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Painting surfaces i.e. canvas, board panels, aluminum etc.

I am interested in hearing what others are using for their painting surfaces.

I have been using canvas that is primed with gesso and that I put down two layers of Hilbein silver white (lead white) foundation that is tinted medium value using umber.

The sizes I have used are 11x14" and 16 x 20".  I think the 16x20 stretchers could probably use some middle bars for better durability.  The 11x14" are probably small enough to not require that.

I saw that some artists will put canvas around cardboard or something like that and then later resize it (crop it) and stretch that onto stretcher bars.  And some artists will take their finished pieces off the bars and even store their paintings (canvas) off bars. and restrech them later.
For small paintings some just paint on board instead of using canvas. (anything over 11x14 maybe.

What have you been using and how do you feel about quality and durability?


  • I prime sanded DiBond panels with oil-based primer applied with a roller in one coat. I feel the quality is unbeatable. When my supply expires I will switch to oil-based lead ground.

    Canvas is not a rigid support, and therefore not archival, so I generally avoid it. Modern Gesso is acrylic, and acrylic has insufficient data (50 years) to determine if it is archival. It is assumed that it is though, but the next 500 years will tell us.

    Echoing @dencal, the recommended archival approach is rigid support, oil-based lead ground, no acrylic, oil paint straight from the tube with no accelerants/retardants, minimal linseed oil, use lead white but not zinc white (brittle).
  • Another tip for dibond - sand with 360-400 grit sand paper and make sure you sand enough to remove all gloss (so when you hold it up to a light there isn't any shine at all). I recently realized I hadn't been doing it right. Also clean very thoroughly after with 70 percent isopropyl and paper towel.

    Also if using acrylic grounds it's important to use 4 coats of high qual like Golden. 4 coats makes it a lot stronger, more rigid and less absorbant :)
  • Thanks @CJD @PaulB with those details.

    I use titanium white for mixing colors, but I use the Holbein for the ground.  

    @PaulB what oil based primer do you use directly on the Dibond?  Also do you think the thermal changes of aluminum if exposed to changing temperatures might cause cracking of the paint?

  • @PaulB.  @CJD What brand and dimensions of Dibond do you use?  There seems to be a lot of choices?  And if course aluminum is an alloy so the type of composite may be important.
  • If you live in the US ask Paul about where to buy dibond. You can order it online or get it locally from sign-making shops. It comes in 4x8 foot sheets and you can cut it with a box cutter. Should be around $100 for a sheet that size. Local shops can cut it for you.

    It all comes typically with a white glossy coating on one side and matte on the other or some other look.You sand it to get rid of the gloss and to rough it up, but not so much to expose the aluminum underneath.

    Dibond is much less susceptible to changes in the environment than stretched canvas or wood. It's a great surface to paint on - cheap and easy to prep. Combined with the lead alkyd ground it might be the best surface, unless it turns out the aluminum does oxidize over time (so far there isn't actually any evidence of this but there might be in the future it's unknown)

    Here's more info on dibond
  • @GTO I use Rustoleum oil primer. I will switch to Rublev Lead Ground when I run out. As @dencal says, it's all due to Virgil Elliott.

    I use whatever DiBond equivalent I can get. I prefer DiBond, but CompBond is great. I've use Alumalite and Econolite, which have a more honeycombed and thicker polycarbonate filling. They weight nothing, so it's clearly the polycarbonate that has all the weight.

    I don't worry about thermal expansion, ACM panels are supposed to be thermally stable in that regard.

    I buy the in 4' x 8' sheets, often asking for those sheets to be cut into four equal rectangles. They tend to cut them on some big bed saw and it comes out great. If you have it all shipped to you, the corners are going to be bent and messed up just by them being loaded and unloaded. So there is a little waste at one end of some panels.

    I cut the thinnest sheets with a utility knife and a snap. Thicker sheets with a circular saw and a cutting fence. This makes a terrible mess.

    I get the panels from suppliers to the signage industry.
  • Thanks much for all of this everyone, I'm currently shopping for such here in eastern Canada for reasonable price.
  • Thanks @PaulB. I will be looking into this for future surfaces.
  • @Forgiveness

    ARTiculations store in Toronto sells the Rublev lead alkyd primer. That stuff dries in a couple days and only requires a single foam-roller'd coat directly on sanded dibond. Definitely a good option. This is what I'm probably going to use primarily in the future.

    I think a 16oz can of the stuff will be close to enough to prime an entire 4x8 foot sheet of dibond. The 32oz can is definitely more than enough.
  • I use dibond (or a similar version as dibond is a brand name). The ones I buy have a satin and a glossy side. I sand the satin side to remove as much of the shine as I can, then I apply a layer of clear acrylic gesso which has a very rough tooth. Once dry for a day I lightly sand thoroughly with 600 grit sandpaper. This makes it much smoother, but still keeping the noticable grainy texture which grabs onto paint so well.

