Shipping Artwork FedEx Ground vs. UPS: What I've learned

I follow the blog of a wonderful watercolor artist, Carrie Waller,  she recently had trouble with shipping a painting to the NWS Members show. I had a similar experience shipping my two paintings to the WPSE show  about a month ago. I had intended to do a blog article on all of my escapades with shipping, so now I thought would be a good time while it’s all fresh in my mind. After many phone calls to FedEx and UPS I gleaned some valuable information from both companies I wanted to pass on to fellow artists because it seems I’m not the only one with shipping dilemmas. I don’t profess to be an expert on this by any means but was quite surprised what I found out after speaking with FedEx and UPS directly... First, I bit the bullet and decided to get an Airfloat box to ship the two paintings.  I had recently purchased a small box to ship one painting to the Georgia Watercolor Society National show and since I get a small discount and I’m fairly new at shipping artwork, I decided better be  safe than sorry and get the Airfloat.  I know Galleries and Watercolor Societies prefer these for their ease in unpacking and packing to send work back.  I volunteered last year to do this at the Florida Watercolor Society Annual Show, and can speak first hand Airfloat, or something similar, is easier.

To ship the smaller painting to Georgia, I got an account with FedEx to ship FedEx Ground.  I highly recommend getting an account especially if you are going to use UPS, more on that later.  I have accounts with both.  It’s easy to do on line and it’s free.  I had no trouble shipping my painting to Georgia with FedEx Ground.  I did all the labels on line, and requested a return label to include with my painting so they could send it back, or my box back if it sold.  Airfloats you can use multiple times.

A few weeks later I needed to ship the two paintings to Tennessee.  Airfloat does not recommend you ship two paintings in one box.  I had seen it done before and calculated it would be more economical for me than buying 2 Airfloat boxes and sending two shipments.  I got a thicker box so that I could put an extra layer of my own foam to accommodate the second painting.  One of the paintings was large, therefore I needed one of the bigger boxes.  I got the 48” x 58” x 5.5”.  These aren’t cheap even with the discount.  The saving grace is they can be used again.  Since this box is BIG, I called both FedEx and UPS to make sure that it didn’t fall into their oversize category before I bought it just to be sure I didn’t pay more for shipping then I had figured on their on line calculator.

Now the fun begins... I packed the paintings and  went on line to do the labels through FedEx Ground.  No problem doing the label to get it to the gallery.  Clicked on the option for the return label and it would only let me put a declared value of $1000.  The two paintings together were valued at $4950 which I could indicate on the first label I created to get them to the gallery.  I called FedEx, the representative told me I could get around it by not doing the return label option, but instead doing a second label just reversing the address.  I did exactly as she said but then, the form wouldn’t accept the date I needed to indicate for return shipping.  I called FedEx again.  This time I was told that the labels you create are only good for 30 days in the FedEx system. My paintings were going to be in the show 2 months.   The way to get around this is to ask the gallery if you can email them a label closer to the date for return, which I did and they were not too keen on the idea because they have 150 artists to keep track of and it is just best to have your label in the box for packing day.  The other way to get around this, I thought, would be to go to my Mail Box store and get a FedEx way bill and put my account number on it and fill it out manually versus on line and the day it was sent it would be billed to my account.  After a trip to the store, I realized that wouldn’t work. They do not have way bills for ground service, only the express more expensive services.  I called FedEx back and asked to speak with a manager.  (More shenanigans ensued, which I won’t go into, because this article is getting too long as it is.)

After finally speaking with the manager, this is what I learned, pay attention here, even though, on the on line form they let me put a declared value of $4950 for  my shipment, FedEx will only honor $1000 for artwork and jewelry!  If your paintings are valued more than $1000, going and coming back,  you are taking a risk, if they should get damaged. Her suggestion was for me to buy a separate insurance policy to cover the work. Regarding the issue of the label, she didn’t have a solution, their labels are only good for 30 days once they are created.  If your work has to be at your show or gallery longer, you would have to work out an arrangement to get them the label within 30 days of the return ship date.

With the value of my work and the time issue FedEx was not an option this time.  Now on to UPS.  Their labels are good for 90 days, my problem was solved.  However, if your work has to be at a show longer, same situation applies as described with FedEx.  Regarding the value issue, here is the breakdown of how much you can declare with UPS:

  • If you have an account you can declare up to $50,000.
  • If you ship through and authorized dealer, like Staples or Office Depot the maximum you can declare is $999.99.
  • If you create your labels on line at with credit card, maximum value you can declare is $5000.
  • If you drop off at your Mail Box store where the driver picks up packages, maximum value is $5000, because you have probably created your label on line.
  • If you go to your Mail Box Store and do the label through them so it is recorded at the store, you can declare $50,000.

The moral of this story is if your painting is valued at more then $1000.00 you will not be fully covered for damage, unless you have a UPS account or you go to your Mail Box store and create your labels with them.  As long as your show is less than 30 days, FedEx ground is fine.  If longer then UPS is the better option.

Part Two of this article will cover what I learned about the  declared value and what happens if your painting is damaged. (I promise it will be shorter.)  Please leave a comment if you have had other experiences or insights. :-)