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How to choose the right bars for canvas stretching?

October 21, 2022

Canvas Stretching

What are canvas stretcher bars? And how to choose the right one.

Got a rolled canvas artwork that you want to display? Canvas stretching is the process of stretching canvas artworks over a timber frame, also known as canvas stretcher bars. Stretcher bars can be used for blank canvas, completed artworks and printed canvas, and they come in all different sizes, standards and qualities. Knowing how to choose the right bars for your needs can be tricky. But choosing the right stretcher bars and the right picture framer can make all the difference to the appearance and longevity of your canvas artwork.

In this guide, we explain what canvas stretcher bars are, when you need them and how to make sure you're getting the best quality bars for your artwork.

What are canvas stretcher bars?

Canvas stretcher bars are carefully designed pieces of wood that act as a frame for canvas artworks. Canvas artworks, including paintings and digital prints, are usually stretched over stretcher bars before being displayed. They may be taken off stretcher bars for transport or storage.

Canvas stretcher bars can also be used to stretch raw or primed canvas ready for painting, and many artists prefer painting on stretched canvas.

Stretcher bars stabilise the canvas, ensuring it holds its shape and appearance over time. The right stretcher bars will also offer long term protection for the artwork, preventing any warping or unnecessary stress on the canvas. If you plan on framing a canvas artwork, stretcher bars prepare the artwork for framing and display.

Find out more: Why is canvas stretching necessary?

What size canvas stretcher bars do I need?

Stretcher bar frames come in different profiles (sizes and depths) to suit a wide range of needs. Both small artworks and larger works can be stretched using stretcher bars. Picture framers may offer standard sizes, or they may offer custom sizes based on your needs.

A custom framing studio like Portfolio Picture Framers will ask whether you want the artwork to stretch over the edges of the stretcher bar frame, or whether you want the whole artwork to show on the front side of the stretcher bar frame.

How to choose the best stretcher bars for your canvas

What are the best canvas stretcher bars for your artwork? When you visit a framing studio, they will usually walk you through your options and help you choose the right stretcher bars to achieve the look you want. However, not all canvas stretching services are equal. To ensure you get the best results, it's important to know what you should be looking for when it comes to canvas stretcher bars.

Keep these 5 tips in mind to make sure you get high quality stretcher bars at a great price:

1. Price and quality

Naturally, price will be a factor when stretching canvas artwork. While it's tempting to go with the lowest price you can find, you may end up getting a poor quality result. Very cheap framing services tend to use poor quality materials or cut corners which can leave you with a sub-par result. On the other hand, you don't want to be paying an exorbitant price if you don't have the budget.

For a cost breakdown, read our guide How much does canvas framing cost?

After receiving a quote from a framing studio, we recommend asking them about the stretcher bars, or having a look at them yourself. Particularly look at whether the bars have a brace (more on that below), what type of wood they are using and whether the stretching happens in house. Also ask them these 10 important questions you should ask a picture framer.

2. Is there a brace?

A brace is a piece of wood that is put between the two longest pieces of stretcher bar to stop them bending or warping under the pressure and tension of the stretched canvas. Brace bars are often a sign that the stretcher bar being used is not strong enough for the size of your canvas.

Unfortunately, some framers use brace bars to prevent warping in the short term. This reduces the durability of the frame, causing it to bow or warp over time. Stretcher frames that bow, buckle or warps won't sit flat against the wall and may require re-stretching to resolve the issue. At Portfolio Picture Framers we don’t use brace bars. 

3. Wood quality

It's a good idea to ask your prospective picture framer if you can look at the stretcher bar they intend to use. Inspect the quality of the wood. Is it solid, or will it snap under pressure? Art gallery standard stretcher bars are made from solid pine and don't break or bow under pressure. Even though the stretcher bars aren't visible once the canvas has been stretched, it's important that they're made with good quality wood to protect your artwork and achieve an attractive finish that lasts.

4. Stretcher bar depth

It's important that you have enough "spare" canvas around the artwork to wrap around the sides and back of the stretcher frame. In general, we recommend at least 5cm of "spare" canvas. 

5. DIY vs professional canvas stretching

Canvas stretching is complicated art, requiring skilled technique and experience. Whether you are stretching blank canvas, one of your own artworks or an artwork you've purchased, we strongly recommend professional canvas stretching over DIY.

Professional canvas stretching leads to superior appearance, higher durability and better protection. If you stretch the artwork yourself, you're at higher risk of causing damage or getting a sub-par result. You may even need to restretch the artwork if it's not done properly the first time.

The good news is, professional canvas stretching isn't as expensive as you might think. At Portfolio Picture Framers, we do all our canvas stretching in house which means we can control for quality every step of the way. It also means we can offer our customers factory direct prices to help you get better value out of your investment.

Canvas stretching at Portfolio Picture Framers

If you have further questions about what canvas stretcher bars are right for your canvas, speak with our friendly team at Portfolio Picture Framers.

We've helped many customers with canvas stretching and framing services for over 30 years. Trust us with your stretching and framing needs, and you can be sure you'll get the best quality materials, art gallery standard techniques and competitive pricing. As a local family business, you'll also get a warm and friendly experience from a passionate team.

Call us on (08) 9330 5884 for an obligation-free quote.

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