Best Paint for Canvas in 2021

Many artists ask me, which brands and specific paints are the best if you want to paint on canvas. They are interested in which brand of acrylic paints, oil paints, and even watercolor paints is the best for canvas. Keep reading to find out!

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I recently did a Google search for the best paint to use when painting on canvas, and a big answer box at the top of the page told me, with an almost certain finality, that the best paint for canvas is acrylic paint. It is the favorite, Google tells me, because of its favorable qualities.

Well, yes, acrylic paint is fantastic for canvas, but so is oil paint (which, to be fair, they also mentioned), and so even can be watercolor paint. 

I can definitely see that certain paints, which perform flawlessly on paper or other surfaces, may not actually be that great on canvas, and others take to canvas like a duck to duck cloth. Get it? No, me neither.

At any rate, it seemed a good idea to put together a little guide which helps explain which specific brands and paints are the best for canvas painting – including oil, acrylic paint and watercolor – and also – if very briefly – which canvases might be best for those best paints for canvas. We’ll try to cover some basic and oft-asked questions like:

  • What is the best acrylic paint for painting on canvas?
  • What is the best oil paint for canvas?
  • What is the best watercolor paint for canvas?
  • Can you even use watercolor on canvas?
  • What is the best paint overall for use on canvas?
  • What paint do most artists use on canvas?

What Type of Paint is Best for Painting on Canvas?

Acrylic paint, of course, is the clear favorite, because of its favorable qualities. I don’t know why that amuses me so…

But, to be clear, acrylic paint is not necessarily “better” for canvas than oil, or even watercolor paint, and all three have been used on canvases by fine artists for centuries. Indeed, at the highest levels of fine art it might be said that oil paints are the most used, or at least have been historically.

But if you are using the right canvas, then they all can be excellent choices, and all will work great. It is more important to decide which kind of paint you personally want to use – do you like oil, acrylic paint or watercolor better? -, and then select the right brand and the right specific product.

Oil Paints

Oils have a sort of depth and inner light which is different than any other kind of paint, and which is quite lovely. There is a reason why oils have been the de facto choice for the great masters, and a masterly painting made with oils obtains levels of beauty and dimensionality which no other medium can come close to.

Oil paints dry very slowly, taking sometimes weeks or months (depending on the thickness of the application), which may seem like a disadvantage but actually allows you to paint more slowly, to change things even over time, and to mix paints more easily. Oil paints are much more expensive than any other type of paint, and a full working set is quite an investment.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paint may not have the same depth – physically, since oils can be laid on more thickly, and in terms of color and light – and they are in some ways more difficult to work with, because they dry very quickly. On the other hand, the quick drying makes certain aspects of painting easier. For example, if you are finished with a section of a painting, you can easily work around it, or even on it, without any changes or damage to the original image. 

Acrylics are very vibrant, their colors bright, bold and sometimes quite intense, and they lay quite well, consistently and easily on canvas, making clear lines, fine details and overall composition easy. They are much less expensive than oil paints, and even a full set is not necessarily out of reach. And acrylics are generally non-toxic and easier to clean up after – but do it quickly, before they dry!

Watercolor Paints

Watercolors have a quality that no other paints can offer, which lets you mix, flow and wash colors across a canvas, make those colors and layers bold or subtle, solid or almost transparent. You can capture light so magically with watercolors, and create such beautiful, impressionistic images. At the same time, watercolors are not the best for very specific or precise detail, but that’s not really what they’re for.

Watercolors are relatively cheap, very easy to clean up – even when dry – and easy to work with. They are often completely non-toxic and free from the sometimes intense odor that can come with acrylic or oil paints.

So, again, to find the best paint to use on canvas, it is probably best to decide which of these three paints you want to use, and then we can find the very best paint of that type – paint that I know, from my own experience (and from the feedback and advice I get from lots of other artists and colleagues) works wonderfully on the right canvas.

