4 Options For Stretching Canvas Prints

stretching canvas

Looking for how to stretch canvas? Here’s four different ways to get the job done.

1. Outsourcing

If you aren’t familiar with stretching canvas or simply do not want to stretch your own canvas prints, you can always take your prints to a local frame shop to get stretched.

The Pros: You’re guaranteed a professional stretching job, with none of the hassles associated with stretching canvas.  Just drop off your prints and pick them up when they’re ready.  Also, because framers have the tools and equipment to stretch any print you bring in, your prints do not need to be a fixed size.

The Cons: Outsourcing is by far the most expensive way to stretch canvas prints.  Your cost can range anywhere from $8-$20 per linear foot ($50-$150 per print), depending upon the size of the image and the thickness of the stretcher bar you choose.  You will also have the inconvenience of a time delay, as it may take several days before your stretched prints are ready to pick up.  Not all framers are familiar with gallery wrapping canvas prints without a frame and therefore do not always stock 1.5”-2” deep bars.  You will need to find an experienced framer who is capable of producing the look you are after.

2.  EasyWrappe

Even if you are unfamiliar with the stretching process, have never stretched a canvas print, and do not own the necessary tools or equipment, you now have a way to stretch prints on your own. EasyWrappe allows you to create a professional gallery wrap in minutes, enabling you to eliminate outsourcing, have more control over the process, and enjoy substantially greater profits from selling canvas prints.

The Pros:  You or anyone (unskilled labor) can do a professional gallery wrap.  You will significantly lower your cost when compared to outsourcing (EasyWrappe only costs approximately $3.50 per linear foot – that’s 60%+ savings).  Produce your own canvas photo frames, and enjoy the benefits of printing and stretching on demand and having full control over the entire process.

The Cons:  You’re now taking on the task of stretching, so this will require some of your time and attention.  Also, since the EasyWrappe bars are only available in fixed sizes, you must plan your stretching jobs in advance by stocking the bars in specific sizes and adjusting your print size to accommodate.  If you are producing a significant amount of stretched canvas prints on a regular basis, and lowering your cost is more important than saving time, there are cheaper stretching options (as described below).

3.  Pre-Notched Stretcher Bars

frames for canvas art

If you are trained in stretching canvas, own the appropriate tools such as stretching pliers and a staple gun, and have the patience to stretch by hand, you have the option of buying pre-notched stretcher bars which will further lower your cost.  The difference between this and EasyWrappe is that you actually need to know how to stretch a canvas print using the traditional technique.  With pre-notched stretcher bars, several wood options are available such as pine wood (most expensive) and fir wood (least expensive).

The Pros: Similar to EasyWrappe, you will enjoy all the benefits of printing and stretching on demand and having full control over the stretching process.  However, if you are using inexpensive fir wood (this is the most popular), pre-notched stretcher bars can lower your cost even further to about $0.95 per linear foot which makes it great for higher volume print studios.   This would save you approximately 50%+ over EasyWrappe.  Since the bars themselves are cheaper, you’ll have cheaper inventory and can therefore keep higher quantities and more sizes in stock (great flexibility).  It is not necessary to own professional equipment like a saw and an underpinner.

The Cons: Skilled labor and some tools are required.  If you are not using professional equipment, such as a canvas stretching machine, it can take much longer to stretch a print and it is a much more tedious process than EasyWrappe.  If you plan to use equipment, keep in mind that buying professional stretching equipment can be expensive (over $3,000).  Similar to EasyWrappe, pre-notched bars are only available in fixed sizes which means you will need to plan ahead by stocking the bars in specific sizes and adjusting your print size to accommodate. Pre-notched bars are often sold in  bundles, which may require you to stock more than needed.

4.  10-12’ Stretcher Bar “Sticks”

frame and canvas
This option is usually only utilized by full blown production studios who are stretching tons of canvas prints every day.  Here, they buy 10-12’ “sticks” and cut them down to any size as needed.  They also join the bars using an underpinner (joining machine) in order to make the stretcher frame.   This approach literally puts the manufacturing process in your hands.

ANNOUNCING: Breathing Color is now offering 12′ Stretcher Bar length molding! The stretcher stick product page will have more information about our high-quality pine sticks. Feel free to contact us anytime with any questions.

The Pros: Depending upon the quality of wood you use, this will bring your costs down to anywhere between $.50-90 per linear foot (40%+ savings over pre-notched).   With the added speed and costs this low you will be able to compete with the largest production studios in the country.  This option also allows you to have ultimate flexibility with your stretching process, enabling you to do whatever you want, whenever you need it.  Furthermore, with enough volume, you usually can provide a design profile to your wood supplier and obtain your own unique stretcher bar, custom tailored for your business.

