How to Ship Art Prints Safely: The Easy Way

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

Shipping prints can be a daunting task. You want to make sure your art arrives safe and sound, but you don’t want to spend a fortune on postage. I’ll show you how to ship art prints the easy way.

The safest way to ship art prints is in a cardboard shipping tube. To ship a print flat, first, slide the print into a self-seal cellophane bag, and sandwich it between two rigid pieces of cardboard. Place it snuggly into a mailer box, fill extra space with layers of bubble wrap, and tape everything down.

Here are some tips to help you ship your art prints so they arrive in perfect condition.

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How to Package Art Prints For Shipping

Kerching! You have a notification and you’ve made a sale – Woohoo! The first of many no doubt, and all you have to do is send it off. Easy

What could possibly go wrong? Well, it could get…

  • Squashed
  • Bent
  • Creased
  • Wet
  • Lost

If something can go wrong, believe me eventually, it will go wrong. The best you can do is limit your problems by preparing for all eventualities.

When shipping art prints, it’s important to use the right materials. You’ll need some basic office supplies.

These are Amazon Links:

There are a few optional extras. I like to weigh my parcels on a kitchen scale myself, have some spare bubble wrap, address my own labels, have a roll of custom declaration stickers handy, and a few sheets of airmail stickers.

OK, so let’s get started with the basics.

This is a practical YouTube Tutorial but read my article too because I add things that you need to know.

How Big is Your Art Print?

The size of your work is significant because it will determine your shipping costs. Screw up and you’ll lose your profits, especially if you’re exporting abroad.

Your postal company will calculate the cost of shipping by the weight and size of your item. If your print is packaged too well, or it’s too large, you’ll tip over the price scale to the next tariff and pay heavily for your mistake.

Ideally, you’ll have a standard-size print that fits into a standard-size mailer or cardboard tube.

This post dives deeper: What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart

I made this mistake

My art prints are all printed on A3 paper, and I send them in 13″ postal tubes. Until a few years ago, I could send a rolled print in a 2 1/2″ (65mm) diameter tube. No problem

That saved me storage space and money. Then I changed my paper without thinking it through, and they wouldn’t roll tight enough.

Now, I have to use 3″ (75mm) diameter tubes, which cost more to buy, more to post, and are a pain to store. Damn it.

Have You Got Plastic Wrapping?

Even the best couriers are working insane hours, often in a blind panic, and have to get the job done as quickly as possible. They do not read stickers urging them to ‘Handle with Care’

Your art print must be packaged well because the parcel will be dropped, thrown, and get caught in sorting equipment.

Not only that, it will be stored overnight in a warehouse or in some cases, for a week or two in a Customs depot, and delivered in all weathers.

You must wrap your print in a waterproof plastic bag.

I like to use A3 protective closure bags. Seld-seal wrappers cost very little, and you can get them in a multitude of sizes. I use them mostly when I post my prints flat inside a shipping box. I also use plastic bags as liners for my postal tubes.

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Shipping Art Prints: Flat vs Rolled

The size of your art print will also determine how you post it.

Given the choice, most people would want to receive a flat print. That’s fine, but larger prints need sturdier packaging, and for the most part, mailing tubes are the more practical option.

Any print below A3 in size, in the United States that would be called Tabloid or Ledger (11″ x 17″), can be sent cheaply and conveniently in a mailing box.

Small art prints sent in small packages seem to survive the shipping process well. They fit into mailing sacks and are light enough not to damage when they’re dropped.

You can get mailers for A3 prints, and above, but larger sizes get damaged in the system more easily.

I was a witness to what can happen when I took an A3 print to my local post office. I’d done everything I could to prevent a problem, my best efforts included adding extra cardboard stiffeners and writing ‘FRAGILE’ in bold letters.

The assistant took the print and realizing it was too wide for the parcel bin and too rigid to bend, karate-chopped it down the middle. Job done! I was not a happy bunny I can tell you.

Larger prints are best rolled up and posted in a tube. Your mail might go astray occasionally, but at least they don’t get damaged. That’s never happened in the 20 years I’ve been sending out prints.

Costs and Storage Issues

When it comes to packaging, the costs reduce considerably when you buy wholesale.

