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How to Prepare a Surface for Painting

surface for painting

Wondering how to do surface for painting properly? You’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, we will teach you everything you need to know about surface preparation. We’ll cover topics such as surface types, cleaning and priming.

By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your painting turns out looking great – and lasts for years!

Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Fluid Acrylics work great for painting on canvas, and you can buy a pre-stretched canvas almost anywhere or you can just paint right on the paper if you want to. Most of the canvases are made of cotton and linen and are either raw, not stretched or stretched and primed.

finished painting surface tension

Painting has been done on canvas for a long time. Cotton canvas is less expensive than linen, is more flexible, and works well for small or medium-sized paintings. With a rougher surface, linens cost less and last longer.

Linen is a good choice for large-scale productions because it is strong and stable. Most of the canvas sold in online shops is made of cotton.

How to Prepare Different Surfaces for Painting

1: Preparing Surface For Painting: Check How Absorbent The Painting Surfaces Is


If you put thick, straight-from-the-tube acrylic paint on almost any exterior, it would stick. But when acrylics are mixed with water, you need to think about how well the support will soak up the paint for the best results.

When you heard the word “support,” it refers to your canvas, paper, canvas board, or even a piece of plastic that you plan to use. All of these surfaces have different levels of absorbency, which will change how the paint acts when water is added.

Some new painters are afraid that watered-down acrylics will hurt their paintings in the long run, usually because they think the painting will “peel and fall off.”

To be clear, adding water to acrylics doesn’t cause a problem as long as you think about how much the surface you’re painting on will soak up the water.

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It has a smooth, shiny surface that doesn’t soak up much water.

Some pre-primed gesso boards are very hard and don’t take watery washes well. However, they can work well if you’re painting with thicker paint.

If you have this kind of panels, it would be best if you control the surface of your panel. Like with canvas boards, you can control how much the surface absorbs by adding your own Gesso to the unprimed panels.

Stretched, Pre-primed Cotton Canvas

It has a slightly rough surface and can absorb a medium amount of water.

Ready-made canvas can be pretty good, but the cheapest ones can be as thin as paper, have no texture, and can buckle on the surface if you add too much water.

Using a well-known brand like Winsor & Newton or Daler Rowney will give you a better surface to paint on and give the canvas a little more texture. The texture makes it easier to get the paint off your brush and creates a beautiful “dry brush” effect. The best canvas is anything that weighs more than 12 oz. This makes sure that the canvas moves less.

Remember, the more water the canvas can hold, the thicker it needs to be.

finished painting oil paints

Watercolor Paper – Slightly Textured Surface, High Absorbency

You can paint on decent weight watercolor paper with acrylics very successfully, it can take the watery washes and the thicker impasto brush marks too.

If you want to paint on ordinary craft paper, consider the thickness and robustness and adjust your dilution level of the acrylics accordingly.

Usually, a Cotton Canvas that is 12oz in weight, if you will prime it with Acrylic Gesso, it will make a nice absorbent base for the first layer of the painting

2: Preparing Surface For Painting: Stretch your Canvas 

The canvas must be stretched to fit the frame before it can be primed. If you try to stretch it after priming it, the priming will crack and flake, giving you a rough surface to paint on with oil paint.

resin binder absorbent surfaces

Primer also makes the canvas stiff, so no matter how hard you pull on it, it won’t give. At first, it can be hard to stretch your own canvas, but it is cheaper than buying canvases that have already been stretched, which is something that many artists think about. To stretch a canvas, you need the following tools:


  • The frame is made up of four pieces of wood called stretcher bars. You can buy these at any store that sells art supplies or hardware. Most bars are tongue-and-groove, with corners that are mitered and sides that are beveled.
  • The stapler and the staples (or a hammer and carpet tacks, depending on preference). Copper or brass staples that are coated or iodized are the best.
  • Canvas pliers (to help you maintain a tight grip on the canvas as you attach it to the stretcher bars)
  • Knife, scissors, or another sharp object.
  • Straight on (to ensure evenness)
  • Masking tape


First, connect the ends of your stretcher bars to make a rectangle. You may have to push them by hand or lightly tap them with a hammer to tighten them. Upon doing this make sure to be careful not to dent the wood.

Make sure that every corner is a 90-degree angle by using the right angle.

When the stretchers are straight and securely connected, roll out the canvas on a clean surface.

Place the frame on top, and use your scissors to cut the canvas to size, making sure to leave at least two to three inches of extra material on all sides so you can staple the canvas to the frame.

