What kind of canvas do you use for oil painting? This is a really great question, and one I get asked quite often, so I’d like to try and answer it in the most complete and helpful manner possible in this article on the best canvases for oil paints and painting.
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If you are “stretched for time” :), and want to get right to the picks, here are my top ones:
Best Stretched Canvases for Oil Paints and Oil Painting Overall – Linen and Cotton
Table of Contents
- Best Canvases for Oil Painting
- Best Pre-Stretched Canvas for Oil Painting
- Best Rolled Cotton Canvas for Oil Painting
- Best Primed Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting – Cotton
- Best Unprimed Cotton Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting
- Best Primed Linen Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting
- Best Unprimed Linen Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting
- Best Canvas Panels for Oil Painting
- Best Canvas Pads for Oil Painting
- Bonus: Learning Oil Painting with the Evolve Artist Program
I will talk briefly about the different kinds of canvases available – the different forms of canvas and the different materials – and then list out the best canvases for oil paints and painting on the market today.
At the end of this article, in the Bonus Section, I will talk about a great way to learn how to paint with oils – and to learn, or refresh your knowledge of, the most important art techniques, theories and practices: Evolve Artist Program, an online learning platform that is, for my money, second to none.
But now let’s get into canvases, in this in-depth artist’s guide for the best canvas for oil painting in 2022.
What Kind of Canvas is Best for Oil Painting?
There are at least four kinds of canvas commonly used in oil painting:
A stretched canvas is a piece of painting canvas that has been cut to a certain size and stretched across and secured to a wooden frame. The canvas itself has already been prepared for painting, with layers of sizing and gesso, so it is ready to use.
Stretched canvas is the best for high quality oil painting, often offering true archival quality which will let your paintings really last and stay beautiful for many years, and canvases that are pre-stretched and pre-primed can be incredibly convenient.
This is simply a roll of canvas material which you would need to treat for oil painting (with sizing and gesso) and then stretch and secure to a wooden frame.
Most canvas rolls you purchase today are, in fact, pre-primed, meaning the layers of sizing and gesso are already applied, and the surface is optimally finished and ready for painting.
Stretching and mounting your own canvases can definitely be less expensive than purchasing pre-stretched and pre-primed canvases, though it is a bit of work, and definitely requires some skill and practice.
For many painters buying a pre-stretched canvas is far preferable to this kind of DIY project, but lots of other artists enjoy doing it, and there is also the advantage of being able to make just the size of canvas you want, as opposed to the standard sizes of pre-stretched canvases, and to control the priming process as well.
Also called a canvas panel, this is a canvas, usually a lot thinner and lighter than the ones used on frames, which has been glued to a stiff board. Although a stretched canvas is pulled very tight, and offers little sag or spring when working, a canvas board will have an even more firm and solid working surface.
Canvas boards can be inexpensive and tend to be light and easy to move around, set down and work on, but they will generally not offer the same kind of long life or true archival standards of the best stretched canvases for oil paints.
Canvas pads are made of paper that mimics a canvas surface and have been specially prepared to work with different kinds of paint, or even sheets of actual canvas bound together.
A painting on a canvas paper pad – especially the paper variety – will not last for anywhere near as long as a work on canvas, or even on a canvas panel, but the pads are very easy and convenient to use, and a great way to practice. Not always the best for oil paints, but there are a couple of notable exceptions.
Linen or Cotton – Which is the Best Canvas for Oil Painting?
Linen is the best material for fine art painting, and is preferred by serious oil painters. It is a very strong and long lasting fabric, with natural oils which prevent it from becoming brittle and cracking over time. Many painters also prefer the texture of fine linen, and its strength allows for strong techniques and a kind of creative abandon when working.
Cotton is less expensive, and despite the advantages of linen cotton remains more popular among artists overall. The best cotton canvas can be very strong, and if treated correctly can also offer very long life. Cotton canvas is most often primed with gesso actually made for acrylic paints, and so it will soak up a little of your oil paint – especially the first layers – but if you haven’t used linen canvas you might not even notice this.
For beginning artists and people new to oil painting, as well as art students and even lots of advanced artists, cotton is, again, the most popular choice, and if you get a good artist grade canvas, with high quality cotton that is well stretched and well primed, it can be really great to work on and will last a lifetime with no deterioration or damage – especially if some care is taken to make sure the painting is not exposed to UV light or excessively dry conditions.
But for the best working experience and, many would claim, the best looking paintings, and for true archival quality and long life, top level fine oil painters would always choose linen canvas for their next masterpiece!
How Can You Find the Best Canvases for Oil Painting?
Now that we know a little more about canvases, and you have an idea of what kind of canvas you might want – pre-stretched or roll canvas, oil painting panels or pads, linen or cotton – let’s concentrate on finding the best products, and making the best choices, in each case.
