Cotton or Linen Canvas

I’ve watched Marks video on canvas and panels.  
He points out the little points of glare the you get with cotton canvas vs linen.  
Your thought on cotton duck vs linen?

I’ve never painted in linen and am wondering what kind of linen to use?  What weight or grade?  And what brands or suppliers you use.
I also am wondering what stretcher bars you use.  I think the thin bars are not sturdy enough for larger paintings.  Anything over 16x20”
Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.


  • GTO

    I use the finest weave aluminium I can find.


  • Ha! @dencal.  I too have been using Dibond for paintings.  But it does limit you on size.  (It gets heavy) The largest Dibond I’ve done is 16x20”.   What is the largest size Dibond you’ve painted?  
  • edited July 2021
    GTO, if you want a smooth, lightweight surface for larger still lifes then a fine weave linen would be more suitable than cotton duck. You can get the same smoothness with cotton canvas and so avoid the points of glare you mentioned but it entails a bit more work applying layers of gesso and sanding down between layers.

    The downside to linen is that it's more expensive. By way of comparison, I had a look at current prices at the Australian art store I use to buy materials online. A 10 meter roll of 12oz double primed cotton canvas costs $AU299 whereas a 10 meter roll of Belgian linen would set me back $AU1040. The prices in US dollars will be different of course but the relative cost of each will be similar in the US. I like the feel of 12 oz cotton better than I like the linen which is stiffer. And the cotton is easier to stretch. You can also get a poly-cotton but I haven't tried it.

    I wouldn't use thin bars for big paintings. They warp.  I use strong pine stretcher bars that measure 42mm (1.65") wide 32mm (1.25") thick. For anything over about 36" in length I use a central brace to avoid warping towards the center.

    Hope this is helpful.  :) 

  • Thanks @tassieguy what weight is the linen that you use?
    Anyone in the US that has a good source for linen and stretcher bars?
  • I have a canvas that was primed with acrylic.  Ive put two coats of Holbein oil ground on it criss crossed with a brush to try and fill in some of the valleys of the canvas texture. 

  • dencaldencal -
    edited July 2021

    Yeah. 16x20 is the convenient size of ACM for me. Coincidently though l have been working up to a 1200 x 600mm (25x50) abstract nude using polypropylene (YUPO) and a sheet of flat white acrylic (SunTuf) roofing product in prep for a large ACM.


  • edited July 2021
    GTO, I've finished the roll I bought and don't have the label any more so I'm not sure what weight it was. The weave was quite fine. 

    To fill in the the valleys in the canvas texture you need to slap the gesso on very thickly then sand back. Does that oil ground take long to dry? Acrylic gesso dries quickly.
  • @dencal. Did you have to prep the surface?  Was it too smooth for the ground to stick?
  • @tassieguy. I thin the oil ground with low volatile turps similar to the way Mark describes.  It takes a few days to dry.
  • But how do you prime the canvas before staining it? If it is pre-primed with acrylic gesso and it is still not smooth enough for you then you need to apply more coats of gesso and sand. 
  • GTO

    I have painted direct on to ACM. Prefer to coat with Berger Precision water based max adherence primer.
    Ask the dealer to tint the white primer to a mid grey or rust brown.

    Clear gesso is another option if you want extra tooth.

    A couple of good articles on the virtues and vices of aluminium panels for your scrap books.

  • @tassieguy. The canvas is already primed with gesso.  I layed the canvas flat and brushed on the oil ground.  The oil ground is not as thin as a stain.  It still has some body to it but it flows easily.  By laying the canvas flat the oil ground fills in the valleys somewhat.  Not as smooth or as irregular as a linen canvas but a bit smoother.  

