How to Stretch a Canvas Print (A Comprehensive Guide)

Canvases have been around forever, and they quite literally come in all shapes and sizes. However, in yesteryear, they were meant only for painting artworks.

But now, with better technology, you can easily print anything on a canvas. In fact, the industry is currently nearing $50 billion per year and is rapidly growing.

Plus, options like splitting a single picture over several canvases or converting them into panoramic canvases make the printing experience very unique. You can stylize your memories any way you want and showcase them on a wall.

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One of the many advantages of canvases is they're tough and last for a very long time. They also blend well into any surroundings and décor.

What you put on a canvas is entirely up to you. It's your call whether you print personal pictures, silly jokes, New York's skyline, or even a snapshot of outer space.

Canvas prints are easy to hang, and you can either stick them the way they are or stretch them for a more interesting display.

What is a Stretched Canvas?

A stretched canvas print is essentially a canvas print stretched over a wooden frame, making it easier to display and hang. It is common for artists to stretch canvases for their artwork.

It involves an entire process that takes some time and effort. However, canvases that are correctly stretched survive much longer than ones that aren't and look much better as well.

Difference Between Stretching a Plain Canvas vs Canvas Prints

The main difference between a plain canvas and a printed canvas is that the former has nothing on it, and you have some extra margin of error while stretching.

It is commonplace for artists to stretch canvases.  Primer is applied once the stretched canvas is in place and ready for painting.

However, a printed stretched canvas already has printing on it, and it has to be carefully stretched to ensure that the image is in the center of the frame. There is no need to apply a primer or any other chemical to the canvas after stretching due to the existing printing.

If you are looking to learn the difference between stretched and rolled canvas prints, read our blog on stretched vs unstretched canvas prints.

Advantages of Stretched Canvas Prints

There are numerous benefits of a stretched canvas. Let's discuss this briefly.

  • Stretched canvases add life to the prints as they get support from the frame below.

  • They are easy to display on the wall. Without stretching, you need to take extra steps to put a canvas on a wall.

  • The aesthetic appearance of the canvas is much better after stretching.

  • The prints are easier to move once they're stretched. The frame is very lightweight, and a single person can comfortably transport even large-size prints.

  • The wood frame (stretcher bars) used in the stretched canvas prints provide additional support and protect it from physical damage.

  • They are durable and last for years with proper cleaning and maintenance.

  • If you want to paint on a canvas instead of printing images, stretching is an integral part of the process.

How to Stretch a Canvas Print?

Now that we understand the benefits of stretching a canvas print, let's dig into the process. It is simpler than you may have imagined.

It is good to start with a smaller canvas when you do it for the first time. Like anything else, practice helps hone the skills better, and you can perfect the stretching technique with time.

The steps are the same for a plain and printed canvas print with minor differences in the finishing.

Step 1: Collect Your Tools:

Arrange the materials you would need before starting the task: The materials you will need:

  • A stretcher kit (available at hardware stores)

  • A rubber mallet

  • A pair of heavy-duty scissors

  • A pair of canvas stretching pliers

  • A measuring tape

  • Heavy-duty staple gun

  • A staple lifter

  • A hammer (optional)

Step 2: Prepare the Stretcher

Stretcher kits are relatively easy to assemble. These stretcher kits or bars are made of wood slats pre-cut at an angle. You can have the square or rectangular shapes based on your print.

You can put the bars together within a few minutes using the below techniques.

  • The bars have cuts in the edges to connect them. Ensure that they perfectly fit into each other.

  • Check the angles with a T-square to avoid misaligned frame issues later.

  • Staple the edges from the back and front to ensure the bars stay in place.

  • These frames are available in different sizes, and you can pick one according to the print size.

  • Remember that you will need to fold some of the canvas later, so pick the stretcher frame accordingly.


The stretcher bars should be made of hardwood. If you are good with woodwork and have a saw available, you can cut the slats yourself.

Step 3: Lay Down the Canvas

Now is the time to begin the process of stretching the canvas print on the frame. Here is how:

  • Lay the print face down and place the frame in the center.

  • Ensure that the canvas does not have any creases and lays perfectly straight.

  • You will need several inches of empty canvas at the edges to get the best results.

The canvas grains and the stretcher bars must be aligned straight. Otherwise, they will twist, and the canvas will lift from corners.