So we’ll organize this buyer’s guide to be as simple as possible, with the following sections and divisions:
Best Pre-Stretched Canvas for Oil Painting
- Best Linen Canvas Overall
- Best Cotton Canvas Overall
- Best Affordable Linen Canvas
- Best Affordable Cotton Canvas
- Best Super-Cheap Pre-Stretched Canvas
Best Bulk Canvas for Oil Painting
- Bulk Cotton Rolls – Primed and Unprimed
- Bulk Linen Rolls – Primed and Unprimed
Best Canvas Panels for Oil Painting
Best Canvas Pads for Oil Painting
So let’s get right into the list of best canvases for oil painting, so you can get busy creating your next masterpiece!
Best Canvases for Oil Painting
Best Pre-Stretched Canvas for Oil Painting
Best Linen Canvas Overall
Best Cotton Canvas Overall
A truly archival quality canvas, made from Belgian linen or premium cotton that is specially primed for optimal interaction with oil paints, the Masterpiece Artist Canvas is the best pre-stretched canvas I’ve ever used.
A fairly expensive canvas, the Artist uses not just the finest, heaviest and strongest fabric, but also the finest hardwoods for their stretcher bars, which are braced using Masterpiece’s patented cross-brace system.
The canvas is stretched using their MuseumWrap method, providing the tightest and longest lasting surface tension of any pre-made canvas.
The wooden frame’s corners are handmade tongue and groove joints, and the canvas corners are uncut and carefully folded, allowing for the easiest and safest remounting – really, everything about this canvas is designed and constructed to ensure that it, and your oil paintings, will last for many lifetimes.
But the real attraction here is the painting surface. The texture and tooth are maybe a tiny bit more natural and effective for oil painting if you get the linen, but even the cotton is fabulous, and in fact clearly superior to even premium linen used by other manufacturers.
Not only is the canvas much tighter than even other top-tier products, it is absolutely ideal in terms of texture and tooth, adherence and controlled absorption. It displays colors with incredible light and life, and presents details, techniques, bold and subtle gestures and even emotions better than any other, and it is truly a joy to paint on.
Easily the best stretched linen canvas and the best stretched cotton canvas you can get, and – despite its not inconsiderable price – a real bargain and truly intelligent investment.
Here are links to some of the most popular sizes in the Vincent Pro linen canvas line:
- Masterpiece Vincent Pro Linen Artist Canvas 14 x 18
- Masterpiece Vincent Pro Linen Artist Canvas 18 x 24
- Masterpiece Vincent Pro Linen Artist Canvas 30 x 36
And here are links to some of the most popular sizes in the Vincent Pro cotton canvas line:
- Masterpiece Vincent Pro Cotton Artist Canvas 14 x 18
- Masterpiece Vincent Pro Cotton Artist Canvas 18 x 24
- Masterpiece Vincent Pro Cotton Artist Canvas 30 x 40
Best Affordable Linen Canvas
Best Affordable Cotton Canvas
Available in a wide variety of sizes, the Winsor and Newton professional stretched canvas is made from premium linens and cottons, stretched across an exceptionally strong kiln-dried frame. The canvas is hand assembled and hand stretched, and is as solid and stable as they come.
With an absolutely perfect surface texture and great tautness, this is, despite its low price, one of the best pre-made canvases I know for painting.
And while it is treated with high pigment acrylic gesso, it is specially formulated to prevent excess oil absorption, and works absolutely beautifully with oil paints, showing colors accurately and vividly, perfectly presenting fine details and subtle expression, and supporting any oil painting techniques.
These Winsor and Newton cotton canvases and linen canvases are just beautiful to paint on, making things easier and more effective, and ultimately giving your work more beauty and impact. And while the linen may be a bit more desirable for oil painting – and not that much more expensive – both linen or cotton are essentially archival quality, and will keep and protect your oil painting masterpieces for many years.
The Winsor and Newton Professional is a superb but affordable pre-stretched premium canvas, easily the best in its price range, and highly recommended.
Best Budget Pre-Stretched Canvas
16x20 Inch / 5 Pack - 5/8 Inch Profile Triple Primed for Oil & Acrylic Paints
Phoenix Artist series canvases are basic but excellent quality pure cotton acid free stretched canvases with great tension and sturdy and durable frames.
They are triple primed, making them optimal for oils and suitable for really any kind of paint, and they are chemically stable and ideally primed to make colors really pop and really last, with accuracy, life and range that other canvases at this price level don’t always present.
And the Phoenix canvases are just wonderful to work on, with a medium texture that feels a bit more fine than most, and really allows for intricate and detailed work, but has enough tooth to pull paint beautifully.
Phoenix Artist stretched cotton canvases are pretty amazing for their price, and the best I’ve ever used at this level!
