Packaging Ceramics for Shipping: Make Sure Your Pots Survive Shipping

Tips for Packaging Ceramics for Safe Shipping

packaging ceramics - 1

Hopefully you haven’t already learned this the hard way, but you can’t afford to do a shoddy job on packaging ceramics for shipping. Early on in his career, Charlie Cummings, artist and proprietor of Charlie Cummings Gallery (, shipped some pots to an exhibition and all of them arrived shattered. Once was all it took, and now Charlie has a great system for packaging ceramics for shipping.

Today, in an excerpt from our book, 100 Tips, Tools, & Techniques, Charlie shares his secrets to packaging ceramics so it gets from point A to point B in one piece.” – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

There are many approaches to packing pots for shipping, but my current method has been very successful for my gallery and is recommended by major carriers. This system uses two layers of boxes as the first line of defense against damage, packing peanuts as void filler between both the inner and outer boxes and objects inside of the inner box to cushion against blows, and several layers of bubble wrap tightly secured around each piece to keep pots safe from both outside forces and striking against each other.

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Packaging Ceramics – Bubble Wrapping the Work

packaging ceramics - 2Begin by preparing a clean workspace and gathering packing supplies (figure 1). Identify fragile areas such as handles, spouts, lips, or handbuilt additions that require extra padding. Fold two 12-inch sections of bubble wrap and use stretch wrap or blue painter’s tape to secure them over or around fragile sections (figure 2). I only use this method to protect thin, ribbon-like handles and small spouts. Avoid using packing tape directly on pots because it can leave an adhesive residue behind, and it mars bubble wrap, making it unsuitable for reuse.

packaging ceramics - 3Cover the entire pot with 3–5 layers of bubble wrap. Bubbles should face toward the surface of the pot. This compresses the air inside the bubbles and provides the best protection. I usually use one 3×1-foot section for a cup, two 4×1-foot pieces for medium sized pots, and many layers for large and expensive pots. Then use stretch wrap to secure the entire piece (figure 3).

Examine the wrapped pot. You should be able to apply a couple of pounds pressure to any point and not feel the surface of the pot. Sharp corners on the form may require additional padding.

Packaging Ceramics – Double Boxing with Packing Peanuts

packaging ceramics - 3 Packing peanuts should cover all sides of the pot and fill the entire box (figure 4). Shipments with heavy work, multiple items, expensive pieces, or pieces that fill most of the box should always be double boxed. When I receive broken work, the most common cause is that multiple pots were packed without double boxing, and they were placed too near to the outside wall of the box.

Packing a box containing fragile items inside a larger box with a minimum 2–3 inches of foam peanuts on all sides of the inner box is the method recommended by the major package delivery companies (figure 5).

packaging ceramics - 4Secure the box with packing tape. Small boxes may require only one strip of tape along the long seam on the top and bottom, but all seams of large boxes and international shipments should be sealed.

Wondering how you can reuse your cardboard? Check out this article that utilizes carboard as decorations.

Need more studio tips? View this wheel wedging board article.

**First published in 2015
  • Christa S.

    I found my successful packing tip on this site: slice pool noodle, put them on the edges and then wrap with bubble wrap. I make ceramic bird baths and have not had a broken one since using the foam noodle slices.

  • There is some issues with the article…

    Don’t use shrink wrap on the bubble wrap. This can lead to Wrap Rage by those who unwrap your work. Use a different color tape to indicate where the tape is. Use the corresponding brown packing tape instead of the clear. You never know who will unwrap your work or how much experience they have handling art. This will reduce the possibility of damage from people using cutting devices to open your overly sealed/wrapped items.
    Another thing you can do is to with a permanent marker mark the tape where it should be cut with dashed lines (internationally know as the indicator of where to carefully cut alone to open wrapped/packed art, by fine art handlers). The shrink-wrap becomes just more waste. The bubble then can be re-used and the people at the gallery sending the sold work out to the buyer can then and normally will just re-fold/wrap the bubble the way you had it and tape right back over the old tape. Also send unpacking/repacking instructions.

