Nancy’s Painting Blog

Best Painting Surfaces for Artists

Canvas or wood? This can be a tough choice for some artists. These two are the most commonly used materials, yet now there are even more choices such as plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, leather, paper, vinyl and cardboard.

Let’s start with the pros and cons of canvas and wood. Canvas comes in cotton duct or linen, while wood choices range from hardboard to panel. Both are fine for painting, but how do we choose what is right for us and our work?



∙ It is lightweight, especially important for painting large.

∙ Canvas has a wonderful absorbency and woven texture if that suits your style.

∙ It can be used stretched over wooden stretcher bars for a tight bounce, or left unstretched to pin up onto walls or used on floors while working.

∙ For more information on selecting the appropriate stretchers and strainers click here.

∙ For more information on selecting the appropriate canvas click here.


∙ If you like to sand painted layers, or pour acrylic mediums over the surface as a layer, then the wood panels will be a better choice then canvas. For sanding or pouring you need a rigid level surface. The canvas when stretched on stretchers will droop if you sand or pour, and therefore needs to be propped up underneath for these techniques. Also, it can’t be easily moved if it needs to dry on a level place for a long time.



∙ As mentioned above, wood panel is already hard and rigid, and can be easily transported while layers are wet and still drying. A rigid surface is best for sanding and pouring techniques.

∙ It can cost less then stretched canvas. Canvas stretcher bars are made for reuse and are costly. A local carpenter or wood worker can make several wood panels at a time, with cost savings to the artist. Carpenters will generally charge per hour plus cost of materials, while purchasing stretcher bars and canvas have extra added retailer costs that are put on the final price.

∙ Wood panels can be made with different woods and braced to minimize warping.

∙ They are more sturdy then canvas. This means they will last longer than canvas given similar environmental circumstances.

∙ If you want to paint over an old painting on wood panel, it is easily remedied by sanding off any old texture and paint. I don’t recommend repainting over old paintings on canvas. It is difficult to properly sand the texture off, and isn’t as strong as wood panel for the added weight when applying extra layers.

∙ Confused about masonite, hardboard, and how to choose the right wood for panels? Here is a great article on just that, click here

∙ For more information on wood supports for painters click here:

∙ These can get heavy when working on large size panels.


You can also combine the two. Paint on canvas, then adhere the canvas onto wood panel. For more information on how to do this click here:


This is a relatively new choice for painting surfaces. For more information click here.

For information on how to prepare the different supports mentioned above click here.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

14 thoughts on “Best Painting Surfaces for Artists

  1. So useful your blog. Thanks so much for sharing.
    I have 2 canvas backgrounded with oil paint. Can I put gesso on it and then go on with acrylic? Or just discard the canvas?

    1. It is not a good idea to apply acrylic gesso over oil paint. It’s better to remove the canvas from the stretcher bars, throw away the canvas, and save the stretcher bars to use again.

  2. Recently I saw some water color art done on a plastic surface….very brilliant by the way. The surface had a name which I don’t remember but it began I believe with a “Y”. Would you know what the surface might have been called?

    1. I think you are referring to Yupo paper. It is very smooth, and creates wonderful effects when applying paint heavily diluted with water (either watercolor, inks or fluid acrylic paints).

  3. What is difference in quality between the Fredrix Linen on cardboard canvas and other linen supports. There seems to be a great price difference among lenin products and I find it confusing. I have used linen on a gatorboard type product from Wind River and I like them but they are pricey. Is there a best product which is not over the top expensive. I use oils and paint andscapes. Thanks. sam

    1. Linen comes in a range of quality. Generally the tighter the weave, the more expensive, but also the longer lasting and nicer texture for painting. Prices also vary according to weight of the linen fabric. If you are stretching it on supports, you will want something medium or heavy weight. The lightweight is less expensive but fine if its commercially adhered to a support such as cardboard. Having the linen on stretcher bars will always be more expensive then purchasing the linen already glued to a rigid support. So lots of variables. I usually find stretching linen (or canvas) onto stretcher bars the best deal. I can pick high quality fabric, and high quality stretcher bars, and save money by doing the labor.

  4. Does anyone know how to properly prime large 1/8″ craddled birch board panel for acrylic painting? I ordered a custom sized one rex’s art online and it said it was pre-sanded but after my first coat of liquitex white fluid matte medium, I am questioning whether or not it was really pre-sanded (Due to rough edges, wood splintering and snagging the paint brush). I’m waiting for this thin first coat to dry and believe my next step is sanding and then repeating again with either matte medium or gesso. I’ve researched this quite extensively and some websites suggest gesso for the second coat and others suggest matte medium again. Any thoughts or direction are greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Susan,
      There is a ton of info on preparing panels for painting on Golden’s website:
      However, I will answer your question here. I am sure your panel was pre-sanded, but when you apply your first coat of anything that is fluid, it will raise the wood grain on the panel. So after applying your first coat of anything you need to lightly sand the grain back down to a smooth finish. You only need to lightly sand with a fine grit like 220. If you are painting with acrylic paints on the birch panel, you must first apply a stain sealer, like a gloss polymer. I like to use Golden’s GAC100 made especially for this purpose. I apply the gloss polymer over all exposed areas of wood to seal the wood. Often the wood soaks the first coat in, so I apply a second coat all over. Then I apply a white gesso primer. Then its ready to paint. I believe it is best to apply 2 coats of a clear medium (sealer) then if you like the look of the wood, apply a matte medium. If you don’t care about having the wood show through, then use a white primer such as gesso. There is more on Golden’s site if interested. Nancy

  5. I heard something about stability issues using a thin coat of acrylic on a canvas ground. Do you know anything about this? Apparently this will cause lifting of the other layers of paint painted over this over the years.

    1. This is absolutely not true, but is getting some bad press because some artists do not understand a few concepts about acrylic. High quality (fine art) materials in ANY medium (oil, acrylic, watercolor, etc) will not have stability issues when used correctly, while lower quality (hobby or craft) paints can have all types of stability issues. Commercially primed canvases often (almost always actually except for Ampersand panels) use low quality primers. These less quality primed surfaces are stable when used with oil paints (as oil seeps into layers deeply) but may cause delamination with other mediums, and especially if using lower quality pigments and paints over it. If you coat over a thin coat of low quality acrylic with a high quality gloss medium, it will stabilize that layer of paint. However, there is nothing you can do about a bad quality primer under everything, which can delaminate a painting right at that layer no matter what you apply over it. In summary, a thin or thick acrylic layer, whether diluted or undiluted, will be very stable when using a high quality paint AND a high quality primer. If you use lesser quality materials there is no guarantee.

  6. Thanks for helping me understand that canvas can easily be pinned up on the wall while working on it. I guess I will pick this when I start attending a painting workshop this year. I just wanted to try this out because I got interested in it when I saw some videos online which they used their works as the decorations in their own house.

    1. Yes for some artists its a good solution to create your painting more easily on the wall or floor. I’ve also seen some great floor mats created by just painting with acrylic on heavy duty primed canvas. For these I recommend sealing both sides of the canvas when the painting is complete for more durability for floor use. Happy creating!

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