5 Things to Know if You’re New to Buying Art Online

First time purchasing original artwork online? Don’t worry we’ve got you covered with these helpful tips so you can buy with confidence!

Becky Benshoof
6 min readOct 2, 2020
Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

The world of e-commerce has been booming this past decade. So much of the shopping we used to do in person can now be done online. Hundreds of stores and retail platforms are at your fingertips every day. You can buy your clothes, books, groceries, and order take-out, all online. This includes buying art. More people are now turning from brick and mortar galleries to online art platforms.

However, art, especially original artwork is a more considered purchase. This is a one of a kind handmade item, not like a pair of shoes that you can easily send back if they don’t fit. A piece of artwork is something that’s going to be displayed and treasured for years to come.

Are you excited that you’ve found your first piece, but nervous about clicking that ‘check out’ button without seeing it in person first? Here are some things to know before buying your first original artwork.

Is the artwork information clearly listed?

You should know what to expect from the artwork listing. Is the medium listed? Ex. Painting, photography, or sculpture. Are the types of materials used listed? Ex. Acrylic, oil, or canvas. Are the photos clear?

This is important information because photos, unaccompanied by a thorough description can be unclear at first glance. Don’t make assumptions — it looks like an oil or acrylic painting, so it probably is. You want to be sure you know what to expect upon arrival so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.

If the information in the listing is not very clear, then contact the artist or company for more information.

Be aware of common shipping methods for artwork

Unlike other types of online purchases that usually just arrive in a box, artwork can be shipped in a variety of methods. This depends on the nature of the artwork and location of the artist or gallery you’re purchasing from. Below are the most common shipping methods and what factors to be aware of:

Tube — works on paper, including drawings, prints, and photographs are most commonly shipped rolled in a tube.

Artworks on canvas can also be shipped rolled in a tube. What? You may think. How can canvas be rolled in a tube? Isn’t it a 3-dimensional object that I can hang on my wall? Yes and no — there 2 components of an artwork made on traditional canvas, the canvas material itself and the wooden stretcher bars which give it it’s 3D shape so that you can hang it. The canvas material can be removed from the stretcher bars and like any other fabric rolled. Some artists prefer to ship their artworks on canvas rolled for many reasons, a few of the most common are listed below:

  1. It can be safer for large works, especially if they are shipping long distances or internationally.
  2. It can be more cost-effective for larger works
  3. If the work was painted on loose canvas and has not yet been stretched, then shipping rolled may be a preferred option

Once you receive your canvas artwork rolled a tube. You can then take it to a local fine art framer where they can have it stretched for you onto wooden stretcher bars. This is a common practice and any local framer should be familiar with this process.

Box or crate — depending on the size and nature of the artwork, the artist or gallery may choose to have it shipped flat in a cardboard box or wooden crate.

It’s important to note which method is being used so you can be prepared for delivery. Is the work very large and is shipped in a wooden crate? Unlike pieces of furniture that can be disassembled and shipped in a more compact method. Most large works shipped in a crate are all one piece and cannot be more ‘compact’. Are you purchasing a 5-foot painting that is shipping stretched? Then you should expect the crate to be even larger 5.5–5.8 feet and heavy. You’ll want to be sure you have the work delivered to a location that can receive large crates.

Will you need to take it to a framer?

Are you planning on having your artwork framed? Many works, especially canvas works, can be hung unframed. However, works on paper will need a frame. Some prefer to have canvas works framed as well; this is an aesthetic decision. Decide if you’re having your work framed or not before purchase. If the artist or gallery you’re purchasing from offers a framing service, then great! However, if they don’t you can have it framed locally at a local fine art framer. In this case, you may want to consider having the piece shipped to a framer directly (if it’s a larger shipment).

If it’s a smaller work or you’d prefer to have it delivered to your location and then take it to a framer yourself that works too, just be aware that you’ll then need to transport it there.

For artworks that you receive rolled, I recommend that you take them to the framer to be opened. If you’re unfamiliar with unrolling artworks then there is the possibility that it can be damaged in the process, so if this is something that you are at all uncomfortable with, it’s best to take it to a professional to be sure that it’s handled correctly.

Remember, you’re buying an original artwork

You’re buying a handmade item. This means it was not mass-produced by machinery in a factory. Handmade means the artist’s hand may be visible in the final product — brush strokes yes, but also small imperfections, or hair from their paint brush even. There will be craftsmanship visible. This is one of the things that makes your artwork special! The artist painstakingly worked on every detail of the piece.

Is there a return policy?

Before you purchase the item, take note if the artist or company has a return policy. Again, this is a unique one of a kind item that you have not yet seen in person, so the ability to return it may be helpful.

If the item is returnable then consider any return shipping costs you might have to pay. If the piece is larger and shipping internationally perhaps from a more remote location or country that has more strict shipping restrictions for artwork, then the cost to return it might be a factor in your decision.

For example, if you’re purchasing in the US and you’re buying a larger work from India, then it’s going to be pretty expensive to return. Rather than a smaller work from the US or UK. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy works from artists all over the world, it’s just a factor to be aware of when making your decisions.

There are things you can do before purchase to help avoid the need to return an item. If the artwork listing doesn’t include detailed information and additional photos, contact the artist or company for more information. This will help ensure that you know what to expect upon arrival and avoid the need of having to return something that doesn’t meet your expectations.

The great thing about buying art online is that your access to artwork from great artists all over the world has just expanded! There is so much to choose from and enjoy all in the convenience of your own home. It also allows you to support emerging artists and make a difference in someone’s life.

Receiving your first piece is so rewarding and exciting! It may cost more than the prints at bigger chain home décor shops, but it’s worth it and special piece that you’ll treasure for years to come. Keep the above tips in mind so you can purchase your first piece with confidence!