Picking the perfect oil paint canvas or surface is a crucial part of painting in oils. Standard paper can't handle oil paint, whereas a high quality canvas will support your painting and allow your colours to sing. The guide covers a range of ready to use canvas surfaces suitable for beginners and professional artists.
Of course, the paint you use is important too. See our guide to the best oil paints for help choosing, and making sure you've got the best art easel for your needs will also help you get the most out of your process.
But what should you look for when buying a canvas for oil paint? Canvases are made of cotton or linen. Cotton is more affordable, and can be stretched very tightly for a taut surface, though it may loosen in larger frames. Linen is tougher over time, and copes well with thick paint.
Traditional canvases comprise of canvas stretched over a wooden frame, creating a slightly springy surface. These are the best oil paint canvases for larger artworks, as they can be taken off the frame for storage, are lightweight, and stable over time.
Canvas boards are comprised of canvas stretched over and glued to a solid board. These are much thinner than canvases, and have a firm surface.
Canvas papers are specially treated papers for oils that emulate canvas. They are great for beginners, or quick studies, as they are affordable, and won't take up much space.
The best oil paint canvas
Winsor & Newton's professional canvases offer a heavyweight, quality surface, coming in at 480gsm (16.9oz) compared to the usual 300-350gsm (9-12oz), making it more resilient. The frame is made of pine, with a cross brace in larger sizes, making it less likely to warp.
The surface can be stretched very tightly – each canvas comes with a key that makes this easy to do. This is a plus for anyone who likes a taut, firm surface to work on. These stretched canvases are a bit pricier than student quality ones, but their quality makes them a solid option for more serious projects.
The Masterpiece Elite line offers very high quality canvases. These provide an excellent surface to work on, and have solid construction; they have stretcher bars crossing the back of the canvas to keep it from warping. They also have very tightly wrapped corners, giving the canvas a crisp, professional look. The surface is primed to show colour well.
At their high price, these canvases are not intended for casual use. They are of archival quality, meaning that they will last a very long time, and also come in large sizes. This suits them for high-end professional projects and commissions.
Winsor & Newton's Artist's canvas boards are some of the better ones out there, offering quality at a fair price. The board is considerably stronger than a lot of canvas boards, and doesn't bend easily. However, it is still thin enough to be lightweight and portable.
The surface takes paint well, though it does have a somewhat strong canvas texture that can interfere with details. If you prefer smoother surfaces, it might be a bit much at small sizes, but should be fine for the larger panels.
Pebeo's canvas boards use a natural linen that offers a neutral warm grey to work on, a great option for anyone who struggles with a bright white canvas. They are fairly tough as boards go, and seem to handle heavier paint well.
The surface quality is excellent, as the board is covered with a tough linen that takes paint very well without feeling too dry, and the texture doesn't interfere with the painting either.
The backing board is strong and sturdy, and doesn't show any signs of warping. The only big downside to these canvas boards is that they only appear to come in square sizes.
Canson's Figueras oil paint paper balances value with high quality, as this paper is affordable, but strong enough to handle fairly heavy paint. It has a canvas-like texture and is easy to cut to different sizes.
When painted on, it holds oil paint well and doesn't curl or soak through. It does has a somewhat slippery-smooth feel that is common to oil paint papers, though it has more tooth than most.
Canvas papers are good for studies and learning to paint, as they are easy to use and don't take up much space – just tape to a drawing board.
Arches oil paint paper is a bit of an outlier on this list, but is an excellent surface to work on if you prefer oil paint papers. It is 100 per cent cotton, so it should last well, and comes ready to paint on.
The paper performs well, feeling much more like watercolour paper than other oil papers as it has less texture and a more absorbent surface. This is definitely down to preference – the paper has a nice tactile feel, but may cause more oily mixtures to 'sink' and lose their lustre a bit. Otherwise, the lack of texture makes applying flat colour and details a breeze.
Fredrix canvas panels consist of a canvas surface glued to a cardboard backing, with a crisp cut at the edges. They come in a wide range of small sizes.
This board has a surprisingly nice surface to paint on, with fairly absorbent canvas texture that is on the smooth side, but not slippery. However the backing board is a bit flimsy, and will bend a bit if stored improperly.
These are a great option for student work or quick studies, as they are very slim and affordable, with a quality surface. However, they are probably a bit too fragile for larger scale work.