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How Do I Ship a Sculpture?

Whether you’re a sculptor, gallery owner, or collector, safely transporting sculpture—especially over a long distance—is a daunting process. 

There are several ways to move or ship a single sculpture or a larger collection across the country. The shipping experts at TSI are here to help. Read our comprehensive mattress shipping guide to learn more about five ways to ship sculpture, or jump directly to special considerations and other important sculpture shipping tips and guidelines by clicking the menu below.

1. How To Ship a Sculpture

Read about five common ways to ship sculptures, including pros and cons and when to use each method. 

4. Special Considerations

Sculpture is difficult to ship, and each piece will come with its own unique set of considerations for packing and moving.

2. How Much Does It Cost to Ship a Sculpture?

The cost of shipping your sculpture depends on what shipping method you choose.

5. Mistakes to Avoid

Keep your sculpture safe throughout the moving process by avoiding these mistakes.

3. Recommended Shipping Method

Moving locally or long distance? Find out which shipping method is best for your move.

6. How To Pack a Sculpture

Pack your sculpture the right way with our step-by-step instructions.


How To Ship a Sculpture

How To Ship a Sculpture

Regardless of the size, age, and value of the piece you are planning to move, sculptures are often bulky, cumbersome, and surprisingly delicate—a combination that can make them incredibly stressful to move or ship, especially if you’re relocating long distance. 

If you’re moving long distance and want to transport your sculpture(s) across the country, you have five options:

  1. Rent a truck and move yourself
  2. Hire professional movers
  3. Parcel shipping, such as UPS®  or FedEx®
  4. Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping
  5. Consolidated freight

Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods:

1. Rent a truck and move yourself

Renting a truck and moving yourself is often the preferred tactic for small or short-distance moves. If you don’t have many pieces to pack up and move, are only moving across town, and are capable of loading and unloading your items (with help from friends, family, or employees), this method is often the most affordable option. 

Loading sculptures onto the moving vehicle

If you have smaller works, such as a bust, or larger sculptures that can be disassembled into small enough pieces that will pass through car doors, packing your sculpture so that it will fit into your personal vehicle instead of your moving truck is the safest way to transport it during a DIY move. You’ll have better temperature control, and you can keep an eye on your pieces and adjust conditions as needed throughout the moving process. 

Unless you drive a van or a truck or have small sculptures, you most likely won’t have space in your personal vehicle and your sculpture will need to be packed onto your moving truck. Keep your sculptures safe during a DIY move by following these tips:

  • Always disassemble any pieces that can be removed and pack them carefully in correctly sized boxes, or crates if they are larger or heavy.
  • If you are crating the sculpture, opt for screws instead of nails.
  • Secure the packages to the walls of the truck to keep them from sliding around and damaging themselves and other items during transit.
  • For large or heavy sculptures that can’t be taken apart, you may need to rent equipment to lift them onto the truck.

If you have multiple pieces, they are large, or if they are especially heavy, moving them on your own may not be the best approach. In these instances, consolidated freight is typically your safest choice. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Can be more cost-effective than hiring movers (assuming your sculpture doesn’t sustain damage You are entirely responsible for packing and loading your sculptur
Your sculpture remains in your care the entire tim Larger pieces and those that can’t be taken apart are especially difficult to move
You can move on your own timeline May require renting additional equipment to load and unload them

 

Can be expensive for long distance moves, particularly if you are moving lots of stuff
  No insurance included

How much does it cost to rent a truck and move your sculpture(s)?

The total cost of a DIY move depends on the size of your rental vehicle and the distance of your move. You’ll pay a day rate based on the size of the vehicle, as well as mileage and fuel charges, and any additional charges for moving supplies, equipment, and insurance. If you’re moving long distance, you may also need to pay extra to leave your rented vehicle in a different city than where you picked it up.

