Shipping De-Mystified: How To Roll Artworks For Shipping

By rolling your canvases and prints, not only do you save money but also keep your works safe from damage during transit!

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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. But, wait – the future isn’t all bleak! One way to save money is to roll artworks for shipping instead of the regular procedure.

roll artworks for shipping

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?

roll artworks for shipping

  1. Measure and weigh your work ready-to-hang* and use this UPS Shipping Calculator to estimate the cost of shipping as-is.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
roll artworks for shipping
The tube should be 4 inches taller than the shortest side of the largest work.

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.

roll artworks for shipping

Step One

Lay out your protective cloth/paper/bubble wrap on a large flat surface. This will be your work area.

Step Two

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.

roll artworks for shipping

Step Three

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.

Step Four

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.

Step Five

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.

roll artworks for shipping

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.

roll artworks for shipping

 

Step Six 

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.

Step Seven 

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.

roll artworks for shipping 

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.

Step Eight

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.

roll artworks for shipping

Step Nine

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.

Step Ten 

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!

 

Looking to enhance your career and build a presence in New York? Submit your portfolio to us and get the opportunity to present your work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

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40 comments

  • Oh im so sorry for the multiple responses but there was some technical error! Really sorry!

  • This is exactly what i was looking! Thank you for providing such detailed information and guidelines. Great help! I suppose pencil art shouldn’t be much of an issue for packaging. Or is there something I should be mindful of? And also which paper is the best choice for pencil art provided that it is also low on the cost and easily available? Would really appreciate your advice!
    Many thanks in advance !

    • Hi Fiddah,

      Thank you for reading our blog! We’re glad that you find our articles useful. In the future, if you have any suggestion for topics, don’t hesitate to contact us at blogs@agora-gallery.com

      Regarding the paper, it’s best to check your local shop and assess according to your type of art and budget for supplies.

      • Hi Andra,
        Thank you for your response!

        I will certainly check with the local shop.

        Best Regards!

  • I really appreciate the detailed information for packing artwork in a tube. I plan to ship watercolor this week and need to make sure this method is good enough to prevent moisture from entering the internal painting enclosure. Shipping to a snowy state.

    • Hi Liz,

      Have you ever considered varnishing your works?

  • love the infomation it is most helpfull. i am contemplating sending an oil painting on canvas from canada to the uk. would you advise sealing the art work before mailing or leave it till it arrives. i usually seal my oil paintings with Kamar varnish when dry. I am allowing the work to dry for 90 days before shipping Your advice will be most welcome thanks Bob hall

    • Hi Robert! It sounds like you have the right idea – if you are planning on rolling the canvas we would suggest that you use caution as it is possible for the varnish to crack if it is not flexible enough. If you are sending the paintings stretched this should be fine. The most important part is that the varnish is totally dry.

  • Hello
    This article is a great help, but I have difficulties finding a big enough tube to hold the artwork I would like to ship. I have a painting that is 110,5 cm x 147 cm and that has been rolled up on the long side. I basically need a tube of at least 62″, but am unable to find one (unless I want to buy them in bulk, which I don’t). Would you know where I can get one?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Tatiana! There are several online stores that sell tubes bigger than the average size. Also, you can try contacting your local supplier and discuss bringing your required size.

    • Try your local picture framing shop – we were given tubes for free.

  • can you recommend any businesses that can stretch the work once it has arrived in New York?

    • Hi Jacinda, we can! Agora Gallery can provide framing services for artists at competitive rates. Give us a call (+1)212-226-4151

  • I have an expensive print and I’m a little hesitant about the bubble wrap and moisture in a tropical climate. But it is the only way to keep it completely dry.

  • Thank you for the great article. I had an acryl painting sent rolled to me, but now there are some little cracks, because it was rolled face up and not down. Do you think, i can do anything to save the painting?

    • Dear Susan,

      Unfortunately, the only way to fix a cracked painting is to take it to a professional. They will be able to help if the cracks aren’t too big.

      Good Luck!

  • Thank you for this well-written and informative article. I’m considering shipping my work overseas and realize that sending the paintings on their stretchers will be cost prohibitive. Using a tube seems to be an excellent solution!

  • If you know a commissioned canvas will need to be rolled for shipping, would it work to paint it unstretched, then allow stretching by the client. Or, would not stretching it while painting it make an acrylic painting prone to cracking? Thank you.

