Preparing a Canvas for Oil Painting

By Sarah Sands with Amy McKinnon

What follows is mainly about the materials needed to prepare a canvas for oil painting. Many important elements have been left out completely: stretcher bars, cross bracing, how to stretch a canvas or mount it to panel, instructions on applying the products, use of backer boards, pre-washing, etc. Some of those issues are covered in the article on cotton canvas within this issue, or can be found easily in other references. Instead we try to answer a much more fundamental and simple question: which products do you need, and how many coats should you apply?


Testing for strikethrough of oil ground on top of a size. Dark areas on back of canvas show where oil from the ground has penetrated through.

Testing for strikethrough of oil ground on top of a size. Dark areas on back of canvas show where oil from the ground has penetrated through.

 As in all things, we began with testing. In the fall of 2010, we embarked on a large scale project to examine common recommendations for preparing canvases for oil painting, with a particular focus on the use of oil grounds. All samples were prepared on 12 oz. cotton duck canvas following manufacturer’s recommendations. For sizing we tested our Williamsburg Rabbit Skin Glue, a PVA size made for artists, as well as various combinations of GOLDEN Polymer Medium, Matte Medium, Fluid Matte Medium, GAC 100, 200 and 400. There was no sanding between coats. We then primed the canvas with Williamsburg Lead or Titanium Oil Ground, as well as traditional oil and alkyd-based grounds from other manufacturers. Our acrylic-based GOLDEN Gesso was also included, with and without sizing, since acrylic gessoes remain by far the most common and widely used grounds today. We conducted adhesion tests (ASTM 3559) of the oil grounds to the various sizes after six months and then one year. No failures have been recorded and adhesion appears to be excellent across the board. Oil penetration, often called strike-through, was determined by inspecting the back of the canvases for any signs of discoloration. Currently all test samples remain very pliable and no embrittlement or cracking was noted when either flexed or folded.


In the world of paper and fabrics, sizing refers to a wide range of materials used to seal and stiffen. While an unusual word for most, it ultimately comes from the Old French, sise, which meant to regulate or limit. While many artists continue to use hide glue for this purpose, both polyvinyl acetate (PVA) and acrylic resins have grown increasingly popular and are considered far more stable and less problematic by conservators.

Ideally a size should soak into the fabric, lessening its absorbency and flexibility by coating and locking together the individual fibers and threads. It is typically not meant to act as a ground to paint on, or to form a substantial film on top of the canvas. Sizes also play a critical role in protecting natural fibers from direct contact with drying oils, where the process of oxidization can attack the cellulose and make it brittle.

Hide Glue

Painters wanting to use historical materials tend to prefer rabbit skin and other hide glues, which generally create a drum tight, very stiff surface. The main downside, of course, is that conservation scientists have increasingly pointed to hide glue as a primary cause of cracking since it easily absorbs and releases moisture from the air; a property known as being hygroscopic. This in turn causes the entire canvas to tighten and slacken as the Relative Humidity (RH) rises and falls. For example, when the air becomes dry and sinks below 30% RH, the hide glue will contract with considerable force, while above 70% RH, the hide glue will soften and lose strength, and by 80% will quite literally become gelatinous and fail completely. To complicate things even further, in these high humidity situations the underlying canvas is actually moving in the opposite direction, shrinking and developing such high levels of stress that it can cause the ground and paint, no longer bound to a rigid layer of glue, to actually delaminate. It is the impact of these forces moving in opposite directions, with tensions being constantly transferred from one layer to the next, that ultimately causes the extensive cracking and damage we see in so many older paintings that have grown increasingly brittle over time. (Mecklenburg, 2007a, 2007b)

For many painters and authorities, these issues spell out a death sentence for ever using this material. Yet, truth be told, as long as the relative humidity can be kept between 30-60%, rabbit skin glue continues to represent the gold standard for stiffness and strength that other sizes are compared against.

PolyVinyl Acetate (PVA)

While pH-neutral PVA adhesives have long been used in conservation and the book arts, some manufacturers now provide PVA-based sizes for use in preparing canvases. These should adequately protect fibers from the oxidizing effect of drying oils and prevent strikethrough. In our own testing, the number of required coats to achieve this was varied, with one coat clearly sufficient for a faster drying, alkyd-based ground we tested, while a minimum of two coats were required for all the slower drying, oil-based products. Always consult with the manufacturer and check for your own application to see what is optimal.

