Best Canvas for Oil Painting

A canvas is a very common material that painters use to showcase their skills and creativity. It is a tool that has been used for centuries. A canvas is still heavily relied upon today for both acrylic and oil paintings. Thus, it is a popular choice for both beginners and professional artists. However, finding the correct canvas for you is not always the easiest task. There are so many various factors to consider, which may seem overwhelming at times.

The purpose of a canvas is to provide a versatile surface for artists to paint on. You can find this object in various forms, shapes, and sizes. You can find a canvas to complement every specific budget and need.

While painting itself is not the simplest task, oil painting takes the skill level up a notch. It is for this reason that you want to choose a surface that is going to enhance your work. Finding the best canvas is going to make oil painting a much more convenient process as well. This combination can result in magical results, if you know what you are doing.

A canvas is loved by professional and beginner painters for various reasons. This may mostly be because it is receptive to your paint and brush, and it helps to increase the durability of your artwork. It is also an ideal place for beginners to start, as there are different types of canvases available.

If you want to find out what the best canvas options are for oil paintings, then you have come to the right place. Here is everything you need to know about finding the best canvas for your oil paintings. 


Why Should You Use Canvas?

A canvas offers flexibility. From a variety of sizes to different styles of paintings, you can achieve the exact outcome you are looking for.

The main reason that professional artists use canvas is that it is easy to use, and the paintings remain in excellent condition for an extended period. It is also a light material, which means that you can move it around freely. A canvas has an exquisite feel under a painter’s brush.

Alternatives to a canvas include paper, wood, and glass.

What Are the Various Types of Canvas?

Did you know that there are different types of canvases? These various forms are manufactured in order to suit various budgets or applications.

The primary types of canvases include:

  • Stretched canvases
  • A canvas panel
  • Canvas pads
  • A canvas roll

Stretched Canvas

A stretched canvas is a popular option that consists of the fabric being stretched over the stretcher bars. These bars are the wooden frame that make up the structure of most painting stations. It is used for acrylic paintings, but you are going to find artists who create oil paintings with this type of canvas.

Moreover, it is often made out of cotton and one uses gesso to prime it. This produces a beneficial working platform for you to paint on. You can prime this canvas for either acrylic or oil paints; therefore, ensure you choose the correct option.

The frames are often available in multiple sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. Thickness is also described by the term deep for thicker canvases and traditional for thinner frames. One makes their decision for this based on how they are planning to display the work. Thinner or traditional options are ideal if you want to frame your painting, whereas a thicker or deep frame is suitable for an unframed oil painting. Likewise, ‘thicker’ is also better if you are planning on adding details to the sides of your canvas.

However, this is a more expensive option that you should not concern yourself with if you are a beginner. Professionals prefer this type of canvas because the frame prevents the surface from tearing or warping over long periods.

Canvas Panels

Canvas panels do prove high-quality while not being overly expensive. They are a more cost-effective alternative to stretched canvas. These panels are often produced from a cotton canvas that has been primed which is then mounted onto a rigid board.

The benefits of this canvas include that it is easy-to-use, it is not heavy, and it is easy to move around. This makes them an excellent choice for students. However, the downside to these panels is that they do not do well over time. Therefore, it is recommended to use these for practicing your painting skills.

Canvas Pads

Canvas pads are also another common type of canvas. It is a sheet of canvas, usually primed, that is spiral bound inside a book. You can stretch or mount these sheets, but they are also not ideal for long-term use. A canvas pad is usually helpful for practice purposes or for beginners or students. 

Canvas Rolls

Have you seen painters who like to stretch out and prepare their own canvas? They often utilize canvas rolls. They are also ideal for large oil paintings. This kind of canvas is available in various textures, fibers, and weights. They are usually made out of cotton or linen, and can be found with and without a primer. One thing to note with these rolls is that you generally have to buy them in yards. Hence, this means that they can get relatively expensive.

What Kind of Canvas Do Professional Artists Use?

Professional artists do not use only one type of canvas. With so many various canvas options available on the market, there are quite a few go-to choices.

With this being said, choosing the correct canvas is one of the most essential steps for any professional painter because you are not going to be able to achieve your desired outcome if you do not have the correct surface. Professional artists tend to go for a stretched canvas; however, some prefer cotton while others prefer linen. This decision mainly boils down to the price factor for most painters.

