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220 S. Wabash Ave. Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 431-9588

Canvas Stretching Services

The purpose of stretching a canvas is to preserve it and prepare it for framing. We stretch a lot of canvases, both painted and unpainted. Depending upon the size of the canvas, we have 5 different sizes of wood stretcher bars we use (light-weight, medium-weight, heavy-weight as well as 1 1/2" or 2" deep "Gallery Wrap" styles). We also believe in using cross bars to prevent canvases being stretched from developing an hourglass shape. Prior to the invention of the stapler, canvases were stretched using copper or blued steel tacks. Nowadays we, usually, use a pneumatic stapler and can either staple the canvas on its edge or on its back, depending upon how much canvas we have to work with. If the canvas is valuable or the client has a specific preference, we are happy to stretch the canvas with copper tacks. It is a little more labor intensive, since it takes more time to do this properly, so the labor cost is a bit higher.

Inevitably, questions come up about stretching. Here are a few:


How much of a spare edge do you need for stretching and stapling?
We prefer to have at least 1" beyond the amount of canvas it takes to cover the edge of the stretcher bar. That way, we have something to grab with the canvas pliers so that we can stretch the canvas tightly with a minimum of wrinkles. This means we prefer 2-3" from the edge of the painting. In that way, we can staple the canvas on the back. If you are stretching on a 1 1/2" to 2" deep Gallery Wrap stretcher, you will need an extra 2 1/2" to 3" all around.

I bought this painting while on vacation In a foreign country and brought it back rolled up. Any problem with this? There is no problem with the canvas being rolled up. Hopefully, however, the paint was not applied so thickly that it didn't crack in the process and, when they rolled it up for you, they did so with the paint on the outside of the roll. If the canvas comes in rolled up and stiff, we will warm it up first before unrolling it and stretching it to soften the paint a bit. The most common problem we run into with canvases from The Third World, is that they were painted on stretchers that were not square to start with, on canvas that may be something as inexpensive as bed sheets, curtains or spare fabric that have been gessoed over (hopefully). In addition to not being square, they may not have left you much on the edges to re-stretch the canvas. We will not build a crooked stretcher, however, to re-stretch the canvas. It becomes impossible to frame under those circumstances. If they have cut off the extra canvas on the edges, we can mount the canvas to an acid-free board and trim it square so that it can be framed. If it is a highly valuable canvas, we will bring it to a conservator, who can either strip-line it with additional canvas on the edges or adhere the entire canvas (called "Lining") to a larger piece of canvas of similar nature so that it CAN be stretched in a more archival and preservational way.

How Big A Canvas Can You Stretch? Typically, the longest, heavy duty stretchers we build can be just under 10 feet long. We buy heavy duty stretcher bar in 10 foot sticks. You must allow for miters at the corners, so the stretchers cannot be 10 feet long. However, remember that there are logistical problems with a canvas that size, such as getting it through a doorway and transporting it, usually requiring a straight truck with a big box on the back of it. In some extreme cases, we have gone so far as to stretch the canvas on-site, since it cannot be transported any other way. We have stretched canvases in excess of 20 feet, but only on-site using hybrid wood and aluminum stretchers from Richeson Art Co. They have splicing panels and crossbars made specifically for daisy-chaining long runs of stretcher. They also have corner bracing hardware for keying out the corners when needed. Contact us for a quote if you have a special, oversize canvas project.

Why can't I just build my own stretchers out of 2 x 4's? You can, but the problem is that stretcher bars are shaped especially, so that the canvas only rests on the rounded outer edge, with the main, flat portion falling away and tapering in thickness so that the stretcher doesn't touch the back of the canvas. Over time, if it does touch it, a line begins to appear in the painting. So, unless you are handy with a lumber milling machine or an electric router to make your own stretcher bar from scratch, we recommend you let us do that for you. For some clients, we cut the stretcher bars, when very long, and bring them on-site and stretch the canvas there for them. However, they pay a lot more for that privilege, including travel time.