Step 4: Take the Measurements

Once you have laid down the canvas print perfectly, the next stage is to take measurements. Typically, you need to mark lines at a distance of 7.5 centimeters from the top edge of the stretcher bars. This gap should work whether you're working with a plain canvas or one with the print.

This gap is for medium and large-sized frames such as 16" x 16". If you have a smaller one, like 8" x 8", you will need to adjust the extra space to leave out.


If you plan to print on canvas, ensure that it has empty spaces on the side. You need this space for stretching purposes.

Step 5: Cut the Excess Canvas Out

Once you have taken the measurements, cut the excessive canvas out. Removing the extra canvas is essential and needs to be done correctly. Any mistakes in this step will negatively affect the stretching process.

If you think that you may cut too much of the fabric, leave a bit of extra canvas on the edges to be safe. You can deal with the excess afterward.


Cut carefully and ensure that you do not damage any canvas part. Scissors are easier to control compared to the cutters.

Step 6: Staple the Sides

Stapling the canvas is a simple step, but it holds much value in the overall stretching process. Ensure that you use a good-quality staple gun that can help hold the fabric in place.

  • Once you have the canvas under the bars, you pull it and place a staple or two in the middle of the bar to hold the canvas in place.

  • Repeat the same process on all remaining sides.

  • Staple the canvas at the edges next. Do not go diagonal; instead, staple the parallel edge.

  • Since canvas can get loose while you change sides, use circular motion before you staple each corner.

It would be best if you didn't pull the canvas too hard as it can leave its original place, causing a misbalance. However, apply enough tension to ensure the canvas is cleanly put in place.


It should create a diamond-like shape at the front side of the canvas once you staple the sides. If there is a different shape, you probably got something wrong.

Step 7: Add Tension to the Canvas

It's time to bring the canvas stretching pliers to work. These pliers will help you further tighten the canvas after putting in the initial staples.

  • Apply pressure on one side of the canvas with the pliers and apply a couple of staples.

  • Move to the opposite side and repeat the same process. Apply the pressure through pliers as per the above instructions.

  • Do not apply more than two to three staples at a time and move back and forth.

  • The stapling motion will be similar to a zigzag in your stapling action.

  • Please do not overstretch the canvas since it can rip. Be more careful in applying tension on canvas prints to avoid de-shaping the printed content.

  • Apply staples in a straight line with an equal distance to ensure that the canvas stays straight.

  • If there are wrinkles on the backside of the canvas, you can correct them with a couple more staples.


Always work on the opposite side when using the canvas stretching pliers. Do not go for the circular motion since you want to work with the weaves. Changing directions can cause the canvas to form bubbles.

Step 8: Fold up the Corners

Once the canvas is put in place and stapled, there generally is excess fabric on the edges. This excess canvas should never be obvious to someone looking at your print or artwork hanging on a wall.

  • Fold the excess canvas print inwards to conceal it.

  • Repeat the process once more with pressure to ensure that no part of it is on the outside or front side of the canvas.

  • Ideally, the excess fabric should form a straight line at this point.

  • Staple the canvas a couple of times to ensure it is firmly in place.


If you're stretching a canvas print for home, slightly less than perfect corners can do. However, many people check these corners when they buy prints or artworks. So ensure you get them right if you have a professional endeavor.

Step 9: Finish the Stretching

Once you have completed all the steps mentioned above, it is time to give the canvas the final finishing touches.

  • If there is some extra canvas fabric on the back of the frame, you can quickly turn it in and apply a few staples to keep it in line.

  • Cut out any loose threads from the canvas to give it a neat finish. But be careful that you do not damage the rest of the canvas.

  • If there are any loose staples, use your mallet to fix them. Just apply enough pressure to get the job done but not damage the frame. Avoid hammers; they can cause damage.

  • If you have a regular canvas without a print, you can apply primer to ensure the product's durability. If you're using oil paints, they will damage the canvas fabric over the years if the primer is not applied.

  • Once everything is done, check the canvas for any issues that may be left. At this stage, if you have followed the steps correctly, you should have a perfectly stretched canvas.

The last and final step is to display the canvas on your selected wall and appreciate the final look.

The Bottom Line

Canvases have been long used for artwork and, more recently, for printing pictures. They typically have a long life but can be damaged if not correctly cared for.

Canvas stretching is an essential process for making your prints more aesthetically pleasing. It also adds longer life to the fabric. As you can see, the process itself is relatively simple and based on several steps. And as long as you follow these steps correctly, you will surely get excellent results.

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