How To Pack and Transport Artwork for Moving
Protecting Your Best Pieces From Broken Frames and Wrinkles
Moving is a scary prospect when your items are fragile—particularly when it includes packing, transporting, or storing precious artwork or family photos. Artwork can be large and unwieldy, and even the items that are supposed to protect the art or photos—that is, the frame and glass—can end up damaging it during a move. However, if you pack large paintings, framed artwork, and smaller picture frames carefully and properly for moving or for storage, you can avoid finding shattered glass or nicked paintings, photos, or prints when you arrive at your new home.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Boxes in multiple sizes
- Masking tape
- Brown packing paper
- Bubble wrap
- Packing tape
How To Pack Artwork
Match the Artwork With Appropriately Sized Boxes
Packing paintings safely for transport starts with sorting your artwork according to size. In most cases, small- and medium-sized artwork can be grouped and packed together. If you're moving large pieces of artwork, it's best to pack each piece in a separate specialty box that is slightly larger than the frame you're packing. Purchase specialty boxes at a moving supply store or from a truck rental agency.
If you can't find specialty boxes, take apart a used box and flatten it. You'll need a box that is bigger than the picture and frame. You will use the cardboard to "build" a custom box so you can safely transport the artwork.
Mark Glass With an 'X'
If the frame has a glass covering, use masking tape to place an X across the glass. This will stop the glass from totally shattering or moving around too much if it breaks.
Protect the Artwork's Face
If your artwork doesn't have glass over it, protect the painted face by wrapping it in several layers of kitchen plastic food wrap (such as Saran wrap) or commercially available palette wrap for transit only.
Wrap Artwork With Paper and Bubble Wrap
On a flat work surface, lay the brown paper flat on your work surface so the ends overlap to create a paper area that is twice the size of your frame. Lay the frame glass side down against the paper. Wrap the ends of the paper around the frame, just like a present. Never wrap artwork or frames in the newspaper. While it works well for padding, newsprint can leave marks on the artwork. Make sure you're wrapping so the bubbles are on the outside for cushioning, not pointing into the art.
Wrap the packing tape all the way around the frame both lengthwise and widthwise. This will ensure the paper stays in place during the move. Repeat the process with bubble wrap.
If you're packing small photos and frames, and are packing them together into a moving box, wrap each one in packing paper. You want to ensure the glass doesn't break during the move.
Before you seal up the box, test it for movement. Gently close the box and wiggle it a bit to see if anything feels like it's shifting. Add crumpled newspaper to pad the artwork if it feels like the frames are going to move around.
Seal the Box Thoroughly
If you're using a specialty box, tape one end of the box closed. Stand the box on the sealed end and gently slide the wrapped frame into the box. If you're having a hard time getting it to fit, ask a friend to help hold the box.
If you're not using a specialty box, place the frame on top of the flattened box that you took apart earlier and secure it using packing tape. If the flat box is large enough that it can be bent around the frame, bend it and then secure it with tape.
If the box doesn't wrap, you can either cut the box up, creating individual cardboard pieces, or disassemble another box and use that to protect the exposed side.
Mark the Box With Contents and Descriptor
Mark the outside of the box on both sides with the content, the word "Fragile," and its location, such as the living room, bedroom, or kitchen.
Position the Boxes in the Truck
When packing the box and loading it on the moving truck, keep the packed picture on its side, not flat. The picture will absorb pressure easier if it's standing on its edge than if it's flat. Pack pictures on their edges and in a place where they won't fall over. Wedge them between heavy objects that will not shift during the move.
Artwork Packing Tips
- Avoid packing multiple large framed pieces in one box to prevent them from damaging each other.
- Wear clean, lightweight cotton, latex, or nitrile gloves when moving unframed art because oils from your hands can cause staining.
- Artist's low-tack tape can be used instead of masking tape to prevent glass frames from breaking. This tape has less adhesive so it won't stick as much to the glass, making it easier to remove.
- Add protection for the corners of your picture frames by purchasing specialized cardboard corner protectors.
How do you safely pack paintings and artwork for long-term storage?
Use breathable materials, such as tissue paper, blankets, and wood crating to safely store artwork for long periods. Bubble wrap, foam, or plastic are okay for transport only, but the materials can trap moisture and create condensation over time which damages artwork. Materials should allow air to circulate while at the same time protecting pieces.
If you can store the art in a climate-controlled storage space that protects pieces from poor environmental conditions, all the better. If you store art at home long-term, avoid storage in the basement, attic, or other spaces with temperature fluctuations.
Can you fold a canvas painting?
Pack canvas art that is not on a stretcher by rolling it up—do not fold it. But it has to be completely dry and it can't be rolled too tightly. Loosely roll the canvas so the painting or print is on the outside, not the inside. Put the artwork in a tube that's larger than the canvas. Avoid bubble wrapping the canvas which can cause a humid environment inside a tube. Then put that tube inside a larger tube. When unpacking the canvas, unroll it when the tubes are at room temperature or the paint could crack or become otherwise damaged.
How do you store unframed paintings so they don't stick together?
It's literally an art to know how to store unframed paintings so they stay undamaged. Transport unframed paintings using the correct interleaf barrier, which is a material that separates the paintings. Two types of interleaf materials to place between paintings include Mylar film (but not on pastel or charcoal pieces because of the material's electrostatic charge) and Kraft paper (use only if the paintings are bone dry and only for transport, not for storage).
Use acid-free rigid dividers and cushioning or padding along with interleaf barriers to keep the artwork from being jostled. Pack artwork for moving vertically, as you would hardcover books, in a heavy-duty, acid-free cardboard box.