What's the difference between a Stretcher and a Strainer? The kind of wooden stretcher bars you buy in an art supply store that have slotted grooves and flat fingers that slide into them are what most people are used to finding on pre-stretched canvases (unpainted, gessoed, stretched canvas found in art supply stores). Typically, they come in whole inch sizes and allow you to expand the corners later on if the corner loosens up. However, a lot of canvases that come into our shop from Europe, Asia and other places outside the USA are in metric or non-standard sizes. In those cases, we build what is called a strainer, which is a stretcher with permanently glued and nailed corners. However, if the client requests it or it is an antique canvas that requires it, we can order in custom-sized, basswood stretchers with slip-together keyed corners from a manufacturer in San Diego that does beautiful custom milled woodwork. Again, this is way more costly than a strainer or standard-sized stretchers but worth it in many cases. We, also, use hybrid stretcher bars from Richeson Art. They are combination aluminum and wood bars made to order. The wood portion is on the outside, where the stapling or tacking of the canvas occurs. These can be keyed to expand the corner should it ever loosen up.

Is It Expensive To Stretch A Canvas? Only in relation to what it will cost to frame it. The cost to stretch the canvas is dictated by what we charge for the stretcher bar it is going to be attached to and the amount of labor it takes to staple it onto the stretcher. It is somewhat labor intensive, but the canvas looks great once it is attached, all smooth and taut. Like frames, bigger canvases take more time to stretch and cost more than smaller ones. The main point here, though, is that it must be stretched before it can be framed. In a few minor cases, we have (with the customer's permission) dry mounted the canvas to a board and framed it with mats under glass or plexi, or no glazing at all. However, this is fairly rare.

Some of the time, people will call for quotes and then tell us that " I have gotten other quotes somewhat cheaper from other framers and you are a little high." Our answer is that you get what you pay for. We are experts at what we do and have decades of experience and PPFA certification to prove it. Also, we cannot speak to what the overhead costs or expense structure is for other framers, so we really cannot price our services according to what it costs other framers to do business. Our prices are fair, very competitive, but reflect what we need to charge to stay in business.

Once you stretch it, what sort of frame should I use?
You have at least 4 really good options to start:

Option #1:  Frame it in what is called a Floater Frame. This is an "L" shaped frame profile that does not have a lip to cover the edge of the canvas. The canvas is attached with screws to the bottom face of the "L" in the floater. It can be attached with a gap of 1/4" or 3/8", giving the appearance of the canvas "floating" in the middle of the frame, or the canvas can be snug, up against the inside face or edge of the floater. Either way, the edge of the canvas is never covered up by the frame. Our rule of thumb for pull-away goes like this: 1/4" pull away for canvases up to 36 x 48, 1/4"-3/8" pull away for canvases larger than that. If the canvas is already stretched and is not square or perfectly symmetrical, a bigger amount of pull away is recommended to minimize the visual impact that the lack of squareness the canvas will show once framed.

Option  #2: Frame it with a standard wood frame that is deep enough for the stretcher bar used.
Here, the lip of the frame will cover the canvas a little bit, usually no more than 1/4-5/16". Normally, in preservation framing, we will seal the inner surface of the frame where it comes in contact with the canvas, to prevent acid from seeping into the canvas from the wood of the frame. It also prevents the painted surface of the canvas from sticking to the frame where it makes contact. To do this, we use a narrow, foam-like tape called Volara on the back of the frame lip. Then, we use an aluminum backed, acid-free paper tape to seal the inside of the frame's rabbet (the part of the frame under the lip).

Option #3: Use option #2, but add a fabric covered "liner" in between the frame and the canvas. The liner acts like a mat does in a regular matted frame job. It creates a visual separation between the art and the frame. It costs more to use a frame and a liner than just a frame but, if done right, is very effective in enhancing the overall design of the framing. The only down-side to liners is that, unless there is glass covering the liner (between the outer frame and the front of the liner), the liner will, over time, absorb dust, dirt, environmental pollutants and change color. Sometimes, we will stack another frame inside the main, outer frame in lieu of a liner.This prevents the discoloration problem over time, but still allows you to place a layer of glass or plexiglass in between the two frames, protecting the canvas from pollution and u/v fading. It also allows for more interesting color and design options or visual effects. And, when we use this method, the glazing medium (i.e. glass or plexi) never touches the canvas. If we do use a glazing medium plexi is recommended. Glass can shatter and, inadvertently, slice up the painting. Plexi does not do that and is shatter resistant. Both glazing mediums are perfectly clear.

