Choosing the right surface for your painting

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Acrylic paints have some of the widest variety of options when looking for a surface to paint on. Whether you’re looking for something traditional or unconventional it’s worth familiarising yourself with the range available. The common rule is to avoid anything greasy or glossy but you can also use primers to make a range of surfaces suitable.

Canvas Paper

Canvas paper is affordable and convenient while still retaining the texture of traditional canvas. Acrylics can be applied directly onto the canvas paper so it also makes this surface ideal for painting on the go.

Traditional Canvas

This is the most common surface used by professional artists whether in cotton with a weave texture or linen which has a smoother surface. Acrylic paint won’t sink into the canvas so it can be painted straight on, raw or primed.

Canvas Board

Introduced to help the outdoor painter, these are usually very affordable and can be easily stored or transported. Made with a backing board and a cloth stretched over the board, these are also thinner and easier to frame.

Wooden Boards

Some artists enjoy the smooth texture of a sanded wooden board and they’ve been used by artists for hundreds of years. The inflexible surface creates a sturdy support for any painting and presents a different painting experience as opposed to a springy canvas.

Metal or plastic

The shiny surface of metal or plastic sheets will need a tooth for the paint to grip to first. You can either sand the surface to create a rough texture or us a primer to make sure the acrylic paint doesn’t peel or flake off.



Oil Painting

The most common surface for oil painting is canvas but this doesn’t mean you are limited by it. There are a range of options available that can be cost effective, easier to transport or offer a much different experience.

Cotton Canvas

This surface gives you a satisfying spring and the stretched material makes it ideal for oil painting. Cotton canvas is affordable as it’s easier to stretch and it has textured surface which the paint can grip to. It’s the most popular surface for both oils and acrylics and classified as professional or classic according to its weight and surface texture.

Linen Canvas

This is regarded as the classically trained professional’s favourite surface for oil painting. The close knit linen weave offers a smooth surface on which to apply oils. The Linen is strong, durable and made to last so it’s a good investment. As it’s strong it can withstand heavy handed painting and its natural oils in the fibres means it’ll preserve its flexibility and won’t become brittle over time.

Canvas Boards

Painting outdoors? Canvas boards offer the perfect solution as they are lightweight, easier to transport and still give the quality surface of a canvas. There are also very affordable and suitable for creating trial sketches before committing to a final piece.

Canvas Paper

Perfect for sketching with oils, canvas paper have the same texture and offer an affordable way to test techniques and ideas.

Wooden Boards

These offer a very different experience compared to painting on canvas but make sure they are primed so the oil doesn’t absorb into the wood.

Watch Out

Working on different materials can sometimes be risky and lead to work deteriorating over time. Make sure that the surface you’re working on is sufficiently primed.



Watercolour Painting

Achieving marvellous results depends a lot on the surface you work on when painting with watercolours. Whether you need a block, pad or different textures, the range of watercolour surfaces is vast to suit any style.

Watercolour Blocks

These pads are pre stretched and sealed on three or four sides. This removes the need to stretch the paper yourself and is useful for painting on the go or for skipping that stage of preparation. They are supported by a hard back and the pages can be separated with a scalpel once the paper dries after painting.  

Paper Pads

Paper pads are affordable and available in a huge range of sizes. The paper will usually require stretching so the paper doesn’t warp when it absorbs water. These are sold as either gummed pads so that pages can be easily ripped out without tearing or spiral bound so they can hold together as a collection.

Painting Boards

These are heavy enough that they don’t need to be stretched and in some cases have a clay surface that is useful when lifting watercolour off the board as you’re painting. They are also useful when added mixed media elements to your work as they can support a huge variety of mediums.

Watercolour paper or blocks also come in a variety of textures:

Cold Pressed (Or Not Pressed)

The most popular texture for watercolour paper is also one of the most versatile as its ideal for a range of techniques. It has a medium texture which supports dry brushing or wet into wet washes.

Hot Pressed

This is the smoothest paper with no tooth so the paint won’t sink in to the pad a much when compared to the other textures available and so will dry much faster. It’s perfect for fine detailed work such a botanical illustration and for pieces that are to be scanned in.

Rough Texture

This is the heaviest texture of paper and commonly used by artists who create expressive pieces of work. This paper is great for the glazing technique as the paper absorbs the first layer thoroughly and creates an excellent surface to combine pastels and other paints for a mixed media finish.