  • Day rates typically range between $19.99-$29.99 per day for a 10’-17’ truck, or $29.99-$39.99 for a 20’-26’ truck. 
  • Mileage often ranges between $0.69-$0.79 per mile during the week and up to $0.99 per mile on weekends, and can be higher during peak moving season.

When should I rent a truck and move my own sculptures?

  • Local or short distance moves
  • Smaller, lighter works with lower monetary or sentimental value that can be lifted without equipment

2. Hiring professional movers

For those who don’t have the ability to move themselves or simply don’t want the hassle of loading and unloading their belongings, professional movers are a popular choice for larger local moves, as well as long-distance ones.

Unless you pay for packing services—which you may want to consider, especially for large sculptures—your professional moving team likely won’t pack your sculptures like they will your other furniture. 

MOVING TIP: Be sure to mention your sculpture(s) when you call for a quote so they can provide an accurate price and advise you about packing requirements before they arrive. 

If you hire professional movers, it may still be best to move small sculptures in your personal vehicle, if possible. Unless you specifically arrange it, the moving truck may not be temperature-controlled, and you’ll be able to keep a watchful eye over your precious cargo en route. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Professional movers know how to handle sculpture, have access to more equipment, and will load it onto the truck properly Professional movers likely won’t pack your sculpture, unless you pay extra for packing services
No heavy lifting—the pros will load and unload all of your stuff May require you to have the sculpture professionally crated
May include professional packing materials for your other household items Can be costly for long distance moves
Basic insurance is often included  

How much does it cost to hire professional movers?

The American Moving and Storage Association estimates that the average local move costs around $2,300, while the average long distance move costs about $4,300. 

The total cost of your move will ultimately depend on how much stuff you have and how far you’re moving. Some moving companies base their prices more on distance, while others place more emphasis on how much stuff you have. If you’re considering hiring professional movers, always get a quote from at least three moving companies before you commit.

When should I hire professional movers?

  • Larger local moves, such as a full household move
  • If you don’t have the ability to load or unload your belongings but are able to pack your own sculptures safely and securely

3. Parcel shipping

Parcel shipping is provided by familiar services like USPS® , as well as private courier companies like FedEx®, or UPS®. Express delivery options are available, and you may even be able to add packing services for an additional fee. 

Parcel delivery is a popular shipping option for artists and gallery owners, and it’s also a good choice for those undertaking a long distance household move who only have smaller, lighter pieces to ship. If you have heavier pieces, a large collection, or are dealing with large volumes, consolidated freight is typically ideal.

When you ship any artwork, including sculpture, using parcel shipping services, you need to be aware of “dimensional weight”. Parcel shipments are typically priced based on how much they weigh, but the space they take up on the truck can also impact the cost of your shipment, especially if you’re moving large pieces like sculptures. Dimensional weight more accurately reflects the density of your shipment—or, the amount of space it takes up in relation to its actual weight. 

How to calculate dimensional weight

Measure the package dimensions to calculate the cubic size in inches:

L x W x H = cubic size

Then, divide the cubic size by the specific dimensional weight divisor determined by your parcel shipping service to calculate dimensional weight. You may need to ask your shipping provider for this information. 

If you only have a few small sculptures to ship and you have space in your personal vehicle, moving these pieces yourself will save you some money—and the stress of waiting for your package to arrive undamaged. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Faster—expedited shipping options are available Dimension and weight limitations mean you can’t use this method for anything too large or heavy
Cheaper than consolidated freight Sculptures longer than 12 inches and weighing more than 5 lbs need to be crated.
Can include professional packing and crating Package pick up options are typically limited—you may have to take your sculpture to a store to ship
Can include additional insurance Can be expensive to ship large, heavy pieces
  Your sculpture is out of your control from pickup to delivery
  May not include sufficient insurance

How much does parcel shipping cost?

The cost of parcel shipping is highly variable based on the level of service you choose and the size and weight of your sculpture. Shipping a sculpture typically costs between $50-$300 per package, depending on the speed of travel and packing method you employ. Next-day or expedited shipments will cost significantly more than regular ground freight, for example.