Acrylic Size

Acrylic dispersion mediums have provided some of the most durable options when it comes to sizing a canvas, and for a very long time our recommendations have remained fairly stable: apply a coat of GAC 400 to the front in order to stiffen the fabric, followed by an additional 2 coats of GAC 100 to act as an oil blocker. Many artists saw this two-step process as cumbersome, especially since GAC 400 should ideally be heat set to lessen its water sensitivity; a step most would find impractical on any larger scale. Luckily the testing we did allowed us to reexamine this issue and ultimately modify our advice.

In terms of oil blocking, two coats of GAC 100, GAC 200 and Polymer Medium can be equally effective, as well as one coat followed by a second of either Matte Medium or Fluid Matte Medium. Adhesion of different oil grounds to a wide assortment of these combinations also did quite well. That said, everything we know from research in this area, tells us that the stiffer we can make the canvas, the more stable and secure the oil painting will be in the long run. And in that regard, GAC 200 was clearly the best choice. The one caution is that is has a higher minimum film forming temperature than our other mediums and must be applied when the temperature is at least 70°F / 21°C.


For stretched canvas the three most common options artists will encounter are traditional oil grounds, faster drying alkyd ones, and of course, acrylic gessoes. Each will have its advocates and devotees, and all represent viable options.


Table 1 -- Various sizes for protecting and stiffening canvas.

Table 1 — Various sizes for protecting and stiffening canvas.

Table 2 -- Recommendations on preparing a canvas for oil painting.

Table 2 — Recommendations on preparing a canvas for oil painting.

Traditional Oil Grounds

These are usually a simple blend of white pigment with marble dust and/or barium sulfate ground in linseed oil. The marble dust and barium sulfate serve to provide tooth and modify the absorbency and sheen of the surface. In terms of pigments, Titanium White has become the most common; its opacity and high tint strength helping to mask the natural tendency of linseed oil to yellow with age. Lead White, however, is by far the most flexible and durable option, and there is reason to believe it has beneficial effects on the painting as a whole. Lead does come with significant health warnings, however, and should be handled with great care. One should never sand a lead ground as the resulting dust and airborne particles present a significant health hazard. Zinc oxide is not frequently found in oil grounds since it will form a particularly brittle film and current research shows a strong correlation between its use and increased risk of cracking and delamination later on. Because of this, we believe one should err on the side of caution and avoid its use in grounds altogether.

For Williamsburg Oil Grounds one should wait a minimum of two weeks after the last layer is fully touch dry before using. This will give time for the ground to pass through the most active period of the drying process, when the oil is still absorbing oxygen and gaining in mass. For a fuller explanation, please see our article in Just Paint Issue 25, “Weighing in on the Drying of Oils“.

Dark yellowing is a well-known phenomenon but can be very disconcerting if you are not familiar with it. It occurs when a canvas is stored in the dark or turned against the wall for a prolonged period. During this time there is a build up of unstable chromophores that create a yellow caste but are easily bleached by light. If this happens, allow the primed canvas to be exposed to sunlight or other light source and the yellowing should lessen considerably or disappear altogether.

Alkyd-based Oil Grounds

Generally thought of and marketed as a type of oil ground, these are actually oil-modified alkyd resins that dry quickly and can often be painted on in a matter of days. Like all oil grounds, there are concerns about long-term flexibility and brittleness, especially in colder temperatures. (Young, Hagen 2008)

Acrylic Gesso

By far the most common product currently used, acrylic gesso provides an alternative to the oil-based products reviewed above. Fast drying, permanently flexible, and with an optimal level of tooth and absorbency. Not to be confused with traditional hide glue gessoes that can only be applied to rigid supports. A minimum of three layers should be applied to prevent oil from striking through to the back of the canvas. Increasing the number of layers acts to stiffen the surface even further, and it is not uncommon to apply 4-5 layers to create a fairly stiff surface. For a fuller explanation of this, as well as an extensive look at the research showing acrylic grounds can be safely used under oils, see our article in Just Paint Issue 24, &quto;Using Oils with Acrylics”.