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3: Preparing Surface For Painting: Getting Ready to Acrylic Paint on a Canvas

Before you start a new acrylic painting on a blank, stretched canvas, you need to make sure that it has a smooth finish and prevent warping. Stretched canvas available on acrylic paintings’ art stores has already Acrylic gesso so you don’t need to add more on the bristol board unless you want to change the canvas texture.

When it comes to gessoing your acrylic painting surface, you can do one of three things:

A Gesso That Is Smooth And Flat.

This is good for things with a lot of fine detail, like portraits and wildlife. Put on three coats and don’t dilute with water.

A Gesso That Has A Rigid Surface.

Use a fine fabric roller and Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso to make gesso. Don’t make it weaker. This will leave some sharp edges, which is good for dry brushing, a technique I often use to show leaves and grass in landscape acrylic paintings.

Sand between each coat so that the bumps don’t stand out too much. Just use two coats. For small sizes, I find that these ready-made panels work best.

Surface With A Lot Of Texture.

This is a great way to show convincing texture in a landscape. As long as you use this type of surface, even if you use acrylic paint on your pai, you can still save a lot of money. This is what I’d use to paint something bigger than 16 x 20 inches. As a general rule, small panels shouldn’t have a lot of texture to keep things simple.

As the size gets bigger, the texture should get more complex. On the first layer of smoothed-on Liquitex Super Heavy gesso, draw your general landscape.

Apply a second coat right from the bottle in the same way, and paint your shapes by loading up your brush with a lot of paint.

painting stretcher bars

Why You Can’t Paint on Raw Painting Surfaces

Priming gives the canvas a much smoother texture, creating a less absorbent surface that is easier to work on. This makes it easier to move your brush across the surface, whether you’ll be painting with oil or acrylic paint.

Acrylic paint can be used on many different materials, often without or with very little surface preparation, as lengthy as the base is not oily or greasy. This is why you can’t paint using fluid acrylics over oil paint (although you can apply oil paint on top of acrylic).

So, you could paint directly with acrylics on unprimed canvas, but the painting surface would soak up a lot of costly paint, so it’s best to seal and prime the canvas with gesso first.

Preparing Surface For Painting: Steps on Priming

1: Get your canvas clean.

For best surfaces make sure that your painting surfaces are clean. Use a piece of paper or tissue paper to wipe it down to make sure it is clean. It will also work if you use rubbing alcohol. If you use water on a cloth, make sure it doesn’t get too wet

2: Making the Gesso

Use a clear gesso. Make sure to give it a little stir before using. You can choose whether or not to add a little water to the first layer of gesso. Pour some gesso into a bowl before you add water.

3: Add a second layer of Gesso.

Use the wide brush to spread the gesso as evenly as possible on the canvas. Paint straight thin, even lines that go in the same direction.

4: Let the canvas dry.

It’s like a stopover between flights. About an hour goes by before you do another paint application. You can’t be in a hurry because you want to make sure that the canvas (or plane) is ready for acrylic painting without any problems.

5: Sanding Gesso

Before adding the next layer, you might need to lightly sand the gesso. Just to smooth out any bumps or uneven strokes that might have happened.

6: Add a second coat of gesso and let the paint dries again

Apply more gesso, as shown in step 3. Now you have to wait another hour before you can put on your last layer of gesso and lightly sand it. After that, you can start painting with your best painting surfaces.

What Are The Best Painting Surfaces For Acrylic Paint?

finished artwork wood fibers

The most important thing that most artists need is a good painting surface. For acrylics, the best surface is one that has been pre primed, is porous, and has good paint adhesion.

Diluted acrylics have natural adhesion that prevent warping of different surfaces. Acrylic paint is so versatile that it can be used on almost any pre primed surface, or canvas, including:

  • walls,
  • furniture,
  • wood,
  • plastic,
  • glass and mirrors,
  • ceramics and clay,
  • rocks,
  • canvas,
  • paper,
  • fabric

Different Painting Surfaces for Acrylics

Acrylic Paint On Wood Panel

Wooden panels are the easiest surface to paint on because it is smooth, especially natural wood. Put a thin coat of paint in the wooden boards or composite boards, but make sure to prime natural wood painting surfaces so that organic resources and smudges don’t damage the paint.

Wood workers like high-density wood fibers, medium density fibreboard, and pre primed masonite HDFB because they are all types of composite products. The best things about them are that they are smooth and easy to paint on.