    I have a young and headstrong daughter, so no solvents or lead paint in my house.
  • I use Gesso wooden panels by BELLE ARTI made in Italy. I like the smooth surface for fine detailed work.
  • I use wood panels, but may give AU panels a try when i run out
  • Kate, if Painting Stuff To Look Like Stuff, (from the link that @CJD provided) uses a wide brush to Paint the ground in the Dibond using one horizontal and one vertical (in that order to minimize reflection from gallery lighting).  She says she does this and gets what looks like a linen weave to the surface.  
    I found that interesting because if you are looking for a traditional surface effect that would work, whereas if you sand smooth you will get what I would imagine to be a more photographic effect, if that is what you are looking for.

  • Thanks much for all of this everyone, I'm currently shopping for such here in eastern Canada for reasonable price.

    You doubtless know Disseres has panels at a reasonable per piece price, but nothing as cheap as sheet prices.  For what Diserres is selling it for I could match it at 500 dollars a sheet.

    i have been looking for a place in TO to get sheets.  I intend to visit Piedmont plastics as they have some kind of ACP for sale. An auction site is advertising end of season scrap for sale, but often it is cheaper to just buy in quantity rather than deal with someone who impatiently believes they are doing you a favour. 

    I am curious to see what all the fuss is about, but at 30 times the price of ply, which is proven and entirely suitable material used by many professional artists, it isn't really necessary for me. From what I hear of US prices it might only be 6 times more expensive and you have it down to a very reasonable level at that point.  The cost is irrelevant if one is selling at any reasonable rate.

    It is so easy to prep wood for permanent finishes, and I can go more or less directly to an epoxy primer coat. 

    With Al, the acid preps are a somewhat more of a chore.
  • I found that interesting because if you are looking for a traditional surface effect that would work, whereas if you sand smooth you will get what I would imagine to be a more photographic effect, if that is what you are looking for.
    I generally use epoxy primer over plywood.  If I want a textured surface I just use peel ply, or a reusable film of whatever texture I want.  It doesn't usually cost me anything as I have epoxy in use during the summer and am always looking for things to use it up on.
  • I checked at Piedmont, for you Toronto folks, and they have 3mm, 4x8 sheets for $80 Cnd.  That is still about 5 times the price of ply.  But an 8x10 plein air panel would work out to about $1.5 at that rate, compared to $8.90 a piece at the art store.  I am more curious than anything else, worth 80 bucks to have a go.  stabilized wood is certainly archival for about 500 years, so I would really need to have high expectations for my work, and for plastics, before making the change, and dealing with the misery of the aluminum cutting and prep.  For me wood is so easy, but if you have a craft knife and not a table saw, you might feel otherwise.  Nice to have all these choices.
  • If you are not sure about dibond, then wouldn't the $8.90 option be a better bet to try it out?
  • It turned out to be cheaper than I thought it would be, and as a short term building product it is actually pretty nifty.  I immediately wondered about it as a cabin sheathing material for a boat.  It won't go to waste. This stuff is designed to meet it's fate in the land fill when the next construction or signage fad rolls through. For that period, it is pretty low maintenance. Like vinyl siding.  It will be good for something

    But your logic is not lost on me.  I do tend to get excited about buying cheap and in bulk, and I have to confess that has some huge problems with storage.  Plus the art stores are both further than Piedmont, so with the higher cost, and the size I actually want, gas for the truck, I am probably half way to a sheet anyway.  I get 4600 square inches not 192.  And if I don't go to the art store, nothing else will find it's way home from there either.  Piedmont I can resist.  :)
  • edited November 2019
    Thank you for your recommendation to Piedmont Plastics, I enjoyed visiting.
    I wonder if dibond is safe by mail delivery? (I have doubts).

  • I wonder if dibond is safe by mail delivery? (I have doubts).
    I bought some small DiBond panels from Amazon, and they came in an envelope, with the corners all dinged and bent.
  • Thanks, that's what I feared.
     I'll keep looking.
  • @Forgiveness I found my source by googling local sign making shops. I think the first one I called happened to have dibond and were happy to sell it to me for a good price. The material seems to be widely used - even the new sign above the door of my building is made with dibond!
  • I went to restretch one of the “canvases” of the 11x14 paintings and I see that the material is really thin, kind of like a fredrix canvas pad material.
    the surface is more durable because u put two coats of the Holbein foundation on it.
    I am thinking of taking it off the cheap stretcher bars and putting the canvas in a thin board to better support the painting.
    Has anyone run into this and if so your thoughts in the matter?
  • Yes, recently been learning to mount these onto 3/16"-1/8" birch ply, using pva glue. I have sketches done on Frederix that are worth framing and hanging.

