“Nothing should touch the surface“ is our first advice for packing paintings. We recognize that there are a variety of robust crating and packing methods and materials for shipping paintings, but cost and accessibility can sometimes make those options out of reach for artists. In the following we want to share a simple and cost effective way of packaging paintings for shipping, using corner and edge protection made from corrugated cardboard, so that nothing is touching the painting’s surface. Appropriate packaging for the shipment of paintings is important, so that typical damage such as abrasion of paint layers, squashed corners, or deformations in the canvas can be avoided. Acrylics are thermoplastics, meaning they become stiffer in colder temperatures and softer and more malleable in warmer ones. Packaging material can then easily stick to acrylic paintings or cause ferrotyping, a type of damage whereby the packaging material would imprint its structure into the acrylic paint surface. This type of damage is well illustrated in the JP article Rolling acrylic paintings for shipping or storage.
- Cutting mat
- Staple gun/ Velcro/screws and screw driver
- Packing Tape
Start with a rectangular sheet of corrugated cardboard. If the cardboard is approximately double the width of its height, the corner protectors will be more evenly shaped. (The example in Image 2 is a little on the narrow side.)
Hold the cardboard against the edge of the painting and mark the depth of the painting plus an extra inch (2-3 cm) (Image 1). Continue drawing a line along the bottom edge of the cardboard at the marked distance. This will be the depth of the corner protection, which should be large enough so that the painting fits easily without contact with the paint layer. Find the middle of the board and mark the same distance along the center of the board (Image 2).
Image 1: Marking the depth of the corner protection: depth of painting + 1 inch/2-3 cm
Cut off the corners as shown in Images 3 and 4.
Score the marked lines without cutting through the cardboard (Image 5). Only the two short continuous lines are to be cut (see Image 4). Fold the cardboard where scored, into a triangle and staple or tape the overlapping cardboard sides (Image 6).
Attaching the Corner Protectors
Staples, tape, screws, Velcro, or other hardware, can be used to attach the corner protectors to the reverse of the stretcher bars (Image 7). For thicker and heavier cardboard, screws, possibly with screw washers, might be necessary. Velcro would be suitable for paintings that are frequently packed and shipped. If the edges are painted, it will be important to leave a little space between the triangle corners and the sides of the stretcher. Otherwise, the cardboard might stick to the paint layer (Image 8).
Edge Protection with Cardboard Rails
Once the corner pieces are attached, cardboard rails or collars can be used to protect the edges as an optional step. This might be needed for larger paintings. Use a cardboard piece that is as long as the sides of the painting. In the middle, two lines are scored at a distance as wide as the depth of the corner protectors (Image 9). The edge protection is folded around corner pieces and taped (Image 10).
Cardboard, foam core sheets or similar lightweight panels can be used as covers on top of the corner protection (Image 11). If the painting has no backing board (see Backing Boards for Canvas Paintings), then another cardboard sheet can be placed underneath the painting. Now the painting can be wrapped in bubble wrap, polyethylene plastic sheets, or paper, depending on how it is being transported.
Paintings that are shipped by mail require outer packaging with proper padding, so that there will be less of a risk of damage from the friction due to rapid movement and handling. Double boxing, i.e. a box in a box, provides extra protection to artwork in transit, in particular, accidental drops, forklift accidents or simply the weight of other objects (Image 12). Mirror boxes, U-Haul or FedEx Boxes, corners from the packaging of frames or other packaging material can be recycled. Oz Clips can be used to attach a painting to a sturdier outer box and more materials from the hardware store, such as insulation foam board, can be used for padding and packaging.
Finally, notes with instructions for unpacking, repacking, acclimatization periods, or other requests should be placed on the outer packaging for the recipient. Again, we would like to point out that this method of packaging might not be suitable for all paintings or situations. It offers temporary protection for transport with inexpensive and easily available materials. Paintings should not be stored in these packing materials.
In Safe Handling and Transportation of Acrylic Paintings a variety of packaging options are covered, from rigid cases or crates to soft packaging and packaging framed paintings. The video How To Pack Paintings For Shipping shows a similar approach to the one here discussed, but it is only suitable for small paintings, while this method can be used for medium sized and larger paintings.