How to Ship Pottery

This post is going to cover how I ship my pottery. The method that I use is known as the paper method. It doesn’t require any expensive materials and is not overly complicated. By sharing what I have learned over years of experience, I hope to educate those who are new to selling/shipping pottery or considering making a switch but may be skeptical about using this method. In the nearly six years that I have been shipping pottery, I can count the number of breakages on one hand. That being said, I can assure you that it's highly effective as long as it's done properly. 

I remember when I packed my very first order. A customer had ordered wood-fired bowls destined for California. I wasn't at all prepared because those bowls were listed in my newly opened Etsy shop for months, so I had no packing supplies at all. When I saw the order notification pop up on my phone, I remember thinking, "Yay! …but now what?". I went to OfficeMax and proudly overpaid for a box, packing tape, and a small roll of bubble wrap. Then, I went home and got to work. First, I printed my shipping label on an 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper. Then, I assembled my box, which wasn't the typical four-flap box because OfficeMax was sold out of the size that I thought I needed. The box that I settled on instead was designed like a pizza box. It was medium sized but rather shallow. I had to do a lot of folding, flipping, and taping to put it together and the top was one large flap. Next, I wrapped up my bowls in the tiny roll of bubble wrap, placed them inside the box, and filled in the empty spaces with a few sheets of crumpled up old newspaper. Finally, I taped the box closed, cut out the shipping label, taped it to the box, and sent the package on its way. A few days later, the customer reached out to me on Etsy to let me know that almost every bowl was damaged.

So, what did I do wrong? Quite a few things. Firstly, the box was too shallow. I wasn’t able to place the bowls in one layer so I stacked them. This mistake then led to too much empty space inside the box. Secondly, all I bought was a small roll of bubble wrap and I didn't buy enough of it. Instead of buying more, I just used less on each bowl, so not only were these bowls stacked, they were not well protected. Thirdly, I didn't use enough newspaper to fill the empty space.

Needless to say, I upped my shipping game after that first disaster of an Etsy order. I bought heavy duty cardboard boxes, large rolls of bubble wrap, packing peanuts, plastic wrap, fragile stickers, etc., but I was still experiencing breakage. Why? Because it's not about the materials, but the method itself. While these materials are effective to an extent, the method should be the sole focus. Why put money towards these materials when there is a cheaper, more effective way to accomplish the task? Since I have switched to the paper method, I have learned that there are a lot of misconceptions about shipping pottery and I can now say with confidence that materials like packing peanuts, bubble wrap, etc. are a waste of money and resources. 

Here are step-by-step instructions and few helpful tips to succeed with the paper method:

- All you need for this method is a box, packing paper, and tape. Though you can include other materials if you wish.

- Use an appropriately sized box. Too big and you'll be wasting paper to fill all the negative space (and risk missing some). Too small and you'll risk breaking the pot if its at all touching the walls of the box. There should be no less than an inch of negative space between the wrapped pot and the walls of the box, if you have any less, then your box is too small. For single mugs, I use a USPS Priority Mail 7x7x6 inch box.

- When assembling the box, ensure that it is taped securely. I add a strip of tape down the middle of the bottom of the box and also along the bottom, outer edges.

- Place packing paper on the bottom of the box to create a protective layer. The amount of paper placed will vary depending on the size of the box and how much you are packing. For a single mug, I lightly crumple one sheet of packing paper and place it in the bottom of the box.

- Put the box aside and prepare your pot. Remove any potential sources of vibration on the pot by filling negative space with paper. For a mug, I fill both the inside and the negative space between the mug form and the handle with paper. This is one of the most important parts of the packing process and should not be skipped or done poorly. Any source of vibration is risk for breakage. Take your time with this part to ensure that it's done with the utmost attention and care.

- Wrap the pot itself with at least two layers of packing paper for extra padding.

- Place the wrapped pot inside the box, on top of the packing paper that is lining the bottom. If I am shipping a mug, I place it on its side inside the box as its easier to fill the negative space around it. I also feel that it fits more snugly than placing it upright.

- Fill all the negative space around the wrapped pot with paper. The more paper the better. When packing a mug, I typically use between 8-10 sheets of packing paper to fill the negative space around it and two sheets of packing paper to wrap it.

- Do a shake test. Once you've filled the sides and top with paper, close the box and shake it a bit. No movement means complete silence when the box is shaken. If there's no movement whatsoever inside, you are good to insert your business cards/goodies on top and tape it closed. If you think there's even the slightest bit of movement, add more paper. If you are even the slightest bit hesitant, add more paper. Better to be safe than sorry!

- Place your shipping label and add fragile stickers. I highly recommend investing in a thermal label printer. I did so a couple of years ago and it has saved me tons of money on ink and printer costs as well as shipping supplies. It also saves time - I no longer have to cut out the shipping label from the 8.5x11in sheet of paper and tape it onto the box. As for the fragile stickers, using them is a personal preference. I have heard from numerous potters that postal workers actually treat packages more carelessly when these stickers are applied, but it is also quite possible that they are trying to blame others for their careless packing skills. I personally have not found any truth to the former. Think about this: If your pot is packed well, how a postal worker treats your package should not be a concern whatsoever. Use your best judgement, of course!

- Want to save money? Buy your packing materials in bulk! Amazon is a great resource for affordable packing supplies. I usually order 20lbs of plain packing paper, which lasts me about 4-6 months depending on how much I ship out. I also buy fragile stickers and packing tape in bulk from Amazon, as well. Using recycled materials is also a great way to save money. We get this small bundle of coupons in the mail every week that are perfect for filling the negative space of pots. I also save packing materials from my own packages and receive tons from family and friends. I have developed quite the stash of recycled materials - some paper, some bubble wrap, some packing peanuts!*

- Did you know that you can order your boxes for FREE through USPS?! You can and should! Most listings offer orders of 10 or 25 boxes. I usually stock up every 6 months and my order gets delivered by my local postal worker within the week of placing the order.

- Some potters prefer the look of more expensive materials like craft paper, tissue paper, brown boxes, etc. This is obviously a personal preference. I'm not saying these things aren't important, but keep in mind that your customers aren't ordering your pottery for the good-looking packaging that's going to be ripped open and destroyed in under a minute. They are paying for the pottery and expect it to arrive in one piece. The paper method does just that.

Years of practice and trial and error has taught me that keeping it simple is more effective, more efficient, far cheaper, and better for the environment. Since switching to the all-paper method, I haven't had any breakages. The breakages that I have had were due to using materials other than paper or a combination of both.* Obviously, you are free do to whatever you are most comfortable with but I do hope you'll consider giving this method a try because I really do feel that it is the best.

*I mentioned above that I use recycled materials, including bubble wrap, packing peanuts, etc. Remember, the sole focus is the method, not the materials. I use primarily paper to pack my pots and only use other non-paper materials when I have them, and occasionally I will use a combination of both. If you are using other materials, keep in mind how these materials move. Packing peanuts have a tendency to shift in the box, especially if you don’t use enough. Bubble wrap is softer, and the bubbles themselves have potential to pop which creates pockets of negative space that can lead to movement. As long as there is absolutely no movement when you do the shake test, you will have success. 

**Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that may allow me to earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Read full privacy policy here.

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