Introduction: Packing Art, Watercolor or Works on Paper for Shipping

Packing Art Works on Paper for Tube Shipping (in 16 Steps)

Occasionally, there is not time (or it is not in the budget) to have a professional art packer come to my studio to prepare an art work for shipment.

Most of us know, for fragile works, like porcelain sculptures, about packing these carefully in one box within a second box, with cushioning between. (But that can be the subject of another Instructable)!

What about works on paper, like watercolors?

These can be sandwiched between acid-free board then wood crated, but (unless for an older work perhaps on more fragile paper) this tends to be overkill, overly large and needlessly expensive if the paper can be rolled without damage.

In this Instructable, I will show you a combination of tricks I've learned from others blended with my own improvisation on how to prepare an art work on paper for tube shipping.

You will need:
- your artwork
- acid free glassine paper
- sturdier wrapping/packing paper (acid free if the artwork is going to stay in the tube for longer than just shipment)
- contrasting color (eg blue) painter's tape
- a cardboard tube for the "core"
- fine bubble wrap
- a standard shipping tube
- as outlined here, for when you want to reduce crush-in-shipment risk to almost zero, PVC plumbing pipe with the matching size "end" caps
- identification labels
- a standard shipping triangle form "tube"

Step 1 - cut one sheet of the sturdier (in this case, brown) wrapping paper and two sheets of glassine a good several inches larger than your artwork. My art work was 22 inches by 17 inches. So I cut the brown paper and glassine into 30 inch by 25 inch rectangles, which leaves a "safety" border of about 4 inches on all sides. You can leave a little less, but 4 or more is better.

Step 2 - place your artwork between the two glassine sheets, painted face DOWN (facing the brown paper). It may not be so clear in my image as this artwork was one that bled heavily through the paper but you are looking at the reverse side. Face down is important because when we roll the work, we do not want its painted surface compressed in the inside of the curve. Also, once you have figured out all tube dimensions, IF you can, roll with the wider edge facing you. This has the effect of fewer curves on the paper at the receiving end. They flatten out, but fewer is better. So in the image, the 30 inch side is near us.

Step 3 - lightly tape the two glassine sheets to the brown paper to hold them in place AND place a long strip of the painters tape, sticky side up on one edge of the brown paper. So, in the image, the tape was slid under the brown paper, the paper was pressed onto it, leaving the sticky side up, ready to adhere to the inner "core" tube that you also see in the image. That "core" tube should be cut a little wider than your glassine and brown paper (so it will take the brunt of any shifting leaving even your "safety" zone of glassine and brown paper undamaged). My "core" was cut to 32 inches. The "core" has painters tape wrapped on its ends to improve visibility in unpacking.

Step 4 - press the "core" tube down onto the exposed sticky tape and begin gently rolling.

Step 5 - continue rolling gently (but tightly. The "safety" border you allowed will be the final portion to roll up

Step 6 - hold the wrapped work firmly

Step 7 - prepare three strips of painters tape, with one end of each folded partially on itself to provide a "stick-free" grip point. The total length only needs to be a couple of inches and should NOT be long enough to go around the rolled work and adhere to itself.

Step 8 - adhere the strips with the "stick-free" grip points on the free or leading edge of your brown paper. This means that when the person receiving the work pulls on the blue "stick-free" tabs, they will come off the brown paper with ease and will not pull into and tear that brown paper.

Step 9 - prepare a shipping tube longer than your inner "core" tube. This can be a standard white or brown card tube but in this case I was shipping from Los Angeles to a charity auction in Paris and wanted as near crush-proof as possible. That consisted of going to a friendly hardware store that cuts PVC pipe and getting a 32 inch long piece of Schedule 40 PVC 3 inch (inside diameter) pipe cut. It is cheap and STURDY! That 32 inches was to match my 32 inch inner core. And then buy two matching Schedule 40 3 inch PVC caps. I sanded the black markings off the PVC because they are not attractive but that is an extra step that you may choose to skip. Use the fine bubble wrap to pad out the brown paper roll you competed in Step 8 to as closely fill the PVC tube as possible. Then bind that bubble wrap with similar "stick-free" blue painters tape "tabs" to the ones we prepared in Step 7 for the inner brown roll. All with a view to the recipient having as user-friendly and unwrapping job as possible.

Step 10 - slide the bubble wrapped bundle into the PVC tube.

Step 11 - the image shows the inner bundle not quite pushed all the way into the PVC tube but this highlights the function of the slightly longer "core" tube, namely preventing impact the the rolled paper or artwork.

Step 12 - push the two PVC end caps on.

Step 13 - to help anyone receiving multiple artworks, ensure that the tube is labeled.

Step 14 - similarly, it's good to label the end caps.

Step 15 - the nearly indestructible tube can be its own mailing tube of course but to avoid the risk of the end caps coming off AND so the shipment looks less threatening than it might, here we see it going into a Federal Express triangle shipping tube (for which all the dimensions were planned).

Step 16 - add a little bit of bubble wrap to avoid any shifting of the quite heavy PVC tube within the FedEx triangle. And then seal it up and ship.