After stretching canvas prints by hand during the initial phase of printing my art on canvas, I found the process to be time-consuming, while often resulting with inconsistent tension in the final, stretched product. It also puts a lot of wear and tear on your hands, so I decided to automate this part of my production process.
Researching mechanical stretching machines will show you there are not a great number of choices out there, but I decided to go with the 36″ model produced by Gallery Stretcher. This size was a good fit for my business, since I rarely produce my work larger than 28″ x 35″ sizes, but note they do have larger units as well.
Their product is a pneumatic driven stretcher. It is simplistic in design, has very few parts, but is well-made, durable and gets the job done quickly and consistently every time. One particular reason why I liked this model, is because the canvas is always facing up throughout the process. This keeps the canvas in pristine condition while stretching it. A must for any business trying to produce defect-free products.
I have been using this machine for about a year and it is a tremendous asset to my business. In general, I can stretch a 16″ x 20″ piece in under ten minutes. This includes the initial setup time of centering the canvas on the bars and all the way through to a completely stretched and trimmed piece. It would typically take me about twenty plus minutes to do this by hand.
I produce my art in various sizes ranging from 12″ x 15″ all the way up to 28″ x 35″ and each one results in a uniform stretch that is tight and lasts. As a show artist who travels with my art stored in boxes inside the van through various climate conditions, I’m always relieved at setup time when I remove my art from the boxes in taut condition. Occasionally, humidity or cold can cause the canvas to become slightly loose, but once they acclimate to room temperature, each returns with a drum-like tension.
The unit has a psi gauge on it and I find it necessary to increase the pressure incrementally as I stretch each larger size. This ensure a consistently tight stretch across the various sizes. I run my unit using a 20-gallon compressor in tandem with a pneumatic staple gun. The stretcher unit sips air and when I’m stretching and stapling, my compressor will refill about every 15-20 mins.
In the respect of full-disclosure, I currently use Breathing Color’s Chromata Canvas to produce all my work. Once it is printed and dried, I will coat the canvas using BC’s Timeless product. Stretching the canvas within 48 hours of completing the coating process always seems to result in better tension as opposed to waiting too long. The canvas is always more stretchy and loose shortly after spraying it, but becomes more brittle as additional time passes.
The bottom line is I would rather spend my time creating new art than stretching canvas. I typically stretch about 10-15 new pieces each week in my business and this tool greatly reduces my production time. The price tag of $1950 is a bit steep, but any artist doing a moderate volume of work will make that investment back quickly.