     The 1st step is preparing the birch ply properly, sanding the shiny surface lightly with 60-80 grit to remove the shine and create a tooth, I determine whether the ply sheet may need to be mounted on a support frame similar to craddled panels, next I apply shellac on both sides of the panel, then prime it with acrylic gesso sanded between coats, let dry overnight. Diluted pva glue on 1 side of the panel, and begin to slowly roll the canvas onto the suface, avoiding air pockets or bubbles (must avoid at all cost and be very thorough). It is important to keep the pva glue wet enough throughout the whole surface to take the canvas well through this process. Using a rubber roller to flatten and secure the canvas for thorough adhesion.

     I haven't tried this yet, but makes the most sense to me to date, I need to purchase the pva glue to give this a go.

     If anyone has thoughts on this process?
  • Forgiveness

    Shellac is easily damaged with water. Some gesso products actively absorb moisture. PVA has a high water content. Birch ply will bow and twist if moistened.

    PVA as an adhesive for canvas and Dibond will work well.


  • edited November 2019
    I don't understand why people think stretched canvas primed with lead white is not a good substrate for oil paintings. Mark Carder uses canvas and the great museums are full of masterpieces painted on stretched canvas that have lasted centuries. It has stood the test of time   I love its textute and taut springiness. Canvas  can  be easily cut to any size and it is light weight and easily transportable.  So, what's not to like about it? 
  • @dencal are you recommending using Dibond and adhering with pva?  Any sanding required? And, of course, rolling the canvas abd rolling out any bubbles with a rubber roller would be good.
  • @tassieguy my concern is that the canvas I painted on is such a thin cheap “canvas”. It’s almost like gessoed paper, I.e. like the canvas pad stuff.  
  • GTO

    Yes to all of those questions.

    I use Dibond with a tinted water based primer for metal surfaces. Then it’s go with acrylics, oils, pastels, charcoal. If I happen to buy a glossy panel I knock it down with a light sand.


  • Thanks Denis, I will use Dibond.
  • Found a local sign shop that sells Dibond 3mm white surface on one side used for printing signage.  $100 for an 8ft x 4ft sheet.  They cut any pattern you want for the dimensions you need at no cost.
  • CJDCJD -
    edited November 2019
    @tassieguy here's an article which explains why stretched canvas isn't an ideal support for oil paintings, if longevity is a concern

    I went to a bunch of museums in Europe last summer and didn't find that the paintings on stretched canvas were in the best shape - the opposite was the case. Paintings on wood from 500+ years ago were in amazing condition much of the time, while lots of paintings I saw on stretched canvas  that were only 100-200 years old had really bad cracking.

    If paintings on stretched canvas are holding up well over a couple centuries it's because they've gotten into the hands of top conservators who have done everything they can to keep them in good shape.

    Another point that is important to me is paintings on rigid panels are a lot more protected against physical damage. Just last weekend I noticed a big 30x40 inch painting at my parents' place (bought from a family friend artist about 15 years ago) had bad cracking and a big dent in the bottom right corner. I asked them about it and they said they leaned something against it in storage years ago and didn't know canvas was so fragile. At least that painting is so big that some damage to the bottom right doesn't completely ruin it but still... if it was on a panel it might not have been damaged at all.

    But if someone wants to paint on canvas for whatever reason.. the feel or the look or because they like it, then from what I've read the thing to do is to use quality linen, size and prime it perfectly with GAC 100 size and lead oil ground (no zinc), make sure it's stretched perfectly on quality bars, and then put an acid free foam core backing on it (covering the entire back, screwed into the stretcher bars) to create an air pocket which reduces susceptibility to changes in temp and humidity, and also protects from physical damage. Then use lead white paint and quality paints without zinc or other mediums that can cause problems down the road. Then wait for the painting is fully dry 6 months before varnishing.

    To me, cutting a piece of dibond and rolling on a single coat of primer is a lot easier! There is some appeal to stretched canvas for some reason. A nicely stretched and prepped canvas is a nice thing to see and touch and work on, but panels are nice too.
  • @GTO that's a good deal! 
  • Folks

    Here is a copy of a useful post from Oct 2018.

    Here is a short and authoritative paper, from the Ottawa Symposium on Conservation of Contemporary Art National Gallery Canada) July 1980, sets out the case for Polyester fabrics.

    This is about 40 years old now. Aluminium composites, PVC, Mylar and Polypropylene, copper and aluminium plate would likely change the emphasis on polyester fabric. Nonetheless it sets out some of the deficiencies in linen and cotton as a painting support.


