We used optical tweezers to measure the force-extension curve for the formation of tubes from giant vesicles. We show that a significant force barrier exists for the formation of tubes, which increases linearly with the radius of the area on which the pulling force is exerted. The tubes form through a first-order transition with accompanying hysteresis. We confirm these results with Monte Carlo simulations and theoretical calculations. Whether membrane tubes can be formed in, for example, biological cells, thus depends on the details of how forces are applied.