Clear Grounds

Never truly transparent, a so called ‘clear gesso’ allows for the natural color of the substrate to show through. While some products are marketed specifically for this purpose, artists can actually use any number of matte mediums to achieve the same aim. In fact, our Molding Paste will be quite translucent if applied in thinner layers, and our Acrylic Ground for Pastels, while having a more pronounced tooth, can also be adapted to these needs. For general needs, we recommend using Fluid Matte Medium since it is easily applied and more resistant to long term color shifts. If you plan to leave areas of the substrate and ground exposed, we highly recommend adding a UV protective varnish at the end to limit the risk of yellowing even further.


The above grid summarizes our best recommendations when priming canvas for oil painting based on current testing.However, it is absolutely critical that GAC 200 be applied and allowed to dry in temperatures at or above 70°F / 21°C. If you cannot maintain this temperature during that time, replace GAC 200 with the standard one coat of GAC 400 followed by two coats of GAC 100, which will provide good oil blocking and still moderate stiffness. We have also included a way to create clear grounds, as these have become increasingly popular, as well as acknowledge the continuing importance of historical materials like rabbit skin glue. Finally, we want to acknowledge that the search for a truly ideal system will continue far into the foreseeable future, and that for now, at least, painting on an inflexible support still trumps all of these in terms of stability.


Mecklenburg, Marion F., 2007a, Determining the Acceptable Ranges of Relative Humidity and Temperature in Museums and Galleries, Part 1, Structural Response to Relative Humidity,, 1-57. (

Mecklenburg, Marion F., 2007b Determining the Acceptable Ranges of Relative Humidity and Temperature in Museums and Galleries, Part 2, Structural Response to Temperature,, 1-29. (

Young, Christina, and Eric Hagan. 2008. Cold Temperatures Effects on Modern Paints used for Priming Flexible Supports. In Preparation for Painting: The Artist’s Choice and Its Consequences, ed. Joyce H. Townsend, Tiarna Doherty, Gunnar Heydenreich, and Jacqueline Ridge, 172-179. London: Archetype

38 Responses to Preparing a Canvas for Oil Painting

  1. Erik October 21, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    Hello Sarah,
    Thank you for this article.
    If you recommend using GAC 200 as a size (with the caution of keeping the temperature above 70 degrees) for various canvas preparations in Table 2, then why does the product information for GAC 200 clearly state that it is not recommended for flexible supports?

    ( … “GAC 200 is not recommended for flexible supports.”)

    • Sarah Sands October 25, 2016 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Erik –

      Thanks for the email and the common question as it does sound contradictory but let me try to explain, as really it is just carving out a very limited exception. GAC 200 is definitely a hard polymer but like many hard materials, flexibility can be very dependent on film thickness. Just to be very rough about it, think of the difference between aluminum foil and aluminum sheet, or imagine starting with a 1″ thick piece of Plexiglass and mentally you can see how, as you think of it getting thinner and thinner, it would also become more and more flexible and able to bend, until once you are down to something the thickness of a sheet of paper, you are likely as flexible as a sheet of standard Mylar. So our general guidelines for using GAC 200 still holds, where we don’t recommend using it on flexible supports, especially by itself, because it is easy to use it too thickly. But as a size, where it is mostly soaking into the canvas and not really forming a film of any appreciable thickness, it has sufficient flexibility to be rolled up or stretched.

      Hope that helps but if you have other questions, just ask!

  2. Ryan November 21, 2016 at 7:43 am #

    Hey Sarah-

    Thanks for the article! I went to a traditional school and have made my supplies ever since. As you mentioned zinc isn’t found in grounds made by the larger paint companies. What has been frustrating is that it is used as a ground by the large Canvas/Linen companies like Artfix and Claesons. I noticed today Fredrix doesn’t even mention whats in their oil priming is atleast on the jerrys site. I worked in a gallery for a year selling paintings and one of our artists used claessons because he doesn’t have time to prepare his own and they are the best available he has found. It doesn’t seem fair to the artist who puts a year in on a piece or the client that pays $30,000 for one of his paintings that this painting could fall apart. Throughout history artists have had panel makers and prepared canvas they can rely on. So far every commercial Linen canvas board I’ve taken apart I’ve been able to rip apart with my hands. One of our artist who made over $200,000 with us while I was there used only centurion. When I spoke to jerrys they told me it’s professional quality and from the way it looks and feels I can’t blame her for thinking otherwise. But the canvas board I took apart from centurion ripped like computer paper. I could be totally wrong and these could all be built to last as long as they hang on a wall. What are your thoughts on supports? I’ve been making my own traditional panels but would like to switch to a primed Linen I can trust to save myself time. Do you have any you trust?

