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How Do I Choose the Best Fine Art Canvas?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

The best fine art canvas is one the artist can prepare quickly and that will accept the painting medium in a predictable way. Choosing the best canvas begins with deciding whether the canvas should be made from linen or cotton, because each looks and behaves differently. Second, the way a canvas is stretched is important. Some artists are more comfortable with a canvas board as opposed to a stretched canvas, while others prefer to use their own methods to prepare raw canvas. The choice and preparation of a good fine art canvas is as individual as the artist.

A fine art canvas can be made from one of two materials. Linen was the first material used to make canvas for art purposes. It has a slightly yellow or brown tint but remains one of the most popular choices. It is incredibly strong and long-lasting but requires proper sizing or priming to be used. An added benefit is that linen does not lose its natural oils over time and remains more pliable.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Cotton canvas was developed later than linen and has become an equally popular choice for artists. While not as physically strong as linen, the same longevity can be achieved with thorough priming. The material has become a widespread favorite for artists because the color is closer to white than linen's color is, and it is less expensive.

How a fine art canvas is stretched or mounted can greatly affect the way it receives brush strokes and paint. The most popular method is to stretch a sheet of canvas across a wooden frame and tack or staple the sides to the frame. This provides a sturdy surface with some give in the center.

Another method uses a frame with a groove around the edge. This is called spline wrapping. The canvas is stretched over the edge of the frame and inserted into the groove, where it is secured. The advantage of this method is that the edges of the canvas can be used as a painting surface.

Pre-produced canvas art boards are a good choice for those who do not like the give of a traditionally stretched canvas. A fine art canvas board is a piece of canvas that has been stretched across a thick piece of cardboard or art board and glued into position. They are convenient, inexpensive and easily stored.

Some find that the best fine art canvas is not available commercially and choose instead to stretch their own; others do not stretch the canvas at all. Unstretched canvas can be primed and painted, although its display, storage and lifespan can cause problems later. While these methods require some additional knowledge and skill not required of those using pre-stretched canvas, they can help to create a canvas specific to the artist's needs.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - For some reason canvas seems to be on sale at my local stationary shop all the time anyway. I'd love to be able to stretch my own, but I just don't really have the time or space right now. Plus, frankly, I don't have the expertise. The whole point is to try and make something of quality and in this case handmade isn't going to be better than shop-bought, so I might as well buy.


@clintflint - Well, there are other options, of course. I wouldn't recommend that beginner painters try to sell their original art online anyway, unless it is small and easily portable. I would go the print route until my art was recognizable enough that selling the originals was really financially viable.

And cost can vary considerably. People never think of their time as a cost, but it should be taken into account. It might be marginally cheaper to stretch your own canvas, but it takes time. Time that could be better used elsewhere.


If you are just starting out as a painter I would do some research on methods of canvas priming and try them all out at least once just to see what it's like. Sometimes you will need to use different methods for different projects. Sometimes you will find that one method is a lot cheaper than another, or will produce better work, or work that will last longer.

If you are hoping to sell your work, you might want to think about how you will ship it to buyers as well. If you paint on unstretched canvas that can make shipping much easier, but it can also make it more difficult for the buyer on the other end.

But, if you are just starting out you can quickly realize that properly shipping an already stretched canvas might double the price of your work, which isn't going to encourage many sales.

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      Woman painting