When it comes to painting on canvas, the type of paint you use can make a huge difference in the quality of your work.
As an artist myself, I have tried a variety of paints on canvas and have come to some conclusions on which ones work best.
In this post, I will share with you my personal experiences and recommendations for the best paints to use for canvas painting, whether you prefer acrylic, oil, or watercolor paints.
Overview: Best Paint for Painting on Canvas in 2023
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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
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
Best Premium Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas
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
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
Best Budget Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas
Set of 10x 37ml Paint 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 Acrylics for Canvas
Unlike oils, people use acrylic paint as much on paper, canvas board, glass or lots of other surfaces as they do on canvas – more, probably. And you can definitely tell that some acrylics 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 Buyer’s Guide, I recommend both heavy body and fluid acrylic paint, 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
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 acrylics 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 acrylics 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
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” acrylics 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 absorbent watercolor 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
My Favorite Watercolor Paints in Pans
Lightweight Metal Sketchers Box Set : 24 Half Pans (24 Colors Set)
Winsor and Newton watercolors 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
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 watercolors 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 watercolors 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
Best Value Watercolor Paints in Pans 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
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!
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.
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, fluid acrylic paint is fantastic for canvas, but so is oil paint (which, to be fair, they also mentioned), and so even can be water based paint and what about combining them all in mixed media painting?
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 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, fluid acrylic paint or watercolor better? -, and then select the right brand and the right specific product.
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 and oil pastels are much more expensive than any other type of paint, and a full working set is quite an investment.
Acrylic paint may not have the same depth – physically, since oils can be laid on fairly thick layer and thick texture, 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 acrylic 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!
Watercolors have a quality that no other paints can offer, which lets you mix color blends, 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 watercolor water based paint, 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.
Thanks so much for reading this latest article – Best Paint for Painting on Canvas: An In-Depth Guide – and please visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, guides and a lot more!
Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am a full-time self-taught artist behind Art Side of Life® and a Top Teacher on Skillshare. I have 15 years of experience in the creative field as a concept designer, illustrator, art director, and now freelance artist, content creator, and art instructor. My goal is to help you get your creative groove on with Procreate and make awesome art through practical classes, tutorials, Procreate brushes, and guides on art tools, supplies and resources. About me »
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