top of page

Types of Painting Surfaces

Today, we’re going to explore the different types of painting surfaces, often called “substrates,” for oil, acrylic, and watercolor paints. If you ever want to try painting, you definitely want to understand your artistic painting surface options, of course, but learning about paint surfaces, even if you’re not an artist, helps you to best care for and preserve the art you own, make decisions when purchasing new art, and gives insight when ordering prints or making prints of digitally downloaded art.


Probably the most well-known paint surface, canvas is frequently used with oil and acrylic paints. The most popular canvas materials are cotton and linen, and these are typically coated with several layers of gesso, a white mixture that helps paint adhere to the canvas.

When canvas is stretched and stapled to a wooden frame to make what we see for sale in art stores like Michael’s or JoAnn, we call in “gallery wrapped.” Gallery wrapped canvas range in size from as small as two inches square to over 30 inches in length. It also comes in different depths, typically from .75” to 3” in thickness. When it is stretched, canvas can be hung on a wall without framing. If not stretched, painted canvas can be attached to a wall for hanging with pins, clips, or nails, or it can be inserted into a frame. Here, you see the oil paintings from my Poppy Field collection. Below, the Walk Through The Wildflowers painting is framed in a maple float frame, which showcases it beautifully. To the right, you can compare this look to the unframed gallery wrapped canvas painting of Golden Field.


Another popular surface for acrylic and oil paints are boards or panels, which are a wooden board or other firm surface. They can have either a smooth, wooden face or a texture canvas face, made from cotton or linen. They range in size and thickness like gallery wrapped canvas, and panels can be “cradled” with wooden sides to give them dimension and allow them to be hung without framing. Flat panels can be put into a frame for hanging or displayed on a decorative easel. I created my winter barn paintings in acrylic paint on smooth cradled wood panels, as shown below to the left. The acrylic landscape paintings from my January 30 days of light project are painted on canvas panel, as shown below to the right.

Other Substrates

Aside from canvas, panels, and paper, acrylic paints can be used on just about any surface. Fabrics, glass, and metal, are some interesting options. It is possible to paint on these surfaces with oils or watercolor, too, if they are prepared first with some kind of ground. I am interested in painting on glass and fabric and may give that a go later this year.


Like with drawing, there are many types of paper painting surfaces, which are suitable for watercolor, oils, and acrylics. These special papers vary in weight and texture and are acid-free, which makes them archival-quality for painting. I like the ability to create a beautiful deckled edge on watercolor paper for a special look. The thing I love most about paper is the way the texture comes through the paint.

Watercolor paper is made from cotton fibers, rather than wood pulp, like regular paper, and therefore absorbs water and helps prevent buckling or ripping. It comes in various presses, such as hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough. These are variances in the compression of the fibers and result in a difference in smoothness, as well as changes in how the paint interacts with the paper. Hot-pressed paper the smoothest. Papers for oil paints and acrylics are coated to absorb water, while allowing the paint to stay on the surface.

That covers the different types of painting surfaces for watercolor, oils, and acrylic paints. The care required to preserve each surface is something to consider before creating or purchasing art work. In general, materials designed specifically for these types of paint will last longest and be easier to maintain. I’ll be sharing a guide on how to care for your new art work soon. Meanwhile, let me know what types of surfaces you like best for the art that decorates your home.

Until next time,


93 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page