Ultimately, you can get the job with any type of canvas. Many professionals switch up their choices depending on the specific painting they are working with, but they do prefer linen because of its’ qualities.

What Is the Best Quality Canvas

A general rule to consider is that the higher the weight of the canvas, the higher the quality. You do not want a canvas that weighs below eight to 10 ounces. For example, linen is a higher quality canvas that is much heavier than cotton canvases.

Artists consider linen to be the best; however, the price does deter some people away. If you are not affected by the cost and your primary concern is performance, we always recommend going for the linen canvas. Another alternative that still has high-quality is a cotton duck canvas.  

What Makes a Canvas a Good Choice?

There are various factors to consider when determining whether something is good value for money or not. When choosing a canvas, you need to pay attention to the fabric, texture, and whether it is primed or not. These factors have a significant impact on the canvas’s quality and your piece of work.

Let us explore each of these factors further.


Cotton and linen are the two most common forms of fabric used for canvas. Linen is a more high-quality option, and it offers durability. Due to this, it is quite expensive. If you are in need of a cheaper alternative, cotton is much more affordable and gets the job done. You do not have to compromise a great deal on durability and quality, as there are still suitable.  


One gets a different texture depending on how the canvas is woven. The board is made out of natural fibers that have been woven together. The technique used produces different outcomes.

You cannot say that one texture is better than the next, as various textures are produced for different purposes. If you are looking for a guideline, a finely woven canvas is ideal for more detailed and smaller pieces of work because it provides a smooth surface. For larger oil paintings where you are utilizing broad brush strokes, you should opt for a roughly woven canvas.  


Many canvases are primed with gesso. The primer creates a surface that is going to highlight and emphasize the true colors of the oil paint. Gesso is a mixture of glue, pigment, and plaster of Paris. The purpose of this is to prevent paint from absorbing into the canvas’s fabric. However, there are many painters who prefer an unprimed canvas. This is for when they want their painting to be dull and more textured. You are going to find that the majority of canvases available are primed.

It is also possible to find an oil primer. This specific type of primer can only accept oil pigments. Other paints are eventually going to peel off the oil primer. It does contain oil paint, which means that it should be applied as a barrier. An oil primer usually takes a few weeks to dry or cure, which means that you have to wait until the surface is completely ready for you to start painting.

Which Is the Best Surface for Oil Paints?

Out of all the various available oil paint surfaces, the canvas is the best. An oil painting has always been one of the best options if you want to create something delicate and breathtaking.

This is due to the fact that the pigments of oil paint are extremely rich. Hence, you also get the opportunity to bring out finer details in our work. It is for this reason that choosing the correct surface is crucial. You need a platform that does not compromise the effects of the paint.

Canvas is the clear winner when it comes to this. It offers excellent support to oil paints, whether cotton or linen. Linen is slightly more challenging to work on, but it does deliver incredible results due to its’ quality. A cotton canvas is a more user-friendly and affordable option. The overall finish of the oil painting is where you are going to see the difference between the two types of canvases.

Linen produces a more luminous and visible end result, whereas cotton canvases result in a semi-matte finish. Priming the canvas may reduce this effect, as it does not allow the canvas to absorb the paint as much.

The different types of canvases also have various impacts on the oil painting because of their varying textures.

Paper comes in second to canvases when looking at the best surfaces for an oil painting. 

Do You Need to Prep a Canvas for Oil Painting?

Yes, you do need to prep a canvas before using oil paints. In fact, this step is essential because oil paint may attack or damage the canvas if applied directly to its’ surface.

Prepping the canvas is the first step. Cover the blank canvas with one solid paint color. This is also referred to as a toned background, toned ground, or colored ground. Additionally, you can use this technique for drawing as well. Using this method to prep your canvas offers so many additional benefits. These benefits include:

  • Your painting looks more professional.
  • It increases the speed at which you can create your piece of work.
  • This method is full proof! It enables you to create a tonal mood in your painting.  

It is an excellent option if you are learning how to paint. Many artists have adopted this technique throughout their paintings for many years.

This toned background is usually applied on top of gesso or the primed canvas. The majority of purchased canvases have a white ground. These products are generally already primed and are ready to use. Gesso is usually white.