    • Dear Kirsten,

      It is always better to stretch and paint, rather than stretching after painting.

  • Great information and advice!
    I have one question regarding an acyrylic painting; could I have my painting (which painted) scanned after taking it off the stretcher bars?

    Best regards,
    Pamela

    • Hi Pamela!
      Yes it is possible to scan your acrylic painting. However, it really depends on the size. If it is a large painting, you might have to do it in parts and then digitally put it together.
      Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Hi, I have a large painting 72″ *42″ which is mixed media on canvas including acrylic. I have been unable to ship it and it is still sitting in my parents home due to the high cost of crating and shipping. Is it safe to roll up the painting? How would you suggest it should be done? Would appreciate your help.

  • Hi~
    Love the article. Have a question though. Some of my oil paintings are done on paper canvases. Can they be rolled and shipped or transported the same as loose canvas? The size is too big for the travel to take flat. My mom wants to take a painting of mine back home but that involves air flights of over 10 hours. Is there some other special process in transporting paper canvas paintings? Thanks!

    • Hello Juliann!
      Thank You!
      If you are using paper canvas, rolling is probably not a good idea for transportation. You could put them together using butter paper and bubble wrap and use some cardboard to protect the sides. It would have to be packed very carefully.
      However, if its cloth canvas, you can roll it and cover with bubble wrap.
      Either way, if you are travelling with your work, do remember to ask them to mark the work “fragile” so that it is handled properly.

  • Great step by step instructions. I do have a question. I bought a painting and the seller rolled it for me on a paper. Then I transported the painting to another city by car. Unrolled it and noticed that spots on the painting are stuck to the paper. Afraid to lidt it off paper as it looks it will take the paint spots off the painting. Anything you would suggest I can do to save the painting?

    • Dear Gosia, to give you a proper answer, we’d need a little bit more information. What type of paint is it and what type of paper is the painting wrapped in?

  • Does the above process work for watercolour paintings done on Arches cold pressed paper (300 gsm) too? I need to ship international a large painting 22″X30″.
    Thanks!

    • Dear Shweta! For your type of works, we would suggest shipping in a box, laying each painting flat and alternating with glassine paper (or any acid-free paper). Before packing your artwork into the box, place cardboard sheets on the top and the bottom of each stack, under the layer of bubble wrap (remember to have the bubbles facing out), also one per side. Here is the recap of the order of layers: bubble wrap, cardboard, glassine, artwork, glassine, artwork, ……, glassine, cardboard, bubble wrap. Hope this helps!

      • Thank you!
        I’ve sent a watercolour painting on 140 lb Arches paper to a customer rolled in a tube. The customer received the work 7 days later and wants to keep the painting rolled for another 3 weeks before taking it for framing. Will it be alright if the painting is kept rolled for four weeks?

  • Great step by step article! Do you roll an Oil/acrylic painting vertical or horizontal?

    • Dear Cristy, it really depends on the height of the piece but, in general, we roll it on the horizontal side. Hope this helps!

  • Thank you very much for your tips!
    By the way I really need your advice about how to roll a painting that all the sides are painted.. I need to ship the painting in tube. Thanks in advance for your advice.

    Dujduangjai T.

  • This is very useful indeed! I do have one question. I am about to ship some works that are done on Mylar. The medium is oil-stick, and each work is about 36×60 inches. It seems to me that your method should work for this, but I thought I should check in case there are any other things to consider.

    • Hi Garth,

      Mylar actually does need special wrapping, as it is more prone to cracking. We do not recommend rolling it, as any impact can leave marks. To be safest, you should be shipping Mylar boxed with reinforced cardboard against all flat sides to prevent cracking. You’ll want to cover the piece in glassine, then a layer of cardboard, then a lot of bubble wrap (3 layers minimum), then the box. Unfortunately, Mylar is very tough to ship!

  • Thank you so much for this – love the step by step process and really makes things a lot simpler for first-timers such as myself to ship painted canvases by tube.

  • Cool tips. There are times that we can rely these kind of work to some of packing companies. But it is more likely nicer if we know how to do it within ourselves. We can save money for it unlike relying on the company to do all if it. The tips really caught my eyes. And I would really be doing these by near future. Nice blog.