Types of Canvas Forms and Fabrics For Painting (And What’s Best)

Michael Daly
Written by
Last update:

Canvas Form Factors (Stretched, Panels, Pads, and Rolls) – What Should You Really Be Using?

There are a few different types of canvases used by artists, most of the time tied into how they are displayed.

Stretched canvases are what you commonly see in galleries and museums, and they’re probably familiar to you. A stretched canvas is exactly what it sounds like, a canvas that has been stretched around and over a frame.

You have a lot of options when you are buying a stretched canvas. The type of frame is one big decision to make, but you also have many canvas sizing options and surface options. The first and most important part of canvases are the sides. Canvas sides are typically unfinished, which gives you the ability to mount them to a frame yourself, finished, which has the frame built in, and pre-stretched which lets you stretch the canvas as you like so you can mount the canvas to a pre-made frame.

Pads and panels are stretched canvases as well. However, these canvases have been turned into a sheet, often with the edges coated in a different material to seal the sheet and protect the paint.

Panels and pads require a frame to be attached to the back of the painting to give it dimension. They are cheaper because they are pre-stretched, mounted, and sealed.

Determining The Best Type Of Canvas For You

There are several types of canvas, and often you will be able to pick from many types for an given painting.

Since you will work on the canvas to create the painting, it is important you choose one that is created of good quality and not just because it matches the image that you are painting. If you choose a cheap canvas, you may actually be cutting your profit margin more than you can actually save by going with a less expensive option.

So it's important to examine your needs and the quality of the canvas you choose.

Acrylic painting is the easiest to work with because acrylic paints are applied wet-on-wet, meaning they can be applied over a wet layer of paint and still come out smooth.

Watercolors must be applied over a dry layer of watercolor paint, so they must be applied in thinner layers to maintain the smoothness.

Here Are The Different Types of Canvas Fabrics For Painting On

Canvas is a tough material that is used for painting pictures, paintings, murals, and even rugs. Since paintings can be hung up in homes and other places around the house, it’s important to know the differences between the canvas materials used to make these things. Here are the different types of canvas fabrics for painting, there are three different types of fabrics that are used all together to form a painting.

Raw Canvas – Raw canvas is actually the fabric used to make paintings and other artwork pieces. This is exactly what it says, the material and fabric used to make a painting. You can tell if something is raw canvas because this material is a wide and thick rough cloth that is white in color. Raw canvas is also relatively inexpensive because there is no varnishing done on the surface. This is also accessible for people to purchase over the Internet.

Primed Canvas – While you can purchase the raw canvas material from a fabric store, you can also purchase a primed canvas for your artwork. Primed canvas is actually raw canvas that has been treated with a coating of oil or other polyurethane type product that makes it water resistant. Many artists prefer to buy primed canvas because they can begin painting with their artwork right away, rather than having to wait for the raw canvas to be primed and varnished.

Performance and Price Of Different Canvas Fabrics

Canvas is made from three main materials today: cotton, polyester, and linen.

Cotton is the most common and most affordable, especially for beginners.

The big advantage of cotton canvas is that it works well almost everywhere.

It does not stretch and can retain its texture. There are two types of cotton canvas to choose from:

100% linen canvas: stiffer than 100% cotton canvas and used commonly in large-format paintings.

Cotton/linen canvas: a blend of cotton and linen, which is a little softer.

Linen canvas: a very pure linen canvas. Stiff and rough in texture. A little pricey, but very high quality.

Conventional wisdom dictates that you should use cotton canvas when you’re a beginner. It’s affordable, easy to use, and won’t cause many problems if your painting is a little rough and uneven.

Linen can be a little tricky, and polyester is tricky for beginners.

A good canvas spray is also important when you’re just starting out because there’s a high chance your painting will not be perfect.

And you want to make sure the surface is even, or at least get as close as possible to the desired smooth surface.

Cotton Fabric Is Perfect For Artists On A Budget

Cotton is the perfect canvas fabric for artists on a budget. It is affordable, easy to clean, and requires little care. The material is good for beginners, experienced artists, and professional painters alike.

You can choose between three types of cotton canvas. They are all very similar. The only major difference is the weight.

Cotton Lawn Canvas: This is the heavyweight of the three, next to French Natural Duck Canvas. It has a heavier weight that allows for smoother paintings. The fabric is thin, strong, able to hold a lot of paint, and it comes in a wide range of sizes.

Cotton Duck Canvas: This type is closer to the French Natural Canvas in terms of weight and texture. It is thicker than the Cotton Lawn Canvas. And it is best used for rough, wild, or impulsive brushstrokes.

Cotton Canvas Linen: This type of canvas is slightly thicker and heavier than the Cotton Duck Canvas. It is an excellent choice for beginners. Like the Cotton Lawn Canvas, the fabric is strong and able to hold a lot of paint.

