Are you an artist who is looking for the perfect canvas to create your masterpiece? If so, you’re in luck! In this guide, we will discuss the best painting canvases for oil painting, acrylic painting and even watercolour painting.
We also provide tips on how to choose the right one for you. Whether you are a beginner or a professional artist, need a canvas that is going to stand the test of time, or one that is more budget friendly, there is a canvas out there that is perfect for your needs. Keep reading to find out more!
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The best painting canvases: A review
Here are some of our tops picks of canvases for painting, from the most trusted and well loved artists’ brands. Find a canvas suitable for your budget and for the quality of work you want to produce.
Blick Academic Cotton Stretched Canvas
Attributes: Cotton, inexpensive, gallery wrapped
This canvas is an excellent choice for beginner artists, students and those who want to paint on canvas for a cheaper price. This type of canvas doesn’t come in larger sizes, the largest size that it goes up to is 20×24″, however they do come in packs of two. For two canvases, that are 8×10″, at time of writing this review, the price is around $4.61. This is by far the cheapest on the list.
It’s is also excellent quality, making it perfect for studies or final pieces. The texture is more prominent than other canvases on this list, with a visible weave. It is triple primed with acrylic gesso, so it is suitable for use with acrylic or oil paints.
Winsor & Newton Classic Cotton Canvas
Attributes: Cotton, budget friendly, acid-free, gallery wrapped, professional quality
This classic cotton canvas comes in a variety of sizes up to 30×40″, with prices starting at under $7. Choose from two different profile depths, traditional (3/4″) or deep edge (1-3/8″). The canvas absorbs oil and acrylic paint evenly and provides a subtle tooth.
Fredrix Pro Series Dixie Cotton Canvas
Attributes: Duck cotton, double primed, acid-free, professional quality, gallery wrapped
Fredrix Pro Series Dixie canvases are a quality option for both beginner and professional artists. These canvases are great value for money, starting at under $12. They are double primed with an acid-free base, making the canvas suitable for creating long lasting, gallery quality works.
This canvas comes in a large range of sizes and three different profile depths, including traditional, a thicker gallery profile and an even thicker museum profile.
Fredrix Blue Label Cotton Canvas
Attributes: Polyflax/ cotton, extra smooth weave, budget friendly, gallery wrapped, acid-free, professional quality
This extra smooth canvas goes up to sizes of 36×48″, larger than most other canvas manufacturers offer. Prices start at around $6.69 for an 8×10″ canvas.
A gallery wrapped canvas is a canvas that has been stapled at the back, so that the canvas wraps around the stretcher bars at the sides. This gives artists the option to paint the sides, or hang the canvas unframed.
A unique feature of this canvas is its smooth texture. The weave of this canvas is much less prominent than other cotton canvases, making it a great choice for detail work and portrait painting.
Overall, this is an excellent value canvas, as it almost feels like more expensive linen to paint onto.
Masterpiece Sausalito Cotton Canvas
Attributes: Heavy weight cotton, gallery wrapped, acid-free, professional quality
This excellent quality cotton canvas has a tightly woven and stiff surface texture, made to withstand more gestural painting techniques, such as thick impasto painting.
This is not the cheapest canvas on the list, but it is suitable for professional work. Extra care and attention has gone into the stretching process to ensure that these canvases remain strong, with adequate tension. For example, canvases larger than 16×20″ are made with cross braces at the back for extra support.
Masterpiece Elite Cotton Canvas
Attributes: Heavy weight cotton, extra sturdy, acid-free, archival, professional quality, extra large sizes
This is the best quality cotton canvas offered by Masterpiece. It’s on the expensive side, but it’s one of the most durable cotton canvases you can buy. It will stand up to aggressive and gestural painting techniques, and support thick layers of heavy impasto paint.
