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1. What is artwork shipping?

Shipping artwork internationally: The complete guide [2024]

Updated Jan 15 2024

In the realm of art, boundaries and borders are often transcended, yet when it comes to physically moving these prized pieces across continents, artists, collectors, and galleries face a labyrinth of procedures, precautions, and policies. As the art world becomes more interconnected and the appetite for international collections grows, the necessity to understand the intricacies of shipping artwork across nations becomes paramount. Whether you are a seasoned art dealer, an emerging artist, or an avid collector, ensuring the safe transit of your cherished pieces is crucial.

Step into a world where art meets logistics, and empower yourself with the knowledge to move masterpieces seamlessly across the globe.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Artwork shipping essentials: The process involves meticulously packaging, documenting, and choosing the right shipping service. Factors like the piece's fragility, distance, and destination customs play significant roles.

  • Special care: Art is fragile and sensitive to environmental changes. Proper packaging, using acid-free materials, and protective crating are essential. Handling with care prevents warping, cracking, fading, and other damage.

  • Insurance and customs: Secure comprehensive insurance coverage for artwork during transit. Accurately declaring the value of the artwork is crucial for customs duties, with necessary documentation like invoices and authenticity certificates.

  • Technology and sustainability trends: Advanced tracking and digital documentation streamline shipping while the industry is moving towards more sustainable practices like eco-friendly packaging and carbon-neutral options.

  • Gelato for print on demand: Gelato simplifies global art shipping services with localized printing, professional packaging, streamlined customs, transparent tracking, quality assurance, and sustainable shipping solutions.

What is artwork shipping?

Artwork shipping entails the transportation of artwork, such as paintings, sculptures, and other valuable pieces, from one location to another. It involves various stages, including packaging, documentation, and selecting the appropriate shipping service.

Why is special care needed for artwork shipping?

Artwork requires special care during shipping due to its fragile nature and value. Unlike standard packages, artwork cannot simply be thrown in a box with some bubble wrap and shipped off.

Artwork may be sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity, and handling. Extreme temperatures or high humidity levels can cause the artwork's warping, cracking, or fading. Additionally, improper handling can lead to accidental damage, such as dents or scratches.

Proper packaging and protection are crucial to prevent damage during transit. Artwork should be wrapped in acid-free paper or archival tissue to protect it from direct contact with packaging materials. It should then be placed in a sturdy crate or box with sufficient padding to absorb any shocks or vibrations during transportation.

Now that we understand the basics of artwork shipping, let's explore how to prepare your artwork for international shipping.

Preparing artwork for international shipping

Before shipping your artwork internationally, taking the necessary steps to protect it during transit is crucial. This includes packaging it securely and obtaining insurance coverage.

Shipping artwork internationally can be complex, as it involves navigating various regulations and ensuring the artwork arrives at its destination in pristine condition. To help you with this, we have compiled additional information and tips to expand on the topic.

Packaging artwork for safety

Proper packaging is key to ensuring that your artwork arrives at its destination unharmed. Start wrapping the artwork with acid-free protective materials like foam, bubble wrap, or acid-free tissue paper. This will help protect it from scratches, moisture, and other potential hazards.

However, it is important to note that different types of artwork require specific packaging techniques. Paintings, for example, should be handled differently than sculptures or delicate pieces. Let's delve into some specific packaging considerations for different types of artwork:

Materials you'll need:
  • Archival plastic sleeves or glassine (acid-free) to cover flat artwork.

  • Bubble wrap, preferably the type with larger bubbles, for extra protection.

  • Sturdy cardboard or wooden crates for sculptures or other 3D artwork.

  • Packing tape and scissors.

Packaging for different types of artwork:
  • Flat artwork: Cover the artwork in a plastic sleeve or glassine to protect against moisture. Place cardboard sheets on both sides. Wrap the artwork with bubble wrap, ensuring all corners are covered. Place it in a sturdy box with extra padding like foam or bubble wrap.

  • 3D artwork: Wrap the artwork securely with bubble wrap. If the artwork has any protruding elements, ensure they're well protected. Place the wrapped piece inside a custom wooden crate or a well-padded box.

Insurance coverage

Insurance is also an important consideration when shipping fine art internationally. Adequate insurance coverage can provide financial protection in case of unforeseen accidents or damage during transit.

When selecting an insurance provider, choosing a reputable company specializing in artwork shipping is important. They will have the necessary expertise to understand the unique risks associated with shipping artwork and provide appropriate coverage options. Here's what you need to consider.

  • Value assessment: Ensure you have a recent appraisal or receipt indicating the artwork's value.

  • Insurance providers: Some courier companies offer insurance options but also consider specialized art insurers for comprehensive coverage.

  • Coverage details: Ensure the policy covers damages, loss, and theft. Understand the claims process in case of mishaps.

Handling customs

When shipping artwork internationally, customs and duties play a significant role. These fees are imposed by the destination country's customs authority to cover the costs of inspecting and processing the artwork.

It is essential to accurately declare the value of the artwork to determine the appropriate customs duties. This valuation should include the actual value of the artwork, including any commissions or fees paid to artists or galleries, as well as the cost of packaging and shipping.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Documentation: Ensure you have a detailed invoice, a certificate of authenticity, and a clear artwork description.

  • Duties and taxes: Research the destination country's customs regulations. Some nations offer exemptions for original artworks, while others may levy duties.

  • Temporary vs. permanent shipping: If you send artwork for an exhibition or temporary display, ensure you use an ATA Carnet, which acts as a "passport for goods," allowing duty-free and tax-free temporary import.

Understanding international shipping rates

The cost of shipping artwork internationally can vary depending on several factors. Understanding these factors can help you estimate and potentially reduce shipping costs.

