie,

      I went to the USPS store and tried to ship a 60 x 35 in box and theyh told me it it’s too large! you didn’t have any problems?

      Mayra

  37. This is awesome thanks soo much Jason for the knowledge and wisdom you displayed for us and thanks to everyone for the super helpful comments, great stuff!

  38. If you need a well made, specially sized box in a hurry, Advanced Packaging Specialties in Mesa is great. An emailed order is ready in two-three business days and very inexpensive. For heavy or large awkward items, I have two sources for crates/palettes. Tom Fink @ Art Parts in Phoenix is one. He also makes beautiful wooden parts for my art as well. Then comes my shipper: I use Craters and Freighters. They are a shipper broker of sorts. They’ll find the best deal and pick up from a residence. I reuse as much of the “consumable” packing stuff and smaller boxes from and for Christmas etc.

    1. I wanted to say, I have used Craters and Freighters twice. Shipping large cradled birch panels, painted in acrylic with a high gloss varnish to a restaurant. They were wonderful, and I thought the cost was extremely good.

  39. Excellent article! In a past life I worked for a major shipping company (initials FDE) 🙂 and it was always a struggle to make sure the public was educated about how and why to pack properly. This article would have made a good addition to the packing bible.
    Thanks.

  40. Great subject for discussion. I have found that my local storage store has a large size box that has two boxes that fit into each other designed for flat screen TV’s that work well for shipping large paintings. The cost was under ten dollars and worked well for a 48 X 36 piece. When I don’t have an inner box I make one out of foam core.

  41. Great article – never knew about the box sizer – sweeeeet. I ship lots of 3D work so this sounds awesome – thank you Jason!
    You know, I must be really anal because I use glassine over the front of the painting since hearing about a mishap with the paint/varnish sticking to the wrap. Then I cut really thin luan board for each side of the cardboard encased painting, then bubble wrap and slip into the box… I’m guessing that’s overkill, what do you think?

  42. I’m concerned about wrapping my acrylic paintings with the plastic wrap. Have you ever had an experience with the wrap sticking to the painting? I’m worried about this. I hope you reply to this because I really like the plastic wrap idea and will use it if I can rest assured that it will not stick to a painting even in high humidity conditions.

    1. The challenge for many artists with the Airfloat is the cost. You are right, if it’s in the artist’s budget, airfloat makes a lot of sense from a simplicity and security standpoint. Thanks Chisho!

  43. Very good advice, as always, Jason.
    I wonder if you ever ship larger pieces rolled up, qfter taking them off the stretchers. If you do, how do you protect such a piece?
    I had a terrible, but at the same time amazing experience once, with a piece that I sent from Mexico to Austria. The painting measured 1mx1m (39.25 square) plus the width of the gallery wrap/painted edges. So it was a long size. But, inspite of my using a sturdy inner tube and bubble wrap, as well as the very firm outer tube, that my linen from NY Central is shipped in, the roll arrived in Vienna bent in the middle, at a right angle. I had not insured the package and nobody took the blame. I was willing to paint the piece again (the recipient was a family member), but was told not to: A family friend, who is an artist as well as a professional art restorer, was going to fix the damage. I thougt this must be impossible, as oil cracks and crumples when bent that much, but I gave in. The piece was indeed restored, at the atelier of that man, when another desaster hit: the Danube flooded his house and swept away several works of art, including mine! After the water level dropped, my muddy painting was found, stuck in sime bushes a good distance down-river. The restorer went to work again, washing, cleaning and re-touching the piece. I saw it hanging in my sister’s living room during my last trip and, had I not known about the ill fated journey, I think I would not have looked close enough to notice any changes.

  44. Thank you for the great information! Shipping can be such a challenge, and after reading your detailed article I feel more confident about doing it.

  45. Thank you so much for this incredibly useful informqtion. i wonder if you could comment on international shipping of art? Does a thrid party need to be involved for customs, etc??

