How to ship artwork internationally
The complete art shipping guide for artists, collectors, and curators.
Luke Martin | 16th April 2023
As an artist and art dealer, I ship hundreds of oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints, and sculptures every single year. With clients all over the world, I regularly have to pack delicate and valuable artworks and ship them safely, on budget, and on time. Each time I rely on the processes and systems I’ve developed over many years of experience, to ensure my artworks are delivered in pristine condition. Many artists feel a lot of anxiety when it comes to shipping their first piece of art. The key is to be prepared. Whether you chose to work with a postal service, a parcel courier, or a specialist art transport service, this page will tell you everything you need to know to ship your art successfully.
This in-depth article includes everything you need to know about shipping artwork:
1. How do art shipping and logistics work?
2. Who ships artwork?
• Parcel Couriers
• Specialist Art Couriers
3. How much does it cost to ship a painting?
4. How to label your art shipment like a professional?
5. What to do if your artwork is damaged in transit?
Once your artwork is safely packed you are ready to get started with shipping.
Note: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as professional advice or relied upon for any specific purpose. Art Is My Career and its authors are not liable for any loss or damages resulting from the use or interpretation of the information provided in this article.
How do art shipping and logistics work?
There are lots of methods for transporting artwork, and which one you chose will depend on several factors.
When deciding how to ship your artwork, ask yourself these 7 questions first:
- What is the value of the artwork?
- Is the shipment time sensitive or not?
- How fragile is the artwork, does it need special handling?
- What is the budget to have to artwork shipped?
- How big and heavy is the artwork?
- What are the customs requirements for transporting the artwork?
- In the case of a loss or damage to your shipment, how much insurance coverage do you need?
Depending on your requirements, you can then engage the services of a parcel courier, postal service, or specialist art transporter to ship your artwork. Parcel couriers usually require you to pack and label your shipment yourself, and most will not insure items including artwork, antiques, or items of exceptional value against loss or damage in transit.
On the other hand, specialist art transport companies often provide bespoke shipping crates, storage, and fully insured services. These services are most often used by collectors, museums, curators,s and artists holding exhibitions of high-value work.
Who ships artwork?
Most working artists who create paintings, drawings, prints, or small sculptures will find postal services and parcel couriers the best option for shipping their artwork.
These are the best-known and largest parcel courier networks:
FedEx: FedEx provides worldwide shipping services for a wide range of items, including packages, documents, and freight, with a range of delivery speeds and options available.
UPS: UPS offers worldwide shipping services for packages, documents, and freight, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including next-day and same-day delivery.
DHL: DHL offers worldwide shipping services for packages, documents, and freight, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including express, standard, and economy delivery.
USPS: The United States Postal Service provides shipping services for packages, documents, and mail, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including priority mail, first-class mail, and media mail.
Royal Mail: Royal Mail provides shipping services for packages, documents, and mail within the UK, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including next-day delivery and standard delivery.
Canada Post: Canada Post offers shipping services for packages, documents, and mail within Canada, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including expedited and priority delivery.
Australia Post: Australia Post provides shipping services for packages, documents, and mail within Australia, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including express and standard delivery.
TNT: TNT provides worldwide shipping services for packages, documents, and freight, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including express and economy delivery.
Parcelforce Worldwide: Parcelforce Worldwide offers shipping services for packages and documents within the UK and worldwide, with a range of delivery speeds and options available, including express and standard delivery.
Pros of using a parcel courier to ship artwork:
- They are affordable, with a range of pricing options
- They are fast, with global services from as little as 2 or 3 days using air freight.
- They are established, with huge networks and delivery capability.
- You can track your shipment online, and receive notifications of its progress.
Cons of using a parcel courier to ship artwork:
- Your parcel will be treated like any other parcel, with no special treatment.
- There are size and weight restrictions.
- The chance of your item being lost or damaged is greater than if you used a specialist service.
- Most couriers won’t insure and protect against loss or damage for works of art, sculpture, paintings, canvases, or other delicate items or those of exceptional value.
- Your parcel will not be protected against temperature or humidity extremes.
