The Many Types of Oil Painting Surfaces

Oil paintings can be painted on a variety of surfaces (also called supports). These can be canvas, panels, paper, wood, metal, plus many others. The reason they are sometimes called supports is because the surface “supports” the medium the image is painted with.

Here are some interesting bullet points about the more common types of oil painting surfaces:

stretch canvasStretched Canvas is:

  • the most common support for oils used by modern day artists
  • a tightly woven flexible material made from cotton, linen, or other synthetic material that is stretched across a wooden or metal stretcher bar frame
  • can be purchased already primed and stretched onto stretcher bars or it can be purchased in bulk rolls that the artist cuts up into smaller pieces and stretches onto the frame
  • comes in three varieties of textures—
    • Fine: extra smooth surface for fine detailed paintings, such as portraiture
    • Medium: bold texture surface for expressive paintings with broad brushstrokes, like the Impressionists
    • Rough: abrasive “toothy” surface to enhance adhesion for collage
      Note: The finer the canvas texture is, the less the texture of the canvas will show through in your finished painting.

river side painting“Along The ICW”
Marine art by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on canvas panel board

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canvas panel boardCanvas Board/Panel is:

  • a rigid surface covered with primed canvas glued onto cardboard
  • are easier to frame than stretched canvases
  • easier to store and travel with since it  takes up less room than stretched canvases
  • also is more durable and less easily damaged than stretched canvases
  • preferred by many artists for their smaller paintings
  • an ideal option for painting on location because they are light weight and also  sunlight will not be able to shine through the back

canvas paperCanvas Paper is:

  • a flexible surface mostly used for small sketches, color notes, and other purposes
  • not a favorable surface to paint on because it is too fragile and will not last through the years
    Note: Works painted on canvas paper must undergo extreme restorative and conservative treatments, usually within a few decades.
  • available in various paper qualities—
    • 100% cotton: top of the quality scale, the paper is made entirely of cotton
    • Rag paper: some rag content is included in the paper, often mixed with linters or wood cellulose
    • Wood free or high alpha cellulose or wood sulfite: the highest grade of wood pulp paper

fine art wood panel boardWood Panel Canvas is:

  • a rigid surface for artists made from poplar, oak, linden, pine, cedar or various other hardwoods, like mahogany or walnut
    Note: Other types of woods theses panels are made from includes plywood, fiberboard, Masonite, and particleboard.
  • the best for painting when they are well seasoned, air-dried quarter-sawn hardwoods to avoid warping, shrinking, as this causes them to hold paint better
    Note: It is very important for wood panels to be well aged to prevent shrinking and warping that might occur from exposure to the water content present in some paints.

metal fine art panel boardsMetal Panel Canvas is:

  • a rigid surface that requires an oil primer to prepare it to support artist paints
    Note: This type of surface does not fair well with liquid (water base) primers.
  • comes in various types of fine art metals — aluminum, brass, and copper

Additional Reading

Types of Canvas Available for Painting

About Artist Stretcher Bar Frames

Common Paint Media Used By Artists

Types of Canvas Available for Painting

stretch canvasWhen an artist paints on canvas there are several different types of canvas available for painting. The term canvas is actually a generic term used by many artists for the various types of surfaces that can be used as a support for paint. These range from fabric to hardboard to paper to wood. However for the purpose of this article, we will only discuss the fabric which is the type that is most often used.

Canvas Types

Fabric for painting surfaces can be cotton duck, linen, or a synthetic fiber. When dealing with canvas for painting, there are three things to consider:

  1. Type of fabric — cotton duck, linen or synthetic
  2. Weight — the thickness of the fabric
  3. Weave — how tight the individual threads are woven

western sunset oil painting“Cowboy Sunset”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Cotton Duck Canvas
Canvases made with cotton duck fabric is the most common type of painting surface and the most economical. It comes in various weights and weaves.

Linen Canvas
Linen canvas is a more expensive type and is often regarded as superior to cotton canvas because the threads are finer and the weave tighter. In other words, it has a smoother finish than cotton and is more suitable for portraits. Belgian linen is considered the best of all linens.

Synthetic Fiber Canvas
Synthetic fiber canvas is not a traditional type of surface for painting and therefore is less commonly used. Some artists oppose the use of synthetic fiber canvas as they have not been around long enough for artists to really gauge their durability.