Tips on packaging and shipping pottery...

How I safely ship pottery worldwide…

As we come up to the busiest period for most makers, potters around the world will be spending hours if not days during their busy weeks carefully packing their precious wares to send off to wonderful customers all across the globe….I get a lot of questions from my potter kin and customers alike about how I package and ship ceramics safely. It is scary to trust your beloved pots into the hands of couriers so I thought it might be helpful to put a few of my tips into a blog post…

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Selling mostly online, my packaging is the first physical interaction most of my customers will have with me so first impressions count. I want my pottery to arrive in perfect condition and for the unboxing experience to be *nearly* as joyful as the pot itself. I have spent years perfecting my packaging techniques, I package dozens of items every week and I can count the number of  breakages I have ever had on one hand (most of them were in my first six months of being a potter). 

Here is my packing routine: I check each pot carefully before wrapping it neatly in tissue paper, I seal it with a branded sticker (which I print out myself on sticky labels using an inkjet printer). I wrap the pot with minimum (normally two layers of) bubble wrap (see my thoughts on bubble wrap below) but always enough to keep the item safe. I include a business or post card in the parcel with a personal thank you note to the recipient.  I don’t spend hundreds of pounds on specially branded packaging boxes - I had a branded stamp made for me by The English Stamp Company which I have used for nearly 4 years, I stamp all my boxes using this one stamp.  I pop the pot in it’s first box (for mugs this is a ‘smash proof’ box - you can find these on eBay) for plates I use extra-strength cake boxes :-)

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Box it twice, make it once!

This is my biggest tip. For the vast majority of my parcels I use two boxes. The pot will be snuggly tucked up inside the first box. There should be ‘air’ in-between your first box and the exterior box. This is the only way to ensure that if your package does get kicked around the exterior box will take the impact and the pot will remain safe.  The internal box should  be ‘levitating’ inside the exterior box - kept in place with void filling packaging.  I always give the parcel a good shake -  if the inner box rattles around that is a recipe for disaster- there should be no movement of the pot or the inner box.

Void Filler: I use Bio- peanuts, these are void fill packaging made from corn starch. They are totally bio-degradable and disintegrate if they come in contact with water (so don’t get them wet). I also use brown recycled paper to fill around the internal box and sometimes I will use air pockets (often these are reused from parcels I have received).

I do buy my mug boxes and some smaller sized boxes as the correct sizes are hard to come by but I try to recycle as much packaging as I can. Folks in my village know I have a fetish for boxes and save up their boxes and bubble wrap for me and leave it on my doorstep. I have found some of the best boxes have been from paint companies (for obvious reasons) it is worth going to DIY places such as Homebase and B&Q - a lot of their stores have box banks by the front door and you can help yourself to as many boxes as you like. I only use clean, very good quality boxes - double walled, non branded are best but will also use the odd amazon box now and then.  Let your friends and neighbours know you will reuse their packaging - it has saved me £££ over the years.

My thoughts on bubble wrap

Bubble wrap is not ideal, it is plastic and we are all (hopefully) trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our everyday lives as much as possible. I try to keep my use of plastic packaging to a minimum and only use bubble wrap where essential - I will use a small piece around mugs as the smash proof box does most of the work, other items such as plates do need more as they’re more fragile.  I have yet to find an alternative to bubble wrap which has the same protective properties but I am currently testing out paper bubble wrap which is recycled and recyclable - I will keep you updated on this. There are eco bubble wraps on the market made from compostable plastics but they tend to be more expensive, they need a special atmosphere in order to breakdown (over 50 degrees Centigrade) they won’t degrade in your average compost heap and there is evidence that microscopic particles still stick around in the soil for centuries.  I encourage customers to reuse the bubble wrap I use in my parcels to save it going to landfill.

  If I fits, I sits :) Luna loves ‘helping’ me pack.

If I fits, I sits :) Luna loves ‘helping’ me pack.

I always use a double-walled cardboard for overseas or large shipments; single wall boxes are just not strong enough.

Postal Services

For the UK I have had a good experience with Royal Mail (this is my personal experience and I know services can vary across the country) my local post office owner, John is really friendly and helpful. He actually tries really hard to help me keep my postage costs to a minimum. If I am a few grams over the 2kilo weight limit they’ll often offer me a pair of scissors and some tape so I can reorganise my parcel so that it comes under the weight limit. It’s really worth getting a good relationship with your local post office.  I like the immediacy of taking my parcels to the post office, knowing that as soon as I have packaged them up they are out the door and will be on their way that day but I do appreciate the benefits of pre-booking a courier collection from companies such as Hermes or DPD.

For international parcels under 2 kilos I haven’t found any company that can beat Royal Mail on price or reliability but again that’s just my experience and I know that the local services in the destination country have a huge impact on delivery times and reliability. E.g. Italy and Canada have been the countries I have personally found can take the longest whereas USA and Australia have surprisingly quick delivery times - I have had parcels arrive in as little as 4 days!

For International parcels over 2 kilos Royal Mail prices shoot up and are not as affordable so I use a parcel broker such as Parcel2go, Parcel Hero or Parcel Monkey, they show you all the big couriers and the best prices or deals on that week, I often use UPS for USA. DPD & Hermes for Australia and Asia - all of them have been pretty good for me. Be careful about the additional insurance they try and flog you - because ceramics are considered a high risk items they are exempt from any kind of compensation if they do get damaged, so no matter how much they try and convince you to take out the additional insurance they won’t pay out if the worst happens so my advice would be save your money and just make sure your packaging is top class. In all my years of posting items, a few parcels have been delayed but I have never actually lost a parcel. In the very few circumstances a pot has got damaged I have remade it for the customer very quickly and they have always been thrilled to receive it safely in the end - no one has ever asked for a refund (but of course that would be ok too!)

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Ikea bags - are great for carrying boxes to the post office.

If you are a customer and have any reservations about ordering pottery internationally, I hope this will allay your fears - if you have any questions at all then do please get in touch. If you are a potter and nervous about packaging I hope this has been helpful and if any potter chums have your own tips you can share in the comments below I would love to hear them!

- x -