Canvas panels?

I get why linen is a better choice than canvas due to far higher tensile strength, modulus of elasticity, and for a given weight it is apparently finer in texture.  But if one adheres canvas to a board, and let us assume for the sake of argument that the method of adhesion is archival, then what is the difference between, extremely expensive linen and cotton?  It would seem that the structural issues would fall away and one could simply be dealing with how the material was prepared and the surface texture. 

One problem could be that the texture on the lightest commonly available cotton is coarser, they could use a finer textured material, because the load bearing is dealt with by the panel, but conventionally the finer material is not available.


  • @TamDeal
    Putting linen on stretchers it the perfect feedback from the brush. The weave pattern is beautiful. I lasts a long time. But! I has become soooo expensive. I bought a roll in 2014 for $800 that same roll the last time I looked was $3000. In 2019 I bought a roll of canvas, good canvas, enough to do a hundred big paintings for $80. I will live with the course texture.

    I wasted a lot of the linen mounting to panels. Wasted. Only the weave is appealing. The adhesive is not reversible. :s
  • Couldn’t you just apply multiple coats of gesso to canvas with sanding in between to smooth it out .  Weave wouldn’t be as sweet but hey it would be smoother.
  • If they're works for eventual sale I can see working on stretcher'd linen or canvas,  but studies and ephemeral works can be on prepared hardboard or even prepared cardboard.  I do most of my painting on sealed archival-quality matt-board cut-offs or 300-lb watercolor paper. 
  • In reading the DMP discussions, I have come to realize that for many painters, the physical pleasure of painting is as important as the final product. I am more product-focused, so it is easy for me to not paint on canvas.

    I use panels (ACM or hardboard) and Arches purpose-made oil paper. I then seal the surface and put on primer.  I have not used canvas, either cotton or linen, for 20 years, mostly from archival concerns. Do any of you have any archival concerns about using it?  

  • D.  are you asking whether there are archival concerns about canvas?  There certainly are, and the material has been around for a long time with a long record of the problems.  My concern about canvas or linen are twofold:

    1) We are preparing the surfaces with materials that don't have a good track record.  Either in terms of what we know, or the time we have had with them.  This is why some people go to extremes to reproduce ancient formulas.  One thing I do know about resins from the last 100 years is that when they don't fall apart they often are impossible to bond to.  I have no specific information relating to art materials.  But they are from the same families.

    2) I am lucky to have a number of people in my family who are extremely competent fiber people.  One of them had an international reputation before she retired.  Cotton and linen, even at times the very best stuff, are not what they once were.  This is true of a lot of material, leather is mostly very poor even if not relevant here.  I don't know if that applies to linen for canvases, but if it does not, it would be the exception.

    I have a lot of concern about panels.  I work with these material as a woodworker, and they are toxic to work with because they offgas a lot.  That worries me.  I am not worried about the health aspect, I have ways around that, I am worried what these unstable gasses are and how they will affect the panels.  I see really accomplished artists say that panels sourced from home depot are "archival".  What they really are is unknown and of different source almost every time you buy them.  A lot of people like the sandwhich panels, I don't think the plastic in the panels is archival, and the vinyl layers people sometime paint on, are doubtful.  We do have crosslinked plastics that seem quite durable, but almost everything else falls apart within a lifecycle.

    The source of these materials has gone largely offshore, and there have been problems in both home and boatbuilding when materials, in one case theoretically graded, just fell apart.  One thing I have personally observed about plywood is that a lot of the glues have been swapped out for lessor glues in the last years; there if often a lot less glue; And the veneer pacakges have changed a lot with the surface veneers being made out of paper thing material now set at the 90 orientation.  Could be that does not mater to artists, but it is an indication that there is no such thing as (insert panel product name).  The one reliable product is  aircraft plywood.  Boat ply is probably OK, but I have seen catastrophic failures, and sometimes bugs, in the highest rated 1088 stuff.

    I certainly don't worry for myself, there is no way that anyone is keeping my paintings, and that applies to probably 99.9% of the art out there.