They are made of natural elements which prevent formation of stains or yellowing. They don’t feel like real hardwood panels.  However, the biggest problem with wood panels is that they might need to swell if you don’t clean or prepare them properly.

high quality archival paper

Wooden panels

There are a lot of different kinds of wood panels available in art supplies stores, like plywood, hardboard, masonite, MDF, etc. Most of the time, they come unprimed and can be cradled.


Most plywood panels use acrylic mediums. These wood panels are made from Baltic birch or maple wood. They have a smooth surface and usually don’t come primed. If you want a smoother surface, you’ll need to sand this wood panel and prime it with gesso.

Acrylic Paint On Window Glass

You might have seen a few places in which painters painted wine glasses. That’s the thing. Then apply any acrylic paint to the glass, then bake it on a hot stovetop – done!

Glass is not an ideal surface for painters of acrylics because of its low absorbency and shiny properties and is prone to fading. Using good paints is a possibility. If we leave the paint unpainted it’s going to fade.

You can even paint kitchenware and use floating glass as part of an experiment in painting. Its cheap smooth surface is clear but is fragile.

To make your acrylic paints stick better to glass, you can also add a polymer like GAC 200 or other glass and tile mediums.

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Once your painting is dry, you can use clear polyurethane or another clear sealer to protect it. However, you should only use this on decorative surfaces or paintings done on glass panels because it is toxic if eaten.

To get rid of dust and fingerprints, clean the glass with alcohol or vinegar. Paint won’t stick to glass if your hands have natural oil on them.

If you can stand them, it’s a good idea to wear surgical gloves when painting on glass.

Be careful of the sharp edges on the glass, and if you need to, tape them with masking tape or frame them before painting.

Acrylic Paints On Pads And Canvas Board

Canvas panels and canvas boards are great for learning how to do acrylic and oil painting. They are small, easy to carry, and ready to use. Paintings on canvas pads aren’t usually shown in galleries and museums, but these days anything is possible.

The same cotton and linen are still used to make a canvas panel or pad. Fabric that has been primed is glued to the panel or pad. Choose with a good-quality dense surface and woven texture. The edges are wrapped and glued with archival glue of the highest quality for rigid support.

Canvas pads will not last as long as real canvas, but they cost less and are a good way for beginners to learn. For small paint works, use canvas pads. Canvas pad is made from high quality archival paper.

medium density fibreboard

Acrylic Paints On Canvas Paper

Acrylic paint on canvas paper is the simplest and least expensive way for a beginner to start painting. You don’t have to choose a canvas, prime it, or stretch it. You can start painting right away!

Essentially, you can use any kind of paper. However, if you use a lot of water or thick layers, fine paper will curl, dissolve, or even tear. The archival paper of higher quality will last longer. If you play around with different papers and how they absorb paint, you can find a lot of new impacts and textures.

Acrylic Painting Paper

Some companies make special paper for acrylics that can handle water, goes on thicker, and lasts longer. This paper is thick to keep it from curling, and it is primed to make sure that paint sticks well and soaks in. Last, it costs a lot less than real canvas.

“Heavy” paper is any paper that weighs at least 290g/m2.

Choose acid-free papers or cardboard. The stain sealer in this canvas will make the canvas last longer and won’t have any imperfections that could stain your painting.

Paper For Watercolors

With the right amount of water, acrylic paint can look like watercolor. With or without acrylic gesso, artists’ watercolor paper can also be used for acrylic painting.

The best thing about watercolor paper is that it works well with water. It won’t buckle, tear, or come apart. Watercolor paper can be more pricey than acrylic paper, which is a plus.

Since watercolor paper doesn’t really soak up paint, it can’t be the best paper for acrylics. But you can still try it out as a test.

You can buy watercolor paper by itself, in blocks, pads, or even on boards. The best thing to do is to buy a block.

Paint Made Of Acrylic On Ceramics

It’s so much fun to paint on ceramics. You can paint on your favorite mug and bake it in the oven. Since clay is porous, it makes sense. Even in pottery workshops, you’ll have time to use fluid paint to decorate your pieces.

If you don’t prime the clay before painting it, it will soak up all the paint. Also, seal the painting when you’re done to make it last longer. Even during the glazing and drying process, colors will dry darker on clay.

watercolor paper absorbent surface

Acrylic Paint on Plastic

In general, you shouldn’t use plastic as one of the surfaces you paint on with acrylics. Since the surface is smooth and doesn’t have pores, it is easy for paint to peel off. Acrylic paint can be used on some types of matte plastic, though.