You’ll need plenty of storage space, indeed, there was a time when I had to rent extra storage just for my postal tubes. They take up so much space when you buy them in bulk.

Mailers, in contrast, fold flat and you can store them stacked up in the corner. Not only that, they are cheaper than postal tubes.

Related post: How to Store Drawings Safely: The Ultimate Guide

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How to Put Prints into Mailing Tubes

There is more to rolling paper than you might think. You can’t afford to be slack.

Paper is easily damaged when:

  • You roll them without due care,
  • You slide them into the tube,
  • Your customer pulls them out.

How to put prints safely into a mailing tube in 10 steps:

  1. Get a mailing tube that’s wide enough for your prints to roll without damaging them.
  2. Slide a plastic bag partially into the end of the tube. This liner is a protective sleeve.
  3. Carefully roll the paper, taking extra care not to roll the paper too tightly.
  4. Slip your print into the bag and push it down into the tube. The liner will slide easily into the tube.
  5. Let the paper unwind making sure the edges are below the top. There must be room for the end cap.
  6. If you’re sending more than one print, insert the second print inside the first.
  7. Pop in any promotional flyer or business card.
  8. Tuck the polythene inside the top and close the end caps.
  9. Sellotape 2 strips over each cap in a cross pattern
  10. Secure the tape in place with a third strip wound around each end.

When the customer opens the tube and pulls on the polythene bag, it slides out smoothly and the print gently unfurls. This system has never failed me.

Without the plastic wrap, the customer tries to pull on the print itself and that’s when the print gets damaged.

I’ve seen another method. I ordered a test print from Printful. They sent my print wrapped in what I assume was acid free tissue paper. It slid out of the tube easily, but it wasn’t extra protection.

I’m torn between the need to protect the goods and being environmentally responsible. Even cellophane bags contain some plastics. You will have to weigh up that ethical conundrum for yourself.

It is possible to buy bio-degradable bags at a premium, but the ranges and sizes available are limited.

If I’m sending an expensive print, I will slip the print into a cello bag before rolling it up and sliding it into the liner. It’s extra protection and shows my customer how much care I take.

How To Ship Art Prints Flat

To minimize the risk of damage and ensure that your prints arrive in pristine condition. Follow these instructions.

Here’s how to ship art prints flat in 9 easy steps:

  1. Firstly, prepare your work area. You’ll need a cutting mat, craft knife, a ruler, and packing tape.
  2. Slip your art print into a cellophane wrapper and seal it.
  3. Choose a sturdy mailing box that’s slightly larger than the print itself.
  4. Cut two cardboard sheets to fit the box (or order them pre-cut)
  5. Tape the wrapper onto the first sheet of cardboard, by securing it at each corner.
  6. Place the second cardboard sheet over the print and tape both boards together.
  7. Place into the box and if there’s too much space, line it with bubble wrap, and/or tape it down
  8. Add your promotional leaflets
  9. Finally, seal the box with packing tape and label it clearly

By taking these precautions you can ensure that your art print arrives in top condition.

If you have a small art print, it’s possible to send it in a padded envelope (flat mailer) with stiff backing boards, on either side.

I’ve had a lot of experience packing art prints and it’s very important to use the right size packaging for your prints, where you can. Damage is done when the contents are not secured.

If your tubes are too long, stuff the end with packing paper or use bubble wrap. Better still take a hack saw and cut your tubes down to size. The same applies to your cardboard boxes, fill the remaining space.

When in doubt always over-package the item. Courier companies will have minimum packaging guidelines that must be met. DO NOT ignore them.

Tape everything down, use duct tape if you have to, and add yet another layer of bubble wrap, kraft paper, and corner protectors.

I’ve reused the surplus packaging sent to me. I don’t throw old packaging, it always comes in handy. I also keep offcuts, like foamboard and cardboard sheets. I’ll use them all.

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How to Ship art prints safely

How to Ship Art Prints Internationally

With the advent of e-commerce and online sales, you would think that sending mail abroad would be easy. It is, if you pay through the nose, or if you are in the EU internal market. Otherwise, it’s a pain.