Overview: Best Paint for Painting on Canvas in 2021

If you want to Cliff Notes version, here are my top picks:

  1. Old Holland Classic Oil Color Introductory Box Set
  2. Old Holland Classic Oil Color Introductory Box Set

    Best Premium Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

    Introductory Box Set, Set of 10 Colors, 40 ml tubes


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set
  4. Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set

    Best Budget Watercolor Paints in Pans

    Handcrafted, Professional-Quality Pigment Inks for Artists and Crafters, AP-Certified, Blendable, Show up on Dark Paper, Made in Japan


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set
  6. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set

    Best Affordable Watercolors in Tubes Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  7. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor 24 Pan Set
  8. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor 24 Pan Set

    My Favorite Watercolor Paints in Pans

    Lightweight Metal Sketchers Box Set : 24 Half Pans (24 Colors Set)


    Buy Now on Amazon
  9. Sennelier L'Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set
  10. Sennelier L'Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set

    Best Premium Watercolor Paints in Pans

    French Watercolor Paint, Metal Set of 48 Half Pans


    Buy Now on Amazon
  11. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set, 45 Half Pans
  12. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set, 45 Half Pans

    Best Value Watercolor Paints in Pans Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students



    Buy Now on Amazon
  13. Golden Heavy Body Professional 6 Color Introductory Set
  14. Golden Heavy Body Professional 6 Color Introductory Set

    Best Professional Grade Heavy Body Acrylic Paint

    The basic acrylic painting experience and an affordable introduction to Golden quality

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  15. Liquitex BASICS 36 Tube Acrylic Paint Set
  16. Liquitex BASICS 36 Tube Acrylic Paint Set

    Best Student Grade Heavy Body Acrylic Paint

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  17. Gamblin Artist Oil Colors Introductory Set
  18. Gamblin Artist Oil Colors Introductory Set

    My Favorite Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  19. Jack Richeson Artist Oil Colors
  20. Jack Richeson Artist Oil Colors

    Best Affordable Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

    37ml Artist Oil Colors, Set of 12


    Buy Now on Amazon
  21. Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colour Paint Starter Set
  22. Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colour Paint Starter Set

    Best Budget Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

    Set of 10x 37ml Tubes


    Buy Now on Amazon

The next part of the article, which will be a buyer’s guide to the best paints for canvas, will be quite simple. I will break it down to the three paint types, and then list my best choice for a premium paint, a more affordable paint and a budget paint for each type.

Then, in the Bonus section, I will talk about the canvases themselves, and make a few suggestions for good, and good value, products in both bulk rolls and pre-mounted canvases.

If you have been wanting to get into painting on canvas, or if you are dissatisfied and want to improve your process and your results, please read on. I’m sure that any of the paints recommended here will prove to be effective and enjoyable to use, and will give you the best and most beautiful results.

Best Oil Paints for Canvas

Oil paints are designed to be used with canvas, and so all good oils are also good recommendations for painting on canvas. You’d think that this would make it more difficult to narrow down to four choices for the best oils for canvas, but in fact my choices are so delightful to use that the selection was not just easy, it was nearly automatic.

Gamblin Artist Oil Colors

Gamblin Artist Oil Colors Introductory Set

My Favorite Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas



I don’t paint with oils as much as I would like to, possibly because between pencils, pens, markers, charcoals, watercolors, acrylics, air brush, textiles, tablets, laptops and, well, on and on, there are just too many choices for one artist. But it might also be because oils are a bit spendy, and any of the other media are a relative bargain.

That said, I should clearly state that Gamblin Artist oils are, while still pricey, an almost unbelievable value. They don’t just offer quality similar to other oil paints on the market – either around the same price or more expensive – but markedly better quality. The creamy texture, the flow and control they allow, the superbly rich and reliable colors, the perfect finish and the consistency in every way, these are maybe not just my favorite oils but also possibly my favorite paints overall.

And if you know oil painting already, and have somewhat mastered the techniques and the process, Gamblin Artist oil paints will allow you to reach new levels of expression and execution, and offer a truly wonderful and exciting experience when applied to any canvas. If you are new to oils, you should probably spend less and practice, practice, practice, but if you are an old hand there is really no reason to spend more.

Old Holland Classic Oil Paint

Old Holland Classic Oil Color Introductory Box Set

Best Premium Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

Introductory Box Set, Set of 10 Colors, 40 ml tubes


I want to be totally upfront here and say that for almost twice the money I can’t see that Old Holland are markedly superior to my beloved Gamblin Artist series. They are, though, probably just as good, and are in fact truly excellent in every way – creamy and totally controllable consistency, incredibly rich and intense pigment, beautiful flow and a kind of inner light that less expensive oils don’t seem to have.

And to be fair, the number of fine artists who use and swear by Old Holland is quite impressive, and the quality and beauty of these paints is far better than anything else I’ve ever used save for Gamblin, and so they are definitely a good choice for the best premium oil paint for painting on canvases, and for any artist who wants the very best results and the most beautiful paintings.