    @dencal thanks for the tip on the Berger Precision Dulux.  I’ve been sparing my Dibond panels with automotive primer and then applying the Holbein oil ground to that.  
  • @GTO I haven't seen it here in the UK, but I know @PaulB has also used a type of dibond which uses a honeycomb structure so it's lighter.
  • @Richard_P. Yes, that is the same Dibond that I’ve used.  But it is still fairly heavy.
  • @tassieguy you are right about using the gesso and sanding.  That’s a better approach than my Holbein approach.  I still get the glaring dots.  I could sand a bit but the dots will come back once I paint and varnish.  
    I’ve seen some linen on-line but it looks like you’ve got to be careful about the weave and the weight or you might end up with cheese-cloth.  

  • edited July 2021
    @GTO. yes, you need to be careful because linen is expensive. If you want to try linen then I suggest you go to a bricks and mortar art store and check it out yourself to make sure it's as smooth as you need. If it's not, then it seems a bit of a waste to me to cover expensive linen with layers of gesso to get it smooth when you could do just the same with much cheaper cotton canvas. Otherwise you might be better to stick with the aluminum panels even though they're heavier. You can also get smooth wooden panels that are not as heavy as aluminum. Canvas, linen or cotton, by its very nature, has texture. This, and its toothiness - the way it grabs paint -  is what makes it appealing to many painters who like their paintings to have texture. But if you want a smooth, polished look, then canvas is probably not the best substrate for you.
  • @tassieguy. Good points.  I’ll check out the local brick and mortar stores and see what they have.
  • Though it might not solve your particular problem, Van G.  did one of his better known paintings on a linen tea towel.  I say that it might not solve it because I have no idea what tea towels are like when compared to what Mark is painting on.  I know you can get one for about 20 bucks.  I have dried dishes on many of them

    My mother was into doing restoration and production of church linen, and got very high quality stuff from an outfit in Belfast, UK.  I used some of it myself making rod bags for fly rods, and as patches for black powder rifles.  It was expensive, but by a standard of modern day churches that have basically no money at all.

    I had linen bath towels, and they are amazing.  I don't know where the pricing on art linen comes from, it is incredible.
  • I asked this question once here, but I don't think it was taken up.  And that was that since the main advantage to linen is that it can be made fine enough for end users like Mark, but is still strong enough to be stretched taught, why not find a weight and mill of cotton that is comparable; or get actual cotton canvas, primed, etc...  but in a light weight and bond it to a board.  That way you get the texture you want and the durability.

    When one looks at cotton goods, they say the 6 ounce is better for portraits, or whatever, because of the finer weave.  But it is too weak to be used as a large canvas.  So, why not use a mounted canvas?

    The only other thing people seem to say about canvases, other than the texture, is that they like the spring feel of the material.  Hard to credit though.  Just seems like an association.  It is a radically different feel anywhere on the surface, hard to see that as a benefit.  More just something one has become accustomed to.

    At the end of the day, you aren't actually painting on linen or canvas, but rather on whatever synthetic goop it has been processed with.  The cloth is just a screed.  It's other characteristics are irrelevant to the painting process.
  • @TamDeal those are interesting points.  The main thing I was looking at was the reflective nature of the surface.  Canvas has a uniform texture and more tooth than linen.  At least that’s what I’ve been told.  I’ve also heard, but don’t know how true, is that canvas is considered a “student grade” surface to use for painting.   Also that linen is more durable and lasts longer.  Not sure about all of that, just trying to better understand the options and trade offs.

  • Folks

    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.


  • edited July 2021
    Every support has it's pros and cons. Use the one that best enables you to achieve what you're aiming for. If you want smooth then aluminum panels or wood will be right for you. If you want the texture and tooth of canvas the either cotton or linen will do. Don't worry about conservation. Use the best materials you can afford and the best techniques you know to promote longevity. That's all you can do. At the end of the day,  if you paint something worth preserving it will get conserved and you'll be giving conservators a job. Our job is to make the best paintings we can right now.   :)
  • GTO said:
    The main thing I was looking at was the reflective nature of the surface.  Canvas has a uniform texture and more tooth than linen.  At least that’s what I’ve been told. 