If you’re shipping prints internationally, here are a few things you need to check:

  • Check shipping rates with several companies and do not assume that the post office will be the cheapest or most trustworthy service.
  • Choose your shipping service. NB: There is no tracking number with standard airmail
  • You’ll also need to make extra sure that your prints are properly packaged so they don’t get damaged in transit.
  • Use the lightest materials to keep the weight down.
  • Fill in any customs declaration forms honestly
  • The final step, be aware of any customs regulations that might apply to your shipment. There could be extra taxes to pay.

The prices for mailing overseas have increased in the last few years, and you may well find that the hassle and economics of selling overseas make exporting unviable.

First, the US pulled out of an international shipping rates treaty and that put the prices up. Then the EU started to play games by forcing all countries outside the block to pay an extra 20% VAT on ALL imported goods.

Now, at the time of writing, the oil crisis has made things worse still. What can you do?

How to Choose a Shipping Service

When you’re shipping art prints, you want to make sure to choose a reliable company.

You have a number of options:

  • Use the post office
  • Use a major international courier
  • Use a discount courier

The postal service is still the first choice for many. Old habits die hard. If you would rather deal with the guy behind the counter, that’s fine.

From what I have read, the USPS is often the cheapest deal in the States, and from my experience here in the UK, the Royal Mail seldom offers the cheapest deal.

N.B. I will just add that sending standard mail to the States from the UK is often held up at US customs. It can take weeks to release. Paying for a tracked service speeds things up. I don’t know the score in reverse.

The next option is to go online and check out all the deals the big players are offering:

  • (UK)
  • (US)
  • UPS (US)
  • UPS (UK)
  • (US)
  • (UK
  • DPD (EU)

Ideally, you’ll want to choose a service that offers tracking so you and your customer can keep an eye on your shipment every step of the way.

With a little research, you can find a shipping service that will give you peace of mind and ensure your art prints arrive safely at their destination.

In Britain, discount couriers are the cheapest option. They buy empty slots from the big couriers at a discount and pass some of that savings on.

Should You Buy Postal Insurance?

Do read the small print if you use a courier, especially the budget ones.

You have a reasonable chance of compensation with the bigger couriers but good luck getting the discount couriers to pay up. I’ve tried and never succeeded.

They offer insurance but when you look at the exclusions they list everything you can ever imagine. Just what do they insure?

This article concerns shipping art prints, not fine art originals, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s not easy to insure original artwork. Mainstream couriers are unlikely to take the risk.

You must declare the contents of your parcel accurately, and their value. You must have proof of that worth if you make a claim.

I have personal experience using UK services so I can’t talk about services in the US. I suspect slippery insurance policies are the same.

I’ve never had a payout for lost or damaged goods. The last insurance claim I made was for an extra-strong, almost impossible-to-break, hard plastic box that I bought because they’d trashed the earlier one.

The contents survived, but the box cost £20 ($25) so this time I wanted them to pay for it. I asked them to reimburse me but unfortunately, they didn’t cover packaging materials. Surprise surprise.

Even the Royal Mail lacks integrity.

When a limited edition print went missing, I made a claim. I had all the proof of postage, and proof of payments from my customer, waited 3 weeks for it to turn up, and all they would compensate me for was the basic printing cost which was £1.00!

They would not compensate me for the £20 I had lost sending an irreplaceable limited edition. Be warned.

Personally, I don’t bother with insurance anymore. Now I write it off as part of business expenses.

I didn’t realize until I was fact-checking this article, that there’s another option, a 3rd party insurer. I just found these sites. These are not my recommendations because I’ve never used them, but it’s worth checking them out.

I took a screenshot of landing page for the price example:

I’m not advising you against getting insurance coverage, I am advising you to check every detail before you purchase any cover.

How to Ship Art Prints: Final Thoughts

I’ve been shipping my art prints for 20 years and I can promise you only one thing. Nothing is guaranteed. Things will and do go wrong. Once the print is posted you lose control.

All you can do is accept that you will annoy some customers through no fault of your own.

If you keep your customer in the loop, why wouldn’t you? The vast majority of people will be understanding and pleasant. You’ve got to understand that some people will be suspicious, that’s why I offer money-back guarantees, and I’m good to my word.

I have refunded people for delays, (usual hold-ups at customs) and then received a re-payment when the print finally arrived. It happens.

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The artist and Author Kevin Hayler


Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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