Choosing Stretcher Bars: A cheat sheet for artists, conservators and more
Choosing the right stretcher bars is an important decision with a lot of factors to consider, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Your options run the gamut from basic stretcher bars to standard, professional, gallery and even heavy duty bars, with custom designs available for  
your largest and uniquely shaped canvas. Which one is best for your specific project?

Let’s start with the size of your canvas.

Whatever the size of your painting or print, your artwork needs a strong, stable and straight frame to protect it from damage over time. Humidity, temperature, canvas tension and more all take their toll on frames. You want to avoid having to restretch your entire canvas, so a solid frame is critical from day one.

Here’s a quick reference size chart to give you a starting point, assuming the maximum tension (raw canvas to be gessoed):

Stretcher bars sizing quick reference guide, from Upper Canada Stretchers

Now consider your materials.

You want to buy stretcher bars not only perfectly sized, but also strong enough to withstand the tension of the materials you plan to use.

Maybe you’re stretching a canvas that’s already printed or painted, and in that case you want to use this set of criteria to determine your needs.

Or, you could be starting with a blank canvas. Whether that canvas is pre-primed or not plays a role in your decision. You may also need to consider how hard you tend to push on the canvas while painting, and where you plan to store or display the finished artwork. For example, you might want a shallower frame if you’re going to hang the painting in a hallway, whereas a piece to be hung in a large room could afford the extra depth.

If you’re preparing your own raw canvas, be aware of the impact of both the canvas material itself, and your chosen primer. When you wet your cotton or linen canvas with gesso or rabbit skin glue, you create a great deal of tension–the greatest tension the frame will probably ever withstand.

linen canvasLinen canvas is the most durable fabric to paint, making it the top choice for professional artists. It’s less susceptible to expansion and contraction caused by moisture, but may require extra cross bracing and heavier duty stretcher bars.

Raw linen strains canvas to an even greater degree than raw cotton and may necessitate the use of heavy duty stretcher bars or cross bracing.

Not sure how your materials affect your stretcher bar needs? Call 1-800-561-4944 for expert advice before you buy.

Evaluate your comfort level with canvas stretching.

DIY canvas stretching can save you money and even be an enjoyable exercise, but if you just aren’t comfortable doing the stretching yourself, you have options.


Gallery-wrapped stretched canvases come already primed, ready for you to paint, and are available in custom sizes with stretcher bar lengths from 6 to 60 inches (16 to 153 cm).

A professionally gallery-wrapped canvas over a top quality stretcher bar frame ensures your painting is protected for years to come.Unlike the mass produced, economy grade canvases you can buy in art supply stores, these gallery-wrapped canvases are fully keyable, braced where necessary, and constructed using our 3/4″ or 1 ½” thick stretcher bars.

What’s the difference? Using a properly stretched frame on a well-constructed canvas from the start means you can adjust the tension over time, protecting your painting for years to come. Better still, you can be confident that the superior materials and engineering used to construct the frame mean it won’t warp, twist or bend on you, as that would endanger your painting or print just a few years from now.

How to Choose the Right Stretcher Bars: Helpful Resources

Ready to get started? Here’s what to do next:

Looking to order online? We have custom shaped canvases!