How To Tighten Stretched Canvas

Ahhhh! Nothing worse than opening a fresh pack of pre-stretched canvases from the art supply store (mmm… new canvas smell) than seeing your new canvas is hanging loose on the wood frame! What you need is a quick way to tighten that stretched canvas!

In case you don’t know what I mean, I paint my custom pet portrait paintings on pre-stretched canvas. So instead of cutting cotton canvas and stretching it and stapling it onto a wood frame myself, I buy the canvases pre-stretched. I mean, who has the time to make their own canvases these days? (*Bonus: pre-stretched canvas also comes pre-primed and ready for paint!)tighten-stretched-canvas

Perhaps you have purchased a painting from me and, over-time, the canvas appears to be not as taunt or you notice sagging. Or perhaps you are another artist disappointed with their saggy canvas purchase. Either way, be sure to try this little tip on how to tighten stretched canvas. It works for me every time and is super easy and quick!

Now sometimes store-bought canvases come with these little keys, either made of wood or plastic. If you have these, great. You can find numerous online instructions to follow for how to use these.


BUT, I’ve been finding that more often than not, canvases are not coming with these “keys” anymore. For THOSE instances, try this….



1. Turn your canvas over, raw back side facing up on a flat surface. It’s okay if the front side has already been painted (just make sure THAT side is dry!)

2. Lightly spray problem areas with water. No need to over-saturate the canvas… a little misting is enough. Feel free to spread around with your fingers if needed.

3. Use a hair dryer to dry the canvas where you just sprayed the water. Canvas is made from cotton which, as you probably know from many shrunken clothes in the dryer, shrinks easily.

4. Repeat steps as needed to reach desired tightness.


29 thoughts on “How To Tighten Stretched Canvas”

  1. I have a Large canvas- my client wants a resin finish on a 3ft x 6ft. I’m worried about the weight. Do you think I should spray and tighten prior to this ?

  2. Do you have a method to stretch canvas that has been painted. I painted some 12 x 12 canvas’s and now they are sagging in the middle. Thank you for any help you can provide.

      1. Can the hair dryer be used when the painting is acrylic? Sags in the middle of the 10×10 inch painting delivered to Colorado from England. Box looked like humidity in transit. Thanks

  3. Thank you very much. It made my day to see the 6 small canvases become nice and flat. I was not looking forward to restretching them. I researched other online and in books. I tried other things with not success. Truely grateful. Nancy Bonior

  4. Hi Melissa, I just stretched a massive 8-foot long canvas and didn’t quite have the strength to get perfect tension. This trick completely saved the day. Thank you so much!

  5. I’ve done this method several times but it really only works well with smaller canvases. I’ve been painting for over 30 years and now I paint much larger pieces. The problem I’ve had is, I’ve used the water spray method several times and once you spray your canvas it does tighten up but once fully dry it actually becomes worse than what it originally was. Is there any other tricks that work better for larger canvases?

  6. I have been painting for decades on panel and am just now returning to canvas, so I’m a bit rusty on canvas fine points. I just stretched a linen canvas and found the next day there were ripples all along the centers but not at the edges. I had stretched it pretty tightly with canvas pliers, so I was surprised at this. But I didn’t want to take the staples out and restretch because I had the grain nice and even and stretching just the middles would ruin that. I tried your trick with the mist and hair dryer et voilà! perfectly stretched! I am very pleased to have found such a quick and elegant hack. Thanks!

  7. I accidentally leant a canvas print against something and it is now a litre saggy in the middle do you think this would work

  8. I thought this little painting was doomed for the garage. I tried your method and sure enough it worked…of course cotton shrinks with heat !!! Thank You Now if this would only work on my wrinkles I would be very grateful….LOL.

  9. Excellent tip and it worked perfectly!!! Also turned face of painting towards mirror to view the sagging areas, for where to target a little more during process. Thank you so much!

  10. Thank you. I have a painting that my mom had painted and somehow during transporting ot it had places that are stretched. I was afraid to do anything because it was painted on. Thank you for saving my mom’s painting.

  11. Thank you… I received a painting online from Pier1 that was Burlap on a wooden frame. It was loose and I didn’t want to return it. I read your suggestion and tried it. It worked great. The Burlap is now tight and it didn’t hurt the painting. Thanks so much.

  12. Thanks! Im new to painting and bought some canvases for a specific project only to find they were all loose. I was super sad since my budget couldn’t afford replacements, you’ve saved my project!

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