Jack Richeson Artist Oil Paint

Jack Richeson Artist Oil Colors

Best Affordable Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

37ml Artist Oil Colors, Set of 12


Now here we have to be even a little more qualified in our recommendation, maybe, because just like with Old Holland paints, lots and lots of high level artists love and recommend Jack Richeson Artist Oils. But while they are without a doubt fantastic oil paints, and give the artist a wonderful experience when painting on a good canvas, they are not quite at the level of Old Holland or Gamblin.

Still, they are far better than anything else I’ve tried at this price range, and are definitely an amazing value. I would say, in fact, that while the above paints might offer better texture, control and workability, higher quality pigment and more beautiful colors, Jack Richeson Artist series oil paints are suitable for any level of fine art, display paintings and sales pieces, and far outperform any of the other competition. A truly affordable and lovely professional oil paint that is just great to work with, and undoubtedly a significant value.

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Paint

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colour Paint Starter Set

Best Budget Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas

Set of 10x 37ml Tubes


And as much as I love Winsor and Newton paints, here too we should be clear that the Winton oils are just not as good as Gamblin or Old Holland – though some might suggest that they are just as good as the pricier Jack Richeson. 

What Winton oils are, though, are a perfect – I mean really, really perfect and ideal – student paint. If you are just learning oils, if you are going through a lot of paint and canvas practicing or experimenting, or if you are on a budget, Winsor and Newton Winton series oils will give you the best results possible for the lowest possible cost. To spend less is frankly just a waste of money (not to mention time and effort), and almost all paints at this price level or even higher look lame in comparison.

Best Acrylic Paints for Canvas

Unlike oils, people use acrylic paint as much on paper, board, glass or lots of other surfaces as they do on canvas – more, probably. And you can definitely tell that some acrylic paints seem to be designed for paper, or for hard surfaces. The following, though, are ones I know to be a joy to use with canvas, offering the most effective and flowing process and the most beautiful results.

Please note that in my recent article, The Best Acrylic Paint for Artists: An In-Depth 2021 Buyer’s Guide, I recommend both heavy body and fluid acrylics, but here I am sticking with heavy body paints, which are much more satisfying, workable and appropriate for painting on canvas.

Golden Heavy Body Acrylic Paint

Golden Heavy Body Professional 6 Color Introductory Set

Best Professional Grade Heavy Body Acrylic Paint

The basic acrylic painting experience and an affordable introduction to Golden quality



Probably the most recommended and loved acrylic paints on the market today, Golden heavy body acrylic paint is widely used and highly rated for any and every surface, from paper to glass, wood to metal. They are, though, even more special when painting onto canvas, which medium really allows their superb pigments to fully present, and allows the artist to fully take advantage of their incredible texture, consistency and workability.

There are definitely more expensive acrylic paints out there, and yet I don’t know of any which are better across the board than Golden heavy body. If you want to work with acrylic paint on canvas at the very highest level of expressiveness, create the most accomplished and beautiful paintings, and have truly archival- or museum-quality finished artwork, Golden heavy body are the perfect paint, and in fact an incredible value.

Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint

Liquitex BASICS 36 Tube Acrylic Paint Set

Best Student Grade Heavy Body Acrylic Paint



There are two very striking qualities to Liquitex Basics heavy body acrylic paints: their thick, buttery texture and their incredibly high quality, rich and deep pigments brought to life by using either a brush or palette knife. These two factors, color and workability, make these a perfect affordable acrylic paint for painting onto canvas, and will allow for the most productive learning, practice and experimentation sessions, as well as the highest quality, most beautiful and wholly realized finished fine art paintings.

This is no secret, and Liquitex Basics are one of the most recommended and widely used acrylic paints for students on the market today. With this quality, though, they are also suitable for accomplished and experienced artists, and produce absolutely beautiful results with amazing, even heart-warming, consistency.

Daler Rowney System 3 Acrylic Paint

Yes, I admit it – the “best” acrylic paints for canvas aren’t really my favorite! Golden heavy body paints are better, for sure, and yet I find Daler-Rowney paints so delightful to work with, and my techniques and creative process always go so well, that I believe my own work looks better with them than with Golden or any other top-level acrylic paints. 

What can I say? I just love the thick, flowing consistency of these paints, I adore the colors, and am always so happy with the way my vision appears in front of me on the canvas when I am working – with a minimum of fuss, thought or effort – and when the painting is finished and dry. A really great paint, which is in my opinion a truly top-level professional quality product and highly underrated, Daler-Rowney System 3 acrylics are a fantastic value, and both my choice for best budget acrylic paint to use on canvas and my own personal favorite.

