How to Stretch a Canvas Painting

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Painting Canvas guide to canvas stretching.
Buying a modern reproduction, pop art canvas or portrait of your family or pet online is now an easy and affordable alternative to commissioning a painting from an artist. Many websites sell hand painted oil paintings for a fraction of the price of the originals and having your photos painted on canvas is a much classier option than simply having them printed onto canvas using an industrial printer. However most sites send you your paintings unstretched and rolled up and you must have them stretched, either by a framer or by yourself.
This guide will show you how easy canvas stretching is and how with a few tools you can stretch your own canvas painting for the price of a few staples and some stretcher bars.
You will need:
1. Stretcher bars suited to your canvas size. Stretcher bars are available online or in any DIY store, if you would rather make your own we will be doing a ‘how to make canvas stretcher bars tutorial’ at a later date.
2. A staple gun (you will need a proper stable gun, one you use for attaching post it notes to each other will be ineffective) or tacks and a hammer.
3. A solid pair of pliers (not essential but can help to get that canvas really tight.)
Before we get started lets go through a few tips that will help you to make a success of your canvas stretching experience.
1. Be generous with the canvas, if possible get your reproduction or portrait painting supplier to add at least 7cm of border around your painting, this will make things much easier when it comes time to stretch it.
2. A nice clean surface to work on is essential to make sure your painting remains undamaged and in great condition.
3. Two hands are better than one. – While you can stretch a canvas by yourself it definitely helps to have a friend lighted the load, especially the first time.
Okay here we go:
1. Put the stretcher bars together.
Take your 4 bars and slide them together so the joints fit snugly, check to make sure they are at a right angle by using a right angle tool or a protractor. If you need to, you can use a hammer to get the joints tight but be gentle you don’t want to damage the wood. To make them extra secure use glue to fix them in place and even a staple or two.
2. Prepare your Canvas
Lay your painting face down on a clean flat surface (a wooden work surface is perfect) place the stretcher frame on top so the frame is resting on the outline of the painting.
3. Start Stretching
Choose any side and pull the canvas over the stretcher bar. In the centre of the canvas put a staple then one either side of the original staple about an inch apart.
4. Now...
Move to the opposite side of the frame and pull the canvas over the corresponding bar. Pull it tight and put three more staples in.
5. Diagonals are the way to go
Now move to the middle of one of the sides of your painting that has not yet been stretched. Pull the canvas over and put in three more staples.
6. Complete the Cross
Move to the final side, pull it tight and add three more staples. Now your canvas should be attached to your frame in the centre of all four sides. If it is uneven or loose now is the time to pull out your staples and pull the canvas tighter.
7. Finishing the Sides
Now go back to your original starting side, pull the canvas as tight as you can (using pliers, a friend or even a friend with pliers can help you pull it extra tight) and staple one staple two inches to the right or left of the original three staples then move to the opposite side of the canvas and opposite side of the centre (diagonally across the painting) and put in another staple. Now move to the third side and do the same. Keep moving across and diagonally around your painting so that no side has more than one extra staple than any of the others at any one time. Staples should be placed about two inches apart, but if it is your first time you might want them closer to make sure your painting is stretched evenly. Remember to pull your canvas tight every time you put in a staple, this will mean the difference between a well stretched canvas and one that will sag. You can find a diagram of the pattern at Painting Canvas Stretching Guide
8. The corners.
When you get to the corners fold one side over the other as tight as you can so it forms a triangle then put staples through both layers. A neater alternative are ‘hospital corners’ if you know how to do them.
9. Inspection.
Your pet portrait, reproduction or piece of pop art canvas should now be firmly stretched around your bars and ready to hang on the wall. If it isn’t then pull out your staples and start again, it is better to take another ten minutes to stretch your painting that have to wait another month to reorder one you have ruined.

You can buy canvas paintings from our website handmade oil paintings from under £100. We specialise in Family Portraits, Pet Portraits, Painting Reproduction and Pop Art Canvases. We can and will paint anything you want.

Original article posted at © Charles Tupman (2010) Charles Tupman is manager of Painting Canvas and a free lance online media specialist. He can be contacted by email on

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