How To: Stretch a Canvas

Ever wonder how to go about stretching your own canvas?

Local artist and Opus Langley staff member, Colin Mitchell, helps to take the fear out of this DIY process. From picking the right canvas to how to stretch it properly over your stretcher bars, this informative walkthrough will help open new doors to the everyday artist wanting that little extra control.

Want to customize your canvas further? Learn how to prepare your canvas for acrylic and oil painting with our video, Surface Preparation: Sizing & Gesso.

Materials as shown in the video:

  • Unprimed canvas
  • Opus Heavy-Duty Stretcher Bars
  • 4× corner gussets
  • Golden GAC 100
  • Opus Gesso
  • Canvas pliers
  • Staple gun
  • Scissors

Step 1:
Gently sand the edges of the stretcher bars to remove any rough or jagged edges. Prime them with Golden GAC 100 to help prevent any support-induced discoloration. Assemble your Opus Heavy-Duty Stretcher Bars, using your corner gussets as a guide to make sure the corners are at a 90° angle. Once in place staple and secure the gussets for extra support.

Step 2:
Center the bars on top of the canvas, making sure the weave of the canvas runs parallel to the direction of your stretcher bars. Trim off any excess canvas, but ensure you have enough to pull when stretching; leave around 4″ on each side.

Step 3:
Starting on one side, place one staple in the middle to secure the canvas. Once the staple is in, rotate your canvas to the opposite side. Pull and tightly stretch the canvas using the canvas pliers; place one staple to secure the canvas to that side. Proceed to your third side that has no staples in it yet. Repeat the first step of the stapling process; pulling the canvas tight all the way through.

Step 4:
Once you have placed your first four staples to each side, continue stapling from the inside out. Staple one side at a time, rotating to the opposite side after every staple. During this process, a diamond shape will begin to appear. This will help to let you know your canvas is tight, and that the tension is equally dispersed. Make sure to leave your corners unstapled until it is time to fold them.

Step 5:
After your canvas has been secured along the edges, you can begin to fold your corners. Ensure the excess canvas is folded to the inside to help prevent the canvas from snagging or ripping. The crease of the fold should run directly inline with the edges of your stretcher bars. If extra canvas begins to hang over the top, place your thumb between the fold and gently roll the canvas under until the excess is under your fold. Staple and secure your fold, making sure tension is still applied. Once complete, your canvas should make a deep drum sound if tapped in the center. This means the tension has been equally distributed, and that the canvas is not too tight.

Step 6:
Prime your canvas and begin painting with your favorite mediums and paints!