Step 1. Consider the type of shipment and the carriers

When planning a shipment, take a few moments to consider the questions in Table 1.

Table 1. The answers to these questions will help you plan your shipment and anticipate the necessary packaging requirements.
QuestionWhy the question is important

Who will transport the shipment?

Investment in reputable carriers (whether art handlers, commercial carriers, hand carriers/couriers, or delivery/postal services) is one of the best ways to avoid losses and major accidents during shipping.

Reputable carriers have well-maintained fleets with sought-after features such as air ride suspension, temperature control, and the proper hardware to properly secure cargo in transport vehicles.

Reputable carriers will answer your questions and maintain good communication over the course of the shipment.

When selecting a carrier, ask about their level of experience moving the type of object you are shipping, confirm their ability to provide the service requested (e.g. service to a remote area), check that they have appropriate equipment/vehicles (e.g. air ride suspension), and ensure that they can meet site-specific facility requirements.

What do you know about the distribution network?

A door-to-door shipment without cargo transfers between vehicles can enable safe shipment with minimal, or substantially reduced, packaging — but this is generally the exception rather than the rule. Most shipments, whether by art handlers or other carriers, involve several loading and off-loading cycles.

Typical art shipments involve air and truck transport. Other modes (e.g. rail and ocean) introduce additional hazards, e.g. high levels of shock due to slack between rail cars, high moisture levels during lengthy ocean voyages, and shifting of contents that are not properly secured in multimodal containers.

When will it travel?

It is important to anticipate and make provisions for summer heat and winter cold.

Where is it going?

Shipment in Canada and the United States offers flexibility in crating material choices, e.g. softwood lumber can be used in Canada and the United States but there are restrictions on its use in international shipments.

Package design details for a multiple venue exhibition differ from those for a simple source-to-destination shipment.

International shipments require attention to customs requirements and package designs that enable easy inspection if necessary.

Why are you shipping it?

If the object is being shipped for treatment, special protective measures may apply. Seek the advice of a qualified conservator.

If it’s a single source-to-destination shipment, a simple packing strategy may be appropriate.

If it’s a travelling exhibition, the package should be designed for easy packing and unpacking at each venue.

It also helps to know how and why damage occurs during shipment and what can be done to avoid it (consult Table 2).

Table 2. Typical causes of damage during shipment and how to avoid them.
IssueHow it causes damageRemedies

Fundamental problems

Collision of loose object parts.

Collision of loose objects with each other inside the package.

Collision of loose objects with the packing crate.


Deformation of crates that strains their contents; failure of crates that spills their contents.

Distortion, mechanical damage, or soiling of objects during preparation for transit.

Take measures to improve the durability of an object (consult Step 3).

Use primary packaging to control collision and abrasion effects.

Find or build crates that incorporate performance-enhancing construction details.

Plan exhibit installation and removal carefully — ensure adequate time and space for the necessary handling operations and use qualified handlers.

Excessive force

Inadequate shock mitigation.

Inadequate vibration mitigation.

Select and use the right cushioning material.

Lack of restraint in transit

Repetitive bouncing of cargo.

Items falling off stacks in moving vehicles.

Ensure cargo is secured in the transport vehicle.

Environmental hazards

Extreme heat or cold.

RH extremes.

Water (e.g. rain or snow).


Pollutants (chemicals from packing materials).

Specify temperature-controlled vehicles.

Use suitable crates made of appropriate materials.

Insulate cases.

Wrap RH-sensitive items.

Extreme hazards

Intentional mishandling of packages.

Vehicle accidents.

Choose reputable carriers and handlers.

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