How To Frame A Canvas Painting Unstretched? Step By Step

  • By: Artistic Bees
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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While many artists prefer working on a pre-stretched canvas, there is something appealing about painting on an unstretched canvas. Unlike pre-stretched canvases, they are portable and don’t require a splurge. However, framing an unstretched canvas from scratch can be a bit tricky!

To frame an unstretched canvas painting, you must stretch it first. For that, you’ll need some tools and materials. Stretch your canvas by using a stretching bar. Then take your stretching bar or canvas and place it in your frame. Secure it with pins or points.

When you have the right trick up your sleeve, framing an unstretched canvas becomes a breeze! If you are wondering how to get started, look no further! Today I’ll teach you everything about how to frame a canvas painting unstretched. I will briefly explain the benefits of unstretched canvas as well. So, stick around till the end if you don’t want to miss out!

Why Paint On Unstretched Canvas?

Before I start, you’re probably wondering why painters prefer to paint on unstretched canvases. The answer is quite simple. Portability and freedom.

Unstretched canvases are sometimes called rolled canvases. They are easy to afford and very portable. You can easily store 5 or 6 of them in your bag. If you like to paint outside, these canvases are right up your alley!

On the other hand, primed stretched canvases are expensive. If you make any mistakes while painting, you’re done! This added pressure can sometimes hinder your painting session. That’s why painters sometimes prefer stretched canvases. So, no matter how many mistakes you make, you can easily throw them out and start a fresh one.

Also, while unstretched canvases come non-primed, I would still advise you to opt for the primed ones. They are a touch expensive, but you’ll get the benefits of the prime. Prime makes the color stick to the surface easier and reduces the overall layers you normally apply.

Steps You Must Follow to Frame your Unstretched canvas painting

I’m going to divide the whole process into two parts. That way, it will be simpler for you to understand. So, let’s not beat around the bush! Here are the steps you must follow to DIY your unstretched canvas frame.

Part One: Stretching Your Canvas

As I mentioned before, you need to stretch your canvas to frame it. Before stretching your canvas, make sure to leave a margin of at least 2 inches on all the sides of your canvas. So, here are the steps you need to follow.

Step 1: If you haven’t done the margin thing I’ve said before, then you’ll have to do this step. Using a measuring tape, measure the sides of your canvas. Then gently flip your canvas and outline the painted area with a ruler. This will help in aligning your frame later.

Step 2: Begin cutting long lumber pieces based on the measurements of your painted area. This will be the stretcher-bar. The size of the wood is generally 1×1. Give their ends a 45-degree angle cut and a flat wooden slot in between the two 45-degree cuts.

Do this for the other three sides of the wood. Then join them along with the 45-degree line space and the flat surface slot you’ve crafted in between. Secure them using a nail gun.

Step 3: Place your flipped canvas on top of your frame. Now the stretching process begins. Pull the edges of the canvas gently till the outline you measured earlier. Then carefully create as much tension as possible between the canvas and the wooden bar. Using a nail gun, nail it in place. Use three 4 to 5 nails and repeat the process on the other three sides.

Step 4: Your canvas might have some remaining cloth or surface area (of the canvas) on the edges of the wood. Carefully, fold them inward and then nail them down.

There! All done! You have now stretched your canvas perfectly! Make sure to turn your canvas and see the finished result. You should see a beautifully stretched canvas with strong taut lines and no wrinkled folding.

Also, remember that primed canvases are tougher to stretch than unprimed canvases because they have less elasticity. So, if it is possible, then you should stretch your canvas before applying prime.

Furthermore, ensure that you don’t ruin your painting by stretching it too much. Paints (especially oil paints) can crack quite easily after they are dried for a long time. In addition, after stretching, your canvas becomes more prone to damage. So, handle it with utmost care.

Part Two: Framing Your Canvas

Framing your canvas is simple. Just follow these steps! It can be a bit tough to do at first. So, make sure you do them exactly as I say! Are you ready to learn? If so, then let’s begin!

Step 1: Unpack your frame and gently put it on the working bench faced down. Place your nail gun, points, and other tools neatly beside your bench.

Step 2: Your frame comes with a rabbet. It is a small depth crafted inside the frame to securely place your unstretched canvas. Gently align your canvas so the four edges are perfectly aligned within the rabbet.

Step 3: Butcher paper can protect your artwork from moisture, unwanted particles, and insects. So, place a thin piece of paper on top of your canvas. Spread it gently and evenly. At all costs, avoid wrinkling.

Step 4: The cardboard that should come with your frame will help keep everything in place. Carefully put the cardboard on top of the paper. Check your painting to see if it’s properly aligned at the center of your frame.

Step 5: Points are small flat-headed metallic pins that create friction between the cardboard and your frame. Using a flat-head screwdriver, insert the points and gently hammer them down sideways.

Step 6: Finally, you can screw in some D-rings or saw tooth rings on top of the frame using a power drill. Now, your unstretched canvas is ready to be hanged!

Before framing, you should apply varnish. Varnish helps protect your oil canvas from corrosion. So, now you know to stretch your canvas and frame it. This calls for a ”hear-hear!”.

Also, I should give ideas of other things you can do before framing. One of the options is matting your canvas before framing. Matting gives that breathing space within the frame. Furthermore, the viewers are also more focused and enticed by your artwork.

Another great alternative is mounting your canvas. It is especially good for all the stapling you did earlier. Get some adhesive and mounting board to give your artwork a more striking impression.


To sum it all up, get some nails, a hammer, lumber, a ruler, a pencil, and measuring tape at your disposal. Carefully create enough tension between the canvas and wood and nail them down. After stretching, frame your canvas by gently placing it in the frame. Then gently place the paper and cardboard. Finally, pin them with points.

This is quite a daunting task if you’re a beginner. It takes time and effort to perfect the stretching technique. So, it is better to DIY your small artwork. Do not ruin your masterpieces just yet. Hopefully, I was able to teach them about how to frame a canvas painting unstretched. Stay safe and goodbye.