    • Sarah Sands November 21, 2016 at 9:40 am #

      Hi Ryan –

      We completely agree that the situation for preprimed supports is troublesome and difficult to get information about. Many years ago there was actually some interest in creating an ASTM Standard in order to set some minimum quality and performance requirements but sadly it went nowhere. As for our own preferences and advice, while purchasing preprimed canvasses can save time, making one’s own will almost always lead to a higher quality product with the advantage of knowing exactly what went into it. As for history, while we might be tempted to romanticize and imagine a lost world of absolute quality, the same problems in quality and confidence seems to have been part and parcel from the earliest days. Robert Dossie, in The Handmaid to the Arts, 1758, states:

      “…..the pieces of canvas prepared by proper primings, are then by painters called cloths. But these cloths, though they are dispensed with in general, because painters think it too much trouble to prime them themselves, and therefore make shift with what the colourmen will afford them, who on their side likewise consult nothing but the cheapest and easiest methods of dispatching their work, are yet at present prepared in a faulty manner in several respects. In the first place, the whole covering is apt to peel and crack off from the cloth, by the improper texture of the under coat, which is formed of size and whiting; and is both too brittle, and too little adhesive, either to the cloth or upper coat, to answer well the purpose. In the second place the oil used in the composition of any paint used on such grounds, is extremely apt to be absorbed or suckt in by them; and consequently to leave the colours, with which it was mixt, destitute in a great degree of what is necessary for their proper temperament. This is called, though improperly, the sinking in of the colours, and is attended with several inconveniencies; particularly, that the effect of the painting appears very imperfectly while the colours are in this state, and deprives the painter, as well as others, of the power of judging properly of the truth of the performance….Whoever therefore would have good cloths, free entirely from this disadvantage, must direct the preparation of them themselves.” (

      Which is not to say that there also exists many positive historical reports, as well as conservation findings, attesting to the high quality of available preprimed canvases, but simply that problems of reliability and workmanship existed from the beginning and artists were always confronted with issues of trust when deciding to purchase prepared supports. If nothing else, one can definitely sense a closer working relationship in the past between small suppliers and artists that was later superseded by larger commercial companies in the 19th century, when preprimed canvases started to be a more mass produced, standardized product.

      In terms of quality suppliers, you might take a look at some of the higher end, smaller suppliers that offer hand primed, made-to-order canvases, such as Simon Lui ( or Soho Arts ( Obviously these can be pricey, so depending on your budget and needs, might not be a viable route. Beyond that, reaching out and making direct contact with various suppliers might be the only way to get a sense of what goes into their products and whether anything can be customized to your own specs. Unfortunately Claessens, which is otherwise a better quality product, uses zinc in their oil priming and that – as you know – is felt to be very problematic. I have personally stayed less up to date on other suppliers, but unless you can get assurances otherwise, zinc seems to be a ubiquitous component in premade oil primed canvases as a way to combat yellowing, so finding a zinc-free product might not be easy to do. Until then, making your own and celebrating the quality and confidence it provides, might be the best route if not the most convenient.

      Hope that helps.

  3. Ryan Walker November 23, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    Thank you!

  4. Malia January 5, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    I always prime my canvas with acrylic gesso and apply three coats. In the past year I have notice that my paintings (that I have done recently but not older paintings) are getting an image on the back of the canvas. From this post I see that it is called strikethrough. I have been stretching and priming my own canvas for over 10 years and paintings that are 10 years old do not have this but some of my most recent paintings do. Did I just get a bad batch of gesso? What will happen to these paintings? Is there anything I can do to fix them?

