So you’ve made a sale… now what? You have to manage all the logistics to get your masterpiece safely delivered to your art buyer. This episode talks all about packaging and shipping art. I’m diving into all the details on how I ship stretched canvas, paintings on paper, and more like where to buy discount shipping supplies. Shipping art isn’t my favorite part of being a Self Taught Artist, but it is a necessity whether you’re selling art or just gifting your art to friends or family.
This episode is the second part of this week’s discussion on what to do after you sell a piece of art. For part one of this conversation, please listen to Episode 12: How to Turn a One-Time Buyer into a Repeat Art Collector (Elevate the Buyer Experience)
Welcome to the second part of this week’s topic, packaging and shipping art. We’re gonna dive right in.
Everything that I do in my art business has been built over time. So when I first started selling, I did not put that much effort into the packaging at all. I just wanted to make sure it arrived safely. But I can’t say my packaging was cute or particularly nice. As with all things, just do what you can with where you’re at right now. Some of the things that I do now would not make sense in my art business when I just started. And then there are other things that you can implement immediately.
So let’s start by talking about packaging up paintings. I’ll tell you what materials I use and how I think about packaging up different types of paintings. First, let’s talk about art unstretched canvas. I think about it in layers. The first layer of my packaging is about protecting the paint itself. The second layer is about protecting the corners and the stretched canvas, and the third is about beautifying it a bit.
In that first layer, it’s all about making sure the painting doesn’t stick to something or heaven forbid, smudge, or stick to the envelope or something like that. I do recommend varnishing any painting you send out with a non tacky varnish, something that won’t leave the painting sticky. The ideal first layer for wrapping a painting would be probably a cellophane bag or a glassine bag to really protect the piece. These look really professional and they protect the painting really well. However, this does come with a cost. These bags are something that you have to special order. And every element that cost adds up and takes away from your profit. So I do not do this yet, but I recognize it is a way that I could professionalize my packaging when I raise my prices in the future. If you’re at a stage like me, your first layer can be craft paper, brown butcher paper, freezer paper, tissue paper, or even white gift wrap. My favorite way to wrap a piece right now is using brown craft paper or butcher paper that I’ve splattered with some paint or decorated in a fun way. If I’m on top of things, I do this in batches when I know I have some shipments coming up, I will splatter or paint a big pattern on the craft paper using leftover paint on my palette. And it just adds a little funky touch. But to be honest, I frequently forget this.
With whatever you decide to use as your first protective layer for the painting, I do recommend doing a little experiment: get a Test Canvas that you prepared just like a normal painting that you might sell. Put your protective layer of choice on it, and then expose it to some outdoor heat or some humidity for a day or two. And make sure the varnish or the paint doesn’t stick to that protective layer. This is an optional step you can take to make sure you’re not going to have an adhesion problem with that first layer of packaging. That’s the biggest issue that you want to avoid. And the whole purpose of this protective layer in the first place is to make sure this doesn’t happen. However, you do need to make sure that all of your materials all play nicely together in advance so that you can ship with confidence. What works for me may not work for you, you really do have to try it out. I personally live in Texas where the days can hit over 100 degrees in the summertime. So I want to make sure that nothing melts or get sticky. So what I did is I did a test package in the heat of summer and I put these test canvases in tissue paper and brown craft paper and I left them on my patio for like two days. And then I was able to ensure that my materials weren’t going to stick together when I mailed them to clients and that really helped me.
Alright, moving on to the second layer of packaging. This one is all about the protection of the edges and protecting the Canvas as a whole. For this layer, I always use bubble wrap on stretched canvas pieces. I put two to three layers of Bubble Wrap on the art and wrap all of the sides. And when I first started shipping art, I actually would just skip straight to this part and would just do bubble wrap directly on the canvas. And sometimes I still do. So do know that is an option for you if you want to cut one of these layers, but you should make sure that your bubble wrap does not stick to your paint or varnish.
When you wrap something with bubble wrap, do make sure that the bubbles are facing the artwork. Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap things with bubble wrap, in case you didn’t know, I didn’t know until probably about a year ago. The bubbles need to face the item that you’re wrapping in order to ensure that it gets the maximum amount of protection.
So we’ve talked about the first layer, which is our protective layer, the second layer, which is the bubble wrap layer, and then the third layer is all about beautification. This one is totally up to you and your personality and how you want to approach it. Perhaps you add a ribbon around the bubble wrap layer, or you tie a piece of twine and a little bow. I have my custom stickers that I talked about that are really colorful and I use them outside of the bubble wrap layer to add some personality and some color. I just bought some nice ribbon on sale today at Michaels that I’m going to use to tie around the bubble wrap layer and beautify them a bit more little by little on adding small touches to my packages. If I’m mailing a stretched canvas that is 11 by 14 or smaller, I most likely will use a bubble mailer. These canvases are small, and there’s not a lot of tension placed on the canvas fabric because these canvases aren’t too big. So I personally think the risk is minimal of damage, as long as I bubble wrapped them thoroughly. Padded mailers cost less than boxes to mail because they weigh a lot less.
I save all of my Amazon padded mailers and reuse them frequently on the small canvases. It’s great for the Earth to recycle, it saves me money, and I found that my buyers really don’t mind at all. If I have a gap in space in the bubble mailer around the canvas, then I will actually take a stapler and staple the mailer around the edges of the canvas to tighten up to fit. I don’t want any wiggle room for the canvas to move around in the envelope as it’s in transit. You want everything to be nice and snug to ensure a safe journey to the buyer.
