How to Stretch a Canvas

Paintings are undoubtedly an excellent gift and decoration of the interior of any room. They are often decorating in luxurious baguettes or without them. At first glance, it seems that the process of designing a picture, that is, stretching it on a stretcher and framing it with a baguette, quite complicated. Is this so, and can you cope with it yourself? We hope our article will help you easily and quickly stretch the canvas on a stretcher at home using available tools.

How to Stretch a Canvas

make canvas stretcher

Types of Canvas Stretch

There are two popular types:

  • Standard stretch;
  • Gallery.

The difference between the two types is that the standard is using if the picture framed with a baguette. In this case, the canvas is fastening with staples on the sides.

Gallery stretching of the canvas does not require additional baguette decoration and is a finished product.

Canvas stretched on a stretcher is treating with a special acrylic varnish, which will add texture to work and additional protection. As a result, the picture does not turn yellow and does not fade; it also becomes less susceptible to mechanical damage.

Canvas without a stretcher is usually buy first, after which an appropriate base is selecting for it. The canvas should be 10-15 centimeters larger on each side than the wooden frame; otherwise, stretching the picture on the stretcher will be impossible. There are 3 main options for stretching canvas on a stretcher; we do not recommend using the first of them.

  • The staples holding the canvas are nailing to the sides of the base. They look ugly, making it difficult to perceive creativity.
  • Staples at the back while the ends remain unsealed. This is the so-called studio stretch.
  • The brackets are also attaching from the back, but the sidewalls continue the picture. This is a gallery stretch of canvas, the most aesthetic and attractive.

Stretching a canvas on a stretcher with your own hands is quite difficult to do without skill. If it doesn’t work out, it’s better to contact the framing workshop or our company. Professional equipment and the experience of the masters will help you quickly and evenly stretch the canvas and, if necessary, perform the hauling. The process is also feasible at home, but this aspect largely depends on the type of stretcher chosen.

Picture Stretcher

Only an experienced specialist who understands the types of wood and knows carpentry secrets can make a stretcher for a picture with his own hands. Therefore, purchasing a finished product in a specialized store is better. There are 2 types of stretchers for the picture, each of which has advantages and disadvantages.

  • A blank stretcher for the canvas is making of rigidly fastened dies. You can make such a frame for a picture with your own hands; it is essential to check the parallelism of the sides and the same diagonals. It is desirable to use a primed canvas.
  • A modular stretcher is more practical and convenient. You can assemble it yourself at home. Over time, when the canvas sags, removing the staples is unnecessary. It is enough to knock out the wedges to increase the tension.

When choosing a high-quality stretcher, you need to pay attention to the ideal geometry and the type of wood. Too hard dry out quickly, soft are deforming and do not hold wedges. You can define softwood by weight: the frame is almost half the weight of a good medium-density wood base. Before buying, you should also examine the frame for the absence of knots, bugs, mold. For large canvases, a cross needed.

How to Stretch the Canvas On a Stretcher

streching frame with stapler

Stretching canvas on a stretcher is not very difficult, but it will require some skill from you. It is quite possible that you will not succeed the first time, and you will have to practice. But do not rush to get upset; you need to show patience.

You will need the following materials:

  • rail stretcher;
  • crosses needed to eliminate distortions and deflections of the main bars, as well as to increase the strength of the structure;
  • stapler set.

You will also need the following tools:

  • ordinary roulette;
  • hammer ( especially if you plan to use nails);
  • wood stapler
  • special tool for tensioning.

Different Canvas materials


This material is strong and absorbs moisture more than linen material. It is also commonly believed that cotton canvases are the most prone to rotting and sagging.

But one of its undoubted advantages is that cotton thread is much thinner and smoother than linen, which allows you to write even the smallest details. In addition, cotton canvas has a low cost, so it is considering an ideal option for beginner artists.

Stretching such a canvas is easier than linen; it is less deformed. In addition, when gluing a canvas, this canvas significantly outperforms linen.


The most durable and resistant to temperature and humidity. It is also the most popular among professional artists. Linen canvas is the densest and least susceptible to abrasion, which allows you to protect the product from possible deformations.

A significant drawback of this material is the price – linen canvas can be two or even three times more expensive than cotton canvas. Also, if the linen canvas is not very dense, there may be a problem filling the “holes” during sizing.


This material has not yet had time to pass the test of time, so it is impossible to judge its durability. On the one hand, it has several unconditional advantages – strength, durability, low price. The synthetic canvas is smooth, which is a significant plus for students. In addition, creative people are undoubtedly more pleased to write on natural canvases.

It is also worth noting that there are combining canvases with different ratios of linen, cotton, and synthetics, which combine the characteristics of these materials.

After the choice of canvas material completed, it is necessary to determine the structure of the fabric. According to the structure, canvases are coarse-grained, medium-grained, fine-grained. This factor depends on the thickness of the threads of the fabric.