  • I find it difficult to justify the time and expense to stretch my own canvases.  Maybe I’m just not experienced enough to appreciate the quality differences.  I can buy, in bulk, 25 canvases that are stretched well, gessoed in a more uniform manner than I believe I could accomplish, and the cost per 20 x16 inch canvas could be as low as $3.50.  Am I just being naive?
  • edited May 2021
    I've stopped stretching my own. I ring my local art supply store now, put in an order for the canvases I need, and pick them up when they're ready - often the next day. When I was stretching my own I'd often find I didn't have a bit of canvas the right size or that I didn't have the right sized stretcher bars and it was a pain trying to keep things square. Having the art store do it saves me a lot of time and work and it's only slightly more expensive than doing it myself.

    You can buy really cheap ready stretched and primed canvas in many stores now - K-Mart, Office Works etc.. I've tried them but the quality is a concern. The canvas is extremely thin and the stretcher bars are made of light, cheap wood. Made in China. They might be ok for paintings one is not going to show or sell or if archival quality is not required but I wouldn't use them. I need linen or at least twelve ounce cotton canvas on sturdy stretchers.
  • @TamDeal – Thank you for the detailed response.  That is fascinating about your fabric expert relative. I think that all materials have benefits and drawbacks. I try to be aware of archival concerns, but finding a solid information resource is difficult. I found this and it has been my main source of information:

    MITRA (

    Based on what MITRA has compiled, I have moved away from fabric to aluminum panels and, oddly enough, Arches oil paper. I agree with what you wrote about panel manufacturing and outgassing. I seal all 6 surfaces of the hardboard panel.  For my purposes, the tactile feel or response of primed panel or paper is enough for me to enjoy the process. I used to sell artwork a long time ago, and I may in the future, but right now I do not. My concerns about archival properties are more to support my goal of good craftsmanship. I find the condition of even 40 year old canvas paintings (which are not glued to a solid backing) starting to be poor from everyday humidity variations. Cotton and linen canvas, RSG, and PVA are all hygroscopic from my direct observations.

    In the national galleries in WDC some years ago, I was surprised to find out that old, really big canvases (10x12 feet) which were in good condition had been adhered to aluminum panels to stabilize them. The  stabilization was separate from any restoration. This started changing my thinking about surfaces and substrates. 

    In another discussion, tassieguy made a good point about painters getting sidetracked from their work by the good craftsmanship aspect. One of the problems is that it is hard to find a source of archival information which is accessible and reliable. There are a gazillion opinions out there.

  • @Desertsky. What do you think about adhering canvas or linen to aluminum panel from the start ?
    Other  questions… do you apply a varnish on your paintings on paper?  When you frame them, do you frame them under glass?

  • @GTO – I think adhering a floppy surface to a firm backing from the start is great and better than my method. I don’t only because many of my paintings now are done to teach myself something, and so are not worth saving or spending the money to adhere to aluminum from the start. With my cheapo method, I can just pin the paper-based painting to the wall until dry, and then store in a flat file or adhere to aluminum if it is worth saving. I adhere with acrylic gloss medium by using a soft brayer over the front of the painting. I paint thin so no problems. I think this would not work with a textured painting.

    If you really like the physical sensation of painting on stretched fabric, you could do this and then take it off the stretchers and adhere to aluminum. Best of both worlds?

    I have never vanished a painting. I bought some Gamvar but only now have started experimenting with it.  Regalrez and other synthetic low molecular varnishes may be in my future. I think to varnish with Damar or other natural resins is poor craftsmanship. I have no experience or opinions about acrylic varnishes.

    Framing: most of mine are framed without glass, and this is the way I sold them years ago. I have a few on stretched cotton canvas I kept for sentimental reasons from 40 years ago, and they are in good shape. I prepped them with RSG (! Ugh but it was the standard in the dark ages), no ground, but a layer of lead white oil paint, then I did the image. The layers were thin, no turp, and I let a layer dry before adding more. This took months.

    These old paintings have been in ordinary nonsmoking household conditions, and except from where one got splattered from a vigorous dinner party (alcohol may have been involved), they are good. I can see where small cracks are starting from humidity changes in the fabric, and the fabric is no longer exactly firm everywhere. I will probably cut them down from the stretcher bars and glue to aluminum. 

    I have framed a few with museum non-glare glass and the results are phenomenal, but expensive. I framed years after painting, so no outgassing on the inside of the glass.

