Week in Hell shipping tutorial

This was originally released as a Backers Only update for Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell Kickstarter. I decided to republish this here, as it would be a helpful reference for anyone who was planning on running a Kickstarter campaign with the hopes of hundreds and hundreds of backers. It can also adapt pretty well to anyone thinking of starting an e-commerce store & some of the ways to handle the shipping overload that can come of an unexpectedly successful season, as I ran into during my Vagina Dentata pre-order. This also covers some important tidbits on art handling – I was an art handler & gallery assistant for a small NYC fine art gallery for four years.

For supplies, you need to make sure that you pre-order plastic bags that are larger than your art – if your art is a standard size, it makes your life easier. Otherwise, find something that won’t be a hassle to cut down & seal. The quick way is to seal with packing tape. If you’re really professional, they make heat sealers that will use heat to cut & then fuse the excess off. My old gallery had a 24″ long handheld one with no base (different from in my link) that I’m not sure if it was modified to work that way or not – we had a lot of frankensteined tools. But one of these professional sealers would make your life easier if this is going to be Your Thing.

I shall walk you through all my steps for fulfilling the art orders. To start, here’s what you’ll need:

Flap seal plastic bags
Packing tape
Mailing tubes (size 2-4″ longer than your shipped artwork)
5.5×8.5″ labels for printing postage via USPS/Paypal
8x5x11″ copy paper for printing customs forms via USPS/Paypal
A digital scale that can measure ounces & pounds (or equivalent outside the US)
Customs Form Envelope 2976E (for holding your customs forms onto your tube)

1. Cut apart all the artwork

So first required slicing and dicing all 270 square feet of artwork. We started with the custom orders & worked our way down, trying our best to capture the best parts of the images. These were then placed into archival plastic bags & sealed shut.

2. Add the Canson papers

You might have noticed your package came with sumptuous paper samples from our sponsor, Canson. They’re great for drawing on with many wet and dry materials. Of course, when they came to us, they weren’t sorted, so there was a lot of collating involved.

3. Assembling your tube

Tubes also come disassembled, so they require capping on each end. We used Uline.com for our tubes.

4. Rolling it up

The fun part! We individually rolled up your stack of goodies & placed it into the tube. Some orders got pens thrown in as well.

5. Cap it

Seal it up nice and tight with a cap and tape the ends shut so nothing flies open during transit. Your artwork should arrive safe and untampered.

6. Repeat. Endlessly.

And that’s how you assemble fine art for safe transport. I learned this method working as an art handler for a NYC art gallery for several years. Tubes are inexpensive to transport & also made it quite uniform when processing the orders. Which brings us to the next bit: How to Ship Out Nearly 600 Orders Without Dying from Hand Cramps or Standing in Lines at the Post Office.

Kickstarter made it easy to collect all of your information in a handy spreadsheet so we could process your addresses. However, there isn’t an integrated shipping tool built into the site and precious little documentation of how to handle huge batch orders like we dealt with. Thankfully, through a lot of trial and error, we managed to find the tools to streamline the process, which I’d like to share with you.

For the 4×6″ pieces, we simply dropped the information into Indesign using the Data Merge option, in order to format the addresses for printing onto labels. This is similar to a Mail Merge in Open Office/MS Office if you have the right Avery templates. Easy enough to print, peel & slap onto the gorgeous envelopes Molly designed. Do watch out for how many stamps are required for international orders as sometimes it’s a lot more than expected – we had many returns due to this. Also, special characters with accents and umlauts can sometimes drop out when exported into the .CSV and then imported into whatever fancy font you chose for your labels. Sometimes the .CVS will drop out the first zero that appears in certain zip codes. Check all formatting, lest you have to hand enter all your misformatted labels!

When it came to the tubes, we first used the same method to print up labels, slap them on, then go to the USPS window and have all the postage processed by hand. After the first round of shipping hell, we knew we had to find a better way. There are so many better things that can be done during the hours you’re watching a postal service employee weigh your packages individually such as refresh your Twitter feeds, make a delicious sandwich, or, I don’t know, anything else ever.

Paypal.com has an option for processing batch shipments, but for domestic orders only. With a spreadsheet formatted the right way, you can simply upload the addresses, select the same shipping information for all of them – First Class with Delivery Confirmation, same weight for all packages – and batch print the labels. Take those labels, slap them onto the individual tubes and then lug your boxes to the USPS & drop them off. Since there’s no processing of customs forms or having to pay at the post office, you can just skip the lines & find someone to take them from you (usually, knock on the door to their back room).

Unfortunately, this doesn’t cover international shipments, of which there were many of you. For this process, we were unable to streamline it with a handy .CSV upload. Instead, this involved going to USPS.com and setting up an account with them to print postage. You can only purchase 10 shipments at a time and all information – names, addresses and customs forms – must be hand entered into the system. But, all your postage will be paid online and your forms printed clearly. You *must* make sure to obtain clear customs envelopes first in order to attach them to your package – there is no easy sticky label you can use. These tubes must then be brought to the post office and individually stamped by a cleric at the window, so make sure you arrive with plenty of time to stand around.

This is the best way we found that didn’t involve signing up for a monthly fee system that we wouldn’t need after Week in Hell was over. Anyone can use these methods for free (except for paying shipping) and it does require a lot of sticker paper, regular paper and specialized envelopes and owning a postal scale. So be prepared to factor in all! of these costs (plus your tubes & clear envelopes AND if you don’t want to drown in overwhelming work, a budget to pay helpers with) when planning for the delivery of your Kickstarter rewards.

We hope everyone enjoys their slice of Week in Hell!

-Melissa

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