A properly stretched canvas on a well-built frame will display and protect your work for years to come. Whether it’s a digital photo print on canvas, or you’re laying the groundwork for a new painting, this tutorial with video will help you prep your own DIY canvas in 5 easy steps.

Ready? Let’s get started, and if you want to skip ahead to the video, head straight to the bottom of the page.

1. Lay Your Canvas

laying out canvas

Place your canvas face-down on a flat, clean and dry surface. Now place your assembled stretcher frame on top. A properly sized canvas will leave about 4 inches of material on each side, which you’ll need to stretch over the frame. If you haven’t yet assembled your stretcher frame, start here for step-by-step instruction.

2. Start Your Canvas Stapling in the Center

stapling canvas

Pull your canvas tight to the center of each bar using canvas pliers and staple the canvas as shown. Use a staple gun with 3/8” (10mm) JT-21 staples for best results.

3. Continue Stapling

On each side, drive 3 more staples about 1 ½ inches apart on each side of the first staple. Apply tension to the canvas while stapling.

how to staple canvas

Work from the center towards each corner, adding 3 staples at a time, stopping 4 inches before the end on the top and bottom bars to leave room for your corner folds. You want the sides of your canvas (which are most visible when hung) to be smooth.

4. Prepare Your Canvas Corners

prepare your canvas

Staple your side bar canvas to the end; pull in your loose canvas and staple.

DIY canvas stretching

Pull your remaining canvas tight and staple to the frame. Repeat on each corner. Once you’re finished, your corners should look like this:
staple canvas 101

5. Key Your Corners

key your canvas
Slide your
hardwood canvas keys into both slots on the corner. Tap in firmly with a hammer. This expands each corner joint equally, ensuring you’ve achieved the desired tension equally across your canvas.

IMPORTANT! Don’t stretch your canvas too tight while keying. Applying gesso to raw canvas can cause shrinkage of the wet canvas (especially if you have a linen or very large canvas). You can always tap your keys in further after applying gesso.

Watch a pro stretch a canvas, step-by-step:

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