How to Stretch a Canvas

If you have a canvas painting that you’d like to turn into a piece of decorative wall art, the good news is that you can create a professional-style gallery-wrapped painting in just a few basic steps.

Use the right tools to make the job easy and look more professional.

  • Staple Gun
  • Specialty pliers used for canvas stretching. Available at most art supply stores, canvas pliers have flat surfaces that can be used to easily stretch canvas without damaging it.
  • Spray bottle with plain water.

The first step, of course, is finding the right size frame for your canvas painting. You can find ready-made frames at your local craft supply store, or you can use stretcher bars to create your own custom-size frame. If this is your first time mounting a canvas painting on a support frame, the ready-made frame is probably the best option.

As a rule of thumb, you need to make sure that you have at least 1 ½ to 2 inches of extra white space around the sides of the canvas painting. The reason for this is simple – you will need to have enough canvas to fold over the sides of the frame.

You will next need to place your painting face down on a clean work surface. Then, working very carefully, you will need to pull one side of the canvas up and around to the back of the frame. Once you have pulled the canvas to make sure there is no extra tension, it’s time to staple this side of the canvas to the frame. Start with the longest side of the canvas closest to you.

Be sure that you staple exactly in the middle of this side of the frame. The next step is one that most people confuse, so pay close attention. Most people assume that you should begin working clockwise (or counterclockwise) around the painting until you have wrapped all four sides. Actually, you will need to work on the opposite side of the frame first – and only when that side has been wrapped and stapled can you begin to work on the remaining sides. The purpose of doing this is to make sure that the tension is very even across the entire canvas painting. If you’re trying to stretch an ungessoed canvas, you can use a spray bottle to dampen the canvas with some water, which will help to tighten the canvas as it dries.

Once the middle sides of each frame have been stapled, it’s time to work around the painting again, adding more staples to each side of the frame. You need to work out from the center staple on each side until you reach the end.

Now all that’s left to do is fold over the corners (almost as if you are wrapping a holiday gift) and staple them together. You want to make sure that any lines or creases are parallel with the frame, to avoid any gaps or wrinkles. As you work, check that the canvas is remaining tight. At the end, you will notice a drum-like effect when you tap your hand on the back of the painting.

In order to remove this canvas painting from its support frame, you just need to work backwards, reversing each of the steps you just took. You might need to do this in order to re-frame a painting, or if you need to transport the painting safely somewhere else. You will need to remove all staples in the frame, stretcher bar and canvas. You might need a pair of pliers to do this.

If you’re interested in creating additional wall art, there’s one more project that you can take on: mounting a paper painting on a support frame. There are various ways to do this. You can simply spray mount to a poster board. Or, you could buy two pieces of Plexiglas from a hardware store and then insert the paper painting in between them, creating a poster that you could then insert into a poster frame. Or, finally, you could add the paper painting to a foamboard for backing. This foamboard usually comes with a self-adhesive that makes it easy to attach the paper.

By following these steps, you’ll have an easy, convenient way to transform canvas paintings or paper paintings into a piece of wall art that you will be proud to show to friends and family.

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