    The suggestion of using 3-5 layers of small bubble is good. Also thinking about carrying the 1/8 or 1/4 inch thick non-abrasive foam (found at Lowes or HomeDepot) first. This will help with the good suggestion in the article to give extra padding as shown in the pictures(handles and such) to hold the extra padding in place. Then depending on the weight of the piece the 3-5 layers of small bubble, followed by one layer of big bubble. Technically you need two inches of vibration dampening material directly around the piece, then the 2-3 inches between the inner and out box… Don’t use the turn VOID FILLER for the space between inner and out box. that area is for vibration dampening materials. Void Filler is where you can use recycled bubble wrap or scraps of foam to fill areas in the inner boxes to just stabilize the pieces in the inner boxes.

    The issues with using styro peanuts is that they are really enviro damaging… also dont use popcorn… it will crush very fast and is not approved by any of the major carriers as approved pacing material. Styro peanuts will settle no matter if you do some vibrating when loading the inner box into the outer box. Though a person needs to have then snug so they can absorb vibrations with out settling too much and crating a void. Over packing or making the peanuts too tight in a box can cause the issue of being too much rigid impact material… Styro is a once impact material. UPS requires all packages in the small packages area to handle 14 one foot drops and one 6 foot drop per ship travel. Always use a new outer box. They can void your insurance if the outer box is not new or showing wear.

    Instead of peanuts i use a 1.4 lb density open cell foam (polyurethane)… this reduces the waste nature of using peanuts. I put this between the inner and out boxes… i have 2 inch, 2.5, and 3 inch thickness… with my personal clay work i have never had an issue with UPS when i used them… i try not using them but that is the fact of getting something cross country easily. UPS only once tried to play the deny game but quickly handed me the insurance claim since i could show there was far beyond their packing requirements. The other issue is that being self-insured as they are… they dont can for the most part make up any issue excuses not to pay. You have to hound them to make it cost them more to deal with the inspection and reports by their people then just paying for the lost items

    I have packed art for a long time and even for high end glass galleries, We always pack every single piece in its own inner box. So a mug for example gets wrapped in layer of white foam, layers of small bubble then into its own box that it snugly fits into. Then all the mugs in their inner boxes then get “portfolio” packed as one unit into a larger inner box. Then this inner box gets it placed with normally ) 3 inches of bubble wrap (larger) outer box, or peanuts if you have to use peanuts. The only pieces I have lost in past have been when UPS literally crushed boxes. One was pinched between a trailer and the loading dock, and other was driven over… UPS had the full claim check processed and in the mail before they even contacted me.

    I do agree that some of the “UPS” style stores are trained to over pack with too much materials this is for two reasons. 1. they make more money for the material and time, this is how they are trained by the franchiser to increase profits…. 2. they have to make sure the packages make it there without damage or they will not get return business. In Fine Art Handling, you get what you pay for. That is why there is so many waivers in the fine print for any company Fine Art Handling/Museum level or the UPS Store level.

    The comment of photographing you items as you wrap and pack them is very good. I have to for my company’s insurance reasons the packing process for every piece I pack.

  • A great alternative to foam peanuts is POPCORN!! Cheap and much more environmentally friendly, just toss them outside for the birds after use.Also takes less space to store popcorn kernels and a hot-air popper than bags of foam peanuts. I have never had a problem with breakage when double-boxing.

  • Remember to pack the peanuts in the box tightly. There should be no give to the box once it has been taped shut.

  • Years ago I had a lost shipment and UPS tried to blame me, my customer (who I lost as a result) or anyone else. They self-insure so it’s a big part of their income. And the drivers don’t take care.

    On packing, some private companies “pad” the packing by using too much materials and make a huge markup on charging for extra boxes. Be careful and do a dry run yourself before paying a shipping company.

  • Arthur K.

    WARNING! Do not ship UPS, if they break your package, no matter how well you pack it, they will deny you claim. I am working with an organization that has to sue UPS. We have all the pictures of packaging and they are still denying.

    Always shoot pictures of what you have packed and how you packed it. This proves vital when trying to claim in the case of breakage.

    Good Luck,

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