    Kind regards, Mardi

  46. Hi Jason,
    Thank you for all that GREAT information. I’m going to begin shipping more watercolors and watercolor prints on my own without a frame. I’ve heard (from my printing company and online framing company) that the best way to ship these would be with a tube. What are your thoughts on using a tube? I use a sheet of slick paper to protect the surface instead of plastic wrap and I would still tape the ends of the tube to prevent snags or water damage.
    My only big worry is that the painting/print would be curled slightly. I’m sure a professional framer would have no problem with handling that but I don’t want to worry my client. So I was thinking about being up front with them about a slight curl in the paper so that aren’t caught off guard. What do you think?
    Thanks, Maggi

    1. You would need a large-diameter tube, because 140 lb watercolor paper will not roll up tightly, let alone 300lb. Shipping them flat wrapped in glassine and taped down between thick layers of cardboard significantly larger than the painting and with reinforced corners seems like a better idea, though the shipping may cost more.

  47. Great job on this article, Jason – wow, that took a lot of work and time but will probably be the definitive article on the net regarding art shipping for some time. Just a note, I know you can’t say it in the article, but our experience is that Fed-EX is a MUCH better option that UPS. They seem to handle things more carefully. We drive 80 miles roundtrip to use the Fed-ex shipper rather than the local UPS….there seems to be that much difference. Just our 2 cents….

  48. You mentioned that you use the box sizer tool to make shipping boxes from raw cardboard. I have one of these tools and would like to know how you do this.

    Thank you

  49. Thanks for the great article…I had to ship 3 Warhols a while back..and I really felt I owed it to him to do it right..I hope to soon sell some of my own ..I think I shall give myself the same consideration as I gave Warhol…

  50. Hi
    Great article! Thank you so much
    I had a question: what about framed work? Should I remove the oil painting from the frame, wrap it in the plastic, put the frame back and then pack it with more bubble? What is your suggestion?

  51. I’m shipping a large canvas, 4’x8′ . I’ve taken it off the frame and have a tube to ship it in. It’s been in an apartment in Dominica Repubic which is a vacation home and the air is off when not in use – the painting seems dry, I plan on rolling the painting and concern about cracking – any suggestions – a friend said to mist the back side of the canvas with water/ Help! Thanks in advance

  52. Thank you so much for this well detailed article on shipping.

    I’m just wondering if you have further knowledge regarding customs and taxes for international shipping?

    To date I have only shipped my work from Canada to US. I was recently contacted by a client from Singapore who intends to purchase a number of my artworks for resale. It is my first sale overseas, and as this client may become a steady customer in the future I do not wish to botch our transition. When it comes to shipping I have first been stymied by the lack of adequate insurance. FedEx and Canada Post have a maximum of only $1000 for a $100 insurance fee available with only the pricked mail packages. UPS has directed me to several online tools, but they are only available if I register, and the Terms Agreement is 97 pages long! Now I hear that there is also a customs fee and maybe even taxes? I’ve been doing my research, but thus far I’m not even sure I’m asking proper questions, since Google does not present me with any solutions. At this point adequate packaging is the least of my problems. 🙂

    I would dearly appreciate your experienced help.

    1. Mili here is asking the same things I was wanting to know about international shipping, customs and paperwork involved. I have shipped one painting to the U.S. that I sold thru my website. I used UPS and they made it so easy (thank you) but I’m wondering about shipping a bunch of paintings to a gallery for resale. Anybody have any tips?

  53. Thank you so much for this article. I love that you’ve included a step by step with pictures. I’ve just started shipping larger paintings and I find it very daunting . Your article has helped a lot.

    1. I had s good experience a couple years ago with Fed Ex using their art boxes. I thought they were reasonably priced , I purchased two large boxes putting one large painting in one and two smaller paintings in the other, wrapped individually. Then taped both boxes together and shipped as one package to an art show. I was able to purchase return postage and lables and when the show was over the paintings were returned in the same boxes which held up well.