- There can be delays or additional costs when your shipment passes through customs, it is your responsibility to ensure the correct paperwork has been completed and included.
If your work is of exceptional scale, weight, value, or fragility, or if cost is a lesser consideration to you and you just want to ensure it arrives safely, consider using a specialist art transport company. Some well-known courier companies also offer specialist art transportation.
Art Transport and Shipping Services:
These are the best-known specialist art shipping and transport services. These companies will pack, ship, and deliver fine art, sculpture, paintings, prints, and exhibition exhibits.
FedEx Art Shipping: FedEx provides specialized services for art transportation, including climate-controlled vehicles and customized packaging for the artwork of various sizes.
UPS Art Shipping: UPS offers art shipping services that include expert packing and handling of valuable artwork, insurance coverage, and climate-controlled transportation.
DHL Art Shipping: DHL’s art shipping services include expert packaging, climate-controlled transportation, and insurance coverage for valuable artwork.
Fine Art Shippers: Fine Art Shippers provides comprehensive art shipping services, including expert packaging and handling, climate-controlled transportation, and installation and storage services.
U.S.Art: U.S.Art specializes in fine art shipping and handling, offering a range of services that include customized packaging, transportation, installation, and storage.
Crown Fine Art: Crown Fine Art offers art logistics services, including transportation, handling, storage, and installation, for a range of clients, from museums and galleries to private collectors.
Ship Art International: Ship Art International specializes in shipping fine art and antiques, providing customized packaging, transportation, and installation services for clients around the world.
Atelier 4: Atelier 4 offers specialized art transportation services, including packing, crating, climate-controlled transportation, and installation services for museums, galleries, and collectors.
Gander & White Shipping: Gander & White Shipping provides customized fine art transportation services, including packing, crating, climate-controlled transportation, and installation services for clients worldwide.
Cadogan Tate: Cadogan Tate offers art handling and logistics services, including packing, crating, transportation, and installation services for clients worldwide, with a particular focus on the UK and Europe.
Artex Fine Art Services: Artex Fine Art Services provides comprehensive logistics solutions for shipping art and other valuable items, including packing, crating, transportation, and installation services.
AirSea Packing: AirSea Packing offers art packing, crating, and shipping services, as well as storage and installation services for clients around the world.
Pros of using a specialist art transport company:
- Your artwork will be handled with care, by experienced art movers.
- The shipment will be fully insured and protected against loss or damage.
- Customs clearances and documentation is taken care of by the company.
- The company will create a custom crate in which to ship your art safely.
- Many companies offer temperature and humidity-controlled transport.
Cons of using a specialist art transport company:
- The cost is much higher than using a regular courier company
- Availability may be limited, as their capacity is far lower than a mainstream shipping company.
- Many companies will have their own packing and shipping processes, limiting your choice of how it is done.
- Longer shipping times are common
How much does it cost to ship a painting?
The cost of shipping artwork is dependent on:
Size and Weight: The larger and heavier the artwork, the more it will cost to ship. This is because shipping companies charge based on the size and weight of the package.
Distance: The farther the artwork needs to be shipped, the more it will cost. This is because shipping companies will charge based on the distance the package needs to travel.
Shipping speed: The faster the shipping speed, the more it will cost. For example, express shipping will cost more than standard shipping.
Type of shipping service: Different shipping services have different prices, such as ground shipping, air freight, or ocean freight.
Packaging: The cost of packaging materials, such as a custom-built crate or protective materials like bubble wrap, can increase the cost of shipping.
Insurance: Adding insurance to the shipment to protect against loss or damage can increase the cost of shipping.
Customs and duties: Shipping artwork internationally may require customs clearance and payment of import duties, which can increase the cost of shipping.
Carrier: Different shipping carriers have different pricing structures, and rates can vary based on the volume of packages being shipped.
Special handling: If the artwork requires special handling, such as temperature-controlled shipping or white glove delivery, this can increase the cost of shipping.
Shop around and don’t accept the first price you are given. Prices vary considerably, as do the needs of every artist. Speak to as many companies as you can and find the service that best meets your needs.