    • Sarah Sands January 5, 2017 at 10:29 am #

      Hi Malia – Thanks for commenting. Our first question would be if the brand of acrylic gesso has remained the same, as well as if there has been any other changes – such as in the weight of the canvas being used. Also, if you were able to take a picture of the back of one of your recent canvases and send that to me at ssands@goldenpaints,com that would be great and allow us to see the extent of the issue. Speaking more generally, while the concern with strikethrough is often couched in dramatic phrases, implying that the oil will “rot” the canvas, the reality is usually much more subtle and will take a long time to arise, if it even became a major factor at all. What happens is that the oil, as it oxidizes and ages, can slowly contribute to the canvas fibers becoming less flexible and more brittle. But keep in mind that canvasses become more fragile over time in general, and most older canvases end up getting relined (basically attached to a new fabric support) at some point in their life. So, while obviously unsightly and not desirable, unless the back of the canvas is dramatically saturated with oil, our guess is that you will be fine but that we should work with you to develop a process where this is not a factor to begin with.

  5. Marian Smith January 23, 2017 at 10:24 am #

    Hi Sarah,

    When in the process do you suggest lightly sanding?

    Thank you!

    • Sarah Sands January 23, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

      Hi Marian –

      Just to make clear one thing – at no point do you HAVE to sand, in terms of adhesion. It is purely something people will do to create a smoother surface.As for when, it can depend slightly on which approach you use. Many people will very very lightly sand after applying a size, such as GAC 400/100, RSG, or PVA, or after the initial coat of acrylic gesso, simply to knock back down any coarseness from stiffened threads or other imperfections of the canvas. But you want to have a very light touch here and not sand so much as to remove the size and make the canvas vulnerable to oil contact. After that, there seems to be two schools of thoughts and both have their adherents.One is a type of habitual light sanding after every coat of ground, trying to keep a very smmoth surfae at each stage. However you do not want to sand to the point of glossy smoothness here – just a light knocking back of brush texture. The other school is to build up multiple layers and then to sand a little more aggressively, knowing there is some thickness underneath to allow for a more substantial smoothing out.

      A couple of additional notes as well. One – NEVER sand a lead ground. As in NEVER EVER……the production of lead dust is too dangerous. So any smoothness you want with this ground needs to be done in the wet state. Second, with acrylic gessoes, wet sanding in particular can be very effective and is something worth trying.

      Hope this helps but if you have any other questions just ask!

  6. Selrak February 17, 2017 at 8:01 am #

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for publishing your findings. It was an interesting read.

    I’m student at an academy of fine arts in Europe. I used to paint on Wood and primed with acrylic gesso from Golden.I recently made the change to canvas and home made ground and that’s where the nightmare began. The priming recipe for oil painting on canvas given by my teacher consists of Rabbit Skin glue, Champagne Chalk (with optional titanium white) and Lindseed oil varnish. I made the first 5 with him and got excellent results but since I have had to make them by myself, I lost a month of painting and so much material because all my primed canvas cracked, I cannot understand why…

    1)I mix 55g of RSG with1L of water overnight in the fridge
    2)Take one part of that with 2.5 Part of water and do one layer of sizing
    3) Take on part with 2 part Champagne Chalk with 1 Part water with 1/3 Lindseed oil varnish and use an electric mixer. Then I apply 3-4 coats

    The next day I arrive and everything show mini cracks. I can hear them if I press gentle on the back of the canvas

    I have asked 50 times my teacher and I swear I’m doing what I think he tells me, but obviously something I do is wrong… Do you have any idea what the problem is? do you recommend another method specifically

    I use cotton duck canvas which I stretch. It is for oil painting. I like firm tension but that can take some rough cloth rubbing and handling. Longevity and quality are very important to me.

    Thank you for any tips

    • Sarah Sands February 20, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

      Hi Selrak –

      Thank you for the comment and great question. What we would recommend, first and foremost, is for you to post your question on a new website called MITRA, which stands for Materials Information and Technical Resources for Artists. You can find that here:

      It is run by a major Conservation Department at the University of Delaware, which will give you access to the expertise of conservators that have experience with these types of more historical recipes. And we participate in the forum as well, so you will have the benefit of our input if it is needed.

