How to stretch a canvas print
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I don’t know about you, but I love large pieces of art. There’s just something about a big image that makes it more interesting. Maybe you can see more details, or maybe there’s just some wow-factor from the size. No matter what it is, I love it!
We also love decorating our house with our own images. Sure, prints you buy from the store might look great and they might go well with your furniture or create a certain vibe you want. But for us, there’s nothing more fun than walking through our house and seeing a photo that we took on vacation or some other personal image that reminds us of a time or place.
So for us the solution is large prints of our own images. It’s easy enough to get a poster print these days for not much money, but the real problem is that getting a large poster framed can cost hundreds! Way more than you paid for the print.
Canvas prints usually cost more than poster prints but on large ones you can save lots of money if you stretch them yourself. And then it doesn’t need to be framed. Plus, it makes it looks like your photos belong in a gallery. We’ve done 6 canvas prints so far and they’re always fun conversation pieces when people come over.
If you are intimidated by the idea of making a stretching frame and stretching the canvas, don’t be. I’ll walk you through it step by step. It’s really easy, doesn’t take that long and all you need are some basic tools, nothing fancy.
Here’s a list of everything I used:
- 1×2 wood for the frame
- Tape measure
- Square and circular saw (or a miter box and miter saw)
- Corner clamp
- Cordless drill
- Countersink drill bit
- Staple gun
- Picture hanging wire and hooks
Obviously the first step is to go online and order a canvas print. Take your time and shop around because prices can vary widely! Some sites have great prices on smaller pieces but get really expensive on the larger ones or they don’t even offer larger ones. For example, I found a site that could only do prints up to 20 x 30 inches and for that they charged $130 un-stretched. The print I’m using in this post has a finished size of 33 x 50 inches and cost me about $80 un-stretched. If I wanted it stretched it would have cost $60 more but I did it myself for just $15 in wood.
When ordering your print you need to consider how the sides of the finished piece will look. Since the canvas needs to wrap around to the back for stapling, you can either leave the sides plain white or have the image wrap around.
I’ve tried it both ways, and in the end I like it best when the print wraps around the side of the frame. It’s just a personal preference, but keep in mind that having white edges also means you need to be extra precise with the size of the frame and when stretching the canvas so the frame lines up right on the edge of the image. When the image wraps, the final piece is smaller than the flat print so you might want to order a slightly larger print. For this tutorial I’ll assume you want the image to wrap around.
Ok, so now that you have your print, let’s get on to building. If you’re an experienced builder, the short instructions are to make your frame smaller than your print so you have enough canvas on each side to pull it around the edge of the wood and then staple it into the back of the wood frame. If you are not as experienced you can follow along as I go through it step by step.
First you need to determine the amount of canvas you need on each side so it wraps the side and covers the back edge of the frame and you have a little to pull on while stapling it. Here’s how you figure that out:
Since your image needs to wrap around the side and cover the back edge where you staple it, you need to get the measurement of the width of your wood, add the thickness and then double that to account for both sides. I’m always a big fan of taking practical measurements instead of doing math so I lay out 4 pieces of the wood stock, 2 standing up and 2 lying down and then measure the whole thing at once. I make fewer mistakes this way.
This is the amount of canvas you need for the print to wrap the visible sides and the underside edge of the frame. Since this is your first time stretching a canvas I suggest you add another 2 inches so you have 1 inch of canvas on each side to hold on to while you stretch the canvas. You can see in the pictures that I didn’t give myself any extra to hold onto. It can be done this way but it is a lot harder on your fingertips.
This measurement of the wood area you need to cover, plus something to hold onto, is what I call the overhang amount. Now you can use this overhang amount to figure out the size of your frame pieces. Measure the long dimension of your print,
subtract the overhang amount and cut 2 frame pieces to this length.
The key to keeping the finished frame square is to have the opposite sides be exactly the same length. The easiest way to do that is to clamp the pieces together and cut both pieces at once. That way if your cut is off by a 1/16 of an inch it doesn’t matter because they are both exactly the same length.
On the long-side pieces, mark a center line along the length. This step will make sense in a minute.
Now measure the short dimension of your print and subtract the overhang amount. Then measure the thickness of 2 frame pieces and subtract that amount. That way the short edge is the correct length after it is butted up to the long edge. Cut 3 pieces to this length. Yes, 3 pieces not just 2.
Remember that center line you marked on the long pieces? You will attach the third short piece in the middle of the frame at that mark to help give it extra support and help keep it from bowing or twisting. I wouldn’t say this extra support is mandatory, but it sure helps me keep things flat and square.
And just like that, you’re ready to put it together. Use the corner clamp to hold each joint while you pre-drill and attach the pieces using screws. Remember, the short pieces should be butted up to the inside of the long pieces so those sides end up the correct length.
Attach all pieces except for one end of the center support. Stop and measure your frame from corner to corner.
If the measurements are the same you know it’s square. If not, pull on the opposite corner until the measurements match. Once it’s squared up, clamp it in place and attach the last end of the center support.
Now it’s time to stretch your canvas!
Lay your print face down on a very soft surface. You will be leaning on the print and pulling on it and you don’t want to scratch the image. I always do this on carpet. Center your frame on the back of your print and then start the stretching in the center of one side. It doesn’t matter which one.
Press the frame down so the print doesn’t move while you pull the canvas up and over the back of the wood frame and staple it in place. Then do the same on the other 3 sides just using one staple at the center of each side. You want to pull the canvas tight, but not so tight that you deform the frame. This is a good time to flip your artwork and check that it’s still centered.
From here you just work your way out from the center staples. Put in 2 or 3 more staples in each direction and then do the same on the opposite side. Try to keep a consistent amount of tension in the canvas.
You can see here that some of my staples are not all the way in. If you are putting as much pressure as you can on the staple gun and they are still not going all the way in, the best thing is to switch to a shorter staple. If you are like me and don’t always have a bunch of different sizes sitting around, just tap them in with a small hammer 🙂
When you get to the corners there are different ways you can treat them. I guess any upholstery corner technique would probably work. I’ve tried out different folds and in the end I’ve settled on a simple fold over like you use when wrapping a birthday present.
Some fancy folds did a better job of hiding the fold but this way is easier and I don’t think it’s very noticeable at all. I just make sure the fold is on the top or bottom edge of the finished piece so the sides stay nice and clean.
Then, just add some picture hanging wire to the back, and you’re done! You’ll be surprised at how light the finish piece is and you can use simple, lightweight picture hangers.
Congrats! You’re done!
Now invite your friends over to show them your work. Heck, serve drinks and appetizers and call it an art opening 🙂
When they ask you to do one for them just send them to this tutorial 😉