Stretching Canvas Photographs
How to stretch photographs printed on canvas with inkjet printers.
 
 
 
I have been doing well with prints made on canvas materials.

People like them much better then framed photographs and they are highly viewable as glass-less prints.

However as a photographer stretched canvas was all a mystery to me. I have gone through a learning curve to be able to produce canvas prints. While the requirements for photography is similar to stretching canvas for painting photographs want less tension.

I have been using the LexJet Instant Dry Satin Canvas with their profile on my Photo Black - UltraChrome Epson 9600 and have been getting fairly good results. I find the profile is sensitive to red in the shadows so I tend to be sure my shadows are a touch on the cool side to avoid red in the blacks.

Here are the steps that I go through to produce a print. I usually make several stretchers at a time to conserve my efforts.

Making Stretcher Bars


Tools:


Table Saw
Miter Saw
Handheld Orbital Sander
Hot Glue Gun
4 Pony Clamps
Drill with 1/16 bit and 1/8 bit

Materials:


1x2 Douglar Fir with rounded corners
4d finish nails
Small Screw Eyes

I cut the stretchers myself out of 1x2 Douglas fir round cornered stock. I use a table saw to rout out the inset and a Makita miter saw for the corners. If you don't cut the inset on the stretcher you will see the topography created by the inside edge of the stretcher touching the canvas. I cut the insets first in the 8-foot lengths of 1x2. After cutting the inset I sand the raw routed stock to smooth and lower the inner edges of the inset cut.

The stock is then cut with the miter chop saw to be the correct lengths with 45 degree mitered corners.

The pieces of routed and mitered 1x2 are held together with 4 Pony clamps while I liberally hot glue the corners and cross pieces. After the glue has cooled slightly I pull the excess off, usually as a single piece. Pre drill the corners with the 1/16 bit and nail with the 4d finish nails. I use 2 nails in the corners for smaller pieces and three in larger pieces.

I put screw eyes in either side of the vertical bars. These will hold a piece of picture wire to support the unit on the wall. The screw eyes are located about 1/3 of the way down from the top. They are drilled with the 1/8" bit with a collar to prevent it from coming through.

Once the stretcher is assembled I go over the front carefully with the sander to insure the lip and corners are smooth where they will touch the canvas.

On my 48 pieces I put one cross piece in the middle. The 72 gets two cross pieces and the 96 gets three. These are long narrow images. Larger rectangular pieces need cross braces to prevent the bars from bowing inwards from the pull of the canvas.

The other option is to buy pre-made stretchers. They are nice but they are rather overpriced and can't be cut to length due to their dove tailed corner design.

Print Master Layout


My prints have corner crop marks, a studio chop mark and show my copyright and edition type on the border of the image.

As these images have a certain amount of overwork the crop marks are invaluable to getting the print on the stretchers with the exact cropping.

I have been using the 1x2 to make deep stretchers where the print has 2 of overwork on all sides as shown in these illustrations.

The print is wrapped so that it completely covers the edge.

As is the case with most photos I don't have that kind of overwork in the original. Simply clone brush the overwork onto a layer in the print master. This allows for a very nice looking frameless glassless presentation.

I set my masters up at 180 DPI at size and find this resolution to be fine with canvas prints. Canvas supports less detail then smooth papers so you don't notice the slight limitation of the 180 DPI resolution. I have tried masters with higher resolution and don't really see the difference in the print. This is especially true at the normal viewing distance for larger prints.

Stretching

Tools:

Electric T50 staple gun
6mm T50 staples
X-Acto knife with #11 blade
Cork backed metal ruler
Cutting surface
Soft cloth
Picture wire

I use an electric staple gun with 6mm T50 staples and a pair of Fredrix Stretcher Pliers to stretch and fix the print onto the bars.

I trim the print to have 1/2 to 3/4" white borders prior to stretching. This is done with an X-Acto knife with a #11 blade and a long cork backed metal ruler on a cutting surface.

The work area is then covered with soft cloth. I have several fleece kids blankets on which I stretch prints. This is important as the canvas can be damaged easily during stretching.

The print is gently marked on the back with a soft lead pencil to indicate the crop marks. This is done face down on the cloth covered surface.

