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The best oil paint canvas in 2021

Included in this guide:

best canvas for oils - canvas on an easel
(Image credit: Vladimir Godnik via Getty Images)

The right oil paint canvas or surface is essential for painting in oils. Conventional papers cannot stand up to oil paint, whilst good quality canvases will support your painting and show colour better. This guide covers a range of ready to use canvas surfaces suitable for beginners up to professional artists.

It is best to use quality oil paints on these surfaces. Artists usually paint on an upright surface in order to see their work clearly and for brush control, so an art easel to support your canvas is essential kit.

What should you look for when buying a canvas for oil paint? Well, 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.

Here are our top picks for canvases for your next oil painting. If you want some tips on using oils, see our article on oil paint techniques and our guide to the best oil paint supplies overall.

The best canvas for oil paints in 2021

Winsor and Newton white, stretched cotton canvas

(Image credit: Winsor and Newton)

01. Winsor & Newton Professional Cotton Canvas

The best canvas for oil paints for durability and value

Specifications
Canvas Type: Stretched Canvas
Dimensions: Various
Material: Cotton
Primed: Yes; acrylic, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+Very high quality canvas surface+Easily adjustable tightness
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey-No extra large sizes

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.

Masterpiece white stretched linen canvas

(Image credit: Masterpiece)

02. Masterpiece Elite Heavyweight Belgian Linen Canvas

The best canvas for oil paint for longevity and high quality

Specifications
Type: Stretched canvas
Dimensions: Various
Material: Linen
Primed: Yes; acrylic or oil, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+High quality and archival surface+Sturdy frame with cross bars
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Range lacks smaller sizes

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.

A range of different sizes of Winsor and Newton canvas panels

(Image credit: Winsor and Newton)

03. Winsor & Newton Artists' Canvas Board

Best all-round oil paint canvas board at a fair price

Specifications
Type: Canvas board
Dimensions: 14''x10'' - various available
Material: Cotton
Primed: Yes; acrylic primed, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+Excellent quality construction and surface+Lightweight and portable
Reasons to avoid
-Quite textured-Hard to make very fine details

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 I've used before, 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 square, natural linen canvas board

(Image credit: Pebeo)

04. Pebeo Natural Linen Canvas Boards

Best oil paint canvas boards in natural colours

Specifications
Type: Canvas board
Dimensions: 20cmx20cm, other square sizes
Material: Linen
Primed: Yes; clear size, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+Neutral tone surface+Really good quality for price
Reasons to avoid
-Only has square-shaped boards-Limited range of sizes

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.

A Canson oil paint canvas pad

(Image credit: Canson)

05. Canson Figueras paper pad

Best oil paint canvas paper to balance quality with value

Specifications
Type: Canvas paper
Dimensions: 41cmx33cm; various available
Material: Canvas-like paper
Primed: N/A; coated paper, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+Very sturdy surface+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Surface is a bit slippery-Less suitable for finished work

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.

A pad of Arches oil paint canvas paper

(Image credit: Arches)

06. Arches Oil Pad

A high quality oil paint paper that emulates traditional papers

Specifications
Type: Canvas paper
Dimensions: 23x31cm, various available
Material: Paper, 100% cotton
Primed: N/A; coated paper, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+High Quality 100% Cotton Surface+No slippery texture
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly absorbent-May not cope with heavy paint

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% 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.

A Fredrix white canvas panel

(Image credit: Fredrix)

07. Fredrix Value Cut-Edge Canvas Panels

Best oil paint canvas panels for smaller scale painting

Specifications
Type: Canvas board
Dimensions: Various up to 12''x16''
Material: Canvas
Primed: Yes; acrylic, ready to use
Reasons to buy
+Excellent range of small sizes+Great value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Board is a bit flimsy-Might not handle heavy paint

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.

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Lancelot Richardson

Lancelot Richardson is an artist, painter, and freelance illustrator based in Brighton, UK. He tutors life drawing at independent art school Draw Brighton, and teaches in their online Patreon courses. He is also a freelance writer, producing articles on art and drawing. He works in both traditional and digital mediums.

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