The Cons: Skilled labor is required.  Multiple employees and management are required.  Various investments in equipment are required.  Waste from the unused stretcher bars tends to be hard to track and can therefore obfuscate an accurate cost analysis.

Still looking for more on how to stretch canvas prints?

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  • Anonymous

    I see you noted the fact that there are different types of wood available and that there is a difference in cost. Aside from cost is there any reason why someone would choose one type of wood over another for a specific stretch job?

    • Nick Friend

      Different types of wood can vary in both the ease of use and perception of quality from the framer’s standpoint. For example, pine is a stronger (more firm, less bowing/warping) and cleaner (less knots/ imperfections) wood when compared to something like fir wood. By having less problems and waste, you’ll be able to stretch faster. As I stated though, it’s significantly more expensive, and what most printmakers don’t realize is that the stretching cost is the primary driver of the cost of a canvas print (see my other blog post: What is the Real Cost of a Canvas Print?) – not ink, canvas, labor, or anything else. Once the canvas print is stretched and finished, it’s hard to tell what type of wood was used and so long as the wood does the job, you’re good to go. I know of several high volume printmakers who fall into the #4 category above and use poplar as their choice of wood.

  • Artofthenorth

     This comparison misses two of the more critical points that deals with any type of art or photography that has the potential of value appreciation in the long run, and that of potential future sagging for all types of stretched canvases. In the former, so-called “archival” glue is a misnomer, and can lead to loss of considerable value of art, which at the time of stretching, often is not forseen, and not realized for decades. A lot of art value has been destroyed this way over years (like by being drymounted in the past – introduction of residues, glues of any type will do this). Secondly, the options of stretcher “sticks” and easywrappe do not allow for adjusting the tension should the canvas later sag due to various conditions (humidity, temperature, etc) and thus require re-stretching, as opposed to the traditional “keyed” stretcher bar systems that have been used for centuries for a reason.
    It bothers me when terms like “acid-free” and “archival glue” are used to signify approval for use on art when their use can in fact cause large loss of value – the caveat should be used that their use should be restricted to the decorator marketplace.
    By the way, I love and use Breathing Color products, specifically Lyve canvas and Elegance Velvet paper.

    • Nick Friend

      Hi Artofthenorth, you make some valid points that should be considered, thank you.  Keep in mind, “glue” is an option for the EasyWrappe but we actually recommend that customers use the traditional stapled method which requires no glue whatsoever.  We’ve posted a video on this.  Also, there are adjustable corners braces with EasyWrappe which deal with the long term sagging.  Likewise the pre-notched stretcher bars come with corner keys as well to deal with sagging.        

      Thanks for the comments! 

      • Amitai

        where can I order the corner braces on your web site?

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  • porcamiseria

    My biggest problem with stretcher bars has been inconsistencies in quality — i.e. splintering, etc when trying to get them together and then making sure they are square. If they’ve been poorly cut, this can be very labor intensive.  But after trying two different types of “kits” I am going back to stretcher bars and hand stretching and stapling.  One kit had adhesive which was so flimsy it would simply not hold the Lyve canvas which was coated with 3 spray coats of Timeless.  I made a test 20×30 gallery wrap for my own home and I can see the canvas is sagging.  So, since our clients pay a good deal for these gallery wraps, I am going back to hand stretching and finding a supplier with consistently good quality bars.  I think the kits are OK for home use, but I won’t use them for client portraits.  I have hand stretched up to 36×48.  Yes, it’s hard work and time consuming, but the result, I feel, is far superior.

    • Justin Bodin

      Hi there,

      The adhesive on the EasyWrappe stretcher bar system is meant more as a temporary hold while you “build” the gallery wrap. The adhesive isn’t meant to provide the tension.

      Anyway, you might want to revisit our 1.5″ pre-notched bars now (though you didn’t specify it was our bars specifically that you were having problems with). We inspect these closely now and try to only send bars of good quality. We have a lot of people happily using them and we are of course more than happy to replace of any bars you might receive that are not quite up to our quality standards.

      Take care!

  • http://www.swiftprintuk.com/ jean

    loved the way you have explained the ways for handling canvas prints

    • Justin Bodin

      Thank you! :-)

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  • David

    Great alternative to purchasing a canvas stretching machine.