How to Ship Artwork on a Budget

Image: Molly Messersmith/ARTA.

For experienced and novice collectors alike, it can be difficult to navigate the logistics required when buying art. Questions regarding collection management, including how to ship artwork to its destination after you purchase it, can be easy to ignore until it’s too late. Shipping artwork doesn’t have to be difficult, and there are easy ways collectors can keep the cost of art transport down.

Art Shipping 101

“How to ship your artwork is potentially one of the more important questions you’re going to answer, and yet it’s the one that people probably spend least time on,” says Simon Hornby of Crozier Fine Arts, an art logistics company based in New York.

Though companies like Amazon have made shipping consumer goods a relatively quick and painless process, the same rules don’t always apply when attempting to ship a painting or transport antiques and collectibles.

Many of the most important questions about shipping artwork seem simple, but require an immense amount of planning and thought on the part of collectors. “The first [step], if they are buying from an auction house, is understanding what the release procedures are. ‘How do I get this?’ Secondly, it’s how quickly. Thirdly, it’s ‘do I really have to pay that much?’ and the answer to each of those is: the more time we have, the more options may be available,” says Hornby.

Because shipping artwork can be an overwhelming process, “usually it’s good to get a reference, ask a seller, or use a resource like ARTA,” says Adam Fields of ARTA, a technology platform that assists buyers and sellers with shipping high-end goods.

With that in mind, our editors sat down with Hornby and Fields to discuss the basics of shipping artwork, in particular how to ship works safely, both domestic and international, and on a budget. Whether you are new to collecting and curious about the process or a seasoned collector looking for new resources, you’ll find the answers to many of your shipping-related questions below.

Shipping Artwork: Know Before You Buy

When purchasing art that will need to be shipped, the 3 factors to consider are:

  1. The dimensions and weight of the work
  2. The condition of the piece
  3. The distance the piece will travel to reach its destination


Though it may seem obvious, among the most important considerations before you purchase an artwork are its dimensions: is the work small and light enough to be easily transported to its final destination, and can the work be supported by the wall or floor on which it will eventually rest?

“Even before you go to look at a gallery or an auction, it’s really having some basic knowledge of where you think any artwork may go and what are the logistical questions that need to be answered to get it in there. It’s not uncommon for us to have clients who bought a large artwork that simply won’t fit in their house or apartment,” says Hornby.

The dimensions of a work impact both the ease of transport and the cost of shipping. “Most shippers are quoting based on easy access, which means they can easily pull up to your driveway or put a piece in an elevator. If they need to walk up five flights of stairs or if something is very heavy and needs three people to lift, that can increase the cost,” says Fields.


Questions surrounding the condition of a work of art should be answered fully before making a purchase in order to expedite the shipping process. Hornby says, “Make sure that the stretcher bars are in good condition, if it’s a framed work that the frame is in good condition. Are there any underlying aspects of the work that really need conservation before it’s installed?”

No matter how old a work of art is, up-to-date condition reports are essential when shipping artwork. “In shipping, nobody wants to take responsibility if and when bad things happen,” says Fields. “Getting condition reports done at the time of sale, at the time of pickup, and at the time of delivery can help track the condition of an item over time but also put liability on a shipper if and when bad things happen.”


The distance a work travels will inevitably affect the date of delivery and cost of shipping. “With an online auction, you should never assume that a work is in a certain location. If you’re in New York and you’re going to ship something to Chicago and the work ends up being in Paris, that can definitely influence your buying decision because the shipping cost can be much higher,” Fields notes. Make sure you know where a work of art will be shipped from upfront.

The Costs of Shipping Artwork

Shipping artwork can be expensive regardless of the work’s purchase price, so it’s important to suss out the hidden costs of shipping and understand your options when transporting art.

Image: Molly Messersmith/ARTA.

Packing and Crating

“Understanding who the artist is and knowing how they’ve fabricated their works can influence how the artwork needs to be packed,” says Hornby. Many sellers use prefabricated packing boxes with foam protection and wrap flat works in a protective cover, the material of which depends on what type of materials are used in the work.

Sometimes a work must be crated to be shipped, which can add quite a lot to the cost. However, “if it’s not that fragile, and below say $50,000, it can be professionally packed with plastic, cardboard, bubble wrap, etc., which can then save you the cost of the crate,” says Fields.

