gesso primer

How to Prime a Canvas for All Types of Painting Media

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Canvases come in all possible shapes and dimensions. Do they all still have to be primed before painting? If yes, with which primer? And what is gesso? We shed light on the darkness here and show you what you should consider when priming canvas.



What is Priming?

The canvas is probably the most popular painting surface. This is mainly due to its sheer variety. From different structures, already stretched on a stretcher frame or available in rolls you have a wide selection at your disposal. We will assume in our article that you are already using stretched stretcher frames.

So is a primer even necessary? If you think about a car paint shop or painting outdoors, a primer is needed in most cases. This ensures good adhesion of the layers to follow, as well as an even shield or protection against penetrating moisture.

The priming of your canvas has a similar function. It protects it from environmental influences and regulates the absorbency. In this way, you ensure that the paint adheres well and at the same time does not damage the fibers of the canvas over time. Whether it is acrylic, oil, or another painting medium – some paints contain aggressive substances or are acidic. Without a primer, this can have a negative effect on the life of the canvas.

Nowadays many canvases are already primed when you buy them. However, this priming is not always sufficient, especially with cheap canvases. Therefore, it is worthwhile to prime already pre-primed canvases once again by yourself. There is nothing more annoying than when your work of art starts to show the first signs of age after only a few years.

how to prime a canvas



Why Do You Need to Prime Your Canvas?

  • Protection against the partially aggressive paints
  • Ensure an even absorbency of the painting ground
  • Reduce the structure of the canvas
  • Protection against the paint being pressed through to the back of the canvas
  • First basic color tone as a basis for further colors
  • Improved color brilliance on the primed surface

So you see, a primer gives you many advantages.



What is the Best Canvas Primer?

The best adhesive for your canvas is gesso primer. And what is gesso you may ask? Gesso primer consists of white pigments, binder, and chalk. The white color ensures uniform coloring and acts as an ideal base for further paint applications. The chalk ensures good adhesion and the binder regulates the absorbency. This can be used as a primer for acrylic paint, oils, mixed media, or practically anything else.

Gesso is also available in different consistencies, but you should choose a thinner version for priming. Gesso primer is very economical, so you will be able to prime many canvases. By the way, Gesso primer works not only as a canvas primer. With acrylic binder as a base, you can paint almost all surfaces with Gesso and you will get a very good base for various painting media after drying.



Materials Required for Priming a Canvas

Not sure how to prepare a canvas and what equipment you will need? You will need the following materials to use when applying a canvas primer.

  • Canvas
  • Gesso
  • Soft flat brush
  • A mixing cup or vessel

canvas primer



How to Prepare a Canvas

Priming your painting surface is very easy and can be done within minutes. With the following four steps, you can have prepared your canvas perfectly. Continue reading to learn how to use gesso.

  1. As always with painting, preparation is essential. Therefore, prepare the gesso, the brush and possibly a sufficiently large container. You can now either take the gesso directly from the original container with the brush or first pour it into a container. This has the advantage of being able to add some water to dilute the consistency.
  2. The gesso should be applied as evenly as possible. You will get the best result by applying it first from left to right and then from top to bottom. By applying the gesso crosswise you minimize the traces of the paint on the canvas. Another important factor is the brush. The brush should have as fine bristles as possible so that no brush strokes are visible at the end.
  3. Let the surface dry well. If you are in a hurry, you can use a hairdryer to run over the canvas in quick movements. This way you can dry the primer within a few minutes and apply the two coats immediately. If the canvas is pre-primed, one layer of gesso is usually sufficient. Otherwise, we recommend that you apply at least two coats.
  4. As a conscious stylistic element, you can also apply the gesso thicker to give the surface more structure. This can look very attractive, especially for abstract works. For realistic painting, however, we recommend that you aim for a surface that is as smooth as possible.



Priming Canvas for Oil Paint

When painting with oil paints it is extremely important that your canvas is very well primed. Because the primer is also here of fundamental importance for the durability of your painting. Among other things, oil paint contains turpentine, which can attack the canvas surface. Gesso effectively prevents this and can be used as a primer for acrylics paints as well as oil paints.



Further Gesso Variants for Creative Effects

Besides the traditional white gesso, there is now also transparent gesso and black gesso. So you can prepare your painting surface for special techniques. For example, you can use black gesso as a primer and then work with neon paints.


Knowing how to prime a canvas is an essential skill for any painters out there. Our comprehensive guide above on how to use gesso primer and how to prepare a canvas should have covered everything you need to know about the topic.

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