When should I use parcel shipping services to ship a sculpture?

  • Small sculptures weighing less than 70 lbs, including the weight of the crate 
  • If your sculpture(s) can be disassembled into smaller pieces that can be packed separately in their own boxes
  • Expedited or time-critical shipments

4. Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping

Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping is like carpool for cargo. After you post your sculpture on an online marketplace, potential shipping partners who are travelling in the right direction will bid on your shipment. They could be a road tripper, a truck owner/operator, or a larger logistics company. It’s up to you to vet your options and negotiate your shipping rate.  

Vetting a potential peer-to-peer shipping partner is especially important when you’re shipping sculptures. Any shipping partner should be qualified to handle these delicate-yet-cumbersome items, and they should also be able to provide a safe transportation environment that reduces the risk of damage to your sculpture, such as temperature control or air-ride suspension. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

May be cheaper for long distance moves You may not be working with a professional—there’s no guarantee of expertise or experience, and there’s less accountability if something goes wrong
Can be used to ship just about any type of large item Need to pack your sculpture yourself
  May not be able to take larger pieces
  May need to provide loading and unloading assistance
  May not be able to track your shipment
  No insurance if your shipment gets damaged

How much does it cost to ship a sculpture using peer-to-peer shipping?

Peer-to-peer shipping costs can vary, and are often negotiable depending on the size of your sculpture, how many pieces you’re shipping, and the level of involvement you require from your shipping partner. Typically, shipping sculptures using peer-to-peer shipping networks will cost between $175 for smaller, single pieces, and upwards of $1,000 for larger pieces or collections. 

When should I use peer-to-peer shipping to transport my sculptures?

  • Inexpensive, smaller and/or lighter sculptures that doesn’t require additional packing or loading services
  • If you are shipping a few other large items

5. Consolidated freight

When you ship your sculpture(s) using consolidated freight, your pieces will share space on the truck with other shipments heading in the same direction. You only pay for the amount of space your shipment takes up on the truck, which helps keep your costs lower, especially for larger collections. 

Consolidated freight shipping services are always provided by licensed and insured shipping companies. The best consolidated freight providers will connect you with an experienced shipping company that specializes in transporting artwork like sculptures. This may include:

  • Temperature-controlled vehicles
  • Air-ride suspension
  • Custom crating
  • Loading and unloading by hand or using a crane (instead of by forklift)
  • Varying levels of service, such as white glove packing services, to ensure that your sculpture is packed or crated properly.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Safe—you can trust experienced professionals to handle your painting properly in a controlled environment May be costly to ship large sculpture or collections
Convenient—no need to find space in your rented moving vehicle to safely transport sculptures Longer timelines, unless you pay for expedited shipping
Easy for galleries to set up recurring shipments Does not always include packing and loading services
May include crate packing services, as well as indoor loading and unloading  
Includes shipping insurance  

How much does it cost to ship a sculpture using consolidated freight?

The cost of shipping a sculpture (or a collection of sculptures) using consolidated freight will depend on what level of service you choose. If you are able to pack your sculpture yourself, consolidated freight services can cost as low as $375 for a single sculpture. 

If your artwork is especially valuable, fragile, heavy, or sentimental, you’ll need White Glove service. With crating included, White Glove service typically costs between $900-$1,000, but is much safer than a standard less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping environment. Instead of being loaded and unloaded using a forklift, your sculpture will be carried by hand by professional artwork movers. 

When should I use consolidated freight to move a sculptures?

  • Larger collections
  • Large, heavy sculptures that can’t be easily moved
  • Long distance moves
  • Especially valuable artwork
  • If you need help with packing or crating
  • High-volume or recurring shipments

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How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Sculpture?

