Shipping Method for Fragile Large and Medium Pictures and Art

Updated with a YouTube video of the process (refined a bit).

One of the things I like to sell is original art and signed / numbered prints or any interesting print for that matter. I find that I can sometimes acquire them at a reasonable price as many resellers will shy away from these types of items as they require sometimes complex and careful packaging to ship and considered risky. I personally find that to be an opportunity and have gotten to a solid level of experience shipping pictures as large as 36” x 48” or even larger. 

There are a couple things that I feel are key, first is that in order to keep the glass from breaking, you need to package the picture such that it has minimal flex in the final box. Second, layers are essential and normal medium to large pictures will have 4 layers of bubble wrap and cardboard on all sides. Of course, it is a good practice to always use corner protectors which are very easy to make yourself and I picked that up through YouTube. 

My process is pretty repeatable now a days and it all starts as follows:

1. Check to see if there is any play in the glass and frame, if so I use painters tape to minimize any movement horizontally and vertically. I will wrap the picture in wrapping or craft paper first and put extra packing tape on any petrusions which might rip or poke out (like the hanging hardware). Most get wrapped in plastic with a few silica packs.

Update: I now put cardboard against the glass then put bubble wrap over it. Reason is that if it breaks, the cardboard might keep the glass from moving so much to damage the print.  

2. Now I apply the corner protectors and tape them into place. 

Update: I used to make them but time is money and just buy them in bulk.

3. I will also use strips of cardboard to cover all 4 sides of the frame. I then put bubble wrap over the glass and the back. I normally will use a medium 5/16” bubbles wrap. Or maybe do bubble wrap before the initial warfare after the cardboard against the glass….yeah, that’s it.

4. Then I put a piece of cardboard the size of the picture on top of the whole picture on front and back.

This is what it looks like after this step, so that is 2 layers so far.

5. Next is to wrap the entire picture and all sides with 2 layers of medium 5/16” bubble wrap. When this is complete, then I will use stretch wrap to keep everything in place and to keep a consistent pressure on the bubbles in the wrap.

This now constitutes 3 layers (not including the 2nd layer of bubble wrap. I call this the “cocoon”.

6. Next I will build a box out of heavy duty cardboard (2 or more ply). When I build the box, it will almost always be a 2 piece box with a top and a bottom, where both the top and bottom have sides, so the side walls of the picture are 2 layers of cardboard, for extra protection. I always get a little paranoid that they may put another box on top of it, so strong side walls are a key component for me.

The box itself constitutes the 4th layer. 

Update: For large and medium pictures, I now glue and additional layer to the inside front and back of the box, reason is if they drop on the side, it has more resistance.

7. Now I go to town with securing it with tape, I use a reinforced tape for the most part and wrap fragile tape are under the outside edge.  When using other boxes, you will sometimes have joints or weak points that you need to secure as well as just putting extra wraps every 12-16 inches as above in case any seams break. You want to make sure there is no flex in the final package. If there is, you can sometimes address with strips of cardboard taped to the sides.

Update: I have moved to a mix of Gorilla Glue sticks in my glues gun and some tape to reinforce, I like the outcome.

8. The last step is labeling. I will use a combination of printed paper labels and tape them on along with fragile tape. I used to go all out with fragile tape, but find its not needed to that degree and fragile tape is not the cheapest either. 

This is the final package. It has almost no flex, will usually be about 3-4 inches longer/wider than the picture and for a typical picture even a large one, I can usually keep it under 4” in depth for normal frames less than 1.5” in depth which sometimes makes a major difference in price.

When I am putting shipping size estimates on a listing, I have found that the additional packing weight will be roughly 50% of the picture weight; this percent tends to increase the smaller the picture. So if the picture weighs 10 lbs, then the finally packed weight will consistently be 15lb, +/- a pound or so, but it is pretty consistent. As I said above, for the dimensions I will add 4” to the length and width (which will almost always be less, but better to be conservative so you don’t get slammed with a next level of shipping cost). 

I use a lot of bubble wrap and sometimes I have to go buy heavy duty new boxes if I don’t have some available already, but usually only for the largest pictures. As far as time, this particular picture probably took me 1.5 hours and one medium I did the day before took me 51 minutes. It’s therapeutic though and would rather the buyer has to take a few minutes longer to unpack, but finds the item as described.  So far no damage reported on pictures (well, 1 mirror and we determined it had a pre-existing crack we didn’t see). This process is the same regardless of value, and always stick to one of my key values which is to pack properly first….then weigh and measure.

Here is another as it went through the process. Notice that even though I don’t have 24” wide bubble wrap, I deal with it simply by taping 2 pieces together. I also don’t pack at home in the kitchen any more…happy wife…happy life thing and all.

The picture is now in it’s cocoon.

Hopefully this gives you some insight into my packing process for framed pictures and art. 
Some feedback recently received:

I had my first damaged picture (June 2, 2022) and decided to keep a log of items damaged in shipping here.



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