Best Watercolor Paints for Canvas

Watercolors, on the other hand, are – at least these days – used primarily on paper, and yet we have a bit of a surprise here. That is, the watercolors I have found and loved using on paper are also delightful on canvas. This is definitely not the case with all, or even most, watercolors, but wonderfully so with the following paints.

Winsor and Newton Watercolors

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor 24 Pan Set

My Favorite Watercolor Paints in Pans

Lightweight Metal Sketchers Box Set : 24 Half Pans (24 Colors Set)


Winsor and Newton watercolor paints are my favorite and personal choice, and have always given me such consistent and beautiful results, such incredible quality in terms of colors, flow and texture, light and energy, workability and great performance with any and all watercolor techniques. Ok, I have to mention the colors again, because they are just breathtaking – wet or dry, opaque or fluidly transparent – and really inspire me and my vision when I am working.

When it comes to painting with them on canvas, I would have a hard time saying specifically which is better – their pans or tubes. I think the tubes are better suited in some ways, in that they can have a more intense and opaque color and finish, but there is also something about dipping a wet brush against a cake when standing in front of a canvas that just feels right.

Either way, these are superior watercolors. I give them my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation no matter what surface you’re painting onto, and they are easily the best watercolors I’ve used when painting on canvas.

Sennelier L’Aquarelle Watercolor Paint

Sennelier L'Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set

Best Premium Watercolor Paints in Pans

French Watercolor Paint, Metal Set of 48 Half Pans


You may also consider the 24-set: Sennelier L’Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 24 Half Pan Set

The only and automatic choice of so many professional and fine artists, Sennelier L’Aquarelle watercolor paints are essentially perfect in every way, and provide a truly special high-level creative experience when working on paper. But when I use L’Aquarelle pans especially on a good canvas I really understand how great artists – Audubon, O’Keefe, Homer, Wyeth, Hopper, Klee – could get such unbelievable results – the depth, the light and energy, the incredibly intense and/or incredibly subtle colors, the life and realism.

I’m not saying I can get the same results myself, but I can certainly understand how they did, and with Senellier pans I can more easily reach my own full potential as a painter on canvas, and am consistently amazed at how great the results are – and how beautiful my artwork looks. 

A fully professional and top quality paint in every respect, Sennelier L’Aquarelle French watercolor pans are the choice of many of the best artists in the world as the best watercolor paint for working on canvas which is water soluble.

Holbein Artist’s Watercolors

Though I call this my choice for best premium watercolor paint in tubes, actually the most striking thing about Holbein Artist’s watercolors is their low price – that is until you start using them.

On canvas, they have a flow and kind of clear visibility which makes work easier, more natural and automatic, and their colors stand up with a luminance and depth that can be startling even if you are used to watercolor painting. And it is water soluble, dries quickly with absolute consistency and remain perfect and perfectly beautiful.

Pretty much as good as it gets in every aspect, and a brilliant watercolor for painting on canvas, these are in my experience only bettered by the Winsor and Newton Artist series – and then only at twice the price!

Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolors

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set, 45 Half Pans

Best Value Watercolor Paints in Pans Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students



Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set

Best Affordable Watercolors in Tubes Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students



In this instance, either way you go – tubes or pans – it’s the same choice: Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors. I have suggested these remarkable and affordable paints to so many people in so many situations that it might be my most-recommended art product overall. 

The Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors have amazing colors, extremely consistent texture and finish, superb flow and are – especially for a lower priced paint – fully workable and agreeable to any and all watercolor techniques, from fine details to large washes, wet layering to dry brush, transparent shades to fully opaque objects – and all of this is even more apparent on the right canvas than on paper.

A great choice for any student or newcomer to watercolor, Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolors are truly a joy to use. 

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set

Best Budget Watercolor Paints in Pans

Handcrafted, Professional-Quality Pigment Inks for Artists and Crafters, AP-Certified, Blendable, Show up on Dark Paper, Made in Japan


Use these surprisingly superb Kuretake Gensai Tambi watercolors on a properly prepared canvas and you will feel like you’ve suddenly entered a new realm of creative possibility. The way they both stand on and flow into the cloth, the superb mixability and flexibility with any watercolor technique, the solid, intense quality of the pigment and its flexibility and range. An amazing handmade watercolor of essentially professional quality for a very low price!