If you are negotiating the purchase of a work from a gallery, ask if the work comes with existing packing materials or custom crates, and ask how the seller packages its works for shipment. If packing materials for the work already exist, that can save you money during the shipping process. If not, you can negotiate to have the cost included in the purchase price.

“I think it’s important that you’re buying from a gallery that you trust is going to pack it properly for you,” says Hornby. “Normally you would want to include that within the sale, either adding it to the price or if you’re negotiating you somehow get that service included within the price you pay.”

Especially when purchasing a large canvas or object, keep in mind that the packing materials will need to be removed from your house after the work is unpacked. Many galleries offer removal services for an additional fee. This often takes the form of an attendant who will help take the work from its packaging and then remove any waste.

Choosing a Shipping Method

When shipping art, it’s important to consider these factors:

  1. The art moving company and what types of art it specializes in
  2. Customs and considerations when shipping art internationally
  3. Transit insurance and coverage

Image: Tyler Haughey/ARTA.

Though it’s tempting to use a trusted name like some of the prominent courier delivery services available, carrier companies may not be the safest or most efficient option for shipping artwork because they require works to be crated and shipped via air freight. Specialized art transport may seem like a daunting prospect, but it can still be cost-effective.

“If you’re shipping things within the U.S., you can use a specialty art shipper and still get things done economically. If you’re using a fine art truck or fine art ground transport, the items don’t necessarily have to be crated and you’re consolidating it with other works,” says Fields.

“It’s important to know what shippers specialize in, in terms of what they handle, what routes they run, what they subcontract out, and who they partner with,” says Fields. “If you’re playing to a shipper’s strengths then you’re ensuring that you can get that quality at a really fair cost.”

Customs and Shipping Art Internationally

Make sure to factor in customs clearance when you consider the time and cost of transporting art internationally. “There is usually going to be some sort of customs import fee or cost,” says Fields. “When shipping into the US from abroad, customs requires that the importer pay two sets of fees, one called MPF, and the other a Customs bond fee. No duties and taxes, similar to those used by countries elsewhere, are applied upon import.”

Transit Insurance

Transit insurance is extremely important to the safety of your investment. “If you have the opportunity to talk with anybody in the insurance world for fine art, whether it’s the brokers or the underwriters, most of their losses by frequency — something like 70% — are caused by damage while it’s being handled through transit,” says Hornby. Even so, not all insurance policies cover works of art.

Standard homeowners insurance likely won’t extend to cover your art collection, which is why most collectors add coverage to their policy. Sometimes that includes protection for new works while they are being shipped to your home, but it’s important to check your policy and understand what’s covered.

“We and all transporters limit our liability and folks are often quite surprised how low our liability is,” says Hornby. So, if your insurance policy doesn’t cover the work of art as it’s being shipped, make sure you purchase insurance from your shipper or, if negotiating terms with a gallerist, request that the seller cover the cost.

When Will Your Art Be Delivered?

How long it takes to ship a work of art depends on a number of factors, including:

  1. The distance between the work and its final destination
  2. The method of shipping selected

“Obviously everyone wants things at a reasonable price and a high standard. If you’re working to consolidate via ground fine art shippers you’ll get good quality, good cost. The only caveat to that is that it might take a little longer to receive the object. You can get things quicker, but you’ll pay more. There’s a balance between price and timeline,” says Fields.

“If the gallery has agreed to ship it to you, I think in most of the major cities in the U.S. or Europe you would expect to receive it within a week or ten days,” says Hornby. “If it’s international, it depends yet again on where it is and the frequency of the cargo planes that we can use, but normally within two to three weeks we can get an artwork pretty much anywhere in the world.”

Shipping Art: Do Your Homework

Fine art shipping requires many decisions, so it’s important to gather all relevant information as soon as possible. “The moral of the story is: the more detail you have about the piece, the pickup, the delivery, and what services you want, the better, so as not have to be surprised by those excess costs,” says Fields.

Though shipping can stressful, it’s just one part of an exciting adventure. In order to make it as easy as possible Hornby recommends that collectors, “Enjoy the experience, ask the obvious questions, and don’t take anything for granted.”