If you’re new to painting with acrylics, you may be wondering which surfaces are best to paint on and why. In this blog post I look at four different surfaces for acrylic painting. Read on for more information.

Acrylic paints are very versatile and can be used on many different surfaces. You can paint on most surfaces that aren’t completely smooth, as the paint needs a little bit of texture (“tooth”) to stick properly. If you paint on a surface that is too glossy and untextured, you might find your painting peeling off again when it’s dried (even if you’ve prepared and primed the surface).

You can prepare suitable surfaces for painting by priming them with gesso. This gritty substance is available in white, black and clear. A couple of coats will really help your acrylic paint stick to the surface it’s being painted on to.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, and it’s certainly not a list of all the surfaces you could use to paint with acrylics. But let’s take a look at four of the most commonly used surfaces for acrylic painting.

4 Surfaces For Acrylic Painting

Paper

Paper is a great surface to start acrylic painting with, but it’s definitely not just for beginners. I know people tend to like starting with paper as it costs less than buying canvases. They feel that it’s less of a waste if they mess their painting up (although of course you can paint over acrylic paint when it’s dry, so it’s really not that big a problem). Also, see this post about creative mistakes — I think they should be embraced!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand… You ideally want to use thicker paper for painting with acrylics. That means regular printer paper is no good as it will buckle and crinkle as the paint dries. You can get specially made acrylic paper, but watercolour paper and mixed media paper is just as good. I love this paper*. I find that paper around 300gsm is the ideal weight, but a little less is also fine (the mixed media paper I like is actually 250gsm).

If you paint on paper, it is best to frame it when you want to display it.

Canvas Board

Canvas board is a good step up from paper, being just that bit more rigid. It can hold more paint than paper can. If you like to add a lot of texture with thick paint, this might be a better choice than paper.

Canvas boards are nice and easy to store, taking up much less room than canvases. If you paint often and complete paintings quickly (which is easier to do with acrylics than oils since they dry that much faster) you may find you quickly end up with storage issues if you use canvases. This will be less of an issue if you use canvas boards. They also cost less than canvases, although more than paper.

I would probably frame a canvas board, even if I used a frame without glass. If you chose to go without the glass, you’re better off varnishing your painting. Acrylic paint attracts dust and dirt so it will be much easier to clean if it’s varnished. Ultimately, though, it’s all down to personal preference, and you could hang a canvas board without a frame if you chose to.

Canvas

If you think of painting in a traditional sense, you probably think of works on canvas. The texture of canvas is very satisfying to paint on. Although it’s more expensive than paper and canvas boards, it’s possible to buy budget options and multipacks that aren’t bad value at all.

Pre-made canvases generally come ready primed. The cheaper they are, though, the more likely it is that you’ll need to apply another coat of gesso to remedy a patchy surface. In the past, I’ve found that the paint I was applying to a cheap canvas wasn’t adhering very well. If that happens to you, you may need to give the canvas a coat of gesso.

With canvases, you have the option of framing them or not. If the sides of the canvas are painted, either one uniform colour or as a continuation of the painting, there’s no need to frame it. Canvases don’t need to be framed behind glass, but if you don’t use the glass, you’re better off varnishing your painting, as with canvas boards.

Plywood

Depending on how much you know about acrylic painting, this option may be a bit of a surprise. It turns out, though, that plywood is a really great option for painting on since it has a fair bit of texture. One thing you should bear in mind is that a large plywood panel will be much heavier than a canvas of the same size. If you paint a lot of large paintings, give due consideration to the fittings and fixtures you will need when you hang them.

It’s best to prime plywood before painting. You have the option of using clear gesso if you want to keep the warm plywood colour as a base instead of white. You could even try experimenting with priming half a piece of plywood with white gesso and half with clear. Then you can see how much of a difference the natural colour of the plywood makes as a base for your painting.

Framing is entirely optional for a painting on plywood. You should be aware that a frame will add extra weight. You should always varnish an unframed painting on plywood to protect it and make it easier to keep clean.


So there you have it — four options for surfaces to use when you’re painting with acrylics. Which ones have you tried? Which is your favourite? Are you tempted to try something different after reading this post? Let us all know in the comments.

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