Will Acrylic Paints Work On Canvas


I love to paint with acrylic paints because they are a great medium to work with. But when I started I didn’t get on with the suggested specialist acrylic surface and wanted to know if I could use acrylic paints on canvas and would it work OK?

Acrylic paints do work really well on canvas. Some surface preparation is needed for the paint to work well and there are different types of canvas you can get. These are cotton, linen, hemp, and jute.

Although acrylic paints work very well on canvases, there are several things that can make a difference in how well painting on it works. The type of canvas you use and what it’s made of and the priming of the canvas can make a huge difference to how your painting turns out and how well it works for you as an artist. As do the type of acrylic paints you use.

Will Acrylic Paints Work On Canvas

The great thing about acrylic paint that all types of acrylic paints meant for artists works well on canvas. This includes the student and the artist ranges. It doesn’t matter if you are using normal acrylic paints, the super thick ones or the ones that you can work with for longer. I’ve even used some specialist paints designed for a particular style. Craft paint does cause a few more issues but the canvas can be adapted to work better.

Some examples of acrylic paints used on canvases

  • System 3 student paint
  • Interactive Artist Acrylic
  • Winsor and Newton Galeria
  • Winsor and Newton Pro Ranges
  • Pebeo
  • Liquitex Acrylic Paint
  • Golden Heavy Body Acrylic

You get the idea.

While acrylic paints work extremely well on canvas there are things that you can do with your canvas that will make them work much better. Also, different types of canvas and paint can make a difference in how well your paint works on canvas.

In fact, using canvas is the most popular way to paint with acrylics. And I confess my favorite. That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues that will be discussed further below but overall they are great.

These Issues Mean Acrylic Paints Work Less Well on Canvas 

The things I have had issues with over the years are the following

  1. Some canvases types mean you work slower or have difficulty in covering the surface which can cause issues with paint drying out as some acrylic paints dry out quite fast.
  2. If you use a pre-primed canvas you can still see the canvas weave. (You may want this, if not it’s a pain).
  3. If not primed properly the paint can come off and be uneven.

If you are a beginner painter or learning a new technique you naturally paint slower are more likely to use a cheaper student paint and a pre-primed cheaper canvas. 

This is usually because you don’t want to mess about stretching and priming etc or buy expensive canvases and just want to get down to painting. That is perfectly understandable. But a little bit of preparation works wonders and makes the paint flow better on your canvas.

These are my two favorite ways of using  acrylic on canvas that I feel makes it work well:

  1. To make your acrylics work on your canvas so you don’t want to pull your hair out you do need to do an extra couple of layers of priming with gesso even with a pre-primed canvas it can help with painting. This helps your acrylic paint to adhere to the canvas and flow better. It allows you to more easily use thinner paint more layers without issues. It also protects your canvas.
    Only do the extra priming if you are having any of the issues mentioned here or you feel it will help.
  2. If you don’t want to see the weave or see less weave you can prime your canvas smooth and fill in the holes.
    Different canvases and canvas materials have different sized holes. Smaller holes are better for acrylic paints as acrylic does not fill in the holes the way oils do. If this is an issue for you either pick a small holed canvas or fill them in with primer.

I have found that working with an additional self primed canvas means acrylics work better which means you are less likely to have to correct and remove the paint. The more your work the paint the more chance you have of issues with it staying on the canvas later. This can depend on your technique as well.

While you don’t have to do extra layers of priming if you buy pre-primed, after all that’s the whole point, it does help. I am talking about the cheaper canvases here that most students would buy.

Popular Types of Canvas That Work Well With Acrylic Paints

Each canvas type is different and your paints will react differently to them.

Your Main Canvas types are

  1. Cotton Canvas
  2. Linen

These are not always 100% but mixed with a bit of PVC. Cotton is by far the most popular and what I tend to use. It’s cheaper and easier to get hold of and available in many different types of stores.

Less Popular Types of Canvas That Also Work Well With Acrylic Paints

  1. Hemp
  2. Jute

Hemp is becoming more popular again for many different things including canvas due to looking for alternative ways of doing things that have a less environmental impact. 

Jute is more coarse than the other canvases described. This makes it perfect for those who prefer rougher textured work.  Although you can get all the canvas materials in different textures.

Often different materials are combined to make different types of canvases.

Types of Canvas That Work Well for Acrylic Painting

You can work on different types of canvas these include

  • Pre-stretched (already on a frame) and pre-primed
  • Pre Stretched un unprimed
  • Canvas board
  • Unstretched canvas. This often comes in a roll. Comes primed and unprimed.

I recommend that beginners use either canvas board or pre-stretched primed canvas because it is both more economical and easier to use. It allows you to start painting with minimum preparation.

If you get unprimed canvas you have to use gesso that is suitable for acrylics and cover the canvas with a couple or so layers and let dry. These layers have to be super flat and it can take a while to do.

If you get unstretched you have to stretch them onto a frame yourself.

You can easily get the primed stretched canvases in art stores, online and in some general stores. The more specialist canvases can be harder to get and you (unless you are really lucky) may not be able to just pop out and get them. 

Acrylic Paints Work Differently on Canvas Types

I’ve touched a bit on the hole size of the canvas weave and how it affects the paint on the different canvases. This is important because which canvas you choose and how you prime it will depend on the type and style of painting that you do. If you have just started you might not know your preferred style yet. Or you may want to experiment with different styles.

Don’t get too hung up on this at this stage. Just be aware that smaller holes are less likely to cause gaps in the paint and get some gesso and add if you are finding this an issue. 

With this in mind, I wouldn’t recommend a rougher canvas to start as smoother ones are easier to use. Cotton pre-primed and stretched canvases are a good place to start. Rougher canvas will make it harder for beginners to cover the canvas and you want to concentrate on what you are doing.

Smother canvases with a better cover of paint also help because when you are learning you take longer and most acrylic paints dry so quickly. Anyway, you don’t need this is hindering you.

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