Coarse-grained canvas is suitable for painting medium and large format paintings. Coarse grain provides additional protection of the web from sagging. However, it will be quite difficult to register small details on such a canvas, the paint will lie unevenly, so it is designed to work with wide strokes.

Medium-grained canvas is a cross between coarse-grained and fine-grained. Such a canvas is considered universal and recommended for purchase if you do not know the nature of the future work in advance.

Fine-grained canvas is ideal for glazing and “smooth” painting. Such a canvas allows the artist to register all the precise and small details to create smooth color transitions. Given all the properties of fine grain, this particular type of canvas is suitable for art schools and studios students.

It must be understood that the choice of canvas, including its texture and material, depends on some circumstances, whether it be the artist’s personal preferences, the style of painting, or the monetary factor.

How to Stretch the Canvas on a Stretcher: Step by Step Instructions

step by step instructions make stretcher

Assembling the Subframe Frame

Take the required dimensions of the subframe rails and fasten them together one by one using a hammer. You can fix the corners of the subframe frame by gluing them or fixing them with staples. Inspect the outer edges of the frame. Sometimes a very sharp corner may need sanding to keep it from damaging the canvas when stretched very tight.

Make sure all angles are precisely 90 degrees.

Stretching Canvas on a Stretcher

Prepare a piece of canvas, taking into account the tolerances for stretching.

Lay the canvas in the center of the stretcher, primed side up.

Attach from the center to the corners the first smaller side of the canvas to the stretcher without securing the corners

Staple the opposite side of the canvas without securing the corners

Attach the remaining sides in turn, leaving a loose, loose canvas at the corners of the stretcher

Fold the canvas over the corners of the stretcher and secure with staples, pulling slightly.

Cut off the excess canvas with a knife if you are doing a side stretch.

Evaluate the Results of Stretching the Canvas

Examine your stretched canvas. It should not have wavy lines and should not have wrinkles or sag. You shouldn’t be able to quickly push it in from the front to touch the crossbars. If the piece is under more or less tension than you’d like, remove a few staples to loosen the tension or use canvas pliers to tighten it up and then re-staple it. This is where a staple nailer comes in handy.

Turn the canvas over and see if you have any slack; remove the staples and stretch them until evenly stretched.

You may want to trim any excess canvas or fold the excess fabric and re-sew, but some artists leave it at that because generous canvas margins provide working edges when the canvas needs to be re-stretched or preserved in the future. Never cut the canvas at the corners. For a very neat backside, you can tuck in some extra fabric and make the second row of staples to hold it in place.

Click on the corner wedges to widen the corners to complete the tension.

Press the edges of the center panel if necessary.

Using an aerosol can dampen the back of the canvas with water to increase the stretch a little if necessary.


There are only a few things that can go wrong when stretching a canvas, and all of them can be solved by re-stretching the canvas.

  • Loose or sagging canvas (canvas not stretched tight enough)
  • Wavy areas of the canvas (uneven canvas tension)
  • The curvature of the stretch marks so that the entire canvas does not adhere to the wall (uneven tension or the bars are not strong enough for the amount of tension)
  • Bend the crossbars, so they are not flat against the wall but curve to protrude from the back (too much tension, usually due to overstretching of the primed web, which then compresses when primed).

Stretching the Canvas on Different Types of Stretchers

Subframes are of two types – with a fixed connection of corners and prefabricated wedges.

  1. Silent designs. They are offered ready-made. Before starting work, such a subframe does not need to be knocked down and checked for distortions. But if the picture sags over time, it will have to be redrawn.
  2. A prefabricated subframe with wedges is a classic option. The structure is self-assembled. There are additional grooves for wedges in the corners of the subframe. With their help, you can control the tension of the canvas. If the picture sags, there will be no need to drag it; for stretching, it is enough to move the wedges a little apart. The design of such a stretcher is optimal for the long-term storage of paintings.

Why is it Important to Properly Prepare the Foundation?

A well-stretched canvas does not sag, and the threads are arranged without distortion. The tension on it is distributed evenly, creating a slight drum effect. On this basis, the soil and the layer of paints will be invulnerable to fluctuations in temperature and humidity; without consequences, they will endure the natural shrinkage and stretching of the fabric.

Insufficient tension, distortion in the form of folds, warps, or waviness of the threads are typical defects of an improperly prepared substrate. They lead to premature flaking of the primer and cracking of paints. In addition, a loosely stretched canvas does not properly hold the primer, which is why it absorbs oil from the paints excessively. This leads to the darkening of colors, loss of saturation, and gloss.


Now that you’ve made the perfect canvas for yourself, you can write along with the staples on the back with a pencil or marker.

The process isn’t difficult, it’s just a few simple steps, and once you know the principles, it is quite simple. If you’re not sure you want to try making your canvas, remember that the worst result is sagging canvas. You can always remove some staples and fix the situation.

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