      While we could try to suggest some causes of cracking, in truth this is not an area we know very well or have much experience in, and so would defer to the conservators that do.

      Please do post your question there. They respond very quickly and should be able to help.

      Best regards,

      Sarah Sands

      • Sarah Sands March 1, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

        Hi again Selrak –

        As mentioned, i did post your question on MITRA and got a reply from Kristin deGhetaldi, one of the Conservators there:

        Moderator Answer
        ​Very interesting problem….first I would have to state that it is not advisable to use glue/oil/chalk emulsion grounds on flexible supports simply due to the fact that they tend to be too brittle and therefore are prone to developing cracks (a problem that you are already encountering). I am also not sure what “Linseed oil varnish” is….could you perhaps clarify? Does this oil contain a natural resin like dammar or mastic? If so that would certainly make the emulsion ground even more brittle (natural resins are not recommended for use in ground/priming layers due to their inherent brittleness). If you do choose to continue experimenting with these types of grounds on canvas you might look up some recipes that can be found in Kurt Wehlte’s book or Max Deorner’s text (both references are listed in the downloadable pdf called “Artists’ Manuals” that can be found in our Resources section). I myself played around with a recipe from Deorner’s text that applied to a reconstruction of a painting by Arthur Dove (again this can be found in our Resources section) on canvas:

        Max Doerner’s “Half chalk Ground” or “Tempera Ground”:

        “An equal measure of chalk and an equal measure of zinc white are combined with an equal measure of the glue-water mixture (same proportions as used for the sizing layer, 70g:1 liter). All three components are thoroughly mixed to which 1/3 amount of boiled linseed oil is added. After this has dried, apply further coats.”

        Mind you zinc white is now known to cause potential problems when mixed with drying oils (can cause chalking, brittleness, delamination, etc.) so you might use titanium white instead and/or up the amount of chalk. If you do decide to continue using glue/oil emulsion grounds on canvas please consider possibly mounting your canvas to a rigid support and recording your materials on the reverse of the painting. Both will help promote the longevity of your work!

        Kristin deGhetaldi

        If you wish to reply to Kristin’s questions,or further the discussion there, please go to the MITRA site:

        Hope that helps!

    • Sarah Sands February 27, 2017 at 10:07 pm #

      Hi Selrak –

      I went ahead and posted your question on the MITRA site and will let you know about any reply. If you want to see the posting you can find it here:


  7. Helen Bowie May 6, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    I want to replicate a 100 year old parade banner It is velvet with intricate designs embroidered on the surface and has a large painting in the centre. The painting is a large circle about two feet in diameter. The banner was lost in a fire 40 years ago and I have only pictures to go by. I have primed canvas but it seems to heavy to paint and sew on the velvet. Do you have any suggestions on alternative materials I could use for the painting and how I would prime it. I am using oil paints for the picture. Thank you

    • Sarah Sands May 8, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

      Hi Helen – Thanks for the question but as you can imagine it is always difficult to tell someone how to reproduce something from a distance and without intimate knowledge of the original. Also, a painting on velvet has a very distinct look and feel which another type of fabric would have a hard time reproducing. As for canvas, if you are using that only as a backing material onto which you will sew the velvet, there are certainly lighter weight alternatives you might consider.

      Probably the best thing to do would be to send an image – if you can – of the older piece, along with a description of your project including the size and where it will be hung, to our Materials and Applications Department at and someone there should be able to help further.

      Thanks again –


  8. John November 14, 2017 at 1:58 pm #


    I started to use PVA on unprimed linen and encountered same problem as this;

    The raw linen was tightly stretched to a frame and later primed with PVA mixed with water, 1 part PVA to 5 parts water.. after one night of drying the canvas vad bulky on stretched but stiff to the touch.

    I made some smaller tests with different water content, all tests ended in the same way except the one with no water, but i really had a hard time getting the undiluted PVA on the canvas with a plastic scraper. The result was almost as good as rabbit skin glue but the PVA layer was uneven and was more like a thick plastic film on the canvas.. i have not tested PVA on linen before stretching it and thats next..

    Why does this happen?

