We’ve gathered commonly-used shipping terminology, abbreviations, and industry lingo to serve as a cheat sheet while you become familiar with new art shipping terminology. Our concise, digestible definitions should support a transition into the art shipping industry while moving highly variable, high-value items.
ARTA provides support beyond industry knowledge, and caters to the post-purchase experiences when buying highly variable, high-value items. If you’re searching for solutions to shipping quotes, tracking automation, and post-sale client communication, we’re here to help.
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Click here to learn more about how ARTA can help you grow your enterprise. However, until you’re ready to scale your business, here’s some shipping lingo to get started.
General shipping terms
A licensed individual who works with customs authorities to clear freight on behalf of the importer of record.
Full risk insurance
Covers any damage acquired in transit “from wall to wall.” Policy must be purchased, and costs are in addition to shipping charges.
Coverage that is only offered in cases of total loss, including theft, non-delivery, or total damage.
Recipient / Buyer
Individual receiving the works and/or the purchasing party.
Shipper / consignor
Individual who is listed as the seller/releasing party.
Agent facilitating shipping services between parties (Also written “3 PL”).
Transport vocabulary & art shipping terminology
Air suspension system that absorbs shock and minimizes excessive bumps to avoid damage during transit.
A truck typically between 12-36 feet, often temperature-controlled, air ride, and includes a lift gate.
When artworks are temporarily staged in a warehouse between truck transport.
Shipments that originate in and deliver to locations with an elevated platform. Does not include ground-level doorways or garages.
Two drivers are present throughout the entire transport.
Dedicated vehicle used solely for a single shipment.
Fine art shuttle
Climate-controlled, air-ride road transportation operated by two fine art technicians. Weekly, biweekly, or monthly routine routes and consolidated cargo keep costs low but require flexible collection and delivery windows.
Open cargo area with only a bed and no walls, used for transporting oversize artworks.
Facilitates the shipment of crates between countries via air and sea, not including specialized art handling services.
A modified tractor-trailer that allows for higher internal height, reaching up to 120 inches.
The hydraulic platform attached to the back of some trucks. Often required when there is not a dock to receive or release.
Line haul transport
Warehouse-to-warehouse trucking, not including local services.
A vehicle used for local collections and deliveries of small artworks or locations that cannot be reached by larger trucks.
Maintains temperature in the cargo area, typically between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Largest fine art shipping vehicle, with an average length of 53 feet. Door heights range from 105-115”. See High Cube.
Art packing terms, abbreviations & shipping slang
Wooden travel frame used to transport works at a lean if oversized.
Fitted foam sections that fit into cardboard boxes or crates to fill internal packing space to support artwork during transit.
IPPC bug stamp
Required seal that certifies that the wood used in the crate is heat-treated and meets IPCC standards: debarked and heat treated.
Permanent hardware that screws into the back of artwork to secure it in a travel frame or crate.
A plywood box substitute for a more substantial crate.
Inexpensive plastic covering, non-abrasive and non-stick for wrapping framed and acrylic works. Not suitable for long-term storage. Often referred to as “Poly.”
Shadow box or collar
To protect delicate or wet surfaces, a cardboard collar fits around the edges of the artwork, creating space between the surface of the work and any other object. Plastic or cardboard faces are used to further protect.
Wooden crate without walls, only internal framing. Used for works with sensitive surfaces that cannot touch padding or to save costs on wood for siding.
Cardboard container used for shuttle transit of two-dimensional works. Not suitable for freight shipments.
General term for packing artwork in materials including but not limited to; blankets, bubble wrap, plastic, and cardboard.
Brand of heavy tube where two-dimensional artworks are wrapped on the outside.
Travel frame (T-frame)
The open wooden container used to hang artwork with relief around the edges during transit. T-frames can be packed into a larger enclosed crate. T-frames can also have poly or coroplast walls.
Slat crate with tri-wall cardboard sheets used for siding.
Cylindrical packing for two-dimensional artwork. Pieces are rolled and placed inside.
High-quality brand of plastic wrapping. See Polyurethane.
Handling and equipment terms
Condition check / conditioning
Formal review of artwork at collection or delivery to inspect for damage and alterations and record the current status of the item.
A wheeled platform for moving crates.
Vehicle for lifting oversized crates weighing roughly over 500 lbs.
Frame with an adjustable hook used for lifting and placing sculptural artworks of varying sizes but often used for oversize or heavy pieces or crates.
Brand of lifting equipment used to install heavy artwork in small locations.
Hand truck (US) / Sack barrow (UK)
Wheeled metal cart with tall handles used to move crates.
Installation equipment including but not limited to d-rings, cleats, oz-clips, wire, and wall mounts.
Form of forklift used for the maneuvering of palletized items or crates, operated by hand.
Art shipping terminology for warehousing and storage
Climate-controlled vs. non-climate-controlled
Warehouses have designated climate-controlled areas that monitor temperature and humidity. Non-climate storage is available at a lower rate.
Communal storage space at an economical rate.
White wall gallery space used for displaying, photographing, and condition reporting of artworks on-site at a warehouse
Warehouse handling fee / Dock fee
The administrative fee for warehouses to receive and release artwork. Typically billed to an existing client account. This can be included in any ARTA estimate per client request.
Vocabulary for shipping documents
Bill of lading (BOL) (US) / COL / Del Note (UK)
Document with the collection and delivery locations, signed by releasing and receiving parties for proof of transport.
Certificate of Insurance (COI)
Proof of insurance and worker’s compensation coverage for external companies to perform on-site tasks. Typically required by large residential or commercial buildings.
Commercial invoice / Pro-forma invoice
Record of sale, including artwork details, purchasing party, and price of an artwork. Pro-forma invoices are issued before the actual sale.
Documents typically required for insurance to note any damage or status changes at collection or delivery. They commonly include images, diagrams, and written notes.
Power of Attorney (POA)
Provides authorization for the customs broker to clear freight on behalf of the importer of record. Form will be provided by the customs broker to the consignee for completion before entry into the designated delivery country.
Seaway Bill / Airway Bill (SWB & AWB)
Receipt for the contract of carriage. Unique SWB/AWB numbers can be tracked online.
Art shipping terminology for importing & exporting
When goods are imported and payment of duty or import VAT is deferred, so long as the work does leave the bonded premises under which it is stored. This is often used with items in long-term storage.
A contract that guarantees that a specific obligation will be fulfilled between customs and an importer for any given import transaction. Usually used to guarantee the payment of import duties and taxes.
Goods that have been produced in the European Union (EU) or that have been imported into an EU country with duty paid.
Merchandise processing fee
A fee collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to process merchandise entering the U.S., paid at the time of entry summary.
Temporary import (TI) & temporary admission (TA)
When goods are temporarily imported into a country without payment of duties by posting a bond to guarantee that they will be exported.
For those looking for further support, ARTA provides solutions to various shipping challenges. Click here to learn more about how we provide instant quotes, automated tracking, post-sale communication, and more.
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