Painting Surface 101: A Guide to Choosing the Right Art Canvas - aLittleBitOfAll
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Painting Surface 101: A Guide to Choosing the Right Art Canvas

blank artist canvas ready for painting

Painting Surface 101: A Guide to Choosing the Right Art Canvas

These days, canvases are used most frequently for oil and acrylic paintings. During the Renaissance, canvas was used instead of wood panels for painting because it was lighter, could be rolled, and provided a more stable surface that was less prone to warping and cracking than wooden panels. Whether you want to stretch your canvas or purchase already stretched canvases or canvas boards, there are many types of canvas fabrics to pick from nowadays.

Choosing the Best Art Canvas: Important Considerations

blank canvas in the room

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional artist, get a blank artist canvas and turn your next project into a complete masterpiece regardless of your painting technique. Artists favour this painting surface because it has smooth texture, durability, and versatility and can make a big difference in the outcome of your artwork. To pick the right type, size and material for your artistic needs, there are some important factors to bear in mind.

Material Selection

The two primary fibre types used to make stretched-coloured canvas are cotton and linen, or flax. Canvas is also made from specialised fibres like jute and hemp. Because of its proximity to linen, even though jute is a different fibre, it is commonly thought of as extra-rough linen.


On the stretcher bars, cotton stretches readily and maintains its shape. Certain Italian cotton that has been primed has a coating on the back that darkens the fabric. Conversely, unprimed cotton frequently has a pale hue. Cotton duck canvas features threads that are knit more tightly than conventional cotton canvas.

Cotton duck, on the other hand, is one of the most used stretched canvases in the world due to its thickness, prominent weave, and numerous purposes besides art. There are three weights available. It is also the most popular canvas sold by the meter and the roll because of its affordable pricing.

The “medium” texture Italian cotton is finer than any other cotton type and has a tighter weave, finer thread, and overall smoother surface. Italian poly-cotton is also used as an artist’s canvas. Additionally, a very fine texture known as No-Grain exists. However, this cotton fabric doesn’t relax as much as 100% cotton and will eventually become loose because of the polyester mix.


Linen is the priciest artist canvas option as it takes many more steps to process the flax fibres and because its inelasticity makes it harder to weave into fabric. The French linen canvas is made of smoother, more tightly spun yarn and is stronger than the Italian variety. Its weave is likewise tighter and more regular. On the other hand, Belgian linen falls in between the two.

Because of its exceptional quality control and use of the best flax available, the well-known French linen is simply superb. It is a great choice for painting, scraping, repainting, scratching back, and impasto, yet stretching it can be challenging due to its dense weave.

Weave Type

Together with the type of fibre, you will also need to consider the weight and weave texture. Similar to paper, the weight of stretched canvas for painting is measured in grams per square metre (gsm) or ounces per square yard (oz). A fine canvas can be nearly smooth and has little roughness, but a rough canvas has a highly obvious weave.

The texture of the canvas, which might be no grain, extra-fine, fine, medium, rough, or extra-rough, affects how the painting feels and looks in the end. Instead of referring to the weight of the weave, all these phrases describe its texture. The texture doesn’t necessarily indicate the weight. In addition to a lightweight canvas with a rough or medium texture, there’s also a higher-weight canvas with an extra-fine texture.


woman start to paint on a blank canvas

The thickness of the thread used to weave the fabric and the tightness of the weave both affect weight, which is a measurement of the amount of cloth per square centimetre. You might want to go for a heavier canvas for particularly large stretched canvases, as the heavier the weight, the more tension the canvas fabric can bear without tearing.

A coarse or rough canvas, especially one that is loosely woven, may weigh less than a fine canvas that is neatly woven. Generally, thick thread is used for heavy canvases while thin thread is used for light ones.


There are many different sizes of stretched canvas available, ranging from little 10×10 cm canvases to enormous 120×120 cm canvases and much bigger. When on the hunt for the right size, think about the subject matter and intended display location of your painting before selecting a size. You could be better off using a smaller canvas if you’re working on a detailed portrait. A larger canvas, however, would be more appropriate if you’re painting an abstract or landscape picture.


Your final consideration should be the primer on your canvas. Before applying paint, lay a strong foundation to make sure the painting will stay the longest and be in the best condition. Primers can be applied on canvas or left untreated. However, not every type of coating can be applied to every type of canvas. One layer of primer is sufficient for less expensive student-grade canvases; two to four applications are needed for most artist-grade canvases.

Stephanie Tierney