Things to consider when sending your art overseas

#artexport #sendingartabroad #artpackaging #arttransport #transportingpaintings #transportingart

Apologies for rambling again, but someone’s got to do it! I can’t bear the stress that this particular aspect of our trade has caused us and hope that something in the above at least makes one part of the trip a little easier!...and to those that "got-the-t-shirt", please add to this - every little bit helps!)

Congratulations! You’ve sold a painting! Now all you have to do is send it on its way to its new forever home over the sea……nobody panic (!).

Since I am (happily) privy to this particular debate (any many others!) on a nearly daily basis, I thought I would try and give you a few tips in terms of getting this right….or at least try to make the journey a little smoother – for you and your painting! It is what we are here for!

Aside from bringing your painting straight to us...remember:

STEP 1: You are a BUSINESS - Carry yourself like one 

(Calculate your COST and CHARGE! I know it is easier said than done... it's the idea I am trying to get across!)

I don’t need to tell you. Being an artist is one of the toughest vocations there are. There is nothing worse than having sold a painting, only to learn afterwards how exorbitant packaging, insurance and transport costs on same is going to be.

Before determining the selling price of your art (and regardless of what you think you will fetch for your painting), calculate the quantifiable cost to you first. i.e. what it physically cost you to produce the painting. Canvas, paint, brushes, mediums…..and (what this article is designed to help with) - SHIPPING.

Perhaps, we tend to skip this step because we fear that our cost price, (obviously in our subjective opinions) will exceed the price we can get for the painting in the first place….? Just a thought. I had. Once.

Transport costs are real and you have to let your client understand clearly and from the start, that these costs are to be considered and that the final price may change as a result. 

Always make sure that you reserve this right. You can then work out your selling price from there.

STEP 2: PACKAGING - Small / Light packages = cheap. Big / heavy = expensive.

You have to package your artwork in such a way that whichever transporter is moving it, calculates their rate according to the lowest possible volumetric weight. This does NOT mean fold your painting into a tiny square and send in an envelope (!). Be realistic – look at lightweight materials that are strong enough to protect your artwork without being too bulky and taking up too much space.

HOW to package?

Many of you may are already familiar with the following (and reliable) starting point for specific guidelines on how to package your art “according to gallery standard” would be…/Saatchi_Art_Packaging_Guid…

But, whether you are going to ROLL your painting, or send it STRETCHED on a frame, all depends on the individual variables for each work

STEP 3: SEND YOUR PAINTING IN A TUBE (Roll your painting)

I recommend either a solid underground waste pipe (400mm OD) or pvc gutter pipe (110mm OD), to ensure optimal protection for your painting (they work much better than the mailing tubes anyway and you can cut them as long as you need), and depending on the individual requirements. Using an inner and outer tube, helps fit the rolled painting securely in the tube.

(For detailed information on how to do this, read my post on "How to roll an oil (or acrylic) painting for transport)

STEP 4: ART PAKK TRANSPORT BAG (if you are sending a stretched painting)

To eliminate the need for all of the traditional, "gallery-standard" packaging material requirements (including corner protectors!) I love the new, environmentally friendly (and reusable) Art Pakk transport bag – endorsed by international galleries.

Fantastic for inside transport crates when transporting abroad.


Interestingly enough, expert stretching facilities in overseas countries is sorely lacking, perhaps due to a lower demand.....? (I don't know) Regardless, this may leave your foreign clients finding themselves having to approach a framer for a solution, who oftentimes themselves need to consult a carpenter for help...(I kid you not!), making this already expensive service an utterly exorbitant one!

Depending on your specific requirement, it may very well be "cheaper" (for your client and you in the long-run) to include the stretching and packaging, in the beginning, rather than sending your client the added surprise of realizing that getting the painting hung, may very well cost more than they paid for the painting in the first place......It's your responsibility to educate your client!

And, I KNOW it may make the initial selling price of your artwork appear more attractive if you try and cut out the stretching and crating to reduce cost..... BUT, keeping repeat business in mind (your AND your client's wallet!) , charging that little bit extra for the work, stretched on a frame and ready to hang, will be well worth it in the end.


Depending on where your art is going, you will need a specialized fumigation service (for frames, crates, paintings, prints...) for the issuing of the necessary documentation and stamps, as required by international shipping customs regulations.

