If you are have recently decided to pick up acrylics you might not how tried painting on a canvas yet. Although acrylic paint can be used on many surfaces such as paper and wood, most artists prefer to use canvas.
However, there are many types of canvas to choose from and the difference between a high quality canvas and a cheap canvas isn’t directly obvious if you don’t know what to look for.
In this article you will discover the best canvases for acrylic painting and what you need look for when choosing between them.
Best painting canvas for beginners
As a beginner you are probably looking for a canvas that is not too expensive but is still decent quality.
The stretched canvases by Arteza are well known among beginners for delivering good quality without breaking the bank.
These canvases are made out of 100% cotton, are acid free, and are already primed with gesso so you can paint on them with acrylics right away.
Moreover, they come in a variety of different sizes and if you buy a bulk pack you can get a nice discount too.
Cheap canvas for painting
If you don’t have the money for stretched canvas you might want to consider using a canvas panel.
At first they might seem similar, but on panel the canvas is glued to some backing instead of being stretched.
Of course, this has its pros and cons but for most beginners or even intermediate level painters they won’t really notice the difference too much.
The canvas mulitpack by US Art Supply is a great option because it comes with 24 panels that are all 100% pure cotton and come primed.
The panels come in 4 different sizes (6-5″x7″, 6-8″x10″, 6-9″x12″, 6-11″x14″), so there is always one of the right size for your next painting.
Large canvas for painting
As a beginner you want to start out practicing on smaller canvases. But as your skills increase, so will the canvas size. Because let’s be honest, some things are meant to be painted on a big canvas.
Normally any canvas bigger than 12″x16″ is labelled as a large canvas.
Darice sells a variety of large canvases for acrylic painting. The size ranges from 14″x18″ all the way up to 30″x40″.
Although most of these large canvases can only be bought individually, the 16″x20″ size is also sold in a pack of 2, 5 or 20 canvases.
Best canvas for acrylic painting
If you want to take your art more seriously and even consider to paint for a living you will have to start using very high-quality canvases as well.
The professional painting canvases sold by Masterpiece are some of the best I have ever seen.
They are made out of pure cotton and primed 4 times with high-grade gesso. (Just made sure you get the canvas that is primed for acrylic painting and not oil painting.)
Size is also no problem, since you can pretty much choose anything between 11″x14″ and 66″x72″.
So you might be wondering why we didn’t mention this canvas at the beginning of the article. The short and simple answer is its price.
Although their quality is amazing, there are too expensive for everyday use or just practice. I would only recommend them to professional painters that are planning to sell their work.
Choosing a painting canvas
Obviously we recommend you to buy one of the canvases mentioned above. However, if for some reason you can’t find them or you would like to try a different brand, then you will have to know what to look for.
To judge the quality of a canvas and see if it will suit your project you should keep the following four things in mind:
1. Canvas material
Canvas is a woven fabric not unlike your clothing. The quality of the canvas will depend on what materials was used to weave the canvas. Most canvases for painting are made out of either linen from the flax plant or cotton from the cotton plant.
The cheap canvases for painting are made out of cotton and is also referred to as “cotton duck”. The quality of a cotton duck canvas depends on the weight of the thread and how tight the weave is. Cheaper cotton canvases with a loose weave are easily distorted, so you have to be careful when dealing with them.
Linen is considered by most artists to be the better option because it is made out of very fine threads that are closely woven together. So when working on a linen canvas you don’t have to worry about the canvas stretching or the threads distorting.
2. Stretched Vs. unstretched canvas
Most beginners that think of canvas imagine the neatly stretched canvas on a wooden frame. Although high-quality ones might be a little pricey, I advise most people to go with this option because it saves a lot of time.
Additionally, if you aren’t confident in your ability to stretch canvas on a frame yourself you are setting yourself up for failure, because painting on a badly stretched canvas feels terrible.
That is why some professional artists use a canvas roll. This allows them to stretch it on a custom frame, which is particularly useful if you need a canvas in an uncommon size or shape.
If stretched canvas is too expensive and you don’t know how to stretch it yourself, you might also consider painting on a canvas panel or a canvas pad.
A canvas panel looks similar to the stretched canvas, but instead of being stretched the canvas it’s directly glued onto a hard board normally made out of cardboard or wood.
That is why the canvas panel has less give than a stretched canvas, and since the glue might deteriorate over time the canvas might start to bulge in the center after a few years. But because of their low price they can still be a good option for beginners.
A canvas pad is the cheapest option you can go with. Some of the better canvas pads contain sheets of canvas that can be stretched or mounted. While the cheaper ones contain thick paper that have a similar texture to canvas.
3. Primed Vs. unprimed canvas
Canvas itself isn’t particularly receptive to acrylic paint. If you would paint directly on canvas the paint would sink right into the fibers and leave a rather dull impression.
To prevent this the canvas is prepared through a process called “priming” in which one or several layers of gesso is applied to the canvas. If the priming is done properly the paint will stay closer to the surface such that you can more easily blend them together and look more vivid.
Fortunately, most canvases for painting already contain a coating of gesso. Even though some professionals might apply a second or third layer, just a single coating is sufficient for most beginners.
However, if you buy a canvas roll and/or stretched the canvas yourself you will have to prime the canvas yourself.
4. Canvas texture
Depending on your goals the texture of the canvas might be important. The texture is mainly determined by the material used (linen or cotton) and how tight the weave is. Normally you want your canvas texture to be on the smooth side such that your brush doesn’t experience any resistance when moving over the surface.
However, if your canvas is too rough you can apply an extra layer of gesso. This normally has the effect of smoothing the surface.
Traditionally painters did everything to hide the texture in the final result by applying a lot of acrylic paint on the canvas. But some modern artist now choose to show the texture through the paint on purpose to create interesting effects.