    • Sarah Sands November 22, 2017 at 9:11 am #

      Hi John –

      Thanks for your questions. We have not done a lot of testing with PVA sizes as it is not a type of product that we make/ Also it is important to realize that there are a lot of different types of PVA and not all of them are appropriate for use as a size. You would want to at least make sure that the PVA was pH neutral and approved for archival artists’ use.

      Our own recommendation would be to look at using acrylic sizes instead of the PVA as they might have fewer problems and if using our two-step process, of first using GAC 400 to stiffen the canvas, then GAC 100 to block oil, you can get a reasonably stiff and tight canvas, although sometimes you can need to restretch or tighten the canvas afterwards if using linen or there are changes in the humidity.

      If wanting to pursue the use of PVA as a size, we would recommend posting your question to a site called MITRA (Materials Information and Technical Resources) operated by the conservation department at the University of Deleware. You can find that site here:

      The conservators that manage the site would have much more experience using PVA in this way and could possibly provide suggestions to make your application more successful.

      Hope that helps!

  9. Ellen Bronstein December 16, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    Hi, Sarah,
    I have just finished stretching linen and I read this article with great interest before sizing the stretched linen. I used canvas pliers and staples to stretch the linen that I planned to size with GAC400/GAC100. The raw fabric was moderately tightly stretched but definitely needed some stiffening. The GAC400 seemed to work well: after it dried, the linen was nice and tight, although not quite as tight as the linen I sized with rabbit skin glue. However, it did seem to have some darker areas, which I just assumed represented slight unevenness in my brushing technique. Then I applied GAC100, and I consider the results, well, disastrous. The linen was (1) actually less tight than it had been right after the GAC400 application, and (2) worse, it had “rippled”: there were hills and valleys that seem to have hardened right into the surface. I have two of these supports, and I prepped each one slightly differently. On the first one, I’d squirted the GAC100 onto the surface, then used a brush to spread it around; I dipped the brush into water from time to time, and vigorously worked it to distribute the GAC100; when I did this, I noticed that the GAC100 seemed to turn white-ish before drying. The next day, when I saw the buckling in the fully dry fabric, I went back to my collection of Golden tech articles, and realized that the GAC400 was not waterproof. REasoning that I had perhaps used too much water in my brush when I’d applied the GAC100, I decided to apply a second coat of GAC100 to the buckled surface, and a first coat of GAC100 on the second support, but this time, I poured the GAC100 into a shallow container and brushed it on without rewetting my brush during the process. Long story short: that produced even worse results.

    Now I have many questions, starting with (1) what can I do to salvage my beautiful linen supports? I thought about spraying the back of the linen with water, or coating the back with GAC400, but I think either of those moves would be a mistake. (2) will it be possible to key out the support to get rid of the buckling? my sense is probably not. (3) Does linen take GAC400 differently than cotton does? would that explain the results I’ve gotten? (4) If I’d heat-set the GAC400, would that have prevented this problem?

    Any illumination you can offer would be much appreciated. I’ve got more linen to stretch, and I don’t want to have this problem ever again.

    • Sarah Sands December 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

      Hi Ellen –

      We are sorry to hear you are having such difficulties. You are not alone in having problems with linen canvas as it responds to moisture differently than cotton canvas due to the nature of its very long fibers – becoming tight when wet, but slack when dry. This is something that is touched on in the following Info Sheet from Jim Bernstein, who wrote our Just Paint article on A Remarkable Way To Stretch Canvas

      As he mentions, traditional hide glue sizing tended to counteract these tendencies since it moved in the opposite directions, but unfortunately acrylic mediums have a much more difficult time keeping linen tight during the stretching process. That said, because GAC 400 is applied so thinly, and dries quickly to a stiff film, it can often be successful even with linen at an initial stage – but not always. In fact, we even mention this, albeit in passing, in our tech sheet on Preparing Painting Supports, under the section on Stiffening:

      “Stiffening Linen and Canvas

      GOLDEN GAC 400 functions very well in stiffening fabrics, especially cotton canvas. However, it is less effective on linen.”

      Our guess is that, while in your case GAC 400 appeared to work well, the additional layers of GAC 100 are introducing enough moisture to cause the linen fibers to initially swell but eventually slip past each other while drying, becoming slacker then it started out and causing the unevenness you are seeing.

