How to Ship a Picture

Learn why the proper way to ship a picture is to roll it up and place it inside a mailing tube, and why these shipments may incur surcharges
how do I ship a picture
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While eCommerce has allowed many photographers to earn a living by selling their work online, shipping a picture or portrait can be nerve-racking for some people who don’t have experience doing it. After all, if a photograph creases during transit, there’s no easy way to get it back to pristine condition. While some photographers send their work in envelopes, this isn’t the best way to ensure that photographs arrive without damage or creases. If you’re thinking about the best way to ship a picture, you’ll want to get familiar with a different type of packaging: mailing tubes.

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Use Mailing Tubes to Ship Pictures

Hands down, the best (and proper) way to ship a picture is to roll it up and place it in a mailing tube. Rolling up a picture doesn’t crease it in any way, and since these tubes are made of heavy-duty cardboard, they’ll prevent the picture from taking any damage during transit in most cases.

The Proper Way to Roll a Picture

When rolling up your photo, you’ll need to roll it in the direction of the longest side. For instance, if your photo’s orientation is horizontal and its longest side measures left to right, roll it from left to right (or right to left). If its orientation is vertical and its longest side measures top to bottom, then roll it from top to bottom (or bottom to top).

Rolling your picture this way will ensure that it can fit in the smallest tube possible…which helps you save money by minimizing the likelihood of incurring surcharges, which we’ll talk about at the bottom of this article.

Where Can I Get Mailing Tubes?

You can order mailing tubes of all sizes on the ULINE website, and you can also order them for free on the USPS website.

Pro Tip: If you use a free Priority Mail tube from USPS, you’ll need to pay for the corresponding Priority Mail postage. Learn more about paying for the correct USPS service marked on your box.

How to Measure a Tube’s Length, Width, and Depth

Once you have your mailing tube, you’ll need to measure its dimensions to obtain a quote to send it. While a lot of shippers assume that a cylindrical tube only has two dimensions to measure, length and depth, it actually has three, according to the shipping carriers!

In this case, the width of your tube will be the same measurement as its depth. For instance, if your tube measures 15 inches long and 2 inches deep, your dimensions will be 15 x 2 x 2″ (2 inches deep and 2 inches wide).

Read more about mailing tubes and how to measure their dimensions.

USPS Priority Mail Tubes are Triangular

If you use a free Priority Mail tube, you’ll notice it isn’t cylindrical, but rectangular. In this case, it’s easier to measure the length, width, and depth, because there are three distinct sides to it. You can also visit the USPS website to reference the diagram of a Priority Mail tube, where USPS has clearly labeled all three dimensions.

Sending a Picture in a Mailing Tube May Incur Surcharges

Most shipping carriers consider mailing tubes “irregular packages,” which is a category given to packages that aren’t shaped like a normal box. Since this is the case, you may have to pay surcharges on top of your regular postage cost when sending a tube.

Depending on the shipping carrier you choose, the amount of surcharges you need to pay will vary, as well as the types of surcharges you’ll incur in the first place. For example, when shipping with USPS, you may be subject to certain non-standard fees on top of your postage costs if the length of your tube is longer than 22 inches. When shipping with UPS, you may see an “Additional Handling” surcharge if the tube is longer than normal UPS parameters.

Generally speaking, the shorter the length of your tube (22 inches or less), the less likely it will be to incur surcharges!

Offset Surcharges with Discounts from Shipping Software

While some surcharges may be inevitable if your mailing tubes are of a certain size, you can offset these additional costs by using online shipping software to access discounts.

When you use online shipping software, you gain access to special USPS discounts known as Commercial Pricing rates that can save you up to 89% off of what you’d pay to ship the same package at the Post Office. You can also access pre-negotiated rates from UPS through most shipping software companies, and you can compare rates to see whether USPS or UPS offers you a better price for sending your tube.

No matter which carrier you go with, taking advantage of these discounts is the best way to save the most money possible when sending a picture in a mailing tube…especially considering the “irregular package” surcharges you may need to pay.

Looking for the right shipping software for you?

To get the deepest discounts on shipping labels, check out our guide:

Choose the Best Shipping Software

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