How to Pack Artwork for Moving

February 3, 2017

No matter whether you have priceless, one-of-a-kind art, or one of those inspirational posters from Hobby Lobby, you want to make sure it arrives at your new home unharmed and in one piece.

You know what I’m talking about.

Packing artwork and paintings for a move has its own unique set of problems, over and above “normal” packing. Art is usually unwieldy – large, but flimsy – and the elements meant to protect it (the frame and glass) can often as not end up damaging your art during a move.

It may seem like you could get away with just being extra-careful when you move your artwork – but why take the risk? Keeping your art and paintings safe during a move is actually more simple than you might believe.

A few pointers before you begin:

1 Beware of using packing materials that can etch glass or leave stains on canvas. Newspaper is a great example – even if it doesn’t get wet, the ink can still rub off. Similarly, parchment paper has been known to pit/scratch/etch glass in the past, so best to avoid using it.

2 Avoid using packing peanuts as “dunnage” (padding inside the box). For one thing, packing peanuts have an annoying tendency to break up into little balls that wedge themselves everywhere (like the tiny spaces between the glass of your artwork and the frame). Additionally, most packing peanuts today are made out of corn or potato byproduct, which is better for the ecosystem, but worse for you – the slightest bit of moisture turns them to glue.

3 If your artwork is canvas that’s “loose” inside a frame (or just loose period), the safest way to transport it is actually to roll it up loosly and place it inside a cardboard tube. Your neighborhood hobby shop or art supply store will almost certainly have leftover cardboard tubes that you can have if you’re any good at sweet-talking.

4 For very delicate frames or antique frames consider having them professionally crated. Many of your local “pack and mail” type places will offer this service, and if they don’t most art galleries will be happy to help you for a small fee. If the frames themselves are very fragile or valuable, it is absolutely worth the extra time, effort, and money to have them professionally packed.

Supplies you’ll need to pack your artwork for moving:

  • Sturdy moving boxes, preferably just a little bit larger across its height, width, and length than the painting or photo you’re packing.
  • Glassine paper (Optional, but highly recommended). Note: Wax paper/parchment paper are not substitutes for Glassine and could damage your artwork.
  • Bubble wrap – enough to completely wrap all surfaces and edges of each piece of art.
  • “Dunnage” – Material used to absorb shock inside the box. We recommend purpose-made packing paper, not newsprint or packing peanuts (see above for reasons why).
  • Blue painter’s tape (Only necessary if your artwork has glass).
  • Flat cardboard sheets – one for each piece of art, cut slightly larger than the area inside the frame.
  • Packing tape
  • A permanent marker

Here’s how to pack your art for a move:

Before you pack, tape up any glass with painter’s tape

Start by making a large “X” across the face of the glass with the tape, then lay tape down around the border of the glass. In the event that the glass gets cracked or breaks during your move, this tape will help keep the glass from shattering, or gouging or scratching your artwork.

Next, cover the glass area (or open canvas) with protective cardboard

You’ll want the cardboard cut just larger than the open area, so that the edges of the cardboard actually rest on the frame, not on the glass or canvas. Important: If your artwork is canvas that is not covered by glass, we strongly recommend placing a sheet or two of Glassine between the canvas and the cardboard.

Then, wrap the artwork (cardboard and all) in a layer of bubble wrap

Make sure not to leave any exposed edges or corners. One layer of bubble wrap should be sufficient, but a double-layer is double the protection. Secure the bubble wrap to itself using packing tape – make sure that the packing tape is only affixed to the bubble wrap, not any part of the frame, glass, or canvas.

Finally, pack your artwork inside its moving box

Pre-fill the bottom of the box with dunnage (in this case, preferably packing paper) up to a depth of at least 3″. Gently slide your wrapped artwork into the box, and fill all spaces between the artwork and the box with more dunnage. Before you close the box, don’t forget to add more dunnage to the top!

Make sure to mark and load your box appropriately.

It’s very important to clearly mark your box “FRAGILE” on all sides (you never know which one will be visible at the right time), especially if you hire professional moving help. Professionals are always going to be careful, but you still want them to be VERY aware of what’s in the boxes that they’re moving. Also, make sure to load these boxes such that nothing is resting on top of them and nothing will slide into them and squish them. In fact, if you have the extra room, your best option is to transport these and other fragile/valuable items in your personal vehicle instead of inside your moving truck.

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