The only extra effort that you need to take into account is to properly clean the paint off of the canvas once you are done with the painting.

Linen, Often The Fabric Choice For Expert Artists With Ample Budget

Linen is a natural fabric. The fabric is woven from the fibers of flax plant. It is made in the sett, or a non-printed woven format also called unbleached and undyed. The unbleached linen has a white color and is usually used as a base cloth for garments and other fabric items. You get a bleached one, when the linen cloth is treated with a chemical process. It’s given an off-white color and is used by artists as a canvas.

The benefits of using linen for a painting canvas are listed below:

Linen is very absorbent. You don’t even need to apply a primer on the surface before starting the painting.

The fabric doesn’t buckle like cotton.

It’s sturdy and doesn’t take any damage even after years.

Linen canvas is easy to restore and is also very supportive for the painting. It usually doesn’t fall apart or crease easily.

On the flipside, linen canvas is a little rough on a painting so artists usually prefer to prime the canvas with fine quality canvas primer before starting the painting.

It is easy to store linen canvas because it’s very supple in nature. So it aligns easily to the shape of your storage space.

Are Synthetic Fabrics Worth Considering?

By now, you’ve seen that most canvas is made from cotton. Synthetic fabrics are growing in popularity, though, and these may be a viable option for you.

Before you decide which type of canvas is best for your needs, it helps to understand this fabric. Synthetic fabrics are usually made with polyester and can come much closer to cotton in terms of natural look and feel.

Another popular synthetic option is a cotton blend. These tend to feel similar to fabrics made with 100 percent cotton, but the fabric can be much more durable and may be a better choice if you’re planning to fold your canvas or pack it away for a long time.

Serge cotton cloth differs from regular cotton because it’s woven with a tighter thread count. Charmeuse has a soft, smooth texture, and is usually made from silk, though you can find synthetic and cotton options.

Chiffon is another lightweight and soft option, and microfiber is another synthetic fabric you could consider. Many times, microfiber is blended with other fabrics so it is important to research the number of layers, and check to see how stiff that canvas is.

With most synthetic fabric, it is important to consider stitching. If the canvas has thick layers and many layers of stitching, the fabric may not drape as well as you may like.

Should You Go With A Fine Or Rough Texture For Your Canvas?

If you’re a beginner, the choice may not be obvious. For starters, keep in mind that canvas texture comes in two varieties.

Yes, you can buy the canvas in its plain form “ that is, by itself. The texture of the canvas in this form is flat. I like to stick with the flat canvas as it is good enough as it is.

Many painters also consider it to be best canvas material for artwork. When you get your canvas from a shop, they will probably provide you with a primed canvas.

Primed canvas is like flat canvas only that it is already covered with primer or gesso, which is a paint made of chalk, glue and white pigment.

The primer is placed on a canvas to create a surface that is uniformly smooth and easier to paint on. This is because the primer prevents paint from sinking into the canvas weave.

For painting with oil colors, I recommend using a canvas with a fine texture. Because an oil paint’s consistency is thick and heavy, it can sink into coarse textures. Oil paint doesn’t pool or spread consistently on a coarse texture, which makes achieving smooth transitions difficult.

Primed Or Raw Canvas – Which Is Better?

Modern canvas comes either primed (self-priming) or raw. Both types have their pros and cons. The main difference is that raw canvas does not have any materials coating the canvas fabric. This means that you will have to coat the canvas for yourself before stretching and priming it. While this can be a hassle, it also means that you can choose what type and type of primer to use. The advantage that pre-primed canvas comes with, however, is that it’s already coated with a neutral-colored backing. This is done to reduce the amount of time, effort and skill required to prepare the canvas for painting on it. Depending on personal preferences, I often work with both types of canvas depending on my level of strenuous painting and the time I have at my disposal.

From Form To Fabric And Everything In-Between Canvases Are Complicated

To understand why canvases are complicated, you need to know a little bit about how canvases are made. Canvases come in many different sizes, varieties, and even purposes.

There’s the standard, plain-jane large canvas, usually 50 x 40 or 40 x 30, and used in oil painting to display a variety of subjects from landscapes to portraits.

Then, you have your stretched, gilded canvases used for fine-art. They are usually quite small in size, like 16 x 20 or 12 x 10, and used only for one specific painting. They have a gilded painted edge as well.

Then you have rolls of canvas paper and canvas board, which is a paper that’s been bonded to board. Canvas paper is generally used for painting on a budget or for kids. Canvas board is thinner and used for more detailed, lightweight, and detailed work.

In addition, there are canvas alternatives like linen and synthetics that are primarily used by acrylic artists. Many beginners (who are also usually on a budget) also choose materials like canvas paper to practice their art.

Post navigation