Which surface to choose for oil painting -beginner’s guide

When choosing a surface for oil painting, there are so many options available that it’s hard to know which will work best for you. The main aim of this blog post is to overcome this problem and help you find a suitable surface for oil painting. In this article, I will discuss what these surfaces are? their advantages, and their differences.

Table of Contents

Why do we use a surface for oil painting?

Depending on your painting style and how much paint you use, a surface is everything. Your working surface is the most crucial of all those things as far as whether it will make or break the painting.

Another word used for these surfaces is “support”. It refers to anything on which paint is applied. Some of the common support examples include canvas, wood, paper, etc.

These surfaces are necessary to provide long-term durability to artwork. Oil paints need a stable surface to get stuck on them. If there will be a shiny surface that will not absorb the paint pigments then all the work will get ruined.

Things to know before choosing a surface for oil painting

There are three main things you should take into consideration before choosing your support.

1. Archival surface

If you care about the artwork to last for a long time, you should consider an archival surface. This term refers to something that can bare changes. Your surface must be strong to face environmental conditions.

If you are going to make art to sell or display, make sure to go for only strong surfaces. Strong means that they are made out of good material to stand for long durations.

2. Affordable

This doesn’t matter so much for professional artists but for beginners, this matters so much because they are not well aware of knowledge or ideas for effective work.

In the market, there are so many surfaces available according to every budget. But, you don’t have to compromise on quality if you are making a proper painting because cheap surfaces can create hurdles.

The best way to beat the price and also achieve quality is to make your own surface. You can purchase large sheets of fiberboard and have them cut to any size which you want. If you want to get cheaper, you can purchase smoothly sanded wood panels and later cut them off to the desired sizes.

If you don’t want to make your own. You can also get good ones in lower price ranges. For best quality, I prefer gesso primed which is great for beginners and also inexpensive.

3. Smooth surface

A professional artist not just makes art, but also enjoys making it. A balanced and smooth surface gives that feeling of joy. In oil painting, support plays the backbone of the whole painting.

There are so many preferences of artists so, they choose surfaces according to their interests. Some prefer using larger support sizes in horizontal style but some prefer the opposite to it.

For example, if you paint commissioned portraits of babies and children, you might prefer a linen canvas that is extremely fine and smooth.

Surfaces for oil painting


basic canvas for oil painting
An example of the canvas (image credit: Amazon)

Canvas is the most popular surface for oil painting which has been in use for more than 300 years. It comes in different forms and all these forms are mainly made of two ingredients including cotton and linen. Cotton panels are usually cheaper than linen panels. These cotton panels are lightweight and beginner’s friendly.

Cotton panels are also cheaper due to the availability of cotton and its performance. But linen panels are higher in quality, price, and performance. There are so many brands in the market that are offering canvases like

  • Professional artist canvas: Made of cotton and can be used for both beginner and professional use. It comes in a pre-primed surface which is ready for painting.
  • Linen canvas for oil painting: For professional use. Highly durable for oil painting.
  • Oil primed linen canvas: Oil primer is the highest quality which is the best thing to use for oil painters.

Advantages of using canvas

Canvas offers the stiffest and smoothest painting surface which gives so much detail to the whole painting. It also strengthens the whole painting to give long durability. It can be used for both professionals and beginners. Mostly famous artists prefer linen canvas for oil painting.

The disadvantage of using canvas

Sunlight and moisture can damage the canvas. A damaged canvas can ruin the whole painting. There is always a need for a good environment to keep the canvas. As Rolls Royce needs a clean place, the same as canvas needs proper care.

Purchasing high-quality canvases can be so much costly. Winsor & Newton canvas is costing around about 48$.

Our thoughts about canvas!
Canvas is the best choice for professionals as well as beginners. It contains so many varieties which contain all the above-mentioned qualities to make your painting more smooth and glossy.

