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Stretch Your Own Canvas in 4 Easy Steps

Stretching canvas does more than stretch your budget�you can customize your canvas to practically any size or shape you choose! In a few easy-to-master steps, you can save money and exercise your creativity before you ever even put paint to canvas. Before you stretch your own, you should have ready-to-go stretcher bars in the size you want. If you haven't made your own stretcher bars before, check out this great tutorial from You can also buy pre-made frames, if you're not anxious to use a saw. (But we have yet to meet an artist that doesn't like to play with, we mean, tools!) You need three main items before you start: a roll of unprimed canvas, a staple gun, and a pair of scissors. Make sure the canvas you have is unprimed�you'll prime it once it's stretched. (We'll talk about priming your canvas in our next ArtTips email, so stay tuned!)

Step One: Measure the canvas to fit your stretchers
This can be as exact or inexact as you want. The important thing to remember is to make sure you have enough material to wrap over the edges of the frame in order to secure it. You can almost cut this like you would wrapping paper for a present: place the frame face down on the canvas, fold the edges to make sure you have enough overlap, and use your scissors to cut the canvas to shape. See? Easy!

Step Two: Staple the canvas to the frame
It's important to secure your canvas without any ripples or wrinkles, and the best way to start is by wrapping the canvas over one of the longer edges of the stretcher bar frame. Staple the canvas as close to the center of that side as possible.

Step Three: Time to stretch!
Now, turn the frame around to the other long side. For best results, you always want to work across from your last staple when stretching a canvas. Grab the canvas directly across from your first staple with the thumb and forefinger of both hands, and use your other fingers on the frame for support. (Some people use clamps or pliers to hold and pull the canvas, but you can use your fingers, too.) Pull the canvas towards you and wrap it around the frame, keeping it as tight as possible. Hold the canvas tight against the frame with one hand, and staple it with the other. You should now have two staples on opposite sides from one another, with the canvas pulled nice and tight in between.

Follow the same steps for the short sides of the canvas frame: pull the canvas tight onto one side and staple in the center. Pull it tight on the opposite and staple. If you've done this correctly, your fingers will probably be a bit tired, and only the center of your canvas will be tight, so you need to tighten up the rest. Go back to your first staple and choose a spot about 2-3 inches to the right. Grab the canvas, pull it, and staple it as described above. Then, move to a spot about 2-3 inches to the left of your first staple, and do the same thing. You'll have three staples securing your canvas on the first edge of the frame. Do this again on the opposite side of the frame, and then on the short sides of the frame. Keep this pattern up by moving to each side of the canvas and placing a staple to the right and left of the others.

Note: Once the staples get close to the corners on the short sides, stop and only staple the canvas on the longer sides until the last staples are all approximately the same distance from the corners. You're almost done!

Step Four: Now for the corners
The key to a good stretched canvas is crisp, tight corners (just like a well-wrapped present!). To get a good corner, pinch both sides of the material together so that you have a nice sharp fold that aligns perfectly with the corner, then carefully fold the material around one side of the frame, making sure to pull it tight, and secure it with a staple. If you have done it correctly, the fold will be a 45-degree angle on one side of the frame, with no material on the other side, as shown in the image here. Do this for the other three corners, and you are done! Now, all you need to do is prime the canvas, which we will discuss next week. If your first one isn't as perfect as you want it to be, just pop the staples out and try again. Over time, practice will make you better, and save you a ton of money that you can use for paint instead! Happy stretching, artists.