Method

Cost

Renting a truck and moving yourself Depends on size of vehicle and distance of move
Hiring professional movers Depends on size and distance of move; approximately $4,300
Parcel shipping $50-$225+, depending on size and speed of service
Peer-to-peer shipping $175-$1,000+, depending on the size, weight, and distance of move
Consolidated freight $300+, typically between $1,000-$2,000

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Recommended Shipping Method

For small sculptures, single items, or time-critical shipments, we recommend transporting them in your personal vehicle or opting for parcel shipping.

For large sculptures or collections, consolidated freight is ideal. Consolidated freight is also a good choice for recurring or volume shipments of more than 10 pieces per month. 

These services are always provided by licensed and insured professionals, so you can rest assured that your sculpture will receive the care it deserves throughout its journey.

When you ship sculpture using consolidated freight services, it will share space on the truck with other cargo heading in the same direction. This can help keep your costs low, with shipping rates starting around $300. Consolidated freight providers also often offer multiple service levels, including packing and custom crating, assistance loading your sculpture, and additional insurance. Most sculpture shipments will require White Glove service, which includes indoor pickup and delivery, as well as packing services. These shipments typically cost between $1,000 and $2,000.  

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Special Considerations for Shipping a Sculpture

If you’re investigating the best way to relocate sculpture(s), you likely fall into one of two groups:

  1. Collectors: You’re relocating, either locally or long distance, and you need help safely moving your sculptures to your new home. In this case, you might be looking for help shipping a single sculpture, or a large collection.
  2. Artists or gallery owners: You’re a sculptor or a gallery owner, and you need to ship sculptures to both local and long distance buyers. You may also be dealing with higher volumes and recurring shipments.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, you’ll be dealing with the same considerations. Here’s what makes sculptures so difficult to ship, and what you can do to keep your artwork safe throughout the moving process: 

Weight

Sculptures can be made from a wide variety of materials, including weighty substances like stone, metal, and glass. Some can even weigh thousands of pounds! It is important to use strong, durable packing materials that will support their weight throughout the entire packing process. Heavy items should always be packed into crates, and even heavier items should be secured onto pallets to make them more stable and easier to transport. 

Delicate

Though they seem sturdy and imposing, sculptures are often made from fragile materials that can easily be cracked, chipped, bent or broken. Because of this, proper packing is essential:

  • Foam-padded crates are often the best possible option
  • The more fragile, detailed, or expensive your sculpture is, the more sophisticated and strong your crate should be. Consider investing in a museum-quality crate, which offers features like padding, cushioning, custom cribbing, and built-in frameworks.
  • Very detailed and delicate sculptures may need to be wrapped in plastic film before being protected with plaster or foam.
  • Especially fragile sculptures may even need to be strapped down to a pallet to prevent bumping, shaking, or being turned upside down.

Value

Whether you have a collection of small statues that cost less than $50 each or a large and impressive piece of sculpture that set you back a couple thousand dollars, your sculptures are investments that you’ve chosen to include in your life for a reason. Whether monetary or sentimental, selecting a shipping service you trust to handle your sculptures with the care they require is the best way to safeguard your investment. Purchasing additional insurance to cover your sculpture in the event of damage is always recommended.

Size

Sculptures can range from small and easy to lift to incredibly large and impossible to manage without equipment. Some large works can be disassembled into smaller pieces for easy transport, but if this is not an option, you may need a crane or other type of equipment in order to load and unload it from the truck.

  • Under 12”, around 5 lbs or less: May be safe enough to pack securely into a high-quality moving box, if they are adequately padded with enough bubble wrap. Use a box several inches larger than the sculpture on all sides—this will give you space to pad it properly to protect against impact.
  • Over 12” and heavier than 5lbs: Securely wrap them in bubble wrap and pack them in a crate.

Unique

In addition to being fragile and heavy, many sculptures are also one-of-a-kind, meaning that each one will have its own unique set of considerations for moving. From packing and crating to handling and shipping, the unusual shapes, materials, and small details of each unique sculpture require their packing and shipment needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. A qualified shipping partner can help you navigate this process, from quote to delivery.