Option #4: Don't frame it at all. Canvases stretched over Gallery Wrap bars (1 1/2" to 2" deep) usually have additional painted or printed surface covering the vertical, outside part of the canvas. In this way, you do not see the white unpainted/unprinted part of the canvas and it can hang on the wall just like that. This has become fairly popular with people who either do not have the money to invest in a frame right away or who prefer to view the canvas without the additional visual weight of a frame. As framers, while we lament the use of this method, we realize that this is just the way it is these days. We will be happy to add wire and wire hangers to the back of the stretcher if you wish to hang it up unframed. We can also dispense with wire and put a pair of D-rings on both vertical stretchers to let you hang the canvas from two hooks. This is especially recommended if the canvas is large. You just have to be sure your two hooks are at the precisely same height off the floor and level, as there is no way to adjust them, other than to pull the nail and hook out of the wall and move it or to unscrew the D-rig and move it up or down..We also, now, have 3-hole D-rings with an elongated slot in the middle, allowing you to adjust the D-Ring up or down by loosening the screw(s). That way, you do not have to pull the picture hook out of the wall and move that. Furthermore, you can now find apps in The App Store on your cell phone that have a carpenter's level built into it. We use it all the time for leveling framed items in our frame shop on our walls. It is way easier to whip out your phone when up on a ladder to quickly be sure your framed item is level.

Should I Put Glass Over My Canvas When Framing It? No, you do not need to use glass when framing painted canvases. With a painted surface on a canvas, the paint seals the fabric and prevents deterioration of the fibers. However, more and more people are using a glazing medium, like glass or plexiglass, in conjunction with a fabric liner, putting the glass between the lip of the frame and the top of the liner. A fabric liner is, essentially, a wooden frame that has been covered in fabric and then stacked inside the lip of the outer frame. Visually, they serve the same purpose as a mat does when framing works of art on paper. If you do not wish to use a liner, we can put acrylic spacers on the outer edges of the glass, which are hidden under the lip of the frame. They will, then, rest on the outer edge of the canvas. One warning, though: Be sure the painting is completely dry, especially if it is an oil painting or has been varnished.

One trend we have found is that people are using OP3 (u/v filtering plexiglass) over their canvases to prevent fading. Others, who are less concerned about cost, have had us use Optium Museum Acrylic, which has all the attributes of Museum Glass and is scuff resistant and does not shatter like glass. It is also way pricier, but virtually invisible and weighs half of what glass weighs. Museum and AR glass look terrific when used in this context, as they are nearly invisible and UV protective. The glass would serve as a barrier to environmental pollutants, dust, sharp objects, and UV light. Glass is heavier than acrylic or plexiglass, but does not scratch as easily nor is it electrostatic (which attracts dust, except for Optium, which is not electrostatic). On valuable canvases, protecting them from sharp objects and u/v fading is important and that calls for Optium Museum Acrylic on the front. Many museums are, now, putting an anti-reflective, non-shattering glazing like Optium Museum Acrylic in front of their highly valuable paintings. This prevents any damage that may occur from a protestor tossing paint or sharp objects at the canvas to gain attention.

Should The Back of the framed canvas be sealed or "allowed to breath"? We are not sure where that fairy tale got started, but any canvas that is framed should have the back covered by a board, not left open or covered with just a paper dust jacket. We use a corrugated polyethylene board called Coroplast. It is light weight, will not rot or mold if it gets wet and it prevents canvases from being poked from the open back. It also seals up the air space behind the canvas, preventing insects from setting up housekeeping back there. However, if the canvas is an oil painting and the paint is still tacky, allow at least 6 months of drying time before you attempt to frame it with a glass or plexi front covering it in some fashion. Any residual solvents or oils need to fully evaporate or become fully cured and stable.

How do I know if the painting was painted "squarely" and will stretch properly? The best way to determine if a painted canvas is square is to measure the two diagonals from corner to corner. If they are the same, then the canvas is square. If they are not, then you need to determine the side that has the shortest length and use that as your basis for ordering your stretcher. You may end up with a little of the painted surface cascading over the side, but it is preferable to having blank, unpainted canvas showing on the visible front of your stretched canvas. 

STILL HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT STRETCHING CANVAS OR TEXTILES? CONTACT US AND WE'LL EMAIL YOU BACK AN ANSWER A.S.A.P or call us during business hours at 312-431-9588 to speak to a member of our framing team about your particular project. Please be prepared to tell us how big the canvas is (i.e. how big is the painted area and how much extra canvas is there on the edges).