How to Pack, Ship, and Insure Art

Shipping art is pretty popular right now. That's about the only way to get it from point A to point B in many parts of the world. So with this in mind, here are some helpful tips, hints, and pointers for do-it-yourselfers about how to pack, ship, and insure art in order to maximize your chances of getting it safely and securely to wherever you want it to go:

* No matter what you're shipping, pack it neat and pack it well. Your packages should look at least as good as your art. First impressions count in the art world and as silly as it might sound, your buyers see your packaging first.

* Always leave space between the top, bottom and edges of the art, and the sides of the package. The larger the art, the greater the distance should be between the where the art stops and the packaging starts. Two to six inch buffers are reasonable for most art.

* After the art is packed but before sealing the package, make sure all vacant or leftover spaces are filled tight. Depending on what you're shipping and how fragile it is, you can fill vacant space with crushed paper, foam, Styrofoam, peanuts, air-pillows, etc. This prevents the art from shifting while in transit. Pack tightly, but not so tight that unnecessary pressure is placed on the art.

* Shake your package both before and after you seal it to make sure nothing is loose or moving around. If something is moving now, it's only going to get worse once the package is in transit. Always shake before you send.

* Depending on what you are shipping and how much protection it needs while in transit, packing materials might include heavy (5 mil) plastic for wrapping, bubble wrap or peanuts or air cushions for insulation, two- or four-ply corrugated cardboard for boxing depending on the size of the art, custom-built wooden crates, industrial foam planking for insulating tops, bottoms or sides (like the kinds used in housing construction- two inches thick for larger art, one inch thick for smaller art), and heavy-duty fiberglass filament packing tape to hold everything together.

* Good resources for free larger-sized cardboard boxes or sheets can be bike stores, appliance stores, stores selling flat-panel screens or TVs, and other retail outlets or warehouses that deal in larger sized products. Always call ahead to see they give used cardboard boxes or packaging away.

* Make sure the package is entirely sealed, especially along the edges and corners There should be no loose or exposed areas or weak spots that can catch on sharp edges or objects or otherwise be easily wedged open.

* Do whatever is necessary to prevent smears, rubbing, or friction damage to the art. Make sure sensitive surfaces and mediums are adequately packed, separated or otherwise protected from their immediate surroundings. For example, when shipping prints, posters or works on paper, protecting exposed surfaces with glassine, barrier paper, or similar substrate is recommended.

* If you are packing and shipping unframed prints, posters, graphics or works on paper, putting them between crisscrossed pieces of heavy cardboard on both top and bottom makes the packages difficult to bend. Don't forget to leave space between the edges of the print and the edges of the package.

* With works framed under glass, crisscross packing tape across the glass to minimize damage in case of breakage. The tape helps to keep the glass from shattering onto the art, shifting around while in transit, and causing problems.

* Both sides of works on canvas should be protected with difficult-to-puncture coverings like plywood, masonite, plastic sheeting, etc.

* Take comprehensive pictures of the art before, during, and after you pack it-- detail shots of the art itself, pictures of the art packed in the box before you seal it, and pictures of the outside of the box after seal it. Also take pictures of any stamps or identification on containers which provide information on how strong the they are or what they're made out of. That way, if you ever have to make a claim, you have plenty of evidence of what condition the art was in before you shipped it, and how well-packed it was.

* If the package is damaged in transit, photograph all damage completely BOTH BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER you open it. Photographing before and during unpacking prevents any claims that the damage occurred after the package arrived.

* With art that is already sold, be sure to save receipts, images of cancelled checks, or any other proofs of payments or purchase. Also save any correspondences between you and buyers that discuss or provide instructions for shipping. This includes all confirmations that the art has been shipped, is in transit, and received. In case of loss or damage, making claims is far easier with good documentation than without it.

* If the art gets lost or damaged but is not yet sold, the claims process may be more complicated in terms of assessing value. Minimize the chances for valuation disputes by making sure you have sales records, past sales receipts, appraisals, and other forms of proof that similar works of your art sell for comparable prices to whatever dollar value you are claiming. Also save any correspondences between you and the recipient that discuss how much the art is worth, agree on how much it is worth, state how much it should be insured for, state how much you are selling it for (if shipping to a potential buyer), or how it should be priced (if shipping to a gallery or exhibition).

* No matter who you ship with, make sure you fully understand all rules, regulations, instructions, and policies for shipping art, especially getting it insured. Different companies have different rules and requirements. Always get them in writing or from the terms on their website. Lastly, do everything they ask when you are asked to do it.

* Find out if or whether your shipper insures art, what their dollar limits are, how they pay, how they evaluate claims, what you need to provide if there is a claim, etc. Make sure you understand all policies up front. Every shipper is different.

* Find out whether your shipper requires appraisals or other valuation documents before you ship. Provide all requested materials before you ship. If you need an appraisal, get one. If they have specific requirements for what the appraisal should look like, include, or what qualifications the appraiser should have, make sure you follow all instructions to the letter.

* Always insure. Keep in mind that shipping or insurance companies might dispute your valuation if something is damaged. But with insurance, at least you'll have something to dispute. Unless otherwise stated by the shipper, you take 100% of the risk and responsibility if you don't insure.

* Look into getting a business insurance policy that covers all aspects of your art. Be sure to include coverage for art in-transit and while at remote locations.

* No matter who you ship with, save all correspondences, receipts, and documents relating directly to the shipping transaction itself-- before, during, and after. You might even photograph the art being picked up or dropped off for shipping. You can never have too much documentation.

* Always require the recipient to sign for the package. Proof of delivery and receipt by a specified person is essential. Never allow a package to be delivered to a location and either signed for by a stranger or left unattended.

* If the art you are shipping is rare, fragile, or valuable, seriously consider having professional fine art shippers pack and ship it for you. Only use fine art shippers in these cases, not shippers or packers who have little or no experience with art. Here is a link to a list of specialized fine art shippers headquartered in the United States: Fine Art Shippers, Shipping, and Transport.


(art by Dashiell Manley)

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