This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
I often get questions regarding whether to purchase or prepare your own canvas. The truth is there are pros and cons of each. Even still, you will save a lot of money if you learn how to prepare your own canvas.
Things to consider when weighing the pros and cons to pre-stretched canvas vs. stretching your own:
- Cost – It is usually more economical to stretch your own – comparing, of course, the same grade canvas. Over time, you will save a lot of money. The caveat is that you have to buy in bulk, which means more up-front costs.
- Space – Do you have more space to store pre-stretched canvases, or space to spread out and stretch your own?
- Tools – You will need a few tools to stretch your own – staple gun, canvas pliers, etc. They don’t cost too much.
- Ability – There’s a learning curve to stretching your own canvas. It isn’t too hard, but it isn’t for everyone, either. Most of you should be able to learn, though.
- Quality – If you want a high quality, oil primed linen canvas, there aren’t very many pre-stretched options. The few available are quite expensive. Quality of pre-stretched cotton canvases varies a lot. Many pre-stretched canvases sag or are puckered and require tightening. Some of the more expensive pre-stretched canvases are very good quality. As for stretching your own, your ability to learn will determine the quality of the stretching. As for the canvas itself, there are more options in regard to quality if you purchase by the roll and stretch your own.
- Versatility – As mentioned, you have more options when you stretch your own – from canvas size to the type/texture/weight/quality/weave/primer of the canvas you use. Sometimes the surface you prefer to paint on isn’t available in pre-stretched.
- Time – How valuable is your time? It does take time to stretch a canvas. Do the savings justify the time or not? That depends upon the quality canvas you are using. The higher the quality materials, the more justified you are in spending the time to stretch. If you buy the lowest grade canvas, then it may not be worth your time to do the labor. The more you stretch canvas, the faster you will get.
Mounted Canvas Panels
Overall, the same considerations apply to mounting your own canvas to panels vs. purchasing pre-mounted canvas panels. There are a few differences, though.
Quality – High quality linen panels, which have been professionally mounted with archival glues, are readily available through several sources. It’s easier to find quality panels than it is to find quality pre-stretched canvases – especially if you want linen.
Ability – it takes longer to learn to mount your own panels. For a while, the quality might be lower until you get the hang of it.
Time – it takes longer to mount than to stretch.
Tools – if you mount to wooden panels or Masonite, you will need to invest in a table saw – or have someone cut them for you. If you mount to Gatorboard , all you need is a utility knife.
Even with these added considerations, it is often more economical to mount your own if you have the inclination to learn.
In short, whether you want mounted or stretched canvas, there are pros and cons between purchasing them already made and making your own. I prefer to prepare my own. I go through so much canvas that I save a lot of money by doing my own. I prefer oil primed linen over acrylic primed cotton. I like the ability to prepare a canvas any size I need – even odd sizes – whenever needed. I stretched for years, only mounting the small pieces. I now mount the larger sizes as well (up to 40 inches by 60 inches), and only stretch when the canvas size is too large to make mounting practical.
I won’t go into how to do it in this article. A quick Google search will result in several tutorials about both mounting and stretching your canvas.
 Gatorboard is an extremely hard, rigid foam board. It is still lightweight, but has wood rosin liner instead of paper lining. Don’t use regular foam board, as the glue dries, the foam board will warp.