  • Dimensions and weight: The size and weight of your packaged artwork will significantly impact the cost. Courier services typically use volumetric or dimensional weight calculations.

  • Destination: Rates can differ dramatically depending on the destination. Regular art traffic might make shipping to major art hubs more affordable.

  • Shipping speed: Express services cost more than standard shipping. Opting for standard shipping can save costs if you're not in a rush.

  • Special handling: Artworks that need temperature control, special handling, or other specific conditions will likely incur additional charges.

Choosing the right carrier

Choosing the right shipping service is crucial for a successful international expansion.

When shipping artwork internationally, there are many factors to consider.

  • Reputation: Look for companies with stellar reviews, especially from fellow artists or galleries.

  • Tracking: Ensure the courier offers detailed tracking so you can monitor the artwork's journey.

  • Specialized art couriers: Some companies specialize in shipping artwork and may provide better conditions and handling than general couriers.

Shipping artwork internationally in 2024 may seem daunting, but with meticulous planning and an understanding of the processes involved, you can ensure your artwork reaches its destination safely. Always prioritize the artwork's safety, from packaging to choosing a reputable courier, to guarantee its physical and financial protection.

The future of artwork shipping

The world of artwork shipping is constantly evolving, and several trends are shaping its future. Let's explore a couple of these trends.

Impact of technology on artwork shipping

Technology is playing an increasingly significant role in artwork shipping. Advanced tracking systems allow shippers and recipients to monitor the location and status of the artwork in real time.

Similarly, digital documentation and customs processes streamline the paperwork in international artwork shipments, reducing delays and improving efficiency.

Sustainability in artwork shipping

As environmental consciousness grows, sustainability becomes a key consideration in international art shipping. Shipping companies are adopting eco-friendly packaging materials, optimizing transportation routes, and exploring carbon-neutral shipping options.

Artists and collectors also embrace sustainable practices by repurposing packaging materials or using alternative transportation methods.

Using Gelato for simplified global shipping of print on demand artwork

In today's interconnected world, artists and art sellers seek platforms to help them reach a global audience without the associated complications of international shipping. Gelato, a leading print on demand platform, emerges as a prime solution.

One of Gelato's standout features is its expansive global network of printers. The artwork is printed closer to the buyer's location when an order is placed. This localized approach drastically reduces transit times and the risks of long-distance shipping, such as damages or delays. Furthermore, understanding the sensitive nature of art prints, Gelato ensures that every piece is packaged with utmost care.

With Gelato, many customs-related complications are already sidestepped by printing artwork closer to the destination.

Gelato's approach to cutting down shipping times and costs while maintaining quality makes it a game-changer in the ecommerce landscape. Our global alliance of print partners facilitates localized production of various artistic products, including posters and wall art.  

Ready to transform your art business? Streamline your operations, reach a global audience, and ensure your masterpieces arrive in perfect condition. Elevate your art game with Gelato. Sign up for Gelato today.

Shipping art internationally FAQs

What is the best way to package artwork for international shipping?

Packaging artwork for international shipping requires special care to ensure its safety during transit. Use sturdy cardboard boxes or wooden crates, depending on the size and fragility of the artwork. Before you ship art, always cushion it with bubble wrap or foam padding, ensuring corners are protected. If the artwork is framed with glass, consider taping the glass with an 'X' pattern to prevent shattering. It's also advisable to use acid-free paper when wrapping paintings to prevent any potential damage to the artwork.

Do I need to get insurance for shipping artwork internationally?

Yes, it's highly recommended to get insurance when shipping artwork internationally. The value of art can be significant, and insurance will protect you financially in case of damage or loss during transit. Ensure the coverage amount accurately reflects the value of the artwork and includes provisions for both damage and total loss.

What kind of documentation is required for shipping artwork internationally?

When shipping artwork internationally, you'll typically need:

  • A detailed invoice or proforma invoice with the artwork's description, value, and the recipient's full details.

  • A Certificate of Authenticity for original artworks.

  • An export license, if required by your country or the destination country.

  • A customs declaration form that states the contents and value of the shipment.

  • Additional documentation or understanding of the trade tariff commodity codes might be required based on the nature of the artwork or specific destination country regulations.

How do I deal with customs duties and taxes when I ship artwork internationally?

Customs duties and taxes vary from one country to another. Before shipping, research the destination country's customs regulations regarding imported artwork. Some countries offer reduced or zero duties for artwork, while others might levy taxes based on the artwork's value. It's crucial to be transparent and accurate with declared values, as under-declaring can lead to penalties. If unsure, consult with a customs broker or shipping expert familiar with art shipments.

Can I track my artwork shipment internationally?

Yes, most international shipping carriers offer tracking services. Once your artwork is dispatched, you'll receive a tracking number, which you can use to monitor the shipment's progress and estimated delivery date. It's essential to share this tracking information with the recipient, ensuring both parties are updated about the shipment's status.

Can I use regular courier services to ship my artwork internationally, or should I opt for specialized art couriers?

When shipping artwork internationally, both regular courier services and specialized art couriers can be considered. However, the decision largely depends on the artwork's value, size, and fragility:

Regular courier services: Suitable for less expensive and robust artworks, they generally offer competitive prices and comprehensive tracking systems. However, they might not provide the specialized handling and packaging needed for delicate or high-value artworks.

Specialized art couriers: They are specifically trained to handle, package, and transport artwork. If you're shipping valuable, delicate, or large-scale artwork, a specialized art courier will likely provide better conditions, custom packaging, and specialized insurance options. Their expertise ensures that artwork is treated with the utmost care and attention during transit.


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