  • CJDCJD -
    edited November 2019
    I've done a couple paintings on polyester now - one stretched and one glued to panel. Stretching it worked okay, although it might be difficult to stretch a larger sized canvas (the stuff doesn't really stretch very well).

    One potential problem with stretched polyester is that if the fabric gets a dent in it it might be impossible to remove. Creases and imperfections are also harder to get rid of when stretching too compared to linen or cotton.

    It is very strong through. It's near-impossible for me to tear it with my bare hands like is done with cotton canvas. It's also cheap - you can get pre-primed rolls of it for a fraction of the cost of primed linen.
  • Well, it looks like I might have to go with the flow and try a rigid support.  :)
  • Rob

    Might pay to check with your gallery about market acceptability first.
    I would expect Tassie buyers to be a fairly conservative / traditional bunch.
    Don’t understand how you could have painted such large and beautiful landscapes on trampolines.

  • Rob could paint with mud and still make it work.. ;)
  • edited November 2019
    Awww, thanks, @Richard_P
    I think I remember you saying that you use composite aluminium sheets. I'd like to try that but I love the texture and tooth of the canvas. I guess I could paste canvas to the aluminium panel. I'll give it a try. Once I find a supplier. :)
  • edited November 2019
    Thanks, @dencal. Much appreciated. 

    Yeah, pretty conservative down here.  I think the punters like the idea of paintings on canvas so, yes, I'll ask my gallery about it first. 

    It's the lightness and taut, springiness that I like about stretched canvas. And its texture and tooth. I've tried pasting canvas to MDF but it's heavy and I always end up with bubbles between it and the canvas. I'm no handyman but I have learned to stretch a good canvas and it's what I'm used to painting on now. If I glued canvas to aluminium do you have any suggestions for the sort of glue to use? :)
  • dencaldencal -
    edited November 2019

    ACM with a clear gesso (over white or tone, if preferred) will give you tooth.
    Art spectrum Colourfix Primer has enough tooth to make a dentist smile, I use this for multi layer pastel.
    However a quality metal primer on ACM is sufficient for realism.

    The ACM will be impervious to any art treatment you throw at it. So the concern as always is the canvas.
    The experts are recommending GAC200 (gel) or BEVA371(hot dry mounting) but a pH neutral PVA is probably the go, with plenty of drying time. Talking here about blank canvas not already painted and varnished items.

  • edited November 2019
    Thanks, @dencal.
     It's the weave of the canvas that I love most. When it's toned you can drag a brush with a lighter colour across it so that the higher part of the weave grabs paint and the toned ground is still visible beneath. Great for texture where one plane meets another and shadow meets light. Many of the great paintings in museums rely on this effect. So, to get the best of both worlds (rigidity and weave),  I'd have to glue canvas to the aluminium panel. Will follow recommendations for the glue. But I wonder if it's worth the expense of buying both canvas/linen AND aluminium and glue. (I'm a retiree living on my savings and selling the farm so I'll have more time and money for painting)  But I guess the extra cost would be offset slightly by not having to buy stretcher bars and staples. 
    I'll give it a try after my show if I make some $$ and the gallery is ok with it   :)
  • CJDCJD -
    edited November 2019
    For gluing, you can use lineco neutral pva glue. I've found it easy to use and you can dilute it slightly with water so it doesnt dry before the canvas is stuck on.

    It's sold in art stores. Better than hardware store glue.

    I like to brush it on with a medium firm fan brush or something similar. Make sure all area is covered. I then put the canvas face down, put another panel on top covering the whole thing and weight it down for 24 hrs. Also recommend putting a bit extra glue around edges and corners

    Actually the most important thing is to start with some small panels to figure it all out first before risking big pieces of linen. I messed up my first couple attempts
  • What are your thoughts on this pva glue used for book binding?
    it is water soluble, ph neutral, archival, reversible.
    I found it on amazon
    I am seriously considering glueing a finished
    Canvas painting (not varnished yet) to die bond with
    this glue.

  • All I know is the Lineco one is buffered too so the ph won't change over time. The one you linked to might be as well.

    I personally use the Rublev mounting adhesive. I thought it was expensive at first (in Canada) but since I learned to dilute it it doesn't take much to use. It's also reversible so if a painting lands in the hands of a conservator and needs to be removed from the panel it can be easily peeled off. PVA glue may be harder to deal with in that situation
  • Picked up the Dibond today.
    heavy stuff.
    @PaulB have you ever cut this with a table saw?  If so, anything to be aware of when cutting?  Obviously gloves, eye protection? But what’s about dust?  And chips?
    I figure on using a 10” finishing blade for cutting.  What’s the largest size painting you’ve done on Dibond?
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