Sunday Mailbag- Shipping Art?

December 14th, 2014 | Posted in General

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I was wondering if you could share your shipping methods. Specifically, how do you box up your prints and/or commission work for shipping and what advise you would give to others on how to prepare artwork for shipping in an efficient manner. I feel like I spend way too much time getting artwork boxed up in a safe way that makes me confident it will arrive in one piece. Thanks!

A: This is actually a big concern because shippers do not treat packages very well, especially at the sorting stage. Trust me I know… I worked at UPS for about 6 weeks when I was going to school at the University of Minnesota. Packages were tossed, shoved, dropped and tumbled all around various conveyor belts and chutes on their way to their respective trucks. You need to pack defensively, expecting that sort of treatment and guarding against damage. That mostly means making sure the package has sufficient space between what’s inside and the edge of the box to absorb some damage without affecting the art or print inside.

The prints I sell are easy to ship. I carefully roll them up with a piece of heavy paper that extends past the ends of the rolled print. Then I put it in a poly-bag tube and then into a heavy duty cardboard shipping tube. The paper and the poly bag stuff the ends in tight when the tube is sealed, holding the print in place and protecting the ends from getting damaged. The tube is thick enough that a heavy person would have to step right on it to crush it at all… having even heavy packages on top of it won’t do it. Cheaper tubes would provide less protection.

The books are easier to ship. I use a self-sealing, stiff and padded shipping envelope for them, first putting the book into a plastic sleeve to prevent the pages or cover from rubbing against the inside of the envelope. Then I fold the flap and part of the envelope down until it is tight against the edge of the book, really locking it in there. Then I use a piece of packing tape to reinforce the flap and it’s edges so it cannot pop open if the adhesive fails or the edge of the flap catches on something. I’ve had some books damaged in shipment, but only really egregious mishandling can do it.

Original art is the really tricky item to ship. This is especially true of my original pages from MAD, which are HUGE at 17″ x 22″. There is no easy way to do this. The important thing is to leave plenty of room between the edge of the original and the edge of the packing, and to make the package thick enough so it can’t easily be bent.

I make me own packages out of foam core, but first I cover the art with a flap of heavy paper and tape it with artist’s tape so the surface of the original in protected. Then I cut a piece of foamcoare that is 3 inches more in width and length than the original is. I tape the artwork to the surface of this first piece of foamcore making sure that there is¬¨‚Ć 1.5 inches of space all around the outside of the art. Then I cut at least two more pieces of foam core the same size as the first, and sandwich the first piece between them. This will usually do it, but with some of those big MAD pages I will add a fourth piece of foamcore because the surface area is so large. It would be easy for the edges of the package to get caught up somehow and some other package¬¨‚Ć or weight to end up on the top, bowing the whole thing down and maybe creasing it. Three layers is plenty of anything 11 x 17″ or less though.

One other thing, I always send original art via a trackable service and if possible require a signature for delivery. In this day and age of online shopping and shipping, packages left on doorsteps tend to disappear, and originals are not replaceable.

Thanks to Sean Platt for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. alex says:

    I make me own…. I imaginee you chugging a can of spinach then packaging up your prints… Keep it up Popeye!

  2. Kevin Richlin says:

    Having received books, original art and limited edition prints from Tom, I’d say he does a bang up job at packaging and shipping!


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