With the art world becoming more and more globalized everyday, artists are more often being required to transport their works internationally. Whether you are exhibiting in galleries abroad, participating in international competitions, or selling works to clients, you need to be willing and able to ship your works anywhere in the world with relative ease.
But, artworks can be heavy and unwieldy. Its delicate nature makes it difficult to ship and cumbersome to travel with. Finding a box that fits the size of your works can be expensive and time-consuming, and the shipping fee adds up with every additional requirement. All in all, packing and shipping artwork can amount to hundreds of dollars. One way to save money is to roll artworks for shipping instead of the regular procedure.
Rolling artworks means taking the works off their stretcher bars or out of the frames that they are housed in and then packing them up to be shipped in a tube. When the artwork arrives at its destination, you simply re-frame or re-stretch them with the help of a local art handler or framer. On an average, the amount of money to reframe or re-stretch the artwork will be much less than the amount of money it takes to ship the works ready-to-hang. When done properly, this method is also much safer for the works. The chances of the artwork being damaged in transit are much lower.
Is it cheaper to ship your works framed or rolled?
- Measure and weigh your work ready-to-hang* and use this UPS Shipping Calculator to estimate the cost of shipping as-is.
- To estimate the cost when you roll your works, weigh an empty frame/stretcher bars of the same size/materials, and subtract this weight from measurements of Step 1. This will give you the weight of your unstretched/unframed works. Add a few pounds to account for the light packing materials and tube. Though the cost does range depending on materials and quantity, it usually will fall between 5-10 pounds.
- The cost to re-stretch or re-frame your works will vastly depend on where you are shipping your works to. Simply do an internet search to find the services available at your artwork’s destination, and add this to the cost of shipping your works.
- Compare the cost of shipping your works ready-to-hang with the cost of shipping them rolled in a tube, plus the framing upon arrival.
*If your works are currently unframed and unstretched, then just reverse these steps: add the weight of your frame in Step 2 instead of subtracting.
How To Roll Artworks For Shipping
So you’ve been invited to show your artwork in an exclusive gallery. Congratulations! But, it’s overseas and you’ve got to ship the works. You were able to determine that you would save money shipping if you roll your works to be shipped in a tube. Great! Let’s get started.
What You Will Need
- Your artwork
- A large, flat surface to work on / a clean, uncluttered floor space
- Craft paper / a clean table cloth to lay under your works for protection
- Smooth, archival paper such as glassine or tyvek
- Bubble wrap
- Artist tape (drafting/painter’s tape can be substituted if artist tape is unavailable)
- Scissors or a box cutter
- One cardboard, PVC, or plastic tube large enough to hold your artwork
Tube sizes for safely shipping artwork: Your tube should always be 4 inches longer than the shortest side of your largest artwork when flat. The width of the tube depends on the diameter of your works when rolled tightly: no matter what, the tube will need to be at least 4-6 inches wide. If your works are very long, they will be thicker when rolled, so aim for your tube to be 4-5 inches wider than the diameter of your rolled works.
Lay out your protective cloth/paper/bubble wrap on a large flat surface. This will be your work area.
Lay out 2-3 layers of your smooth, archival paper (at Agora, we use glassine paper). Archival paper should always be acid-free so it will not release any chemicals as it degrades over time. This protects your artwork from chemical damage.
These layers will be the outermost level when you roll your works – like the rice to your artwork sushi or the tortilla to your artwork burrito. It plays a crucially important role, as it’s going to be an extra level of cushioning to protect your artwork from the inside of the tube.
Cut the paper to be at least 2 inches larger than your largest work on all sides. You can overlap multiple sheets of the paper to make sure that the full area of the piece is covered. When doing so, make sure the overlap is at least 1 ½ inches in width.
Lay out your largest work on the archival paper. You must be sure that you’re placing the largest piece, as this will be the outer-most work in the roll, protecting it and the other pieces from crumpling during transit.
