Safe Shipping Strategies for Artists

Safe Shipping Strategies for Artists

Here at 23 Sandy, we always breathe a sigh of relief when artwork or books arrive safe and sound. Packaging and shipping successfully can be a tricky world with far too many options and rules and regulations. Therefore, we have put together these guidelines to help your precious cargo travel well.

1.) Good Packaging

  • Always ship your artwork in a box, not an envelope or bubble mailer. Bent corners are a common result of flimsy mailers. They say your package should be able to withstand a fall from counter height.
  • Place your work in a plastic bag and then wrap in bubble wrap. Just rolling it loosely a few times is sufficient. If you must use tape to secure the bubble wrap, use blue painting tape or some other low tack tape. Do not use clear packing tape. Clear packing tape requires a knife or scissors for removal, and we prefer not to wield blades anywhere near your artwork.
  • Make sure that there is at least two inches of space between your artwork and the sides of the box. Fill this space with wadded up paper, more bubble wrap, or some other kind of cushioning material.
  • Please do not use packing peanuts. They make a mess in the gallery and are very bad for the environment. Furthermore, we once discovered worms in a package sent to us with packing peanuts. Gross!
  • Check with your shipper for their particular packaging requirements, especially if you choose to insure your package. Some insurance rules even specify the width of tape used.
  • Speaking of tape: never use duct tape on your package. It does not adhere properly to cardboard.
2.) Always Include a Packing Slip
  • Always, always include a packing slip inside your package, preferably on your own letterhead. This is very important not only for your records and the gallery's inventory system, but also vital in the (hopefully unlikely) event of an insurance claim.
  • On your packing slip be sure to include: your name and contact information, recipient's address, title of your artwork(s), quantity sent, retail price or insurance value, and the exact edition numbers enclosed in the box.
3.) Which Shipper Should I Use?
  • Our favorite shipping service is FedEx Ground. We have had the least number of problems with FedEx. In addition, they are usually the least expensive and provide excellent tracking.
  • Another good option is the United States Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail flat rate boxes. Easy to use, but more expensive for light-weight boxes under two pounds or so. Free boxes simplify the shipping process plus some tracking on priority packages. However, one caveat: USPS has a reputation for not paying insurance claims.
  • Media Mail via the USPS is fine for one-way shipments and artist books do qualify for Media Mail. This service is very, very inexpensive but takes twice as long to arrive. Plus, you cannot generate return labels for media mail.
  • UPS is fine, but we have had many, many problems with their service and reliability. To sum this up, I've had to drive 10 miles to the UPS pickup office many times over the years. Have never once had to drive to the Fed Ex office. Don't even know where it's located.
  • If you are looking to save money, don't request a pick-up service for your packages. This can add $10 to $15 to your shipping costs. Instead, drop your packages of at any FedEx Office or UPS store, drop box or other authorized retail outlet such as Staples or Office Max.
  • Plan to ship a week before the work needs to arrive at its destination if you want to use the least expensive Ground service. FedEx has a shipping time calculator that will tell you how many days it will take to arrive at the gallery. Shipping via Express or Air service will triple or quadruple your costs.
  • You want your package to be in the "system" for as few days as possible. If you ship on a Monday your package will most likely arrive by the end of the week and won't sit on a dock or truck over a weekend.
4.) Open an Account
  • We recommend that artists open an account with FedEx or UPS. It is very simple and easy for any individual or business to open an account online. This way, you can create shipping labels online and charges bill directly to your credit card. Tracking and estimating shipping times is also simplified if you have an account. Plus, you get a nice discount on shipping rates.
  • Having an account allows you to print a return label with the click of a button when you are preparing your outgoing label. Plus, you will not be charged for returns until your package actually ships back to you. This saves a lot of hassle if your work sells to some fabulous collection.
  • With an account you never have to wait in line to ship. Just print out a label, tape it down with clear packing tape and hand it off to any FedEx driver or drop it in a box or store.
  • Buy a scale to weigh your boxes. I bought a digital kitchen scale at a Goodwill store for a few bucks and it weighs exactly the same as the post office scale.
  • Having an account makes your business more professional. If you plan on entering other shows in the future take this simple step and you will save a lot of time and hassle.
5.) Insurance
  • Here at 23 Sandy, we insure any artwork shipped over $100 in value. The cost of insurance can add up and you can save a lot of money by shipping uninsured. But, is your artwork replaceable or can it be made again in the event of damage or loss? It is ultimately up to you to decide whether or not to purchase insurance.
  • FedEx generally will not insure artwork over $500. And, proving the value of "art" can be difficult. Some shippers will pay materials only on an art insurance claim and some will make your prove your retail value.
  • Some retail shipping services have third party insurance providers. Here in Portland we use a local Postal Annex franchise. Our location has third party insurance that will insure artwork up to any value.
  • Most insurance will cover only the wholesale price of your artwork, so there is not need to pay to insure the full retail value.
6.) Return Shipping 
  • You must include a prepaid return shipping label in your box when sending work to the gallery for an exhibition. This is vitally important. Keeping track of the shipping for 40-60 artists is a nightmare and we try very had to keep everyone straight. If your label is in your box it will never get lost!
  • You are responsible for shipping charges in both directions. This is because 23 Sandy only accepts a 40% commission on sold work, whereas many galleries take 50%. As much as we would like to, we simply cannot afford to pay return shipping for all of our artists.
  • When you need a return shipping label it is best to ship via FedEx or UPS. We prefer not make to returns via USPS stamps (we hate waiting in line at the post office, which is required for any package over 13 ounces). In addition, Priority Mail does not allow return labels to be generated in advance.
  • Make sure your packaging is sturdy enough for shipping in both directions.
7.) International Shipments
  • All of the above information may or may not apply when you are shipping from another country. Use whatever shipping service works best and most reliably in your country.
  • Declaring an insurance value on your shipment to or from your country may trigger additional customs fees and time.
  • International artists get a reprieve for works sent to 23 Sandy as you generally cannot prepare a return shipping label for foreign shipments. Send your package and we will handle return shipping on a case-by-case basis.
  • We have found that is it much, much less expensive to ship to the gallery via your country's postal service. Commercial shippers like FedEx or UPS tend to be very expensive and have pages and pages of complex customs documents and myriad rules to navigate. We send all return shipments via the USPS Priority or Express Mail International services and will ask you to reimburse shipping costs.

There you go! Seven years worth of shipping experience in a nutshell. I hope this makes the process easier for you and your precious cargo.