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Unframed paintings hardly look good from the side. Anyone who paints or visits art galleries has probably noticed that the raw canvas edges look shockingly white against the colourful, painted front. It looks even worse when bits of the colours get on the sides of the canvas during the painting process. It creates a design which is jarring against the painted front.
The canvas sides and edges hardly mattered in the past, but framed paintings are in vogue these days as framing not only compliments a painting but also adds a layer of superiority. This is where canvas stretching comes in.
Stretching a canvas is important as the process helps preserve the canvas and prepare it for framing. Canvas stretching is the process of preparing the surface (made of either cotton or linen fabric) by stretching it around a wooden frame. It is usually secured on the back, though some prefer to secure it on the sides, using staples, a metal spline or tacks. Finally, the canvas is primed with an oil based primer or acrylic gesso and it is ready to use.
Types of Stretched Canvas
- Traditional Wrap: The painting/image must fit 3/4 of an inch wood stretcher bars so that the canvas can be easily installed in a frame. If you are using a traditional wrap, it is recommended to frame your painting/image as there will be unpainted edges and staples visible from the side. Framing is therefore essential to cover them.
- Gallery Wrap: This type of stretched canvas is ready to hang. The canvas wraps around the bars, therefore the staples are placed on the back and hidden. The sides too are completely painted. It comes with a wire on the back, making them ready to hang as soon as you receive the new painting. Framing is not required with a gallery wrap.
Options for Stretching Canvas
- Stretcher Bar Sticks
- Pre-Notched Stretcher Bars
Stretching canvas needs proper skills so that the surface is free of wrinkles. If you are not familiar with the process, it is recommended to seek professional help to stretch your canvas prints. The frame shops have trained professionals to create the optimal visual impact. These shops offer canvas stretching services for new and previously stretched artworks.
The biggest advantage of outsourcing this task is that you are guaranteed a high standard, professional stretching job. Stretching canvas involves a lot of hassles and is often challenging for an amateur. Just drop off your canvas prints at a frame shop and the professionals there will take care of the rest. The next time you see your canvas artworks, it will be ready to hang.
With a professional offer canvas stretching service, you don't need to bother about the size as these framers have necessary tools and equipment to stretch any roll you bring in. Time delay is often a problem with many frame shops. It is therefore recommended to ensure that your framer has the reputation of finishing stretching job on-time.
Also, opt for an experienced framer who can create the look you are after. One big challenge of outsourcing canvas stretching is that it is expensive. The cost depends on the thickness of the stretcher bar and the size of your image. However, outsourcing is still a cost-effective way considering the high standard stretching job you will receive.
Don't consider this option unless you own a full blown production studio where you need tons of stretched canvas every day. This process require 10-12' stretcher bar sticks, a saw and an underpinner or joining machine. First cut down the sticks to required size and then join the bars using the underpinner to make the stretcher frame.
This process can significantly lower your cost, depending on the quality of wood you use. There will be no time delay as the entire manufacturing process is in your hands. This further provides you the ultimate flexibility with the canvas stretching process. You can even create custom-tailored and unique stretcher bars by providing a design profile to the wood supplier.
On the downside, using stretcher bar sticks needs skilled labour. You need to appoint trained and experienced employees and proper management is required. In addition, you need to make good investments in equipment. Stretcher bar sticks are only recommended for those who have huge volume of requisites for stretcher canvas prints.
If you're familiar with the process of canvas stretching, you can do it on your own. You will, however, need certain tools for that such as a staple gun and stretching pliers. Besides, you need to have enough patience to stretch the canvas by hand. You can even use pre-notched stretcher bars to further lower your cost, provided you know the traditional technique of stretching a canvas print.
Several wood options are available with pre-notched stretcher bars. While the fir wood bars are the least expensive options, those made of pine wood are more expensive. The advantage of using pre-notched stretcher bars is that you can have complete control over the stretching process. Since the fir wood bars are inexpensive, you can considerable lower your cost by using them. Better yet, you don't need to have underpinner, saw or any other professional equipment to work with them.
However, the biggest catch of using pre-notched stretcher bars is that you must have the technical skill of stretching canvas. You will further need certain professional equipment, for example, a canvas stretching machine otherwise it will take a lot of time and effort to stretch a print. And buying professional stretching equipment will raise the cost, making outsourcing a cheaper and cost-effective solution.
Lastly, pre-notched stretcher bars come in fixed sizes. You will therefore need specific sized bars and adjust your print accordingly.
How to Stretch Canvas – The Basic Steps
- Buy rolls or pre-cut, un-primed canvas
- Measure how much canvas you will need
- Lay the stretcher bar frame on your canvas (face down)
- Fold up each edge. There must be plenty of canvas overlapping on the bar
- Cut out the piece in appropriate size using a scissor
- Fold the canvas over your stretcher bar, taking one side at a time and start stapling them using your staple gun
- Now spin the canvas to staple the opposite side, pulling as much canvas towards you as you can
- Repeat the same process for the remaining two sides
- Remember that the centre of the canvas is tight
- Now grab, pull, and staple along the bar with staples running down each side until you reach the corners
- Finally, grab the canvas corner and pull it nice and tight, turning it on its side so that the canvas lay flat and staple it
- One edge of the canvas must have a 45 degree folded line, while the other edge should have no fold at all
Repeat this process for all corners.
Though stretching canvas sounds an easy task to do, it involves a lot of measurements and special skills. You can start stretching your own canvas, provided you have the required skills and equipment. But remember that it might not have the high standard and professional touch to compliment your artwork.