The Many Types of Oil Painting Surfaces

Oil paintings are created on a variety of surfaces known as “supports.” They are called supports because the material used to create the canvas surface supports the medium used to paint the image. Oil painting surfaces are made from materials such as canvas, panels, paper, wood, metal, and various others can be used.

Surfaces for oil painting include:

  • Stretched canvas—traditional and gallery wrap
  • Canvas panel board
  • Canvas paper
  • Wood panel canvas
  • Metal panel canvas

Below are some interesting bullet points about the more common types of oil painting surfaces.

types of Oil Painting SurfacesStretched 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 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 finely 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 more refined the canvas texture is, the less the surface of the canvas will show through in your finished painting.

  • available in two styles—
Traditional Stretched Canvas
Traditional Stretched Canvas

Traditional Stretched Canvas: the pre-primed canvas is stretched across and attached (side-stapled) to the sides of wooden stretcher bars using staples. Artists create their paintings on top of the canvas surface. The sides of the canvas are left raw or unpainted. Paintings composed on traditional canvas will require a frame before being displayed.

Gallery Wrap Stretched Canvas
Gallery Wrap Stretched Canvas

Gallery Wrap Stretched Canvas: the pre-primed canvas fabric is stretched across and wrapped around the wood stretcher bars. It is attached to the back of the stretcher bars using staples (back-stapled) or spline. Gallery-wrapped stretched canvas allows artists to paint on the sides or edges of the canvas and to hang it without a frame.

Neither gallery-wrapped nor traditional stretched canvas is superior. Some artists and collectors prefer the look of framed art, while others prefer the more contemporary look of unframed art.

Types of Oil Painting SurfacesCanvas Panel Board is:

  • a rigid surface covered with primed canvas glued onto heavy-duty, lightweight cardboard.
  • approximately 1/8″ thick and takes up less room than stretched canvases.
  • more durable, resistant to warping, and less fragile than stretched canvas.
  • easier to frame than stretched canvases.
  • preferred by many artists for their smaller paintings.
  • an ideal option for painting on location because they are lightweight, and also sunlight will not shine through the back.

canvas paperCanvas Paper is:

  • a flexible surface primarily used for small sketches, color notes, and other purposes.
  • not a good 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 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 wood these panels are made from include plywood, fiberboard, Masonite, and particleboard.
  • the best for painting when they are well-seasoned, air-dried quarter-sawn hardwoods to avoid warping and shrinking, as this causes them to hold paint better
    Note: Wood panels need to be well-aged to prevent shrinking and warping 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.

Hopefully, this concise article will provide a little bit of information regarding the many types of oil painting surfaces available to the artist.

Additional Reading

Types of Canvas Available for Painting

About Artist Stretcher Bar Frames

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UPDATED: 09 October 2023

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