Paint appears luminous and paint brushes glide across the surface due to the smooth texture. This canvas has been conservator approved. So if you want a cotton canvas for commission work or a final piece, this could be a great option. The solid wood stretcher bars have extra support from the extra wide cross braces. Large sizes have diamond shaped cross braces.
Sizes go up to 72×96″, so if you’re looking for the perfect canvas to support a large artwork, this would be a great choice. This is because it’s much cheaper than linen alternatives at this size, however, it provides maximum sturdiness, so you can be sure that your artwork will not warp.
Blick Premier Belgian Linen Canvas
Attributes: Belgian linen, medium texture, affordable, acid-free, oil-based (lead-free) primer, gallery wrapped
This is an excellent value linen canvas. Belgian linen canvases are regarded as the best painting canvases for oils. This canvas provides artists with a luxurious painting experience at a more affordable price compared to the high end Belgian linen canvases.
This canvas is suitable for oil painting, but not acrylic painting, as it has be primed with oil based primer. The medium weave provides a slight tooth and texture for artists to work on.
The kiln dried pine stretcher bars have a 1-3/8″ profile. Additionally, the canvas is gallery wrapped, so you can paint the sides or hang the painting without framing if you so wish.
This is a great choice for beginners who have not tried painting on linen before. Equally, this canvas would suit an experienced professional artist.
Fredrix Pro Series Belgian Linen Canvas
Attributes: Belgian linen, inexpensive for linen, acrylic primed, acid-free, professional quality
This stretched, gallery quality canvas comes in two profile depths and sizes up to 30×40″. The acid-free acrylic primed surface is suitable for use with oil or acrylic paint. The kiln dried stretchers are supported with cross braces to prevent warping. This surface is relatively smooth, so you can use it for detail work. This is a reasonably priced canvas, considering that it is made from premium materials.
Masterpiece Elite Portrait Smooth Oil Primed Linen Stretched Canvas
Attributes: Belgian linen, oil primed, museum quality, extra smooth, gallery wrapped
The smoothness of this linen canvas is what sets it apart. Achieve beautiful transitions, blends and details, without the obstruction of prominent surface texture.
This is an archival, conservator approved Belgian linen canvas has been primed with two coats of size and four coats of oil primer. Suitable for use with oil paints only, oil primed canvases are less absorbent than acrylic primed canvases. Colours will appear more luminous on the surface.
The stability of this surface is unparalleled, as it has been stretched on solid wood bars with a profile of 1-1/2″. The cross braces provide extra support, and you can key the stretcher bars to adjust the tension.
Masterpiece also make a acrylic primed linen canvas and a heavyweight linen canvas. Use the acrylic primed canvas with acrylic paints or oil paints.
Museo Alu-Frame Claessens Belgian Linen Canvas
Attributes: Claessens Belgian linen, aluminium framed, archival, museum quality, gallery wrapped, universal gesso
A perfect example of a museum quality canvas, expertly stretched to adhere to the highest standards of museums, professional artists and gallery owners.
The smooth linen surface is coated with an acid-free, universal gesso, so that artists can use this canvas with oil or acrylic paints.
Claessens Belgian linen is manufactured near the river Leie, which is regarded as the best source of flax in the world.
Aluminium frames are completely warp resistant and tools are provided so that artists can adjust the tension of the canvas to their preferences with ease. Even under changes in temperature and humidity, the canvas will remain tightly stretched. The aluminium bars are ultra lightweight, making it a convenient choice for transporting.
The best canvases for oil painting
Linen canvases are widely accepted as the best type of canvas for oil painting. This is because linen is a strong and durable fibre that can withstand more rigorous painting techniques. A linen painting surface will remain stable, as they are much less susceptible to sag or distort over time with temperature and humidity changes and other environmental damage.
Although linen canvases are more expensive than cotton, they are worth the investment for creating saleable works as they will last much longer, without changing.
You can use any kind of canvas with oil paint, however. If you want to buy a canvas that is more budget friendly, a heavy duty, acid free cotton canvas would work well.
