How to Use Shrink Wrap to Ship and Store Artwork

Shrink Wrap Will Protect Your Art Pieces from Dust and Moisture

When you go to an art museum or gallery, you know you’re not allowed to touch the paintings. This is because paintings can be delicate. Depending on the types of paint, paper, canvas, etc., the oils on your fingers can degrade and distort the image. That’s why art pieces need to be treated with care when being stored or transported. One solution that many artists, dealers, and galleries use is shrink wrap.

There are a lot of factors to take into account when you’re shrink wrapping an art piece. What materials is the piece made of? What grade of shrink wrap is appropriate? What application method will you use?

Here’s Unlimited Shrinkwrap’s handy guide to using shrink wrap for preserving paintings and prints during storage and shipping.

Why Shrink Wrap a Work of Art?

shrink wrap artworkBefore we get into the details of how to shrink wrap a painting, you might be wondering why you would want to do this in the first place. When storing or shipping an art piece, there are three main goals that shrink wrap helps you achieve: preservation, presentation, and efficiency.

  • Preservation—When you’re selling or shipping art, one of the worst things that can happen is the piece arriving damaged. Whether you’re an independent artist or a professional art dealer, it’s important to make sure the art is protected from dirt, moisture, scratches, smudges, and other things that can affect the quality of the image. Otherwise, the collector who receives the work will be upset, and you’ll have a customer service headache to deal with. Shrink wrap is perfect for protecting against those elements, and archival shrink wrap is especially good for long-term storage of high-value pieces.
  • Presentation—How do you put a price tag on art? A lot of it is subjective. That’s why if you’re in the business of selling art, a big part of it is creating perceived value. The way you handle and package your piece says a lot about the value you place on it. It’s almost like a form of performance art in and of itself. Everything you do that physically relates to the piece should communicate to the collector that this is a masterpiece worth paying money for. When it shows up in their gallery or on their doorstep, the packaging should reflect that this is a valuable work of art from a professional, not something pulled from a messy attic. Shrink wrap is perfect for giving your art piece that professional presentation.
  • Efficiency—Of course, those other two considerations have to be weighed against what’s realistic. There are only so many resources available to you for packaging your art. Taking a lot of time or spending a lot of money will eat into your profit margins and might not be practical for the amount of artwork you deal with on a regular basis. Different grades of shrink wrap give you options for how much you want to spend depending on how much protection you need, and shrink wrap makes the process simple and efficient to operate.
When Wouldn’t I Want to Use Shrink Wrap?

However, as you might imagine, it isn’t always a good idea to apply plastic and heat to an object made of paper and pigment. There are a variety of ways things can go wrong. For example, if you spray a lacquer or polymer coating over an acrylic painting, you have to be careful that the shrink film doesn’t bind to the surface of the piece when your heat gun rehydrates the water-based coating. Before you wrap, make extra sure that the medium isn’t at risk of a chemical reaction that can ruin the piece.

What Kind of Equipment Do I Need?

So, what kind of shrink wrap setup is appropriate for this kind of operation? There are many types of shrink wrap machine on the market. However, many of these are for industrial-scale operations that package hundreds of objects every day. If you’re only packaging a couple thousand pieces a year or less, you need something more hands-on. An industrial shrink wrap machine would unnecessarily cost you thousands of dollars and probably wouldn’t work well for smaller art prints and photographs.

Luckily, you can find a shrink wrap kit at many art supply retailers. A typical kit includes a film dispenser, a sealer, and a heat gun.

How Do I Use a Shrink Wrap Kit?

Here’s a simple step-by-step for using these sorts of kits to shrink wrap a print or painting:

  1. Lay out enough film for both sides as well as a 6” overlap at the edges.
  2. Place the piece and backing face down on the film.
  3. Fold the film over the piece so the edges line up.
  4. Seal the edges with a sealer.
  5. Use your heat gun with gentle sweeping motions to shrink the backside, then the frontside.

What Kind of Shrink Film Should I Use?

For the application of shrink wrapping art pieces, there are generally two grades of film to choose from—archival shrink wrap and economy shrink wrap. This begs the question: which one is right for me? That depends on how you’re using it.

Archival shrink film can sometimes be a good idea for long-term storage and preservation. If you’re dealing paper-based art pieces, such as photographs or paintings, an individual work of art might sit on the rack at a gallery for months or even years before someone buys it. Then, they might keep it in the shrink wrap for years before they decide to bring it out for display. Archival shrink wrap is good for keeping the artwork in good condition for longer, up until that point.

If you’re looking for a cheaper shrink film that only needs to stay on for a short time, like when it’s in transit, then economy shrink wrap is a more economical choice. However, you should still make sure the shrink film is acid-free so that it doesn’t negatively react with the paper and/or dyes, and instruct the buyer to remove it as soon as possible. This grade of shrink wrap can also be useful for non-paper art such as that made from fabrics and beads.

Finally, there are also shrink wrap kits that can use kitchen plastic wrap and plastic bags. Those materials can be useful in other applications, but they contain plasticizers that’ll react negatively with the art piece and damage it. Avoid using them for shrink wrapping art.

Shrink wrap can be valuable for preserving art, but it’s also good for preserving almost anything else, including boats, cars, furniture, industrial components, and more. That kind of heavy-duty shrink wrap job is best left to professionals. The crew at Unlimited Shrinkwrap are the go-to experts for shrink wrap in McHenry, IL and the Chicago area. If you’re looking to preserve any of your belongings from the elements during storage or transit, give Unlimited Shrinkwrap a call at 815-759-8944 today!