Canvas Art Supplies for Acrylics

There are a few different forms of canvas art supplies available for use with acrylics: canvas panels, canvas pads, unstretched canvas, and stretched canvas. What's the difference between them, and which one should you use? Read on and find out!

Canvas is one of the most popular art supplies for painting with acrylics. There are other alternative painting supports for acrylics, like wood panels and paper, but on this page we'll focus on canvas with acrylics.

all about canvas

There are two types of canvas: linen and cotton (these link to Blick Art Materials, and if you make a purchase I get a small commission that helps support this site). Linen is considered superior because it is smoother, stiffer and stronger than cotton. However, for these reasons it is much more expensive than cotton canvas. Cotton canvas is the popular and affordable alternative. Cotton canvas is more flexible and is therefore easier to stretch. It can last just as long as linen canvases, and is used by professional artists and students alike.

Winsor and Newton Drop Edge Canvas

Both cotton and linen canvases come in a range of weights, thicknesses and textures, from light to heavy. Take into account the weight and degree of texture in a canvas, because the weave of the fibers can show through the paint if you work on a very heavy, textured canvas. This is an effect you may or may not want, based on your own personal preference.

Canvas can be bought in primed or unprimed form. Primed canvas refers to canvas that has already been coated with a primer, such as gesso. Unprimed canvas is canvas that has not been coated. In general you will want to paint on a canvas that has been primed, because this means that it will more easily accept the paint. Painting on unprimed canvas will result in the paint sinking right in to the weave of the canvas, causing the texture to be quite visible. Whether you choose a primed or unprimed canvas is ultimately up to you, depending on the effects you want to achieve. With that said, the more common form is to paint on primed canvas. I would generally recommended that beginners paint on primed canvas, because it is easier. Then if you want to experiment further down the line, you'll be able to compare and contrast the two.

forms of artist canvas

Artist canvas comes in 4 forms: canvas panel, unstretched canvas, canvas pads or sheets, and the most popular - stretched canvas.

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  • Canvas panel refers to canvas that is mounted onto a sturdy hardboard or mounting board. Canvas panels are quite inexpensive and are therefore a great option for students, children and beginning artists. Canvas panels are usually not recommended for "serious" works of art, due to longevity issues. Canvas panels will last many years, but it is unknown if they will last generations. Therefore if you want to ensure that your work of art will last for ages, you're better off avoiding canvas panels. On the other hand, if all you can afford is canvas panels, then by all means, create your masterpieces on canvas panels!

  • Unstretched canvas is simply canvas that is not attached to wooden stretchers. Unstretched canvas can be purchased by the yard or roll. Usually artists buy unstretched canvas so that they can stretch it themselves in the size that they want, if that size is unconventional and therefore not commercially available. Unstretched canvas also lends itself to experimental ways of applying the paint. For instance, Jackson Pollock created his drip paintings by tacking a large piece of unstretched canvas to the floor and then dripping paint onto it.

  • Canvas pads contain sheets of unstretched canvas and are even more affordable than canvas panels. They are therefore recommended for students, children and beginning artists. Canvas sheets can be stretched or mounted. Like canvas panels, canvas pads are recommended more for practicing and learning rather than serious works of art, due to longevity issues. Paintings on canvas sheets will last for dozens of years, but it is uncertain whether they will stand the test of time and last hundreds of years.

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  • Stretched canvas is by far the most popular and conventional form of painting on canvas. Buying canvas that is pre-stretched is much easier than stretching your own. Pre-stretched canvas comes in a variety of standard sizes. The most common sizes are listed below. They also have different widths, ranging from 3/4" to 2-3/8". In general, artists and galleries prefer paintings on canvas that have the staples in the back, rather than on the side. Most pre-stretched canvases these days are made with the staples in the back, but there are still some cheaper, student-quality canvases floating around that have the staples on the side.

standard sizes for pre-stretched canvases

all sizes in inches

Canvas Sizes

Canvas Sizes

Want to learn what else you can paint on besides canvas? Learn about other surfaces for acrylic painting, including wood, paper, metal, and more.

Find out what acrylic painting supplies you should get if you want to get started with acrylic paintings. If you're a total beginner to painting with acrylics, learn what paints are best for you!

Click here to return to the main Acrylic Table of Contents, where you will find tons of information about working with acrylics, including acrylic painting tutorials!