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Why is canvas stretching necessary?

February 23, 2021

Canvas stretching is necessary to preserve the canvas and prepare it for framing. It is as simple as that. However, the process of stretching a canvas and adding a stretched canvas frame is not so simple and there are many factors that come into play. 

Unsurprisingly, many questions come up about the process so here are the main questions that are usually asked that are all particularly important to consider, especially before you buy your canvas.

How do I know I am getting the right stretcher bar to stretch my canvas?

Depending on the size of your canvas, there are a variety of sizes of stretcher bars available to use to stretch your canvas. Choosing the right stretcher bar is vital in making sure that you have one strong enough to hold the tension of your canvas once it's stretched and also having one strong enough to avoid the stretcher bar bowing or warping over time. 

If the correct stretcher bar is chosen, there is no need for any brace bars that sit between the top and the bottom of the frame.

Also, if you want the image of your canvas to wrap around the sides of your canvas, you will need a deeper stretcher bar to achieve the desired result. Using a stretcher bar that is too thin will ruin the effect. 

A stretcher bar’s thickness also needs to be considered if you do not have much spare edge to wrap around the back. More on this in the next question.

How much spare canvas do I need to stretch and staple my canvas securely?

It is advisable to have at least 50mm of “spare canvas” from the edge of your painting to the edge of the canvas. This will allow enough room for your canvas to be stretched around the stretcher bar and stapled securely to the back. 

However, do not despair if you have less than this. In some cases, having around 30mm can be sufficient depending on the size of the canvas and the stretcher bar used. If there is no spare canvas the last option is to image wrap the canvas where some of the image, usually around 30mm-50mm of the actual painting or image is used to wrap the canvas around the sides and staple it securely on the back. 

This works particularly well with images with a lot of “empty space” around the outside and the effect is quite stunning once finished, especially if you are hanging it without a frame.

What is the largest size canvas you can stretch?

Stretcher bars come in lengths of around 3m, so the largest canvas we can stretch would be around 2.8m in length. 

It's always a wise idea to consider how you will get your canvas home if you have an artwork this size. Many people forget that the canvas is going to come back a lot larger than what it went in when it was rolled up!

What Types Of Artworks Can Be Stretched?

At Portfolio Picture Framers, we stretch a wide range of canvas artworks including acrylic paintings, printed pieces, Indigenous artwork and canvas artworks purchased overseas such as Vietnam, Bali and Phuket.

In addition to stretching canvas, we can stretch a number of other materials like artist linen and other textiles. If you have an artwork on fabric and aren’t sure if it can be stretched, simply ask our team and we’d be happy to offer our professional opinion. 

Can I just make my own stretcher bar out of regular timber and stretch it myself?

We hear this question a lot. The answer is you can, but the problem is that stretcher bars are not regular timber. They are shaped especially for canvas and the canvas only sits out the very outer edge of the wood and the main part of the stretcher bar gradually tapers away so that your canvas does not touch the stretcher-bar. 

If you stretched your canvas on regular 2x4 timber, your canvas will develop a line in the painting where the timber is in contact with the canvas which cannot be removed. 

The other factor to consider is the actual art of stretching the canvas. Whilst it may look simple on YouTube, stretching a canvas is a lot more difficult than it looks and it takes years to master a perfect canvas stretch. 

From someone that has seen many customers try to stretch their own canvas, please save yourself the time, money, and effort and trust a professional picture framer to complete it for you.

Is it expensive to stretch a canvas?

Compared to framing a print or artwork on paper, canvas stretching is a much more cost-effective way of getting your artwork up on the wall. 

You are charged only for the stretcher bar and our labour to stretch your canvas compared to a frame that has the frame, matboard, glass, backing, and labour. Plus, depending on the frame that you choose, most decorative frames are much more expensive than stretcher-bar. 

The other point to consider with the cost to stretch canvas is that you cannot simply choose a picture framer to stretch your canvas based on price alone. Some people tell us that they have received cheaper quotes somewhere else and our answer to that, with all due respect, is that you get what you pay for. 

Some picture framers will use cheaper and incorrect size stretcher bars for a canvas to simply get the job and save on costs. However at Portfolio Picture Framers, we will always use the correct stretcher bar for the size of your canvas. 

We will not forgo our quality of work to simply get a job. We pride ourselves on providing picture framing services at a high-quality standard that will last the test of time and the work that you receive back from this reflects our commitment to this.

Once you stretch it, do I have to put a frame around it?

No, your stretched canvas will come ready to hang, and a lot of people like the simple and minimalist look of a stretched canvas. However, if you think it needs a frame to add a touch of elegance or style, you have two main stretched canvas frame options. 

Firstly, you can use what is called an L Bar or a Float frame. The profile of this frame does not have a rebate or lip to cover the edge of the canvas and simply sits around the outside. It can be attached with a 5mm gap to give the appearance of a ‘floating’ frame. 

The second option is to use a standard frame that is deep enough to cover the edge of the stretcher-bar. This option will give you more range of colors and styles however you cannot achieve the “float” look using this option.

How To Choose The Right Stretched Canvas Frame?

If you decide you want to frame your stretched canvas, there are a number of factors you should consider. Ultimately you want the stretched canvas frame to complement the artwork and not detract from it. 

The size of the stretcher bar can affect which frame you choose as the final look can vary greatly. For example, if the canvas depth is greater than depth of an L frame, the canvas will stick out the front noticeably. On the other hand an evenly sized canvas and L frame will result in a clean, flat look.

Stretched canvas frames can come in a variety of materials, colours and styles so you can choose the best look for your artwork. If you aren’t sure what will look best, come into our studio in Myaree and we’d be happy to show you through the options. Sometimes seeing your options in person can help you feel confident about your choice.

Is It Possible To Frame An Unstretched Canvas?

Many artists prefer to paint on unstretched canvas because of the freedom, convenience and cost-effectiveness it offers. If you have a painting on an unstretched canvas that you would like to frame it can be stretched later. 

We suggest leaving around 5cm of extra canvas around the edges that can be wrapped around the stretcher bar without disrupting your composition.

If for some reason you do not wish to stretch the canvas or it would risk damaging the artwork to do so, you may be able to frame the unstretched canvas. Sometimes this can be done by mounting the painting on a wooden board and then framing it. 

For advice specific to your artwork, it’s best to speak with a professional framer like Portfolio Picture Framers. 

Looking For Canvas Stretching Services In Perth? 

If you still have questions regarding stretching your canvas, please feel free to contact us at Portfolio Picture Framers and we can help you out with all your requirements. 

We do all of our canvas stretching in house at our Myaree studio to art gallery standards. We use the highest quality stretcher bars available to ensure your artwork is protected and displayed to its full potential. 


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