Because every shipment is unique, it is impossible to give an accurate guide for how much it costs to ship artwork. If you use a parcel courier, sending a small painting from London to New York via a parcel courier could cost as little as £25. The same painting might cost £800 to send using a specialist artwork packing and shipping company. It all depends on what your needs are.
How to Label Your Art Shipment Like a Professional
Courier Label: Most couriers will give you a label to print out if you book your shipment online. Alternatively, this is where you place your stamps or postage-paid stickers if using another service.
Documents Enclosed Wallet: Put all of your invoices, customs paperwork, and other essential documents on the outside of your package. These self-adhesive ‘documents enclosed’ wallets are perfect for the job and cheap to buy.
Recipient Address: Write the address of the person you are sending the package to here. For clarity, it is best practice to print your label in black ink on white paper and to use all capital letters. Make clear this is the address you are sending it to. Many courier labels will also include these addresses, but it’s safer to also add your own labels.
- Recipient Name
- Recipient Address
- Recipient Post Code (Zip Code)
- Recipient Phone Number with dialing and country code if international.
Make clear that this is the sender’s address or the return address.
- Sender Name
- Sender Address
- Sender Post Code (Zip Code)
- Sender Phone Number with dialing and country code if international.
Fragile Stickers: Most carriers will tell you that adding ‘fragile’ or ‘handle with care stickers will not affect their treatment of your shipment, but it’s still worth adding to let people know your parcel should be handled with care.
Do’s and Don’ts of Labelling Your Art Shipment
- Print your labels if possible, it makes them easier to read. If not use clear handwriting and all capital letters for clarity.
- Use black in on white paper labels
- Include the zip code (postcode)
- Mark the destination address and the sender’s address (or return address).
- Place your labels on the largest side of the package.
- Make sure the addresses on the outside of your package match those on your invoices and shipping documents.
- Don’t put sticky tape over the top of your labels, it makes them harder for machines to read.
- Don’t leave on old labels, barcodes, or markings from previous shipments.
- Don’t forget to include all necessary invoices, paperwork, and customs documentation.
Shipment Labelling Reference Guides
- Royal Mail – Guidance For Correct Mail Presentation
- Parcel Force – Help Sending Your First Parcel Online
- Evri – How To Pack A Parcel
- DHL – How To Address A Parcel
USA & Rest of World
- UPS – How To Write A Shipping Address
- Fedex – How To Address A Box Correctly
- USPS – How To Send A Letter Or Postcard (Domestic)
- USPS – How To Send A Letter Or Postcard (International)
When Shipping Internationally, be aware that the format of an address varies between countries. Parcel Force has a handy guide to Address Formats For The Rest Of The World.
What to do if your artwork is damaged in transit
If you have shipped a lot of artwork as I have, you will inevitably have had things damaged in transit at some stage. It’s heartbreaking when a meaningful and sometimes valuable piece of art is damaged during shipping. If this happens to you, how to handle it can make a huge difference to the outcome.
Prevention: Taking steps to ensure your delivery goes to plan can prevent more problems later. Make sure your artwork is packed well, with quality materials. Assume the worst will happen and that your package will be handled roughly, will get splashed, and will be subjected to knocks and bumps. Use a reputable shipping company and ensure your artwork is properly protected with insurance coverage.
Assessment: Immediately upon arrival, the recipient of the artwork should inspect the package and the artwork to look for signs of damage or loss. Photograph the damage in great detail, taking notes as you go and documenting what has happened. Keep all of the damaged packagings for reference, as inappropriate materials may be to blame for the damage.
Contact the Shipping Company: Contact the shipping company straight away. They should have a clear process for filing a claim, allowing you to submit evidence as part of the process.
Insurance: Follow the shipping company process for claiming insurance coverage. Be sure to check what your insurance covers, as some policies have a cap on what you can claim for loss or damage.
If your artwork was damaged on its way to a customer, it is important to deal with the problem robustly. Apologise to the customer straight away, and explain honestly what has happened. Ask them to take photographs and document the damage. File a claim with the shipping company and claim compensation. Offer the customer a refund, replacement, or restoration. Put in place changes to your process or shipping company to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.