Paper surface for oil painting

An example of paper board
An example of paper board (image credit: Amazon)

Paper is probably not ideal but if you don’t have any other choice to paint on, then you can use paper. But this paper has to b thick to stay for a long time against wet paint. I found it helpful for those who want to learn oil painting but can’t afford to buy a canvas or other expensive surface.

For using paper surfaces for oil painting, you have to do priming first. For priming oil painting paper, you can use acrylic gesso to create two layers of it.

The Canson XL series paper board is a good example of a surface that is suitable for beginner oil painters to work. It’s a non-absorbent surface which means that it holds paint very well, the paint flows nicely and it doesn’t fall off. You don’t need to use any primer for this surface.

Advantages of using paper for oil painting

Oil painting on paper is so much easy due to its lightweight. It can be easily transported to any place and stored without much trouble. It is also cheaper as compared to other surfaces like canvas and wood. The lightness of the paper helps the artist to paint the picture without any kind of stress. Paper is also easy to cut or tear if needed.

Disadvantages of using paper for oil painting

I have found that there is a lot of absorption of oil paint in the paper. You can lose a bit of detail and smoothness in painting. To get a proper use of paper, you have to apply gesso but it will work fine only when the quality of gesso is good.

Preparing a paper board could be time-consuming because you have to wait until the gesso gets dry and then you have to apply some oil-based primer before starting it.

Our thoughts!
Paper is affordable but it is not a fully archival and smooth surface for oil painting. So we recommend it for only beginners but professionals can also use it if they purchase a good quality paper board.

Wood panels for oil painting

Wooden art board
Wooden board (Image credit: Amazon)

Using wood in oil painting is also a very traditional way. It is a wooden panel rather than a masonite (made up of wooden fiber) one. There is a free choice in wood panels you can purchase a wooden piece from the store and then cut the desired size according to to tp your need.

Like other surfaces, the wooden surface also needs priming. You can use lead oil to do priming for your wooden panel. Artists have been using wood for centuries in most parts of the world. Many artists still prefer wood more than any other material.

Advantages of wooden panels

Wooden panels containing thick layers give you good control over the texture of the painting. They are also harder and more flexible to give good support to the painting. They are also easy to store and travel.

Making your own wood panels allows you to customize their thickness and size according to your needs. They are also less expensive with longer durability.

Disadvantages of wooden panels

As wood is a thick material and it weighs more than canvas and paper. Artists often don’t like wooden panels due to their heavy size. More thick surface means more weight.

It doesn’t provide a visible texture. For example, paint of the wooden-based painting will blur if you will see it from near. But after all these cons, many artists are still using wooden surfaces to create wonderful pieces of art.

Plane masonite board

Plane masonite board
Masonite board (Image Credit: Amazon)

Masonite is actually made up of wooden fibers. In oil painting, it’s used as support to give a better texture to colors. It always needs priming before use. Other surfaces like canvas come in a pre-primed form but masonite is a customized panel.

Masonite has the same qualities as a wooden panel but it does not weigh that much. If I talk about quality then I think masonite is better than wooden panels.


For oil painting, what is the best wooden surface to work on for longevity?

In my opinion, a masonite board is a wooden surface because it is made of wooden fibers which make it more stronger and flexible. If it is primed properly, you can get good durability in oil paintings.

Will oil paint stay on a car’s surface?

The answer is yes. It will stay on the car’s surface if you don’t drive the car but if you drive it daily or weekly, environmental factors and dust will make the paint fall off the car’s surface.

What surface should I use except canvas for a large-size oil painting?

You can use a masonite surface which is not so much expensive and you can easily custom size according to your need.


Canvas is the best option for beginners as well as professionals. But still, there are millions of artists who use wooden and Masonite surfaces to create oil paintings and they really made beautiful ones. If you can prepare a surface and can apply mediums easily, these are best. If you are a beginner and don’t want to spend so much on paintings then the paper surface is a good option for you.

Know about all the requirements and basic guide about oil painting. If you have any questions, please ask us. We will give a reply shortly. If you find this blog helpful and want to support our blog, you can share it on your social media by the buttons given below. Thanks!

Leave a Reply