To paint on plastic, you need to prime it with a special primer, like Krylon spray primer or a base coat for plastic. Seal the surface of the painted plastic pieces when you’re done painting so you can touch them.


Painting on sculptures or other three-dimensional objects makes you think differently because you have to look at the object from all sides. You can make your own ceramic sculpture in tempered or untempered form, have a metal shop cut shapes from your template, or just use an interesting shell, branch, or rock.

You can also buy things that are already available at art supply stores. Make sure that the store caters sell lawn, garden supplies or craft supplies. If the ready-made item is already painted with linseed oil, sand it lightly, prime it with acrylic gesso, and paint it again.

Contact the technical department of the manufacturer to find out what to do about cleaning and priming. If you want to hang your finished artwork outside, ask about special sealants or protective finishes and use paints that do well in light-fastness tests to keep it from fading quickly.

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Stone With Acrylic Paint

Acrylics can also be used on stone and rocks. You may have to discover seamless stones to ensure the surface is good enough for painting. Depending on the size of the rock, you may also need shaped brushes for detail work.

Find a rock, clean it (without soap or other chemicals! ), let it dry, put gesso on it, and paint on it. You don’t need gesso if you are painting with kids or just having fun.

Sealing an acrylic painting on stone, like with a spray sealer, is necessary.

Wall With Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint was first made for painting indoors and outdoors. Today, there are 2 different kinds of paint, and when we talk about painting with acrylic paint, it can definitely be used on walls inside the house.

Please use paint made for outside so that it will last longer and you won’t have to paint it again and again. Acrylics used by artists can fade in direct sunlight or turn yellow over time if they are varnished.

Frequently Asked Questions

surface for painting thin coat

Question: I have never used gesso on a canvas I bought at a store. The paintings are looking good. So, is it really necessary to use gesso?


When you buy a stretched canvas in a store, it’s usually already primed, so you don’t need to add any extra gesso. Putting gesso on a canvas is done for the following reasons:

This is the first time the canvas has been primed. This is usually the case when buying raw canvas by the yard.

The canvas is already ready to paint on, but you don’t like the texture, so you change it by adding more or less gesso to make it smoother or rougher.

Question: What is the best medium for a beginner to use when when you are preparing surface for painting?


Well, it depends. Any painter, no matter what they paint or how they do it, was once a beginner. Watercolor is one of the hardest ways to start painting because it’s hard to fix mistakes without making the painting look muddy.

Acrylic, on the other hand, lets you change and fix things very easily. Oil can also be used, but because it dries more slowly, you have to wait a few days before you can paint over it. Otherwise, the new paint might mix with the old one and make mud.

In short, acrylics are the best painting medium for people who are just starting out.

Question: If I use too much water to thin the paint, is there a chance that the paint won’t stick to the canvas in the long run?


There are two answers to this question, depending on whether you’re talking about the first layers of the underpainting or the very last thin layers on top, called glazes.

If the underpainting layer is diluted with water, we know it will stick to the support. Now, if the support is absorbent enough then you won’t have problems with it because it will stay absorbed.

Some artists like to use a thin layer of paint called a glaze to change the color of the paint underneath in the last stages of a painting.

When the glaze is put on, the paint layer underneath is already dry, so it sits on top of a built-up, shiny surface.

In the later stages of a painting, when the paint sticks to the canvas, Thin the acrylics with a medium called Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss instead of water. This makes sure that the diluted pigment stays in the paint film, making a layer of paint that doesn’t break apart.

natural adhesion stain sealer

Question: Can you buy fabrics like broadcloth and upholstery fabric from a fabric store and prepare them with gesso so they can be painted with acrylics?


Yes,  you could paint on almost any fabric. Just make sure that you are preparing canvas surface for painting. For priming, you can use gesso or PVA glue, both of which can be kept for a long time. You could also prime with a clear acrylic medium, like a soft gel, which would let the texture and design of the fabric show through.

Some fabrics may be too thin to stretch, but you can paste them to a tough support, like a wood or MDF panel, using PVA glue or acrylic medium.

Keep in mind that you can paint Acrylics on fabric that hasn’t been primed and nothing bad will happen. Oil paint can rot the canvas over time, but acrylic paint is fine. If the fabric is thin, it doesn’t soak up all the paint, which makes your job harder. If you like the pattern, you may not want to cover it with gesso.

A word of warning about upholstery fabric: when they are preparing upholstery fabric surface for painting it’s usually treated to resist stains and repel water. This process however, would affect priming and painting. With this,  prewashing might help.

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