  54. Hi- I am just in the process of preparing for shipment an expensive signed serigraph that measures 36 x 48 —-and —-after thinking I had done an exceptional job- read your article. I had the notion to pkg the artwork the same way that Amazon ships flat screen TV’s—using styrofoam to “float” the artwork in a similarly sized box. I purchased a painter’s drop cloth and had my helper wrap and tape it tightly so that nothing would stick to any part of the frame, glass, or backing. Then we used 1-1/2 inch styrofoam triangles for each corner . We completed using styrofoam to float all edges of frame and protected entire glass with 5″ wide x 36″ x 1″ styrofoam “boards—all taped side to side and up and down and wrapped in cardboard and taped. Then I read your article. Is there anything inherently incorrect with what I’ve done so far? I’m not an artist but I have ordered inexpensive framed posters that have arrived safely. This artwork, however, is very heavy? Assuming all is placed into the Smart Tv box- will this heavy styrofoam be enough protection if it protects against movement during shipping via UPS Store or Greyhound Freight from Philly to Ft. Lauderdale?
    Thanks for your comments.

    1. Thanks for reading the article Lu – it’s a great question. In shipping art there are never any guarantees, but what you are proposing sounds like it should work. TVs are pretty fragile devices, and so one would think that the engineering TV manufacturers have done to protect them would help you protect the similarly fragile serigraph. The one thing I would be aware of is how stiff the foam is. You will notice in TV boxes that the foam has a little bit of flex and give to it. If the foam is too stiff, shockwaves will travel easily through the foam and could damage the art. With a little give, the foam actually acts as a shock absorber.

  55. This is a good article. Having worked as an art handler and museum preparator, there are a few products that have made shipping fine art so much easier. Plastic Art Bags are a quick, easy, protective, and cost efficient way to protect paintings, either for shipping or storage. Masterpak is a company in New York that makes hard plastic reinforced boxes! They come with heavy perforated foam sheets. I’ve tested these boxes for up to 500 lbs of force

  56. My cousin is a photographer and has had issues with shipping some of the portraits she’s done. I will have to refer her to this article because it is almost the exact same thing as shipping paintings! I really like that you included every last item or idea to consider in this process. It will make it very easy for her to follow!

  57. Getting a call from the gallery that they have received the art, but are worried about opening the container because they hear noise inside that sounds like broken glass… not fun. When using a framer, be sure that if you specify acrylic you get it! This past ArtPrize exhibition is where I first experienced the call, was confused due to my assumption that the work had been framed with acrylic, and had the art in a different exhibition without shipping issues earlier in the year. Yeah… they opened the box while I was on the phone, we talked about the shattered glass, the destroyed frame and mat and how the glass had scraped away some of the graphite in one area of the drawing. With just a couple of weeks before ArtPrize opened, the gallery worked with me to find a local frame shop who also called in a restoration expert. They addressed all the problems, we hung the show and everything worked out fine. Lesson learned, I ALWAYS will be checking with framers about the materials used to avoid this kind of thing in the future.

  58. Hi

    What about when you have mixed media e.g. molding clay, Liqitex flow medium and want to post that artwork in a tube to avoid thousands of dollars in postage? I’ve been told molding clay has a history of cracking when rolled, how do avoid cracking and large postal costs?

    Thanks Meg

  59. What about flat Styrofoam panels in place of bubble wrap? Would this be cost effective, maybe not the material itself, but made up in labor? If I have a standard set of sizes of work, I could stock matching Styrofoam panels. Over and above two flat panels, I am thinking of a system that is a Styrofoam “box” – one side has a2″ wide raised perimeter, the depth of the perimeter is my frame thickness plus the thickness of the 2nd panel. This panel would inset and be flush to the raised perimeter edge of the 1st side. Ideas or thoughts, please?

  60. I use museum acrylic as much as possible when framing but if i ship glass i cut cardboard to fit inside the frame ontop of the glass to fill in the space so that the frame and cardboard are flush then box with the cardboard corners and bubble wrap, i have not had glass break to date

  61. This is a great article and I can’t wait to refer to it when someone finally buys my art 😀

    Just wondering if you could shed some insight as to how much you charge people for shipping (including all packaging) because I’m really struggling to figure it out on UPS’s website since I have to choose a specific city to send it to (and atm I’m just trying to calculate it theoretically for my etsy shop so I don’t know what city).

    Thanks so much!