Best Rolled Cotton Canvas for Oil Painting
When shopping for rolls of bulk canvas for painting, you’ll notice it’s a bit different than with pre-stretched and pre-assembled canvases.
For one thing, you won’t see the same kinds of clearly labeled divisions and different levels in terms of price or quality – lots of the rolled canvas is actually quite good quality, and there aren’t always huge differences in price.
And for another, with rolled canvases you will need to know, or decide, if you are going to prime your own canvas, or whether you prefer a pre-primed canvas roll. I personally don’t have a preference, and I think knowing how to prime a canvas is a great skill, and gives you more control in many ways.
But I do have to admit that a canvas that’s ready to go is also pretty attractive – besides, I still have to stretch and mount it, don’t I, so I don’t mind saving a few steps.
So here, rather than listing the best overall, the best affordable and the best super cheap canvases, I’m going to list a few rolls of cotton and linen canvas that I know personally to be very good and very nice to work with – or, at the very least, that have been strongly recommended by my friends and colleagues.
I will include recommendations for best cotton bulk canvas – primed and unprimed – and best linen bulk canvas – primed and unprimed.
Best Primed Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting – Cotton
Not the cheapest primed cotton canvas available, this superb Fredrix medium weight bulk cotton is still an amazing value, proving that you don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts to get the best professional quality. Strong and long lasting, with a consistent and nicely workable medium texture, and a pleasure to use.
A huge roll of double primed premium cotton with a versatile medium texture that is lovely to paint on. Acid free and incredibly strong, this is archival quality fine art canvas at an amazing price.
Professional grade cotton art canvas that is acid free and very strong, and double primed for oil or any other kind of paint. At any size this is a good buy, but the huge roll is downright cheap for the quality.
Best Unprimed Cotton Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting
With a remarkably consistent finish and real strength and durability, Creative Mark cotton duck canvas holds its shape and tension beautifully, and the large bulk rolls are an amazing value for this level of quality.
A great smooth double duck cotton that is suitable for any kind of paint and any kind of priming. This light but strong fine grain canvas has a wonderful surface for detailed work, but one that still pulls paint beautifully. Not expensive, but premium quality!
Best Primed Linen Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting
My favorite bulk linen for oil painting, this Claessens linen has a beautiful fine texture for the highest level of precision and detail, and yet a great tooth for pulling paint. Perfectly oil primed every time, and a truly archival quality product.
A beautifully finished Galician linen canvas that has been professionally primed to Fredrix’s high standards – not by far their most expensive bulk canvas, but still among the best available anywhere, and a great value for the fine artist.
Best Unprimed Linen Canvas Rolls for Oil Painting
A super strong medium weight unprimed canvas with a medium finish optimized for all kinds of oil techniques, and yet still great for even fine detail – possibly the finest raw linen on the market today!
100 square feet of heavy weight raw linen with a versatile medium weave that is great for even very detailed work and has the tooth needed to really pull paint. A beautiful canvas that is easy to prime, and a great value.
Remember that if you are using raw, unprimed bulk canvas, you will need to size and prime it before it is suitable for painting. And while rabbit glue has (somewhat disturbingly) been the standard for sizing canvas for centuries, there are modern alternatives that are often even more effective, like the excellent Gambln Poly Vinyl Acetate Size. I also recommend Gamblin for their superior oil primer, specifically the wonderful and affordable Gamblin Oil Painting Ground.
Best Canvas Panels for Oil Painting
Best Canvas Panel for Oil Paint Overall
Enhanced Oil Priming for Superb Performance & Color Retention - [6 Pack - 6x12"]
The best canvas panels you can get for oil paint and painting, these Centurion oil-primed linen panels are scandalously inexpensive, but don’t let the low price fool you! They are incredibly strong, and offer archival quality for your artwork, and the medium texture is not just very versatile, but a dream to paint on.
Best Multi-Sized Pack
5x7, 8x10, 9x12, 11x14 inch (9 PCS of Each), 100% Cotton Art Canvas Board Primed White
With perfectly consistent finish every time, and a smooth surface that is ideal for control and intricate detail but still pulls paint nicely from the brush, these ultra-strong Shuttle Art canvas boards are pure cotton, acid free and triple primed, and come in a nice variety of sizes for a very low price.
Best Single Sized Value Pack
Another really premium quality product for a remarkably low price, the Phoenix artist grade canvases are triple primed with acid-free gesso and use 100 percent cotton.
With a great surface for both fine details and larger, more dramatic gestures, and superior oil paint pulling qualities, these are a perfect choice if you want a larger pack in a single size, and an amazing value.
Best Canvas Pads for Oil Painting
- Centurion Artist Linen Canvas Pads for Oil Painting
11 Ounce Weight, 10 Bleed Proof Sheets, Single 16x20"
Here we run into a bit of an issue, in that most canvas pads are really not that great for oil painting. Even if they say that they are suitable for oils, they still tend to absorb a lot of oil, and can warp and deform as a result – no to mention using too much paint and not showing your work – especially colors and detail – to best effect.