The reason that linen works better for oil painting, is that once oil paint has fully cured, the paint film is inflexible. This means that it is more likely to crack if the canvas shifts or warps.
A type of canvas that is exclusively suitable for oil painting is ‘oil primed canvas’. Oil primed canvases are generally less absorbent, however that does depend on the primer and priming technique. That means that colours will sit on top of the canvas, preventing darker colours from sinking in. You may notice that colours appear more luminous too. Most canvases you buy from art stores will be acrylic primed, also called ‘universally primed’. These are suitable for use with oil paints too.
Best canvases for acrylic painting
Acrylic paint is more of a flexible medium than oil paint when dry. This makes it more suitable for working on cotton canvases, which are more likely to stretch and warp. Any canvas that is ‘oil primed’ cannot be used with acrylic paint, as the paint will not adhere to the surface properly.
Watercolour painting canvases
Although you shouldn’t paint on just any canvas with watercolour, there is a canvas that has been specifically designed for watercolour painting. Give your artworks a whole new dimension by painting with watercolour on canvas.
The Fredrix Archival watercolour canvas is made from 100% cotton, with a lovely woven texture. It has been primed with a gesso that provides an excellent foundation for water-based paints. Paint on it with watercolour, or gouache! The surface works excellently with techniques such as lifting and washes. Spray a layer of fixative over the canvas to protect the watercolour. This way you can hang the canvas without needing to frame it behind glass.
What’s the difference between linen and cotton canvases?
Linen canvases are made from the fibres of the flax plant, while cotton canvases are made from—you guessed it—cotton fibres. Linen is regarded as a stronger and more durable fibre than cotton, making it a good choice for artists who want their paintings to last a long time.
Cotton canvases are more budget friendly than linen, and are still a good quality surface to paint on. However, they are more likely to warp or sag over long periods of time, if not kept in a stable environment, especially if they’re not stretched tightly enough.
Should you buy a gallery wrapped canvas?
Gallery wrapped canvases are a popular choice amongst artists, as they don’t need to be framed and can be hung straight onto the wall. With a gallery wrapped canvas, you can paint the sides, as the canvas is stretched around the stretcher bars and secured at the back. This gives artists flexibility when thinking of displaying options. All canvases on this list are gallery wrapped.
What is the best painting canvas for portraits?
If you’ve perused some of the canvas options on the list, you may have seen the description ‘portrait smooth‘. Canvases most suitable for portrait paintings are often on the smoother side, allowing for gradual transitions, soft edges, fine details and smooth skin texture.
On the other hand, landscape painters, or artists that enjoy using looser painting techniques may opt to get a canvas with a more prominent weave. This is because they can use the texture of the surface for techniques like dry brushing, where you can pick up the texture of the surface to create the impression of details.
Best budget canvases
For practice and experimentation, it’s useful to have some budget canvases to paint studies. Generally, cheaper canvases will be lower quality. However, there are some exceptions.
The Fredrix Blue label canvas is the best value canvas for the money. It is sturdy, without the hefty price tag.
If you don’t want to spend much on a canvas, the Blick Academic Stretched canvas is a great option.
The best large canvases
When buying a large canvas, you should consider the stability of the surface. Canvases with cross braces will provide extra support and reduce the potential of damage to the surface.
Masterpiece canvases go up to 72×96″ and they also provide excellent surface stability when painting. Check out their linen and cotton canvases for more information.
Canvas can be stretched around different shaped wooden panels, such as round canvases, oval canvases and more! To create a unique looking artwork, consider painting it on a circular shape. If you like painting seascapes, this could provide a porthole effect.
Another interesting option for those who like decorative canvas shapes is the Fredrix Convexo canvas, which comes in round and oval shapes. This canvas has beveled edges which gives a three dimensional appearance.
Canvas boards and panels
The longevity of boards and panels are excellent, as they provide a more rigid surface than stretched canvas.