Usually on the small canvases, I can get the final package to weigh 13 ounces or less when using a padded envelope and a thin stretched canvas. 13 ounces is the cutoff for first class mail in the US, and qualifying for first class mail really helps me to save money on shipping. As a result, I try really hard to keep my inexpensive canvases to weigh less than this when packed. If I’m mailing a canvas larger than 11 inches by 14 inches, then I will put it in a box because I find the bigger a canvas is, then the more fragile it is and it’s prone to warping or holes, that kind of thing. I put larger canvases in a box and pad around it with those little Sealed Air packets, or packing paper, or newspaper. If I don’t have anything else on hand, I make sure that there is no room for the painting to wiggle around because again, that’s how damage happens. The bigger pieces that I sell are usually much more expensive for my buyer, so I take a lot of care when wrapping one of these bigger pieces. It gets more bubble wrap, more protection, and I really pack in that box really well. I care a lot about these big canvases and I want them to get there safely.
Here in the United States, I’ve found that the width of a box like the thickness of it is big driver of the shipping price. When I use USPS, if you can keep your box as thin as possible, preferably three inches or under, then it keeps the shipping cost lower. In many cases, especially when you’re painting big canvases and shipping big canvas sizes. I use the USPS click and ship tool on their website to play around with dimensions of boxes to see what will be the cheapest. The price difference can be really big if you just add one inch here or there. So doing your diligence ahead of time before you pack up your painting can really help you to save some dollars.
Sometimes I actually will do what I call “box surgery.” I take boxes apart completely and disassemble them, make a few cuts to make a box thinner or shorter, or just smaller in some way more customized to the shape of the canvas. So please don’t be afraid to get out your box cutter or scissors and piece together a custom size that can help you save money on the shipping. Sometimes when I do this, I actually turn the box inside out completely. So it hides whatever writing was on the original box, and it makes a very clean cardboard look. If I’m doing box surgery, I’ll usually do this anyways, if I’m cutting the box open, why not. But it all depends on what box I’m using and how much surgery it needs in the first place.
If you haven’t already caught on, I reuse a lot of shipping materials that I receive from online retailers and online shopping that I do. And I have even started making my mom and my friends save their packaging so that I can get extra materials. I save cardboard boxes, Sealed Air packets, bubble wrap, padded mailers; you name it, I pretty much save it. I think most of these packing materials can be reused. It’s great for the earth and it saves you money. Win-win.
So everything that I’ve talked about so far has been talking about mailing stretched canvases. The other type of art that I ship is paintings on paper. Paper is much more straightforward to mail. I use padded envelopes with cardboard supports inside to ensure the envelope is not bent in transit. Or I will use a special stay flat mailer which is made of thin cardboard and can’t be bent. The name of the game with shipping paper paintings is to make sure they aren’t bent or creased or crushed in any way. Mailing paintings on paper is very straightforward, and it’s cheaper. So I think you’ll be finding me painting more on paper in the future myself. As much as I love Canvas, it’s really nice being able to ship a paper piece and look at that price tag and save a lot of money. If you need to buy packing materials, I recommend uline.com That’s u l i n e.com or checking your local U haul or hardware store for boxes and bubble wrap. I have also purchased padded mailers on eBay. You may have to buy a really big quantity to get a good price somewhere like Uline, but it can be worth it depending on the volume of sales you have. I purchased some on eBay because I was able to get a smaller quantity, but still get a really good price much better than I could get at my local office store.
Quickly I will cover one other method for shipping art that I have heard other artists talk about, but I have not personally done and that is actually removing Canvas from the stretcher bars in order to ship a really large painting. Now if you’re painting pieces that are three feet by three feet or bigger, those pieces come with a really big price tag to ship. Sometimes it can be in the hundreds of dollars. Once a piece of art or your package is considered oversized, the fees are insane. If you don’t believe me go and try and calculate it on the shippers website, because you may have to go FedEx or UPS for these really big packages, and they get so expensive. So what some artists will do is actually remove the canvas from the stretcher bars and roll it and put it in a tube and mail the tube. Again, I’ve never done this, and I’m not sure how much buyers would like that. But it’s something worth asking them.
The downside of shipping unstretched canvas is that when it arrives at your buyer, they need to then take it to a professional framer, and get it professionally re-stretched. That’s a whole other process with another hefty price tag. When you’re painting on those sizes, it’s worth comparing those prices and figuring out what is most economical. One day I dream that some collector will come to me and want a 36 by 48 painting, and I’ll get to paint really big. But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there because I know that shipping that piece is going to be a pain.
That’s it for this week’s topic. I really hope that this episode has been useful to you, and that you’ve picked up some tips and tricks that you didn’t already know. Do you have any shipping tips that you want to share with the Self Taught Artist community? If so, send me a message on Instagram. I will be sharing any that I receive on my stories this week. I love talking about how to take your art sales to the next level. And I think that packaging and elevating your buyer experience are all parts of that as we raise our prices as we professionalize. We can add in bits and pieces along the way. I’m so excited to be on this journey with each and every one of you.
As a reminder, please take just a minute to leave me a review on Apple Podcasts. It would mean so much to me and I would love to feature your review on the podcast in the future. I love hearing from my listeners whether that’s in a review or through a direct message on Instagram at LaurenKristineArt or you can also find me at my website, www. Lauren, Kristine art.com or my email: Lauren, Kristine firstname.lastname@example.org That’s it for this week. Until next time, my friends. Happy Creating!
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