That said, for quick oil sketches and practice, and for sheer convenience, there are still a few at least decent and quite inexpensive choices, and here are my two favorites:
Better yet, rather than “at least decent choices,” there two amazingly high quality canvas pads I know and love, which are actually designed just for oil painting, work perfectly for the medium and are suitable for everybody, from beginners to top level fine artists:
A very strong medium weight cotton oil painting paper with a nice surface texture that allows for ideal paint flow, and that’s formulated to let oil paints really stand up, without sacrificing adherence, making any painting look beautiful.
Perhaps not as long lasting as the Centurion pad below, nonetheless this Arches oil pad is suitable for even finished fine art pieces, as it holds up to even vigorous techniques, buckles far less than any other paper canvas, and is chemically stable and acid free.
A premium pad, beautifully made in France by one of the great art supply companies, the Arches oil canvas pad is far superior to any other paper pad I’ve used, and highly recommended.
11 Ounce Weight, 10 Bleed Proof Sheets, Single 16x20"
An absolutely superb pad of pure linen canvases which have been double oil primed and have a wonderful medium texture suitable for all styles and techniques.
The Centurion Artist canvas pads are not like others – which are often a kind of compromise for artists on the go, or a quick and easy practice pad for people on a budget.
Instead, this is a no-compromise product that will allow you to work at the very highest level, and will not only make your work go easier and look better, but last for many, many years.
For serious fine artists who need the best of the best in a canvas pad for oil painting, the Centurion Artist canvas pad is definitely it, and receives my highest recommendation!
Bonus: Learning Oil Painting with the Evolve Artist Program
Some of you may be new to the wonderful world of oil painting, and wondering how best to learn and how best to proceed. And it sure would be great if I could simply offer a complete and helpful how-to guide here, explaining in a few words how to get started and even how to complete your first oil paintings.
Unfortunately, though, it just doesn’t work that way – with oil painting especially.
Oil paints are incredibly expressive, and once you know what you’re doing you can do so very much with them – layering, shading, light and shadow, contour and dimensionality, and absolutely complete and amazing control over colors.
But all of this takes practice, and it is not just a good idea, but I would say a real necessity, to have at least some basic lessons, to learn how to deal with the thick and rich texture of oils, how to blend, layer and block, how to capture the incredible sense of light and shadows that oils allow for, how to achieve three dimensional appearance, a sense of motion or stillness, and the realism and life that the best oil paintings are so well known for.
I cannot emphasize this enough – oil painting is sort of a different world, a medium which is more difficult and does ask for very specific knowledge and skills, and there is no other art form I can think of that benefits more from at least a small amount of formal education.
So, let me recommend the best online school I know for learning oil painting – from the basics to fairly advanced techniques – as quickly, easily and effectively as possible – Evolve Artist Program.
Evolve Artist Program – Fast, Fun and So Effective!
Click here to check out more about Evolve Artist Program: watch the interview with the founder, Kevin Murphy; graduate, Daniel Folta; and check out the art supplies in the Unboxing video
Below are a couple of examples of students learning progress:
Evolve Artist Program is focused on the most complete and effective art education possible, and their award-winning teachers and coursework cover both the all-important technical foundation of painting and art in general, the more advanced processes and techniques, and even the insight, tips and tricks that only come from long hours, years even, of experience.
And, brilliantly, they feel the best way to really teach, and learn, art, and in particular painting, is by using that most expressive and rewarding of all media – oil painting! In fact, not only does much of the coursework feature and use oil paints and oil painting, you even get a small kit of professional oil painting supplies when you sign up.
And this essentially old-school formal art education is, despite its thoroughness and effectiveness, much faster and more fun, and less expensive, than you could possibly imagine.
So if you want to really know and understand oil painting, get the most out of this incredibly medium and go as far as possible – and especially if you think you could use some basic art education, or some refreshing, along the way – there is absolutely no program I know of that comes close to the Evolve Artist Program, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
Thanks so much for reading this article – Essential Oil Painting Supplies for Artists – and again please check out the other articles in this series on oil painting:
- Essential Oil Painting Supplies for Artists
- Artist’s Guide to Oil Painting for Beginners
- Best Oil Paints and Oil Paint Set
- Choosing the Best Oil Paint Brushes
- Choosing the Best Oil Paint Palette
- Best Palette Knives and Palette Knife Set
- Choosing the Best Painting Easel
- Best Oil Pastels for Artists
And I really hope you visit our website – Art Side of Life – for more articles, buyer’s guides, fascinating interviews, tutorials and lots of other resources for artists, crafters and all kinds of creative folk!
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