Shipping Unstretched Paintings in Tubes

by | Mar 15, 2011 | Blog | 11 comments

An artist just emailed me a question about shipping her acrylic paintings, highly textured, and large sized (5’ x 8’) from California to India, and wanted to save costs by shipping them unstretched rolled in tubes.

Rolling and shipping in tubes will not hurt the paintings, but its best if you don’t fold them. Since her shortest measurement was 5’, here was my advice:

(1) take all the paintings off the stretchers, and place one on top of the other using plastic in between them. DO NOT use glycine as that will stick to acrylic (not to oil and that’s why shippers often mistakenly use it on acrylic) and do not use wax paper. The best plastic to use are the rolls of painter’s plastic (its officially called HDPE plastic but often is not labeled like that) you find in home improvement stores. The plastic is usually cloudy whitish – not clear – and comes in thicknesses like 4 ml or 6 ml. You can use any thickness, but probably a 3 or 4 ml is best. Stack the canvases so that the painted side faces down towards the floor. You can also use garbage bags, cutting them at their edges to create a big sheet of plastic from them.

(2) Get 2 cardboard mailing tubes – one that is larger than 5′ and is very wide in diameter – probably something around 12″ or more. This will be the outer mailing tube. Then get another tube that is 5 ‘ in length but narrower in diameter, probably around 6″ in diameter. This will be your inner tube. Place the inner tube on top of the stack of canvases which are now facing the floor, near to an edge. Now roll the canvases altogether around this “inner” tube so that the painted images are facing outwards from the tube. There should already be plastic between each of the images. Once they are all one big roll, wrap it all in plastic and tape it closed. Place this into the larger outer mailing tube.

Tip: If you just buy the inner tube first, then roll your canvases around it, you can measure the final diameter to make sure your outer tube is the right size.

Another tip: Measurements are different between the US and India. If you plan to restretch the canvases when you arrive there, you may not be able to purchase stretchers the correct size. You can either hang the canvases tapestry style without stretcher bars, or you will have to ship another tube with just the stretcher bars. If you plan well, measure ahead of time, and can get hold of very wide shipping tubes, you may be able to pack the stretcher bars inside the inner tube.

And another tip: If you need to fold them because you can’t ship a 5′ tube, then fold them around some bubble wrap so that the fold isn’t pressed down creating an indent. Make sure the bubble wrap is on the back not the front of the image, or you may get bubble impressions on your paintings.

Additional Resources

Article from GOLDEN on shipping unframed paintings using cardboard

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  1. Chris Winters

    Nancy, I had no idea that wax paper should be avoided when shipping a painting. My grandmother left my brother and I some family paintings that we want to preserve. I think that I should use a durable tube when I send one of them to my brother this summer.

    • Nancy Reyner

      You can use Freezer Paper to protect the surface, then roll it to place it in a tube to ship. To store take it out of the tube so it can lay flat.

    • Megha Sachdev

      Can we fold or roll the canvas sheets with gold leaf? Will it spoil the gold leaf?

    • Nancy Reyner

      Dear Megha, Rolling should be fine, but I would not fold paintings. The fold may be permanent and difficult to remove. I suggest applying a release paper or tissue paper to the top surface of the painting, then rolling it.

  2. niki

    If you are looking to ship large paintings rolled, I found out if you go to your local art dealer (independent is best) and ask them for the large tubes that the rolled canvas's come in when shipped. My local art store gives them to me for free and they are heavy duty and work great for over-seas shipments. You can saw them down to the size you want too.

  3. Roger

    if you are looking to buy a bundle of tubes, since a single tube can cost $6 and up you might want to consider using this company International Plastics . They have all different kinds to choose from and their customer service is really great. Depending on what size you get and what type of tube you choose, you can buy as few as 15 tubes, but that is only for the really long tubes. If you go with the triangle tubes you'll get as many as 50 for around .75 cents per tube. but they ship flat to you and are really easy to store and not take up any more room in your studio than necessary. The best thing I like about the triangle shaped ones is that you don't have to wrap your art in anything protective and the shape keeps the art piece from rolling around.

  4. Terri

    Interesting reading about shipping unstretched paintings – but what instructions should be given to the buyer of an rolled up oil painting when they receive it and before it is stretched? Does anything special need to be noted before they can stretch it and hang it?


  5. Mike

    I have created a large canvases which can be broken down and shipped rolled in a tube. The canvas can be shipped to and from the artist to the gallery or patron. By wrapping the canvas around the stretcher bars and foam, there is no folding. You can check it out at I'd love to hear what you think.


  6. Nancy Reyner

    jobs on ships said…

    Really nice blog….Thanks for sharing the information about the The shipping outstretched painting in tubes……what a great idea…..awesome..
    April 4, 2011 10:14 PM

  7. nancy reyner

    Tubes can be bought at most shippers like Pack, Ship & Mail; and office supply stores.

  8. Barbara Kemp Cowlin

    Hi, Nancy, Great timing on this post for me. I'm starting a commission for a 36 x 48" painting that needs to be rolled and shipped. It also has quite a bit of texture to it. I'm still planning to take it to Phoenix to have a professional ship it, but it's good to know about the plastic wrap and the way to roll it. If I were to get brave and package it myself, where do you get big sturdy tubes?


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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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