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How to Choose the Right Canvas for Oil or Acrylic Painting

How to Choose the Right Canvas for Oil or Acrylic Painting

For centuries painters have used canvas to express their creativity, and to this day canvas remains the painting surface of choice for beginners and masters alike, especially for acrylic painting.

Canvas is a versatile painting surface and comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms to suit every need and every budget. Arteza offers a multitude of canvases and canvas panels in a variety of different shapes & sizes. Let's take a look at the different types of canvas, and how to go about choosing the type that will work best for you.

Why Use Canvas

Canvas is very flexible in terms of size and can be used for everything from tiny paintings to large, expansive works. However, the two main reasons why canvas is such a popular surface among painters is due to how great it feels under the brush, as well as its obvious longevity. Canvas is also much lighter and easier to transport than traditional wood surfaces that were also often used.

What Makes A Great Canvas

When choosing a canvas, there are several things to consider, such as fabric, texture, and priming. All of these affect the quality of the canvas and what kind of painting it is most suited to.


The fabric used in most canvases is either linen or cotton. Of the two, linen is considered the best due to the quality of the surface and its durability, however, it is also costly. Cotton is a more affordable option that provides an excellent surface of suitably durable quality.


Canvas is constructed of natural fibres that are woven together, producing different textures depending on how finely it is incorporated. Different textures are suited to different types of painting, where the smooth surface of the finely woven canvas is best suited to smaller, detailed work, rougher weaves are best for broad brush strokes, as well as larger sized paintings.

Prime or No Prime

In order to create a surface that will show the true colours of the paint, most canvases are primed with gesso (pronounced "jesso"), a mixture plaster of Paris, glue, chalk or pigment, preventing the paint from being absorbed into the fabric of the canvas. While the majority of canvases are primed, some artists use unprimed canvases for the dull, textured colour it produces.

Types of canvases

Canvases are available in various forms to suit different applications and budgets. The main types are: stretched canvas, canvas panels, canvas pads, and canvas rolls.

Stretched canvas

Stretched over a wooden frame, called stretcher bars, stretched canvas is one of the most popular types of canvas for acrylic painting. Most commonly made of cotton, the canvas is primed with gesso to create an ideal painting surface. Canvases are primed for either oil painting or acrylic painting, so make sure you get the right one.

Frames come in different sizes and thickness, referred to as deep (thicker) or traditional (thinner). The choice of frame usually depends on how the painting will be displayed — if you intend to frame the artwork, then a traditional thickness is better, while deep frames are suited for unframed paintings, or if you'd like to add detail to the side of the canvas.

Canvas Panels

Stretched canvas can be a bit expensive, especially for beginners, and canvas panels offer a high quality, more affordable alternative. Usually made from primed cotton canvas that's mounted onto a rigid board, these panels are great for practice and are lightweight and easy to carry, making them perfect for students. While canvas panels offer nearly the same quality surface as stretched canvas, they don't age as well and is thus mostly suited for practice.

Canvas Pads

Other common forms of canvas include canvas pads, as well as canvas rolls. Canvas pads are sheets of primed canvas that are spiral-bound in a book. The sheets used in many pads can be stretched or mounted, but as with canvas panels they don't last as long as stretched canvas. Canvas pads are ideal for novices, students or just for practice.

Canvas Rolls

If you're an experienced painter who likes to prepare and stretch your own canvas, or if you'd like to create very large paintings, then you can get canvas rolls. These rolls of the canvas are made from either linen or cotton, come in different weights, textures and fibres, and are available either primed or unprimed. They're usually sold by the yard, or in rolls, which can get quite expensive.

Before you invest in any canvas, do some research and check out all the options to choose the type of canvas that is best suited to your needs, and your pocket.

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Anna Pollini Saied - September 9, 2022

Really good information. Thank you

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