By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Canvas is a durable and versatile medium for digitally printed output. Framing options are vast and one popular alternative is a stretcher bar. There are two types of stretcher bars—traditional wood frames commonly found in professional framing stores and stretcher frame kits for the do-it-yourself crowd. Complex or simplistic, print service providers (PSPs) offering digitally printed canvas may consider adding stretcher frame services to increase profit, grow their customer base, or enter the décor market.
Stretcher Frame Services
Adding stretcher frame services to a print business offers PSPs the opportunity to expand their application offering, increase profit margins, and eliminate outsourcing.
With both traditional and kit-based canvas wrap solutions, PSPs can enter the décor services market. “If you have a client in front of you and are offering signage-based solutions, the door to décor is opened by offering stretched canvas solutions,” offers Michael Clementi, learning and development director, LexJet.
Using canvas stretcher bars is a simple, cost effective, and quick way for print providers to produce finished prints ready for wall hanging without the use of a traditional frame and glass. “Canvas wrapped prints are fashionable, attractive, and carry a high perceived value, so a print provider can enjoy increased margins compared to selling un-mounted print only,” shares Tony Martin, president, Absolute Inkjet.
Stretcher frame kits do not require a capital investment and allow PSPs to expand product offerings into stretched canvas prints—a popular product for fine art, photography, and reproductions. For PSPs outsourcing stretched canvas prints, stretcher systems instantly increase profit margins, comments Justin Bodin, product manager, Breathing Color.
Traditional frames typically include a wooden framework support that a piece of canvas is fastened to, usually by stapling. The canvas is then stretched to the appropriate level of tautness. This is done by hand or via a machine. Professional framing businesses often use traditional frames because of the range of styles and sizes.
When using a traditional wood standard stretcher bar, the canvas print is stretched and stapled to the side. Reid Luepke, North America sales manager, Tara Stretcher Bars/Fredrix Print Canvas, Tara Materials, says this allows the print to be framed using ready-made frames and/or custom molding.
Depending on the traditional frame, it can be hand assembled and then stapled on the back of each joined corner for support. “This is an inexpensive process and can be applied to almost any size print,” says Luepke.
Traditional stretcher bars also offer printers the flexibility to print any size that customers request. It provides a tight draw of the canvas for a better finished product. Rick Yahr, best stretcher bar guy, Jack Richeson & Co., Inc., says bars with key-able corners allow for re-tensioning canvas if it relaxes over time. “Using traditional stretcher bars can also help differentiate your finished product from that of a big box store and allow you to charge more for a higher end product.”
According to Richard Mast, VP, Pakor, while traditional frames have the perception of quality and longevity, they also require trained employees and can take longer to produce. If it isn’t an off-the-shelf pre-made frame, the assembly process requires custom measurements and cutting the frame to size. Joining the frame pieces is another step to consider.
Joiner machines connect individual stretcher bars. There are both automatic and manual systems.
Joiners can be used with stretcher systems and the investment costs typically range from $10 to $200K. According to Luepke, these devices are mostly used for high-volume photo to canvas providers.
When using a joiner, print providers should recognize that a strainer framer is created, not a stretcher frame. According to Yahr, a strainer frame does not allow for canvas re-tensioning. “The only option for re-tensioning a canvas on a strainer frame is to remove and re-stretch the canvas.”
Stretcher Frame Kits
Stretcher bar kits are advantageous because of their ease of use and speed to assemble. Compared to traditional, standard stretchers, bar kits offer a cleaner finished look but lack in available sizes.
Self-stretching, self-adhesive stretcher bar systems require no investment in stretching and stapling equipment—the only tool needed is a sharp knife for canvas trimming. These systems are designed to be simple to use with minimal experience required and fast speed. “A print can be wrapped in a matter of minutes—a comparable time to traditional bar manual stretching and stapling setup,” shares Martin.
Each kit is proprietary in its method of attaching the wooden pieces. For example, there may be clips that connect each frame or adhesive strips. According to Martin, the corners produced with self-adhesive bars are generally neater than traditional bars. The canvas is tucked inside the corner joint producing perfectly smooth sides to the finished wrap. “No unsightly staples are visible on the rear of the print when using self-adhesive bar systems.”
While stretcher frame systems are designed to save time, they are limited when it comes to sizing options. “Many artists create custom sized work so there is a need for customizable stretcher bars,” says Yahr.
Tips & Tricks
Before deciding to add stretcher bar framing services into a print business, PSPs should consider all aspects of the production process, including preventive coatings and cropping challenges.
An important but often ignored factor when producing canvas stretched prints is that they will be exposed to the atmosphere and should be coated to protect from scratches, cleaning agents, and atmospheric contaminants. According to Martin, several water-based coatings are available that are sprayed or rolled on the print for added protection.
Another factor that can be challenging for PSPs making canvas wrapped prints is that the original images are often cropped too close to the subject matter for complete image wrapping. For example, Martin says a closely cropped portrait would end up with the subject’s head wrapping over the frame’s top.
A simple solution is to add a border to the image that is the same size as the stretcher bars’ depth, which is then wrapped on the finished frame’s sides. This can be done using the canvas size adjustment in Adobe Photoshop. “A neat trick is to use the color picker to select a predominant color in the image to color the border and compliment the image,” adds Martin.
With stretcher frame services, PSPs add value to their printed graphics and offer an additional service that would otherwise have to be outsourced.
Technically, print providers can sell a raw print of canvas to anyone, and the client will have to go elsewhere for wrapping. The most common art store chains charge anywhere from $30 to $40 per square foot to wrap and frame a piece on canvas. “The prices for finishing are an astronomical markup,” admits Clementi. By offering this service in addition to printing, PSPs can make both ends of the profit.
According to Bodin, the perceived value of printed and stretched pieces compared to an unstretched, unfinished piece likely exceeds the cost to actually stretch the piece. For example, an 11×14-inch print might cost $10 to stretch on a frame may sell for $48 unstretched but $68.50 stretched.
Upgrade Your Offering
Whether using a traditional frame or kit-based system, stretcher bars add value to a PSP’s digitally printed canvas. By investing in a complete solution, PSPs increase value and eliminate the need to outsource framing services and send customers elsewhere.
Part two of this series provides a selection of popular stretcher frame systems.
Click here to read part two of this exclusive online series, A Stretch of Canvas.
Mar2020, Digital Output