  62. I live in Florida so heat and humidity come into play here. I worry that the plastic wrap would stick to the surface of my mixed media pieces. Is there a certain varnish that you use that is guaranteed not to stick? Have you ever used butcher paper, wax paper or deli paper as the first layer against the painting?

    1. I also live in humid Florida. Although seductive to use inexpensive materials: freezer paper, plastic wrap, wax paper etc…is not worth the risk of sticking, even on cured paintings. Am currently packing unframed oils on canvas for storage. I will be putting a layer of silicone release paper on front of paintings and wrapping entire piece in softwrap tyvek (both from archival supply source). As far as outer layer- plan to use protective corners inside of something breathable, but sturdy. These will not be shipped, but stored in self packed container and stored climate controlled. If shipped, would make a box within a box using foam between the two. Larger pieces )66″x48″ for example) would need some wood support, as well. Email me with questions or for good for crate-making resource.

  63. Thanks very much. I’m a photographer who is constantly getting my work into galleries nationwide. I’ve learned a lot about shipping the hard way and had some big damages and expenses doing so. To add to you glass suggestion. A lot of juried shows will no longer accept glass in framed works. They want plexiglass or acrylic which doesn’t shatter and is more optically pure than glass anyway. Plus it is a whole lot lighter to ship!

    Mark

  64. Jason, new to shipping, it was sooo helpful and for the most part I had been advised by
    A high volume artist shipper of art. HOWEVER, the very basic: where are you
    Purchasing those size boxes? I save my canvas boxes… But they have 3 to a box and no
    Room for wrap. ! I.e. 30×30 or 36×36 all 1.5 d I loved and will repost in my blog your blogs are sooo practical. But where to get those boxes? Please.

  65. Jason, I am just jumping in on this thread, but I have heard of a company that shows up at your door with a shipping box needed for your painting and takes it right then and there to ship out to the customer – thus cutting out on the shipping prep that the painter may need to do. Do you know the name or site of this company? Any insight or direction would be helpful – thank you, Jerm Wright

    1. Jerm, I used “Craters and Freighters” twice and it was wonderful. They came out to my house and crated my large cradled birch panels which were painted with acrylic and had a high gloss varnish on them… headed to a restaurant.

  66. As stained glass artists, we have to use care in every shipment we make. There was a time when we were building a 4 foot by 5 foot stained glass unit that would be used as signage for a store. The client had spent months working on details, so when it came time to ship we only had a few days to complete the project. This was one of those cases where time was more important than money. We had to get it there before the grand opening, undamaged. I contacted a moving company that had a delicate electronics shipping division and they were able to ship the glass (in my shipping box, plywood and rigid Styrofoam) to the client. The cost was $500 and well worth it.

  67. I wish I didn’t have to wait a few months for the “How to Ship Sculptures” how to…..

  68. What is your opinion about removing paintings from the stretchers and shipping rolled up? Any thoughts about whether or not rabbit skin glue would be more inclined or less inclined to crack? The painting in question is oil, but thinly painted. The size is 36×48.

  69. Hi, I had an expensive piece of art that arrived with the plastic stuck to the entire painting. The oil painting came from Florida and I live in Arizona. I have tried to get it off the painting and have not been able to. Anyone have any ideas on how to get the plastic off an oil painting? Thanks very much… Ray

  70. Hi Jason, great article! Thank you, I am preparing a shipment for some larger artwork (30×40″) so this was very helpful. I wanted to make one comment–a minor correction to your article. Under the section about packing tape you say:

    “I always use 3.5 millimeter (“3.5 Mils” in shipping geek parlance) thick tape in 2” wide rolls.”

    Actually a “Mil” is 1/1000 inch. 3.5 mm would be very thick indeed…

  71. Hi Jason, Such great article! Thanks for sharing with artist. Do you have an experience with FedEx that the painting package shipping label was missing during a transit. I called the trace department and have submitted the image of painting for them to locate the package. I was told that the package was there and trace is on processing. It has been a week since but with no progress call so far.

  72. Looking to send a very large, 84″x 72″ from NY to Dallas, along with 6 smaller pieces…60″x 50″. What is the best way?

