The Fundamental Shipping Practices Every Gallery Should Know


Aug 28th, 2018

In recent years, the online art market has grown exponentially, giving way to a truly global marketplace where collectors and sellers can connect instantly, no matter their location.

As buying art online becomes increasingly popular, having an efficient, reliable, and safe strategy for shipping artworks to collectors will become essential for your gallery’s success.

Shipping works—especially internationally—is a nuanced process that is often entirely situation-dependent. One of the most frequent questions our gallery relations team receives from our gallery partners is about which shippers to use when transporting artwork across borders. We’ve compiled a list of shippers from around the world to provide your gallery with actionable information around shipping. Read on for their recommendations and other shipping advice.

 Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

How to pick your shipping courier

Many galleries consider shipping practices (sending estimates, selecting a courier, providing insurances) to be a reflection of their business’s services as a whole, as shipping is often the last step in a ritual of exchange that moves the work from the artist’s studio to the gallery, and then to the collector’s wall. From FedEx to DHL, there are hundreds of options, so make sure to choose a courier that aligns with your gallery’s unique needs.

1. Do your research

The first step in selecting a courier is gaining an understanding of their experience shipping artworks. Reach out with a few questions about their protocol for handling high-value fragile objects, such as the ones you will be sending to collectors. Do they have the necessary supplies to mark the packages as fragile? Do they have tracking numbers so you and the collector can follow the work’s location while the art is in transit? Is signature-required shipping available to ensure that the artwork is delivered straight to the collector’s hands? All of these factors contribute to ensuring that the artwork will travel from point A to point B safely.

Read our aggregated list from Artsy Gallery Partners of fine art shippers here.

2. Consider proximity

Per the 2018 Hiscox Online Art Trade Report, “almost three-quarters (74%) of online art buyers bought more than one art object online in the last 12 months.” Additionally, online buyers are growing more comfortable buying online, purchasing works at an average price point of over $5,000, an increase in average pricepoint from 2017. As more collectors come online, brick-and-click galleries are positioned to take advantage of the opportunity to form new relationships that have the potential to convert to sales. Physical and digital storefronts complement each other, and having both allows collectors to discover works online and then, if they wish to view them in person, travel to the gallery before finalizing a purchase.

How to package art

Properly preparing and packaging art is essential to keeping works safe while they are in transit. After you’ve chosen a courier to work with, think about the most effective way for your gallery to pack up works once they’re sold. While some galleries choose to package works themselves, others opt for professional services. Whichever route you choose, read through below for general tips on preparing art for transit.

1. Consult the artist

When it comes to conserving the condition of a work while it’s in transit, the best person to consult is the one who made it. An artist is intimately familiar with the materials they used—whether it’s a painting or a sculpture made of latex and cheesecloth—and will likely have a thorough understanding of how to best preserve the materials used in their piece, and can advise you or your service.

2. Have supplies on hand

The average time it takes to make a sale go from inquiry to purchase can be substantial in the art world. This holds especially true when you compare it to the next-day delivery that many collectors are now accustomed to in their transactions. From bubble wrap to boxes, always have supplies on hand so you can ship something as soon as it’s sold, and provide expeditious service to all of your collectors.

3. Be flexible

Very often, shipping an artwork is incredibly costly, especially if it’s going overseas. Depending on the price point of the artwork, the collector’s budget, and the collector’s experience purchasing art, shipping costs can often come as a bit of a shock for many collectors.

One of Artsy’s non-U.S. gallery partners recommends finding creative ways to keep the costs of shipping down while still ensuring that the artwork travels safely. Some solutions include rolling up malleable works (like a print), or even taking a canvas off its panels, allowing you to ship the pieces separately. You can also offer to ship works unframed to lower the shipping costs. As always, consult the artist before you make any decisions, but always look for less expensive ways to ship a work if a collector needs to keep costs down.

Insurance and taxes

Perhaps the most complicated and intimidating aspects of shipping an artwork include insurance, taxes, and customs. When it comes to insurance, galleries often have two approaches: paying for insurance at a yearly rate for the business, or paying for it on a purchase-to-purchase basis when a collector buys work. Either option works—just do whatever works consistently in your gallery’s favor.

Taxes and customs, on the other hand, can prove a bit more complicated. When discussing international shipping, you may hear terms like import tax, export tax, or value-added tax, also known as VAT. Most commonly found in the European Union, VAT is a consumption tax that the buyer pays on the cost of the product, minus any cost of the materials used in the product that have been taxed.

Taxes, as well as import and export laws, are highly circumstantial and range from country to country, so it’s best practice to consult the experts: either a shipper or a customs broker. They will likely have guides or practical advice your gallery can follow.

Special cases

While it can be both time- and cost-efficient to package works yourself for shipping, some artworks—which may require additional precautions such as climate control or large crates—require professional handlers and services for transportation, such as Arta. This is referred to as a “white glove” service.


If not planned well, shipping can take an artwork sale from seamless to stressful. As the online art market grows, and more collectors from around the world make purchases from your gallery, work with your team to build an efficient and effective shipping strategy that provides collectors with exceptional service.

Learn more about how Artsy facilitates relationships between galleries and collectors around the world.

Placeholder text for the page body.

Placeholder caption.

Placeholder text for the page body.

Placeholder caption.

Placeholder text for the page body.

Placeholder caption.

Placeholder text for the page body.

Placeholder caption.