    My observations of canvas vs Arches oil paper: for the same size, and prepped the same way exactly (sealed and then sized), paper is less floppy and hygroscopic than cotton canvas. I think this is because of the way Arches oil paper (made of cotton) is engineered, and is not a natural attribute of the material 

    @KingstonFineArts – This is a good resource and the Bible of painters. For the questions I had, MITRA was a better resource.  Mr. Mayer has been dead for years. Who updates the book’s information?

  • Thanks for that info @Desertsky.  
    I wonder if it might be better to use a water based archival glue to adhere the paper?  That way if you ever had to remove it you could do so easily.
    I’m not familiar with museum grade no glare glass.  I’ll have to check that out.

  • @GTO – that is a good idea, and I have not thought of it before. Another thing to try out. Do you have any recommendations? 

  • @Desertsky I’ve used Lineco neutral ph glue 
    For canvas on aluminum.  
  • @GTO - Thanks again! I have heard of that but don't have experience. (oh dear another thing to add to my list :) )  Re process: Do you dilute the glue? Do you use a brayer to smooth out the glue? Do you weight afterward? etc. Thanks. 
  • @Desertsky I apply the canvas before painting or gesso.  I roll out the glue to spread it evenly and the press down the canvas.
  • @GTO - I will order Lineco and try it. 
  • I have a process that I use where I cast epoxy on a surface and use that rather than canvas.  by the time the canvas is glued and sized and all that, it is really just a resin mold, so why not cut out the middle man and use a more stable resin.  This way I can get any surface texture I want.  It isn't worth the trouble to me, I just did it as proof of concept.  Another variant is to take a panel and sheath it in fiberglass.  you can choose your weave texture, and you get a very durable surface (so long as light is kept at bay).

    I am not a fan of aluminum as a panel.  Aluminum is pretty difficult to bond to, horrible compared to wood.  And people are using sign board that is not actually designed to be archival, and the core is of dubious longevity to me.  But it depends on what you mean by archival.  The durability of a lot of paints is nowhere near 100 years in some case.  Will aluminum bonded to plastic last 100 years?  I would imagine it would, but most of the plastics of the last 100 years did not last much longer than that.  I don't have high hopes for acrylic paints either.  But I gather they are supposed to last.  Some already need restoration.
  • @TamDeal – Nothing lasts forever; however, some materials last longer than others. I try to find out which materials will last a long time not based on my limited personal experience, but on documented science.

    I think it is important to have an authoritative source which one can rely on for information. For me, that is MITRA (  Dencal has noted this many times in these discussions. The informed observations are far better than I could come up with on my own, or using old books. Their observations and conclusions are based on science, and are updated as new good information is discovered and communicated.

    I have had no problem with oil paint sticking to aluminum sealed with (US) XIM-UMA. MITRA recommends Sherwin Williams DTM bonding primer. The aluminum sign board is archival in interior STP. Most art products are first designed for other industries’ application, and then used for art: canvas, wood panels, linseed oil, solvents, pigment-dyes used for painting cars and staining masonry. I prefer mineral or metal-based pigments for paint, as I think these last hundreds of years. If an art product is archival in result, that is the important point for me. 

    TamDeal, do you personally find that oil paint will not stick to aluminum? Would you mind sharing how  you prep it? 

  • It isn't the science if nobody ever ran the experiment, and as in this case the experiment is what lasts over time, nobody has run the experiment. I agree with you that listening to people who have expertise is a great idea, even if their recommendations are diverse.

    Science is great, but my experience talking to techs at industrial paint companies is that conversation that go like this "If I took your series 100 primer, and put it on a material you didn't specifically design it for; and applied a material on top of that, that comes from a totally different industry; and then several more layers of other best guess materials; and then I finished it with paints randomly drawn from different companies, because I prefer their takes on different colors...  does your 25 year guarantee still apply?" those conversations don't go very far.  And neither does their 25 year guarantee.

    The great thing about painting on cheap materials like whatever it is that passes as Masonite these days is that at least someone doesn't take a look at a painting and say "That piece of aluminum is perfect for the rudder I want to make for my new sea kayak". 

  • edited May 2021
    I was going to buy a 4x8 sheet, but we went into lock down, and are still in it a year later.  I don't have a good method for prepping aluminum, most of my experience is on houses and boats.  We have an acid etch for prepping aluminum, but the coatings normally fail due the thermal cycling.

    In my case I think people will thank me more for searching out materials that are biodegradable.
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