If you are shipping artworks on paper, then place your piece with the image side face-up on your archival paper so that the image is facing you and the back of the paper is against the surface. This includes: drawings, photographs, prints, and watercolors. By placing these face-up on the paper, you will be rolling them “face in,” protecting the image.
NOTE: Many artists apply a layer of fixatif or a similar product over their works after completion. This will protect the pieces from smudging up.
Works on fabric-based materials (canvas, linen, etc.) should be placed face-down on the archival paper: the painted part should be directly touching the glassine. This is because the materials are on top of the works, and run a huge risk of cracking/breaking if rolled facing inward. By rolling them “face out,” if the works do crack in transit, the process of unrolling the work will help close the cracks, as opposed to worsening them.
Place another sheet of archival paper down on top of the work you just laid out, again making sure that each size is approximately 2 inches longer than the next work you will be placing. Then, place that work on top of the paper.
Continue this process until all of the works are laid on top of each other from largest to smallest, with a layer of archival paper in between each piece. All works should be facing the same direction. This is very important, as you can damage your works if they are packed facing the wrong way.
Once you’ve gotten your works all laid out, align them so that the bottom right-hand corner of each work matches up. That is, all the layers should appear to originate from one corner. The bottom side of all the paintings should also line up perfectly. This will be the starting point of your roll.
Take the ends of your work and pull them over, creating a soft arch. Do not fold the work to begin your roll, as this will damage your artwork, sometimes irreparably. Be careful not to roll the works too tightly; you’ll have to exercise your own judgment here by feeling the resistance of your materials. Light materials with light media can be rolled more tightly than thick media on thick grounds. For example, an acrylic wash on linen can be rolled more tightly than impasto on canvas.
There should be no clear bends or folds down the inside or outside of the roll. If you start to see folding, stop rolling, release your work, and roll more loosely.
When you tape the roll closed with your artist or drafting tape, fold over one end of the tape to create a tab for easy removal. By doing this, you’re not only being considerate to the unpacker; you’re protecting your works. Otherwise, the people unpacking your work will have to tear the paper, potentially damaging your artwork.
Once you have your roll completed, set it aside and lay out your bubble wrap. You should have enough bubble wrap to fill the space between the tube’s inner walls and your works. To make sure you don’t underestimate and leave the work under-protected, don’t cut the bubble wrap until the end of step seven.
Lay the end of your bubble wrap bubble-side down on your surface. With the bubbles facing out, you’ll be creating extra friction within the tube to keep the works in place. Otherwise, they will slide around inside your tube, potentially damaging the edges.
Place your roll of works on top of the bubble wrap and begin rolling.
Keep an eye on your tube while you roll, making sure that you will be able to fit everything inside. Once you have enough wrapping around your roll to fit snugly in the tube, you can cut the bubble wrap.
Remember that extra few inches of bubble wrap you left at the top & bottom of the roll? Fold them over and tape them closed to create extra cushioning on the top/bottom of your package. Lastly, tape along the length-wise edge of the bubble wrap so that you seal the whole package closed.
Slide your roll inside your tube. It should be snug enough that it doesn’t move when you jostle the package, but shouldn’t be too snug that you can’t slide an open hand in to remove the work. If your work is too loosely packed, it can bang around during transit and get damaged. If your work is too tight, it can crack due to pressure changes, or during unpacking.
Remember, if you have trouble getting it in the tube, it will be troublesome to get it out too.
Seal your tube. When you purchased your tube, it should have come with a twist or push cap. Rarely, they may come with a screw top (twists go on the inside of the tube, screw tops go around the outside). You can also cut a custom piece of extra-thick cardboard to seal the tube.
Unless using a screw top, you will need to tape the package securely by creating a “star” and a “circle”. For the star: cross the tape over the top and edges in an asterisk formation. For the circle: wrap the tape around the sides so that the “star” tape won’t peel up easily.
Always, always, always use a cap! Do not use tape alone to seal your tube. It might stick to your works and damage them.
Pay for postage and send the work on its way!
There you have it! Your artwork has been successfully rolled and is safely on its way to whatever future lies before it. Bon voyage, art!
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