Orient the stretcher with the inset down on the back of the print and gently fold the canvas up on each side to check your positioning. Adjust stretcher position as necessary.

Make sure the top of the stretcher is at the top of the print. I usually mark the top of the stretcher when I build it.

With the print in position fold up one side of the long dimension and place a single staple in the middle on the back of the bar. Go to the other side of the long dimension and pull the canvas in the middle with the pliers until it forms a ridge down the middle. Place another staple to hold it taut. Don't go overboard with the tightness but there should be a noticeable ridge in the center of the canvas running from staple to staple.

On the short dimension gently pull in the middle and place the first staple. Go to the opposite side and pull with the pliers until there is a cross shaped ripple in the middle of the print.

Working on the long dimension pull gently on one side and put a few staples on either side of the center staple about 1 inch apart. Then go to the other side and pull with the pliers opposite the staples you put in the other side until the canvas is tight and smooth. Place staples opposite the staples you added to the other side. Repeat this process on the short dimension of the canvas.

Repeat this tightening going back and forth until you come to within a few inches of the corners on all sides. Do not staple closer then 2 inches to the corners yet...

If you have a nice amount of tension you will hear a tympanic sound when you gently tap the middle of the print. In other words it will make a drum like bungggggg and then ring when you tap it. If it goes thud with no musical ring it is a little too loose.

If you over pull with the pliers you can crack the emulsion and dye on the canvas. I have yet to do this but I heard it could happen.

The corners are a little tricky but I think the pictures will make it all clear. I fold the corners so that the fold is on the top and the bottom of the unit as the edges are what is generally visible.

First gently fold the corner excess going straight out from the corner. I smooth the fold with my fingers to create a crease.

Fold the resulting triangle towards the top or bottom of the picture and press it against the stretcher to gently bend it in that direction. Fold the end of the triangle over on the inside.

While pulling with your fingers on the corner fold it across the back of the stretcher and pull it tight. Use a staple to hold it in place.

Then I fold the edge so that it has a 45 degree crease and press it against the back of the bar, use a staple diagonally across the fold to hold it in place. One more staple completes the corner. I then will pull the canvas and staple it in the 2 inch area between the corner and the part that is already stapled.

This process is repeated for all 4 corners with the folds going onto the top and the bottom of the piece.

 

 
Working with canvas photographs
Using Pony clamps and hot glue
Inset on front of stretcher
The first staples pull a ridge
More staples are applied in an opposing pattern
Starting a corner
Folding onto top or bottom of picture
Folding the tip over
Staple to the back of bar at the edge of the fold
The last fold
The finished corner
A completed 72" x 18" print
 

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Fine art photography of California by master nature photographer Cooksey-Talbott. Hundreds of beautiful photographs are displayed for sale online as raw or ready to hang images.

Cooksey-Talbott Gallery is an online gallery of nature photographs. The collection includes pictures of the High Sierra, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Yosemite, Trinity Alps, Sonora Pass, Santa Barbara Hills, East Bay Hills and Garin Park as well as hundreds of different waterfalls. Legacy images are from medium and large format film taken with the Mamiya RB-67 and a variety of 4x5 view cameras. Some of the more recent work is shot with a Nikon D200, Canon 5D Mark II and the Sony A7r.

We offer archival quality prints in a wide range of sizes and media. We print on a heavy art papers and canvas using a Canon iPF8300 44 inch 12 color printer with pigmented inks. Our images are first party prints made directly by the artist. Prints are signed and numbered and include a Certificate of Authenticity.

Ralph Cooksey-Talbott Thomas has been working as a photographer since 1972 when he moved to California from Michigan. During the 1970’s he studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite. Ansel published one of his photographs in the portfolio section of his book "Polaroid Land Photography" Ansel and Orah Moore, another of Ansel’s students, suggested that he shorten his name to Cooksey-Talbott, and that is the name he has worked under since. Cooksey also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the San Francisco Academy of Art. He has lectured in photography at the U.C. Berkeley Extension, Studio One in Oakland and Santa Barbara City College. Cooksey is currently working as a photographer and facilitating S3-Photowalk.com which is a monthly photo walk that meets up in Niles California.