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set

Best Affordable Watercolors in Tubes Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students



It may seem like I’m cheating here, with the same recommendation for affordable and budget, but really I’ve never found a less expensive watercolor paint in tubes that comes close to the Winsor and Newton Cotman on canvas. Really, cheap watercolors can be great on paper, so to speak, but they just don’t cut it on canvas.

So since I consider “budget” to mean not just a low price but also a great value, since these are anyway pretty inexpensive, and since I also assume that painting on canvas is a little more special, elevated and “fine-artish” than painting on paper, I can’t think of a better budget watercolor paint in tubes that these Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors.

Bonus: Now That You Have the Paint, What About the Canvas?

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With all of this talk about the best paints to use on canvas, we should probably close with at least a very brief discussion about the canvas itself, which leads to some important and often asked questions:

  • What kind of canvas is best for painting?
  • Are different canvases better for different paints?
  • What’s the best canvas for oil painting?
  • What’s the best canvas for acrylic painting?
  • What’s the best canvas for watercolor painting?
  • What in the world is gesso?

You have two basic choices, to get a loose canvas which you will need to prepare for painting, or to get a pre-prepped and pre-mounted primed canvas. It would stand to reason that, like with so many other things, the manual and time-honored way – getting raw canvas, stretching it and mounting it onto the support frame yourself, priming it, applying a base color – would yield noticeably better and higher quality results.

But, to be honest, I’m not so sure it does. For one thing, even an old hand at this may not get the same precise, even and consistent results in any of these steps that a factory or machine can, and it is so very, very time consuming. 

On the other hand, buying bulk canvas, cutting and assembling your own supports, stretching and mounting the fabric (I’m getting exhausted just typing all these words) can save you a little money, but you can at least get canvas that is pre-primed, saving yourself some work and, again, getting really consistent and workable canvas surface every time. 

Here’s my recommendation for bulk cotton primed canvas that is of the best quality and still offers significant value. The primed canvas roll (first link) is ready to go for acrylics and oils, but you will need to apply a few layers of a good watercolor ground (second link) to the surface to make it suitable for watercolor paints. 

Bulk Primed Cotton Canvas

  1. US Art Supply Triple Primed Cotton Art Canvas Roll
  2. US Art Supply Triple Primed Cotton Art Canvas Roll

    100% Cotton 12 Ounce Triple Primed Gesso Artist Painting Backdrop

    6 yards long by either 36 o4 63 inches wide

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground
  4. Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground

    Necessary to make a canvas suitable for watercolor paints

    16oz Jar, Titanium White


    Buy Now on Amazon

If you want pre-mounted stretched canvas, for the ease and the consistency and/or so you can just get painting as quickly as possible, I should tell you that I am not a big advocate for getting extremely high quality, extremely expensive canvas. I feel like the most basic pre-mounted canvases are nearly as good (as long as you get the right ones), and I would much rather spend my money where it can make a big difference, like on better quality paint, or perhaps a slightly larger latte.

At any rate, here are my recommendations for the best, and best value, ready to go stretched canvases for watercolor paints and for acrylic and oil paints:

Best Canvas for Watercolors

  1. Phoenix Watercolor Painting Triple Primed Cotton Canvas
  2. Phoenix Watercolor Painting Triple Primed Cotton Canvas

    8x10 Inch/6 Pack - Triple Primed Cotton Canvas Boards for Watercolor Painting


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Phoenix Watercolor Painting Triple Primed Cotton Canvas
  4. Phoenix Watercolor Painting Triple Primed Cotton Canvas

    9x12 Inch/6 Pack - Triple Primed Cotton Canvas Boards for Watercolor Painting


    Buy Now on Amazon

Best Canvas for Acrylic and Oil Paints

  1. Phoenix White Blank Cotton Stretched Canvas
  2. Phoenix White Blank Cotton Stretched Canvas

    8x10 Inch / 10 Pack - 5/8 Inch Profile Triple Primed Canvas for Oil and Acrylic Paints


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Phoenix White Blank Cotton Stretched Canvas
  4. Phoenix White Blank Cotton Stretched Canvas

    11x14 Inch / 7 Pack - 5/8 Inch Profile Triple Primed Canvas for Oil and Acrylic Paints


    Buy Now on Amazon

Thanks so much for reading this latest article – Best Paint for Painting on Canvas: An In-Depth Guide for 2021 – and please visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides and a lot more!

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