Why Buy Ready-Made Canvas from an Art Store?

Why Buy Ready-Made Canvas from an Art Store?

A customer asked me yesterday

Why should I buy my canvases from here instead of the $2 shop?”

Immediately my mind fills with what I have observed when doing framing consultations. Just to name a few examples:

  • canvases that rock back and forth because they have twisted and won’t sit flat either on the table or the wall
  • the banana shaped sides that result from using those tiny wedges to “fix” a loose canvas, where the wedges push out the corners while the centres are fixed
  • the out of square stretchers that refuse to sit evenly in a perfectly true float frame that has been made for them, with gaps in some places and touching the frame in others
  • the holes that have resulted from an artist using as bit too much vigour during the painting process
  • plus more….

It is not that some art stores don’t stock products made to a price that competes against a $2 shop but 

the old saying of you get what you pay for stands true today!

To understand the differences between quality you should check the following:

  • the weight and tightness of the canvas – this can be difficult as some manufacturers cheat and give the weight of the canvas once it has been coated with gesso instead of the bare weight! The canvas should be tight but not too tight – when the weather changes the canvas will shrink and expand, potentially bending the stretcher! Linen is particularly prone to this in areas of high humidity, making linen less attractive to artists in the tropics and sub-tropics as it can become very loose and floppy despite repeated stretching. The longevity of a well prepared canvas has improved significantly over the last hundred years
  • how many coats of gesso does it have? Has the canvas been sealed before the gesso applied? If the gesso is too thin or the canvas hasn’t had a sealing layer then your paint will soak through the canvas and dry more quickly. Often with cheaper canvases you will need to add a couple more coats of gesso before starting work – so was it cheaper after you add this extra cost?
  • the stretcher bar shape, weight and squareness – a proper stretcher has a profile with a bead along the upper edge so that when you paint you don’t end up with a line where the brush pushes on the canvas and touches the stretcher bar., with less expensive stretcher bar having a slant instead. So quad from Bunnings is never going to make a great canvas stretcher! The timber shouldn’t have knots or cracks in it and the corners should be at 90 degrees and the diagonals should be the same length. Bear in mind that all manufactured goods are legally allowed certain tolerances (ISO 216 – the allowed tolerances are ±1.5 mm for dimensions up to 150 mm, ±2 mm for dimensions above 150 mm up to 600 mm, and ±3 mm for dimensions above 600 mm)

stretcher bar profile

slanted stretcher bar





  • the size of the canvas relative to the stretcher – in standard ready-made canvases (approx 38mm deep) you will probably notice that the lower price canvases are not available in as a large a size as professional canvases, and this is particularly true of the thin canvases (approx. 16-19mm deep) which can be rectified by framing as this gives the canvas additional support. We stock two different ranges, a student and professional, and when you pick up the same size canvas in both at the same time you will immediately feel the difference in weight! Try it with a 36 x 48inch canvas!
  • the bracing – if there is a centre bar that is crossed and joined by a butt joint or a lap joint where the pieces has been cut in half it will not be overly strong. Look for fixed corner bracing of sufficient size as to stiffen the stretcher frame. The frame shouldn’t be able to be twisted!

butt joint lap joint







Then there is the question of whether you should be using a canvas at all?

If you are using hard finishes like resin or some non-flexible mediums (modelling or moulding pastes, cold wax etc) you should be using a board instead of a canvas. The natural movement that happens when the canvas shrinks and expands due to changes in the environment mean that the hard substances gradually tear away from the movable surface and the integrity of the application is lost and can lead to bits cracking to breaking off completely.

For info on available canvases and boards – check this page!

If you are painting for yourself then it probably won’t be such a problem, you will know what to expect based on what you have purchased. But if you paint for others, even if it is just a hobby, if you get paid for it you are obliged under Australian consumer law to provide a product that is fit for purpose! For more information check this