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Stretching Canvas Prints

Greetings Everyone,

A few years ago when I was preparing for my first convention art show I had to research and figure out just how one acquired canvas prints of one’s work. The biggest concern is finding a good quality affordable print company, ideally more than one so that you have a backup place just in case. Typically now many print studios offer fully stretched, varnished, and ready to go canvas prints. While these save time I have found that if I order canvas prints on rolled canvas instead of stretched it saves me a lot of money. I just have to give up a couple days to stretch and prep them all myself. On average in ordering rolled canvas prints instead of stretched canvas prints I save 70% in print costs. So, for others out there who may be looking into how they can put together canvas prints of their work I thought I would put together a tutorial of the process I currently use.

1. Varnishing: When my canvas prints arrive in the mail they are uncoated and thus need to be varnished for protection, or else the print can easily be scraped right off the surface. It is important to varnish the prints before you stretch them because if you do not the image can crack when you are pulling it tight over the stretchers, which can create a lot of extra hours of work in touchups. Unlike a few years ago when I first started this they now have some great varnishes made specifically for canvas inkjet prints. This stuff is awesome. I like to use a satin finish. To me full gloss makes the final image look too much like a product vs a piece of art and matte looks to plain. I lay the prints out flat on a table and roll on the varnish in thin coats making sure to avoid streaking. I usually do about 3 coats of varnish and allow them to dry completely before stretching. My current varnish dries completely all coats in 3-4 hours.

2. Measuring: With prints varnished I do not have to be so careful in touching the image so I can safely bring out my yard stick and measure the dimensions of the image. Ideally these should be the same as the measurements you originally ordered, but I have always found some variation from the digital file to the actual printed size. So, I go through and measure each print and right down their dimensions.

3. Wood Choice & Prep: I use 1”x2”s to make my stretchers, preferring the thinner look of a classic canvas vs. a gallery style canvas wrap. At my local lumberyard they have the nicer straighter 1”x2”’s that they sell for $5 per 6ft. Nice wood and ready to go, but I like to go with the standard 8Ft 1”x2”s which are only $1. However, one has to hunt through a lot of them in order to find boards that are not warped. Also, whereas the more expensive boards are true rectangles and have nice straight edges the cheaper boards have rounded corners which will not work for stretching. So, once I have my straight boards I then run them through a table saw to make sure that all the edges are straight. In the picture you see how I’ve already cut one side so it’s straight. Sure it is a little extra work, but it is well worth the savings for $1 for 8 ft vs $5 for 6Ft.

4. Making Stretchers: With all the boards prep’d now I take my measurements and using a chop saw I begin cutting kits for each canvas print. I always like to err on the side of strength so my typical frame consists of the four sides plus a cross bar though the center. Important note that when cutting the top and bottom bars remember to take width of the side bars into account or else the top and bottoms will be too long.

all my stretcher kits rubber-banded together, and labeled for which image they go with
5. Assemble: When assembling my stretchers into frames my biggest concern is that they are square and lay flat or else the final print will be warped. If your measurements where accurate and cuts straight you should be good. To assemble them I use wood glow and then 2” screws to ensure these things don’t fall apart. Remember to drill pilot holes first, as these boards are thin and will split without one. At this point taking your time and making sure the corners are 90 is very important. Get out the levels and the squares.

6. Marking: The last step before stretching is marking the print. I lay it out on a table on a clean piece of mat board to protect the image, picture side down. By carefully creasing the corners of the image I am able to translate the location of the image corners to the back of the print. These marks will ensure that the image is properly placed on the stretcher.

7. Stretching: I being with the longer sides of an image, starting in the center and stapling out to the edge. I do opposite sides at the same time to ensure that I am pulling against the staple on the other side and making sure the canvas is taught. With the longer sides done I then begin on the shorter sides using the same center & opposite-side practice. For the corners I fold them underneath like I would a Christmas present and then staple them down. This is the same way I would stretch a canvas for painting.

Be sure to test your stapler’s pressure first. You don’t want it to go completely through your canvas.

8. Readying for Hanging: D-Hooks & Wire When I sell a canvas print I want it to be ready to hang as is. So, once it is stretched I then add D-Hooks and & picture Wire to the back. In general I place the D-hooks ¼ ways down the canvas from the top and angle them slightly upward as it is shown in the picture. I then cut a piece of wire with 4-5 extra inches on each side. I tie a knot in it around the hook then twist the wire around itself to secure. Pull the wire tight through the opposite hook and repeat the process.

9. Touch-Ups: The Last step that may or may not be necessary is touch-ups. Even with varnishing first sometimes I still get cracks along the edges of the image from pulling too hard while stretching. To fix this I bust out my acrylics and fall back into my Color& Light class mode and carefully mix whatever color I need so that it matches the color in the image and using a tiny brush carefully paint away the cracks.

With touch-ups completed the prints are stretched and ready for show. I hope this tutorial helps anyone thinking about doing canvas prints of their own. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments or shoot me an email.

Have a great weekend!

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