  73. Thanks so much for this information, I always feel intimidated by shipping artwork but this article is so detailed, complete, and easy to follow. I’m afraid I won’t be able to find this article next time I ship something because this is now my go-to for shipping procedures! How about doing one on how to ship large Unstretched canvas in tubes? Or maybe boxes…maybe I’m doing it wrong using a tube.
    Again, thanks for the great advice!

  74. This is a great article, thanks. Do you have any suggestions for shipping from overseas to USA. I have been here 6 weeks painting and now need to send my work home.

  75. One thing…It’s a bad idea to wrap an acrylic painting in plastic or bubble wrap because acrylic paint is a polymer like plastic wrap and the two can stick together. Then when you pull off the plastic or bubble wrap, the paint might end up being pulled off as well! This happened to me about ten years ago. A customer of mine sent me a photo of the damage and my heart sank. It’s especially bad if the item might get hot or moist while en route. Now I wrap the painting in BEFORE wrapping in bubble wrap.

  76. I have freight all packaged and ready to pickup but the companies I’ve called won’t ship original artwork. Suggestions?

    1. We ship the work calling it “Display Material” when we run into this. When we do this, we are assuming all of the risk. If the freight company damages the work, they will not pay for the damage. We carry our own insurance to cover these kinds of costs if they occur. You may decide that you can ship the work without insurance and assume the risk yourself.

  77. Just starting to sell some of my paintings, trying not to spend too much money on it but of course make sure it gets to the other part in one peace. The main question is, where (or what website) can I buy boxes for my paintings on a good price .

  78. Hi,
    Thanks for the awesome information. Just a question, I want to ship a number of paintings on a regular basis, is this a good practice to remove them from the frame and then roll all the canvasses and put them in a tube container ? This way the shipping costs will be minimal.

  79. What about paying for return shipping, how is that done? Do you just absorb that cost if the painting sells at the show? Can you pay for the return postage at the end of the show?

  80. I am shipping my paintings to customers, and would like to reuse my boxes. What do you think about sending a return label in the box with customers painting, and having the customer return the box to me to reuse on my next order?
    By the way, thank you for all the information, I can always learn something new reading your articles.

  81. Jason, thanks for this really in depth article. I’ve seen a few other methods, but using an oversized box with lots of added layers in between just makes sense! Thanks!

  82. Jason…Thanks heaps for this detailed and excellent handbook ! My query is as a art lover that buys and sells constantly what is your opinion about. if you have huge prints that would not fit in any normal box …to roll them up loosely and put them in a hard container and then in the box especially made for that ( by Fedex for one) ? What are the pitfalls ? I have some huge prints to ship to the Far East that have minimal value and certainly don’t warrant shipping in their frames…. Thanks for your advice Ron

    .

  83. This is so great! Very helpful! I am looking at starting an online art store and have been trying to find good information for shipping oil paintings. I was a little worried about wrapping the canvas in plastic wrap, but other comments have good advice that I may try if I find the plastics wrap doesn’t work. Thanks so much!

  84. Good grief, so much information…..all I want to do is paint, and low and behold a couple of paintings are sold to be shipped to Canada. The value is under 1000, Iam a hobbyist – and iam completely unsure how duty tax works.
    The parcel is professionally wrapped, they’ll go with UPS, I’ve organised insurance…..
    What happens after they’ve been sent? Can anyone help Ian going doolally!

  85. Thanks, getting ready to ship my first work and realized it wasn’t easy. I want to make sure it arrives safely. I had ideas, but these are far better than my original plans that included heavier support for bad costs, as well as shipping before oxidation was complete. Thanks

  86. How about taking a canvass of it’s frame and reframing it overseas? Have you tried that and does it work?
    thanks.

  87. Thanks for this information, it is helpful. I am wondering….
    I have a 48 x 48 painting that was given to me by the artist, who is now deceased. I need to move it from Denver to Washington DC. It is not in a glass or picture frame; it is canvas stretched on a wood frame. Would it be easier or less expensive to have it removed from the canvas, shipped on a roll, and restretched when it arrives?

