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Mastering Canvas Keys – What They Are, How to Use Them, and When to Insert Them



Canvas keys are small, often overlooked tools that can make a big difference in the quality and longevity of your artwork. These tiny wedges, usually made of wood or plastic, come with most pre-stretched canvases. Here’s a quick guide on what canvas keys are, how to use them, and when to insert them to keep your canvas in top shape.

Canvas keys are small, triangular wedges designed to fit into the slots on the inner corners of your canvas's stretcher bars. There are typically eight keys per canvas, two for each corner.



How to Use Canvas Keys

  1. Insert the Keys: Place one key into each slot at the corners of the stretcher bars.

  2. Tighten the Canvas: Gently tap the keys with a small hammer or mallet. This action spreads the stretcher bars apart slightly, increasing the canvas tension.

When to Insert Canvas Keys

  • Before Painting:

  • Pros: Provides initial tension, ensuring a smooth surface from the start and preventing sagging during the painting process.

  • Cons: You might need to make further adjustments as you paint.

  • After Painting:

  • Pros: Allows for fine-tuning tension to accommodate any changes during the painting process.

  • Cons: If the canvas wasn’t tensioned before painting, you might face sagging issues during your work.

Best Practice: For optimal results, insert the canvas keys lightly before you start painting to create initial tension. After the painting is finished and completely dry, make any final adjustments to ensure the canvas remains tight.

Why Use Canvas Keys?

Maintain Tension: Keeps the canvas taut, preventing sagging and ensuring a smooth painting surface.

Extend Artwork Life: Helps prevent the canvas from warping or cracking over time.

Improve Appearance: A well-tensioned canvas enhances the overall look and stability of your artwork.




Canvas keys are a simple yet essential tool for artists. By using them correctly and at the right times, you can maintain the quality and longevity of your canvas, ensuring your artwork remains in perfect condition.

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