Shape

Sculpture is rarely uniform in shape, with delicate details and protrusions that can complicate the packing process. The best way to protect oddly-shaped sculptures is to pack them safely into a custom-built crate. At a minimum, fragile pieces require additional protection in the form of securely wrapped, custom-cut padding.

Materials

Sculptures can be made from a wide range of materials of varying delicacy and sensitivity. Those that are especially fragile will require special attention and consideration throughout the packing and shipping process. For example:

  • Stone and wood sculpture often have pieces that can be easily cracked and which will require adequate padding to protect them from chipping and breaking. 
  • Certain types of metal and stone, such as marble, can show fingerprints, and their surfaces can be damaged by plastic packing materials. You can avoid this by securely wrapping them in moving blankets first.

Temperature

Because of the variety and sensitivity of materials used in sculpture, uncontrolled temperature changes are something that should be avoided during transportation. Rapid or fluctuating temperature changes can lead to:

  • Condensation and moisture, which can rot wood and rust metal 
  • Materials expanding and contracting, resulting in small cracks and fissures or warping the material

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Mistakes to Avoid When Shipping a Sculpture

  • Not measuring: Accurately measuring your sculpture(s) ensures that you can provide your moving company with accurate weight and dimensions, get an accurate quote, and avoid unexpected charges. It also gives you a chance to determine whether your sculpture will fit through any doorways and hallways it will need to pass through during pickup and delivery.
  • Not wearing gloves: Wearing gloves protects your sculpture from fingerprints, can also prevent slipping, and help you avoid unintentional damage.
  • Treating all sculptures the same: If you have multiple sculptures in your collection, they likely vary widely in their size, shape, and composition. Each one needs to be treated differently to make sure it stays safe on its journey.
  • Not planning ahead: Moving a sculpture is always a challenging process that  requires forethought and planning to make sure it’s packed properly and can be moved without risking damage.
  • Only using packing peanuts: Packing peanuts are never reliable and can shift around in transit and settle to the bottom of the box, where they are effectively useless. They also require a lot of cleanup, which can contribute to an unpleasant unboxing experience—something to keep in mind if you are selling sculpture.
  • Using second-hand filler like newspaper or magazine pages: When it comes to heavy items like sculpture, recycling newspaper and magazine pages you have laying around as packing material will not provide adequate protection. In fact, due to their lack of color-fastness, they may actually damage your artwork if any ink rubs off, and like packing peanuts, they can also provide a negative unboxing experience.
  • Improper carrying: When moving anything, especially heavy or awkwardly shaped items like sculpture, safe lifting is key to protecting both the item and your moving team. Always pick up from the base and use a dolly or hand truck, or any other necessary equipment for especially heavy pieces.

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How To Pack a Sculpture

Every sculpture is different and each will have its own unique set of needs to ensure safe arrival. For this reason, their packing and shipping processes should be assessed on a case-by-case basis—what works for a large marble piece will not necessarily work for a wooden carving or welded metal piece.

There are three things you must keep in mind when packing a sculpture:

  • Keeping it upright. Sculptures secured in an upright position may be awkward to ship due to their height, but this is the safest way to transport them.
  • Protection from shaking. The long ride in the back of a truck can be a rigorous journey, and the vibrations your sculpture will experience in the back of the truck are often unavoidable. A truck with air-ride suspension offers a smoother ride, but proper padding is your #1 defense against shaking.
  • Protection from impact, such as bumps or drops. Sculptures are heavy and cumbersome, which means they’re more likely to be bumped or dropped during loading or unloading. 

Crating is common practice when it comes to shipping sculptures, and is widely considered to be the most trustworthy packing method. Professional movers will often secure your sculpture in an upright position on a pallet, then build a crate around it, but this may not be necessary for smaller sculptures. Regardless of the material, foam-padded crates are ideal for cushioning the sculpture against shaking and impact during transit.