What Colors Do You use for a Toned Background?

There is no specific color you have to use to prep your painting. This depends on what mood or atmosphere you are trying to create in your piece of work. The most important thing is to use colors that are buildable. You need to be able to build the layers of your painting on top of this.

Earth colors and neutral tones are often a great place to start. They are normally ideal for painting portraits, still life, and landscapes. The colors need to blend in with and balance out the colors of the oil pigments you are using for your painting. Soft browns and ochers generally match any color scheme you are going for. This subtle undertone also helps to bring your entire piece of art together. It brings a sense of unity in the painting.

It is also helpful to use a complementary color to the primary color of your painting. You are going to bring balance to your work as it increases the saturation and intensity of the colors. You may also experiment with using the opposite temperature of the painting. This adds warmth to your work.

A helpful tip is to always use the unsaturated version of the color you are painting with. This is applicable to all colors and tones. The brighter the paint, the easier it is to experience problems. The more natural, the easier it is to create beautiful art.

Why Should You Use a Color or Tone Ground?

When you purchase a canvas, it is usually white. Painting on a white surface has a significant impact on the appearance of your work. The color looks very different from what you expect. This can often be discouraging for beginner painters.

Painting directly onto a white canvas makes it quite challenging to differentiate between tones and colors. This is because of the intense contrast that the white background provides.

Should You Paint a Canvas White First?

No, definitely not! White is a color used for highlighting purposes in oil paintings. It is the brightest and purest paint that gets put onto your canvas; therefore, it is usually one of the final steps in completing your oil painting. It adds brightness to your work. This is the exact reason why you should not paint the canvas white first. It affects the appearance of the colors painted on top of it. The rest of your masterpiece is going to look rather dull if you do this. All other paint colors cannot compete with this brightness; thus, they all appear less enhancing. 

Play around with various grounds to find what is most suitable for your tastes, but avoid white at all costs.

Steps for Prepping a Canvas

Here is how you are going to prep your canvas appropriately:

  • Place something underneath the blank canvas to offer protection to the surface underneath it.
  • Mix the color you are using for your prep until you get the desired consistency.
  • Start painting around the edges of the canvas. You do not want to get a lot of overflow onto the front of your canvas. Therefore, you need to angle your brush so that the bristles do not lap over onto the front. Use a scrubbing motion so that the paint can soak into the canvas.
  • Start painting from left to right to cover the entire canvas. This process should be done quickly.
  • Keep working to smooth out all streaks or uneven tones. This is not something to worry about, and it can be expected; however, work in a backward and forwards motion to smooth this out.
  • Squeeze your brush in a paper towel or cloth to get rid of all the moisture.
  • Start going over the canvas again. Use a gentle motion this time while working from left to right. Overlap the strokes and try to only lift the brush up at the end. Try not to let the paint drip onto the side of the canvas.

Use thin layers of paint when doing this process. 

Tips for Painting with Oil Paint on a Canvas

While oil painting is not as daunting as many believe it to be, it is relatively more technical than working with acrylic paints. This reasoning is partly due to the fact that you are working with a solvent that has an increased drying time. The following are tips to get you to feel more comfortable with applying that brush to the canvas:

  • Practice with smaller canvases in the beginning – This gives you the opportunity to experiment and find your exact style. You also do not have to worry about investing too much money or time this way, which does relieve some of the pressure during the process.
  • Keep your supplies organized – You want all your paints and canvases to be easily accessible. This makes your process more convenient and is going to help you improve your technique.
  • Invest in good quality paint brushes – There is nothing worse than having tiny brush bristles stuck to your canvas. Experiment with various products until you find the one that works the best with your oil paints.

The Bottom Line

There are so many various canvases you can use for oil painting. It is essential to do your own research and make sure that you consider all your options before making your final decision. Find a canvas that is most suitable for your needs and your budget.

From linen to cotton and stretched canvas, to canvas rolls, you are not limited. Having such a wide range of options gives you the opportunity to experiment and to truly find the perfect canvas combination for your style of painting.

The best canvas for oil painting is the one that you feel most comfortable using. You need to be able to work with what you have so that you can bring your vision to life. Hopefully, this encouraged you to explore your creativity with oil paintings and a canvas.