How to safely package artworks

For many art collectors, the worst case scenario for the condition of their artworks would be if they were damaged through water, fire or a bad accident.

Unfortunately, such incidents do happen and requires the need for artworks to be removed from the scene promptly and safely.

We are always able to suitably package such items to ensure they are safely lifted. In some cases however the owner of the artworks will do this, and it is completed quickly and in a panic after seeing the damage.

Despite the good intentions, if artworks are inappropriately packaged and suitable support is not provided during transport, this can contribute to an unnecessary escalation of restoration costs by causing further damage.

There are some important do’s and don’ts to follow to prevent new damage and problems requiring resolution. Ultimately, if packaged correctly, this can save substantial money and time.

We regularly receive artworks that require restoration due to inappropriate use of packaging or even lack of packaging. 

Here are some guidelines for how to avoid unnecessary damage when it comes to the packaging and handling of artworks. 

Paintings with frames


– Check the stability of the frame. If it’s secure and there’s no indication of weakening or structural damage, we always advise keeping the painting in its frame. This provides protection and support for the artwork during handling and transportation.

– Use a synthetic material, such as Tyvek, or polythene to envelope the artwork and then bubble wrap with the textured bubbles facing outwards and not against the painting.

– Where a painting has a decorative or ornate frame with corner or central decoration, try to provide extra protection by using bubble wrap or foam around these areas. In the photographs below, we have used foam for extra protection. They just need to be fastened to the wrapping and then they are ready for transporting.

– Don’t handle frames by their decorative detailing or mouldings as these areas are the weakest and can result in further damage.

– Do keep any broken or detached moulded detailing with the frame when sending for restoration.

Paintings without frames


– Depending on whether the unframed artwork is of age or newly created will vary how packaging is approached. With older artworks, wrap in a synthetic material or polythene then bubble wrap with textured bubbles facing outwards and not against the painting, like in the photograph below. For contemporary and newer artworks, the use of bubble wrap, blankets or paper can risk fibres adhering to the artwork as paint or varnish layers are much fresher, may not be fully dry and/or reactive to temperatures. It is best to leave uncovered and secure the painting in a specially made artwork crate.

– Don’t stack artworks on top of each other when they’re unframed.

– Do ensure artworks are not pressed up against anything or risk having something leaning against them.

Water-damaged artworks


– If artworks are exposed to an escape of water, it is important to have them removed from the room as soon as possible. Even if artworks were not directly in contact with an escape of water but in the room, damp caused from such an event can then cause problems as they’re susceptible to environmental conditions.

– Artworks can suffer a range of issues from such incidents. For oil paintings, this can include mould/mildew damage as well as blooming varnish which is signalled by a white clouding effect to the surface. For works on paper, this can include foxing shown by yellowing-brown spots forming on the artwork and mounts, as well as cockling, where the paper ripples.

– Artworks that have a mould onset can be troublesome. It is important to keep these away from other artworks to avoid cross contamination and to have them restored as soon as possible. Mould growth can escalate the restoration requirements significantly. In the photograph below, the mould has spread significantly across the back of the artwork. This needs to be kept away from any other artworks. 

– Ideally do allow paintings to dry naturally and fully in a well ventilated area. It’s important not to use heat to speed up the drying of artworks.

– Artworks should be wrapped for a temporary period using a synthetic material or polythene, then bubble wrap (textured surface on the outside) whilst transported until they can be unwrapped and left to dry naturally.

– Don’t be tempted to brush or wipe any mould that has formed from the artwork. This will only ever spread the active mould spores to a wider area.

Soot/smoke-damaged artworks


– When artworks have been in a fire or room with smoke, it is important to keep damaged artworks away from those unaffected.

– Like with water-damaged artworks, it’s important to wrap and seal them for a temporary period using a synthetic material or polythene then bubble wrap (again with the textured surface on the outside) whilst transported until they can be unwrapped and treated appropriately.

– Don’t be tempted to try and treat the unpleasant odour or wipe artworks to remove soot/smoke particles, this will only spread and increase damage.

– Do ensure the artwork undergoes restoration as soon as possible as the acidic nature of smoke will escalate damage.

Artworks with tear damage

– If a painting on canvas has suffered tear damage, it is advisable to keep this as flat as possible whilst in storage or during transportation.

– When an artwork suffers significant or multiple tear damage, this increases the risk of the paint layer becoming disturbed and unstable. In such instances, it is advised to use masking tape on the rear of the canvas diagonally across to minimise the movement of the painting whilst transporting the piece.

– Wrap in the same way using a synthetic material or polythene and then bubble wrap with the textured surface facing outwards whilst transported or being stored.

– Do ensure the canvas is moved as little as possible.

– Don’t be tempted to use sellotape, packaging tape or gaffer tape on the back of the canvas, and it is especially important not to apply tape to the front – this will cause extensive issues. 

When faced with an incident that has caused damage to artworks, it is important that their removal is undertaken quickly and carefully. If not, it risks damage escalating and ultimately restoration costs rising. 

If you’re not sure how best to remove, package, transport or store artworks affected by incidents such as those above, please do get in touch and we would be happy to provide advice on specific situations.

If you would like our advice on safely packaging and transporting artworks, please contact us for our no-obligation help.

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