How To Pick The Right Canvas For Your Painting

Here at Bird & Davis, we stock a large range of Pre-stretched canvases and Student quality canvases, as well as our popular Build a canvas service allowing you to input your desired dimensions, select the profile you need, the number of bars and your desired material. For those building their own canvas from scratch through purchasing, we also have an extensive range of Claessens Linen and Cotton, which you can shop here. 


The Material

The first consideration to pay attention to is to the material the canvas is made of. Typically canvases are produced in cotton and linen - both are completely different fabric compositions, which is why it's key you pick one based off it’s unique qualities. 



Cotton is brilliant in the sense that it is easy to stretch and stays tight on stretcher bars, however, it isn't as strong as linen. Its cons alongside being weaker are that it is typically considered to be too flexible for very large paintings. Furthermore, it hasn't been time-tested like linen when it was used by the old masters (learn more about the rich and interesting history of Claessen’s linen here). However, it is important to note that professional-quality artist canvas cotton is developed specifically for painting, and you can be assured Bird & Davis only uses high-quality cotton that typically can be used for both acrylic and oil painting (check the description of your desired cotton canvas on the specific product page on our site if you are unsure). Please note that the 12 oz primed cotton made for us is particularly strong but the student quality canvases are of a lighter quality. We recommend this material for beginners, amateurs, student artists or for those looking for a more cost-effective way of painting. 



Linen is more expensive than cotton largely due to how it is made - there are many more steps taken, due to processing the flax fibres, and its inelasticity can make it more challenging to weave into the fabric.  Because of how its produced, the raw material (flax) is in high demand in the clothing industry which therefore creates a much higher price. Claessens is a world-famous Belgian Linen specialist who have been producing Linen since 1906. The key benefit of Linen alongside how incredibly strong it is, is the brilliant surface that it provides for painting. Because of its strength, it continues to perform well even under a heavy painting hand and does not become slack as easily as cotton canvas can. Linen is typically picked by professional painters due to the fact it is more sturdy and hardwearing, so we highly recommend this material for anyone who is looking to sell their artwork, or wants them to last and pass down to generations. 

Is my canvas suitable for oil painting?

Although primed linens and primed cottons can both be used for oil painting, linen is generally considered more suitable for oil painting than cotton.

Primed or Unprimed

Depending on where the canvas has been purchased from, canvases can be primed with a mixture consisting of plaster of paris, glue, chalk or pigment known as gesso. This prevents the paint from being absorbed into the fabric of the canvas. For our customers ease, all our pre-made canvases and student quality canvases are already primed.  Unprimed canvas is purchased when artists wish to prime the surface themselves in their own methodical way. Artists may wish to use a clear canvas sealer or they may wish to size the linen or cotton with old fashioned methods such as rabbit skin glue. Some people may also wish to add a tint in their primer to suit their painting techniques, this would be called a wash.  If you would like to shop either primed or unprimed canvas, be sure to check out our Build a Canvas service, or shop our range of Unprimed linen or Unprimed cotton for you to stretch yourself.

The Weave Type

Canvas is either measured in grams per square metre or ounces per square yard. Paying attention to the weave type is important due to the fact that if the cotton or linen has a heavier weight, then typically it is either tightly woven and/or it is a thick, tougher yarn type. When it comes down to lighter weight materials both cotton and linens have an open weave and typically are a fine yarn, making them more flexible and easier to stretch out which makes them great for stretching. As they are more stretchable, they are excellent in responding to the tightening procedures to make them tauter. We would typically recommend these lighter-weight materials for artists who work fine, detail orientated, delicate strokes or for those who draw. Different cloths have different weaves and these can be seen on our website.


Weight is how much fabric there is per area, so it is determined by two key factors - the thickness of the thread used to weave it, and how tightly it is woven. The texture type can affect the weight - for example, a coarser canvas can be loosely woven so it could be a lighter weight than a fine canvas that is tightly woven. However, something to bear in mind is that a thick thread makes a heavy canvas and a thin thread makes a lighter canvas. 

When it comes down to weight, an important rule of thumb to keep to hand is that the heavier the weight of the canvas, the more tension the fabric is able to take without ripping. If you are going to paint on a large scale, we would recommend going for a heavier option. 



Here at Bird & Davis, we stock only the finest quality canvas suppliers from world-famous Belgium Claessens to Belle Arti from Italy. These high-quality canvases from trustworthy, globally recognised brands have been supplying artists for many years in time, and allowing them to produce their best artwork. 


Of course, while the brand you pick should be a key consideration when choosing your canvas it is crucial to take note of the structure of your linen if you are stretching your own. That's why you will find when you head over to our linens, and when you have selected your desired cotton or linen, you can then see a breakdown of a full description of the canvas including the structure, primer, preparation and the type of paint it can be used on. All of our linens, except the 12oz primed cotton are made by Claessens. 


When shopping for pre-made canvases or our build a canvas service, you can be assured that the quality will always be to the highest Bird & Davis standards using only the best cotton and linens, which is why our customers have trusted us since 1928 with choosing and supplying them with the best canvases to create their next masterpiece! 


Of course, if you have any further questions on picking the right canvas or want some guidance, pop into our London store to chat with one of our friendly team, or give us a call on 020 8368 8580.

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