    Canvas is just a word for cotton plain weave fabrics that are fairly durable and usually coarse.  I have heard people make the same kind of comments about tooth and suggest using lighter canvas to get a finer surface.  I just bought some 8x8 canvases at Michaels and have some 18x24 left over from last year, they seem to be the same canvas in all sizes. Obviously larger canvases need heavier material to deal with rigging loads.  I don't see any problems with the actual canvas in the Artist's Loft canvases as far as heavy tooth, or reflectivity are concerned.  But they are weakly mounted, have lightweight bars.  And canvas does stretch out over time.  These are all problems that would be deal with by gluing canvas to boards.  Their higher grade canvases have much heavier bars, and heavier cloth, maybe 10 ounce.  There you get a more durable product, but it is coarse weave.

    A lot of this is just marketing.

    GTO said:
    I’ve also heard, but don’t know how true, is that canvas is considered a “student grade” surface to use for painting.  

    Linen is better because it has a higher tensile strength.  Last year I bought prepared panel at the Dollarama, a plywood very competently glued onto a frame basically an upside down tray, for 3 dollars, it was maybe 18x16.  They also sell canvases.  So cotton has the whole lower end.  Nobody talks about cotton at the upper end.  So part of the problem is that conversation moves on to linen, regardless of how much better it is.  And it is a premium material, and people buying art only have to read one article that drops the word, to then assume every cotton painted canvas is by someone who doesn't respect their own work.  But that isn't the science, it is a combination of things.
  • Thanks @TamDeal fir that info that helps me understand it better.
  • As a result of reading the Ottawa Conservators Report that @dencal linked, I've gotten more interested in the Polyflax canvases that Fredrix produces.  Most of their canvases are polyester blended with cotton, but they have one that is pure polyester.  

    I wrote to them and they are sending me samples of each of their Polyflax canvases.  I've been using a roll of one of them to stretch my canvases and like it.  It will be interesting to see the samples of the others.

    The canvas I've been using is their model 901.  I can stretch it very tightly and haven't noticed any relaxation.  I've noticed that some of the cotton canvases I've stretched lose their tautness after a year or two.  Of course, this is not scientific at all.  Just an observation. 

    The only linen I can afford are the Centurion linen panels.  

    So, at least one artist canvas manufacturer has paid attention to the conservators!  
  • @mstrick96
    Centurion stretched line are excellent. The Fredrix polyester is too stretchy. Too abrasive. Canvas made correctly shouldn't sag. Linen may sag do to humidity changes. My Centurion canvas don't seem too. Using pro grade expensive stretches solve sagging linen for me but at way too expensive.
    Claseen double prime is the best for me. The texture and surface feed-back make painting truly a joy. But $$$$.
  • @KingstonFineArt
    I haven't tried the Centurion stretched canvases.  Only their panels, which I like a lot.  I'll have to try some and maybe some of their rolls.

    I've been using the Fredrix Cherokee Style 901 canvas for stretching my portrait canvases, which is a polyester/cotton blend.  After I stretch it as tightly as I like it, I haven't had any problems with it being too stretchy at all.  My only objection to it is that it's a little coarser than I would like.  

    Were you working with their pre-stretched canvases?  I've found that sometimes machine stretched canvases aren't tight enough for me.
  • OK, my glue crap to a board idea has an exponent in Charlie Hunter.  See this video at 24:30 

    He uses muslin on Gatorboard.

    This is another highly regarded purveyor of linen boards:

  • @TamDeal
    i haven't tried gluing canvas or other cloth to a panel, but have glued watercolor paper to a panel and it worked out quite well.  I uses 300# and 140# Arches and glued it on with Golden Heavy Body Acrylic Medium.  

    I plan to get some Gatorboard and will experiment with some left over Polyflax that I have.  Ultimately, I would like to make my own linen panels using Gatorboard and Centurion roll canvas.

    I think I'll try Charlie Hunter's idea with some muslin too!  Maybe other fabrics as well.  I wonder how silk would work?
  • By the way, @TamDeal,  thanks for the link to Charlie Hunter's free video!  I'm in the process of watching the rest of it!
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