  88. After receiving a request from an out-of-state buyer to purchase two of my watercolors, I finally got around to reading this post. Very useful information, Jason, many thanks.

  89. Thanks for this useful information.Its very useful blogs about how to ship painting a step by step guide for artists.

  90. Thank you so much for this post! I am new to selling my work (https://amandavonjentzen.com) and am just today shipping off my first piece to a customer! I am excited and so nervous I feel sick all at the same time. Your step by step procedure for how you pack your paintings to ship was very helpful. I had to modify a bit simply based on materials I had available, but it feels pretty good. The only thing I worry about is the plastic wrap sticking to the artwork. Has this ever happened to you?

  91. Great blog post – I love the step-by-step guide you provide. I have a valuable oil painting (from the 1700’s) in an ornate gold frame. The painting appraised at $15,000 – $25,000. I need to pack it for storage and at some point shipping. It is 30″ x 35″. Would you recommend wood or your double-box system?

  92. In your blog you wrote:

    The two larger sizes are both telescoping boxes. Telescoping picture boxes are terrific because you can use just one if the artwork fits, or, if the work is larger than a single box, you can slide two boxes together to make a larger box.

    How can you telescope the boxes when they are the same size? For telescoping one box around the other, the outer boxed must be larger? Or do you have 2 size of the box?

    Do you have a internet address where i can find those boxes?

    I find this one: http://packagewarehouse.com/boxes/cardboard-boxes/types-of-boxes/telescoping-boxes/ but then you need a outer and inner box. I think you did not mean that.

  93. Thanks very much, this is very helpful Just shipped off a 30×40 acrylic painting last night, and wish I would have read this first, I did it “mostly” right, but my package certainly could have been more professional looking!

  94. has anyone sent artwork to Australia? If so, which company did you use and does anyone know if it is kept at Customs for any length of time? I’m up against a deadline and trying to estimate how long, how much and with who- thanks

  95. I just wrapped my painting with bubble wrap directly and was going to put cardboard as the next layer. I am going to reverse it after reading this. Thanks so much!

  96. The Shipping Art Article given above is an excellent source to refer to in shipping endeavors…
    May I add an additional section please to the articles above for a possible sampling in your endeavors, assisting in diversified areas….?.
    You may find that if your art happens to be on canvas and rollable, try a Shipping tube. This simplifies the process by: huge time savings, slashes the total cost of shipping as well as the convince of purchasing a tube container to ship. That’ s it …nice and controllable if the receiver doesn’t mind doing the framing etc. on his end. Ta-Da!
    Authored Statements: ysureican Fogarty

  97. Thank you for your post. Packing to ship or move anything is risky, but paintings come with their own hazards. If they are framed with glass, you want to make sure that glass does not break and if they are simple canvas pieces, you want to make sure the painting is not torn or pierced.

  98. Excellent article; thank you! One suggestion: Don’t wait until you’re filing a claim to take photos. Take pictures along the way of every item you ship. At the very least, photograph the artwork encased in bubble wrap, then again when it is in the inner box, and when the inner box is in the outer box with bubble wrap in place, and when the outer box is taped up. Then, if there is damage, you can show your client how much care you took in packaging the art — and you can show the shipper that you met all of their requirements, too.

  99. Brilliant!! Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed article! I wish I have seen this before I shipped a painting of mine to a client. I didn’t know to wrap in plastic wrap first, so went in with bubble wrap. My heart sunk when I received an email telling me about the prints the bubbles had made. My first thought was “could I have put waxed (baking) paper directly on the varnish?”. I will definitely use plastic film from now on. Thank you!

  100. What is the smallest tube diameter that you would advise to roll up a 60 ” canvas in .. tubes come standard at 4″ at FedEx. Is this a wide enough diameter for the canvas rolled up in glassine paper? Please advise. Also, best shipper from Colorado to Hawaii?

  101. Jason,
    where do you get your shipping boxes at? I am new to shipping pieces out of state and outside of ULINE I am unsure of where to look. Any help is appreciated.
    Thank you.

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