RayMar panels are made from hardboard and coated in linen canvas. They also made an oil primed linen panel, which provides a warp resistant, archival surface that feels wonderful to paint onto.
Panels are a great option for plein air work, as they are portable and lightweight. They are also less likely to be punctured than regular canvas.
Stretched canvases vs stretching yourself
Now that you know a bit more about the different types of canvases available, which one will you choose? If you’re still undecided, remember that it’s always an option to stretch your own canvas!
Stretching your own canvas is a great way to save money, and you can customize the size and shape of your painting surface.
We have a guide on how to stretch your own canvas, if you’re interested in learning how, get the materials and follow the steps.
Different coloured canvases: Black, metallic, etc.
One type of canvas that you might not have considered is a black or metallic canvas. These can add an interesting element to your painting, and can be used to create a range of different effects.
Black canvases are excellent for creating moody paintings, or for adding depth and shadows. They can also be used to create a ‘negative space’ effect, where the subject of your painting is surrounded by darkness. It’s useful when painting on dark canvases to be aware of the opacity of the pigments you are using. For example, titanium white is opaque, so it will tint mixtures and increase the opacity. Burnt umber is transparent, so the black of the canvas will alter the way the colour appears.
Metallic canvases can add a touch of glamour to your painting, and can be used to create an abstract or even a futuristic effect. They are also great for creating paintings with a lot of luminosity, as the metallic surface will reflect light differently to a regular canvas.
Of course, if you want to change the colour of your canvas, you can tone your canvas yourself with a transparent pigment, for example burnt umber and a little solvent.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different, then consider painting on a black or metallic canvas!
Should you prime a canvas yourself?
The purpose of priming a canvas is to create an even surface for the paint to adhere to, and to protect the canvas from the oil in the paint.
Most canvases in the store will come primed, unless the product description states otherwise. These are ready to use, and don’t need additional coats of primer. However, you can add a couple of extra layers of gesso to achieve your desired smoothness.
If you’re going to prime your own canvas, it’s important to choose the right primer. For oil paintings, you can use an oil-based primer or acrylic primer, and for acrylic paintings you’ll need an acrylic-based primer. A quality gesso, like Michael Harding’s non-absorbent acrylic primer will increase the longevity of an artwork and prevent sinking in.
Make sure to seal the canvas with a sealant like GAC-100 before applying gesso, which is an acrylic based sealant. Then you can paint a few layers of gesso on top. Read our guide to find steps on how to prepare a canvas for painting.
How to fix warped canvases
If your canvas is slightly warped, you can use keys to adjust the tension. Canvas keys are small metal or wooden wedges that are placed in the corners of a frame, and are tightened or loosened to change the tension.
If your canvas has dimples, you can try to fix them by steaming the back of the canvas. This will loosen the tension in the fabric and allow the dimples to pop out. Be careful not to use too much heat, as this could damage the canvas.
Gallery wrapped canvases can be restretched if necessary. To do this, remove the staples from the back of the frame and take the canvas off. Then, stretch the canvas back onto the frame and staple in place.
The best way to store canvases
Canvases can take up a lot of space, so it’s important to know how to store them properly. The best way to store canvases is by using a canvas storage rack. This will keep the canvases from being damaged or warped. If you want some artwork storage tips to keep your canvas paintings in perfect condition, check out our guide.
When buying a canvas, you should also consider the purpose of the painting. If you are going to be selling the painting, then you will want to choose a canvas that is of high quality.
If you are just starting out as an artist, then you may want to buy a few budget canvases to practice on. Once you have mastered your technique, you can then invest in higher quality canvases.
No matter what your budget is, there is a canvas out there that is perfect for you. With so many options available, the hardest part will be choosing which one to buy!
If you’re looking for some ideas for what to paint, check out our canvas painting ideas blog. In it, find 14 ideas to kickstart your creative flow.
What are your favourite canvases to paint on? Let us know in the comments below!
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