stretching canvas prints

Looking for how to stretch canvas? Here’s four different ways to get the job done.

UPDATE FOR 2020: We have recently released a set of Photoshop scripts that will allow you to mirror your images for gallery wrapping in seconds. Free download and step-by-step instructions [available here].
Check the frequently asked questions section of this post for answers to popular canvas stretching related questions.

1. Outsourcing

If you aren’t familiar with stretching canvas or simply do not want to stretch your own canvas prints, you can always take your prints to a local frame shop to get stretched.

The Pros: You’re guaranteed a professional stretching job, with none of the hassles associated with stretching canvas.

Just drop off your prints and pick them up when they’re ready. Also, because framers have the tools and equipment to stretch any print you bring in, your prints do not need to be a fixed size.

stretching canvas

The Cons: Outsourcing is by far the most expensive way to stretch canvas prints.

Your cost can range anywhere from $8-$20 per linear foot ($50-$150 per print), depending upon the size of the image and the thickness of the stretcher bar you choose.

You will also have the inconvenience of a time delay, as it may take several days before your stretched prints are ready to pick up.

Not all framers are familiar with gallery wrapping canvas prints without a frame and therefore do not always stock 1.5”-2” deep bars. You will need to find an experienced framer who is capable of producing the look you are after.

2. EasyWrappe




Even if you are unfamiliar with the stretching process, have never stretched a canvas print, and do not own the necessary tools or equipment, you now have a way to stretch prints on your own.

EasyWrappe allows you to create a professional gallery wrap in minutes, enabling you to eliminate outsourcing, have more control over the process, and enjoy substantially greater profits from selling canvas prints.

The Pros: You or anyone (unskilled labor) can do a professional gallery wrap.

You will significantly lower your cost when compared to outsourcing (EasyWrappe only costs approximately $3.50 per linear foot – that’s 60%+ savings).

Produce your own canvas photo frames, and enjoy the benefits of printing and stretching on demand and having full control over the entire process.

The Cons: You’re now taking on the task of stretching, so this will require some of your time and attention.

Also, since the EasyWrappe bars are only available in fixed sizes, you must plan your stretching jobs in advance by stocking the bars in specific sizes and adjusting your print size to accommodate.

If you are producing a significant amount of stretched canvas prints on a regular basis, and lowering your cost is more important than saving time, there are cheaper stretching options (as described below).

3. Pre-Notched Stretcher Bars

Pre-Notched Stretcher Bars

If you are trained in stretching canvas, own the appropriate tools such as stretching pliers and a staple gun, and have the patience to stretch by hand, you have the option of buying pre-notched stretcher bars which will further lower your cost.

The difference between this and EasyWrappe is that you actually need to know how to stretch a canvas print using the traditional technique.

With pre-notched stretcher bars, several wood options are available such as pine wood (most expensive) and fir wood (least expensive).

The Pros: Similar to EasyWrappe, you will enjoy all the benefits of printing and stretching on demand and having full control over the stretching process.

However, if you are using inexpensive fir wood (this is the most popular), pre-notched stretcher bars can lower your cost even further to about $0.95 per linear foot which makes it great for higher volume print studios.

This would save you approximately 50%+ over EasyWrappe. Since the bars themselves are cheaper, you’ll have cheaper inventory and can therefore keep higher quantities and more sizes in stock (great flexibility).

It is not necessary to own professional equipment like a saw and an underpinner.

The Cons: Skilled labor and some tools are required.

If you are not using professional equipment, such as a canvas stretching machine, it can take much longer to stretch a print and it is a much more tedious process than EasyWrappe.

If you plan to use equipment, keep in mind that buying professional stretching equipment can be expensive (over $3,000).

Similar to EasyWrappe, pre-notched bars are only available in fixed sizes which means you will need to plan ahead by stocking the bars in specific sizes and adjusting your print size to accommodate.

Pre-notched bars are often sold in  bundles, which may require you to stock more than needed.

4. 10-12’ Stretcher Bar “Sticks”

frame and canvas

This option is usually only utilized by full blown production studios who are stretching tons of canvas prints every day. Here, they buy 10-12’ “sticks” and cut them down to any size as needed.

They also join the bars using an underpinner (joining machine) in order to make the stretcher frame. This approach literally puts the manufacturing process in your hands.

ANNOUNCING: Breathing Color is now offering 12′ Stretcher Bar length molding! The stretcher stick product page will have more information about our high-quality pine sticks. Feel free to contact us anytime with any questions.

The Pros: Depending upon the quality of wood you use, this will bring your costs down to anywhere between $.50-90 per linear foot (40%+ savings over pre-notched).

With the added speed and costs this low you will be able to compete with the largest production studios in the country.

This option also allows you to have ultimate flexibility with your stretching process, enabling you to do whatever you want, whenever you need it.

Furthermore, with enough volume, you usually can provide a design profile to your wood supplier and obtain your own unique stretcher bar, custom tailored for your business.

The Cons: Skilled labor is required. Multiple employees and management are required. Various investments in equipment are required.

Waste from the unused stretcher bars tends to be hard to track and can therefore obfuscate an accurate cost analysis.

Still looking for more on how to stretch canvas prints?

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you stretch a canvas after painting?

Stretching canvas after painting is possible, but can be challenging. You run the risk of some paint cracks during the stretch. This is why it’s recommended to stretch before painting. You do not have to stretch pre-primed canvas as much as you would unprimed canvas. You need to stretch it enough to make it a little stiff or taut. Be sure that the canvas itself doesn’t have ripples.

Can you frame a canvas print?

A stretched canvas will have sides that are either blank, extended or wrapped. Are you happy with the sides? If you are, then leave the canvas unframed. There is a time and place where you would want to frame a canvas print. The sides of a stretched canvas can look unfinished. Staples or bleeding cause unsightly edges you may want to cover with a frame.

How do you tighten a canvas?

The best approach to tighten a canvas is to shrink it. Use on painted, or printed canvas that sags on the stretcher bars. Apply a light, warm water mist, along the back of the unpainted canvas. Whatever you do, do not soak it. Doing so will result in unwanted ripples or waves. With a flat hand rub the moistened canvas in a uniform direction. The last step is easy! Let it air dry inside or hair dry it. Keep prints/paintings out of direct sunlight and stoves.

What is the difference between stretched and unstretched canvas?

A stretched canvas is a finished product where a canvas painting or a canvas print has been stretched around stretcher bars. Unstretched or rolled canvas is easier to transport or ship. Some people prefer unstretched canvas for the flexibility of being able to frame it to their needs.

Does gesso shrink canvas?

Canvas can shrink when you apply gesso, which is typically water-based. Make sure to account for this shrinkage with some extra canvas. Add at least an extra 0.5″ of raw canvas on the width and length to compensate for the shrinkage. For best results we recommend Acrylic Gesso for Artists by Breathing Color.