Due to their size, shape, weight, and fragility, it is almost always recommended that you get sculptures professionally crated. However, if you have small, sturdy sculptures or sculptures that have low monetary or sentimental value, you may be able to pack them yourself. Here’s how:

Packing materials

  • Bubble wrap
  • Packing paper
  • Packing foam
  • High-quality packing tape
  • Artist’s tape for delicate materials
  • Moving blankets
  • Box or crate
  • Pallet

Packing instructions

Start by following these steps:

  1. Carefully review the piece before packing. Identify problem areas such as cracks, chips, or other existing damage, as well as fragile points and other areas susceptible to damage so you can take the appropriate precautions.
  2. Measure your sculpture. Measure all dimensions (length, width, depth), as well as the weight, so you can pack it properly and provide your moving company with the most accurate information. 

From here, the way you pack your sculpture depends on its size.

For small sculptures

  1. Wrap them in bubble wrap. Wrap the entire sculpture from top to bottom securely in several layers of bubble wrap, ensuring the bubbles face inwards, touching the sculpture, and taking care to pad any empty pockets with additional bubble wrap. Secure the wrap with packing tape. If you are concerned they might leave a pattern, wrap the sculpture in linen or packing paper first
  2. Box it up. Select a box that offers at least 2-3 inches of buffer space on ALL SIDES, including the top and bottom, to protect the sculpture from impact. Line the bottom of the box with a thick layer of bubble wrap or crumpled up packing paper. Place the bubble-wrapped sculpture in your box and fill all of the empty space with crumpled paper or more bubble wrap to prevent shifting. Seal the box with strong packing tape using the H method and multiple layers of packing tape for extra security. 
  3. Double box. For especially fragile works, consider double boxing the sculpture. Pack the first box as described, then prepare a second, larger box with packing materials lining the bottom. Insert the already-packed box containing the sculpture, and fill in any extra space with padding material.
  4. Label clearly on all sides as “FRAGILE” and indicate “THIS SIDE UP” on the appropriate side.

For larger sculptures

  1. Disassemble, if possible. If your sculpture can be taken apart, it should be. When disassembled into smaller pieces, it is much easier to pack each part safely.
  2. Pad open spaces with crumpled packing paper or foam.
  3. Wrap in moving blankets to protect the surface, covering all of the surfaces. Secure the blankets in place with packing tape.
  4. Wrap the covered sculpture in bubble wrap, covering all surfaces, and secure the wrap in place with packing tape.
  5. Double box. If you have a large and sturdy enough box, you can pack larger sculptures using the method outlined above, then pack the box inside your crate.
  6. Crate it. You will likely need to work with a professional to build a custom crate and ensure your sculpture is properly padded.
  7. Label as “FRAGILE” and “THIS SIDE UP”. If you are transporting your sculpture in a crate, you should also indicate which panel is the removable lid by labelling “UNSCREW THIS SIDE ONLY”.

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Conclusion

Whether you’re a sculptor or gallery owner shipping pieces to buyers across the country, or a collector planning a long distance move, you have five options for shipping a sculpture:

  1. Rent a truck and move yourself
  2. Hire professional movers
  3. Parcel shipping, such as UPS® or FedEx®
  4. Rideshare or peer-to-peer shipping
  5. Consolidated freight

If you are shipping a single, small-sized sculpture or collection of smaller pieces, or need expedited shipping, parcel shipping is your best option. For recurring or volume shipments or long-distance moves of large sculptures or larger collections, consolidated freight is ideal. TSI can help—our experienced logistics coordinators will connect you with an expert artwork shipping company and help you create a shipping plan that works for your schedule and budget, including recurring shipments.

Custom sculpture shipping 

TSI specializes in creating personalized solutions for moving and shipping sculptures. 

Learn more