(Depending on the place of origin and destination, requirements regarding the export and import of timber products, under which definition stretched paintings fall, will differ from country to country. For guidelines on South Africa’s Guidelines, click here:…/ISPM%2015_guidelines_int_trade.pdf - ISPM 15 Guidelines)


Ok – so everything’s packed and ready to go, and you’ve just secretly cut the heartstrings attaching you to your “precious” (now being carried off into the sunset) when like any doting mother you ask yourself, ‘what if something goes wrong?’ And so you should…. Well at least most of the time.

Whether to insure or not is an entirely different debate (!), but for our current purposes, I’d like to make a few points (just my opinion…. must remember to add a disclaimer….!), given that this is traditionally the “catch-22-cost”…and an “unnecessary expense” … inextricably linked to exporting art, especially for an emerging artist!!!

Consideration 1: Is it as simple as “you can paint your client another painting”? (If so – make sure you cover this at time of sale – problem solved!)

Consideration 2: Do you even have insurance? Regardless - you would need to approach an independent broker for advice on arranging this cover, since it is a specialized cover, excluded from conventional personal and business policies

Consideration 3: What is the agreement between you and the insurer regarding what you will get paid out if something happens? There is a DISTINCT difference between “retail”, “market” and “agreed” value, as we understand it – and often results in massive disappointment on realization that the work is insured for much less than we thought. Specifically when dealing with painting-related claims.

Consideration 4: Do you have proof of ownership or an evaluation certificate? No insurer will pay out without this. What type of proof do they need?

Consideration 5: So you don’t feel like the schlep and take the courier’s insurance, which is extremely limited. Fact. They’re considered “high risk” – so the weight of the responsibility is redirected at you. You end up paying for cover that nobody understands or ever explains to you, and when your painting is squashed under a container at a dock somewhere, you don’t get paid a cent and your client a very unhappy chappy.

(Go back to Consideration 1…..)

Since we try to provide optimal service and a one-stop solution to our artists, at ETH Canvas, we even have this “covered” for you!


Now you need to find someone to send your insured, fumigated, perfectly crated Bonny, over the ocean.

Forget the horror stories! (EVERY courier has them, and besides, you’re insured).

Offered by postal administrators of the Universal Postal Union or UPU (that’s fancy-speech for “major post offices”), EMS (or “expedited mail service”) is a little heard-of facility that I personally feel is underutilized.

Basically an international door-to-door service offered by the SA Post Office. (NOT Postnet to Postnet!) Airmail – 14 days transit time. Sea-mail – 30-60 days. Before you say it, forget what you have heard about them not being able to send parcels longer / larger than 1000mm. This is only true for some of them. Others offer EMS.

I have to share an example to make my point.

1500 x 1300 x 150 crate , ex Woodstock, Cape Town to Denver Colorado:

Airmail – R4 000 (Sea-mail – R 1 500 … all good things come to those who wait!)

This was insurance excluded. 

To add insurance at the offered R1 000, and R1000 to package and crate – my shipping costs to my client’s door via airmail = R6 000. (Or roughly $460…)

This vs. another quote I got from a “big name courier” of R18 000…. (or approximately $1400…) …Just saying.

In conclusion, I guess what I am saying is bring your painting to us. Let us take care of it ;-)









Review by Clea Witte, SA Artist:

“Last week I had the grueling task of having to find the best way to send 2 of my large paintings to Dubai. The gallery in Dubai asked that I take them off their frames and send them rolled up via EMS, postal services. My first instinct was to phone Bronwyn. Not only was she able to assist me but also got the job done. The paintings were beautifully and very securely rolled up in a large PVC pipe, as simple as that. I used the EMS section of our local post office, which at first was a challenge as not all post offices offer this service, plus they might argue they only send parcels no longer than 1m, but with some convincing they sent off my paintings which had a length of 1.5m. I thought it would be really expensive to have crates made up for a painting and send it by airmail . . . Seems it is not the case!

I was very impressed to find my paintings had arrived safely at their destination 1 week later. The gallery was pleased with both the paintings and the professional manner in which the paintings were packaged.

A big thank you to Bronwyn and her team for their help and professionalism!”


Happy painting guys!


(disclaimer: all quotes mentioned in the above were valid at time of writing this article and are not a reflection of what the current costs concerned are - quotes are subject to change at any time. You will have to contact me for a new quotation for each consignment to get an accurate price)

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