      In terms of what to do, at this point, the only way I know to fix a linen canvas with these defects is to remove the staples and restretch it, preferably on a dry day. This is something I personally end up having to do for my own linen canvases quite often, especially on ones that are larger, and have simply built it into my process. Going forward, you might also look at doing the prestretching that Jim Berstein mentioned in the document shared above. You can certainly see if alternative sizes and grounds work better for you. For example, we know that 4 coats of an acrylic gesso will give about the same degree of stiffness, and if you keep the initial layers very thin you might find there is less buckling. As for the thought about heat setting GAC 400, while it might help lock in the stiffness more, heat setting on any large scale becomes cumbersome and not easy to do using a hairdryer.

      We wish we had a clearer and better answer for you. Linen has such a wide variance in weight, weaving, and sizing, while also being finicky in response to the environment, that it has been harder to research and come up with reliable instructions that will work equally well on cotton and linen. Because of that, we would also encourage you to reach out to Jim Berstein if needing additional advice about linen in particular as he is truly an expert in this area with decades of experience and research. You can reach him via his website at:

      Thanks again for the questions and let us know if the restretching we recommend solves the issues, and going forward, if another combination of materials or process is more successful for you.

  10. Richard Edwards May 10, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

    Very, very informative article. I’m somewhat new to the medium of oil paints, so my gathering of available information, especially, correct information is part and parcel of the learning process. However, the article treated with canvas as primary support. What are your recommendations with the use of boards or wooden panels?

    • Sarah Sands May 11, 2018 at 11:04 am #

      Hi Richard –

      Thanks for the warm words about the article. It is always great to hear that information we put out is useful. And welcome to oil painting! As you go forward if there is anything we can do to help, no matter how small, just let us know at

      In terms of preparing panels for oil painting, you have a lot more leeway. We are personally big fans of MDO, medium density overlay, which you can find at well-stocked independent lumber yards, else might need to special order through Home Depot or Lowes.You can also read about it in our article on Preparing Panels for a Life Outdoors. Obviously that article is focused on preparing wood for extreme conditions, but certainly one could follow its recommendations even for panels living out a more comfortable life inside. If painting smaller pieces, hardboard panels like those made by Ampersand are also fine.

      For preparing any of these, a couple of coats of acrylic gesso or an oil ground is sufficient. Or combine the two ideas and use acrylic gesso followed by a thin coat of oil ground. One is not really concerned so much with oil penetrating through to the wood as it will not harm the wood in the same way as canvas. The main concern is usually wanting to lessen the absorbency and providing a white ground. To help prevent warping, we would also advocate for sealing the sides and back of the panels with, ideally, an alkyd-based wood primer since these are excellent moisture barriers. Alternatively, a polyurethane can also help. Using acrylic products, like GAC 100 or acrylic gesso, do not do much in terms of preventing moisture penetration as they are very porous by nature.

      Hope that helps and if we can do anything else, just let us know.

  11. Grace gisselquist October 6, 2018 at 11:01 am #

    Can I glue the linen to a board and proceed from there

    • Sarah Sands October 8, 2018 at 9:18 am #

      Hi Grace – Yes, you certainly can and the same recommendations would hold since the main concern is oil strikethrough. However, being attached to a panel makes any concerns about stiffening the canvas somewhat moot. So from that standpoint, you can more freely pick the combination that appeals to you most.

  12. shri June 20, 2019 at 1:24 pm #

    don’t you think the weight or the weave of the canvas (linen) makes a difference as far as strikethrough is concerned? regardless of the number of applications of size it seems if a fiber is too porous or too thin the paint will bleed through. do you agree?

    • Sarah Sands June 20, 2019 at 1:43 pm #

      We do agree, and even if the sizing can bridge the gaps in an open weave, you often still have pinholes where the ground comes through. On the other hand, very thin weaves likely get more saturated and coated by the size and even when there is strikethrough the fibers might be sufficiently protected to be okay. But ultimately it’s best to buy canvas or linen that is tightly woven – not simply because of strikethrough but because it will be stronger and more likely to distribute tension more evenly.

  13. Elisane August 10, 2019 at 10:10 pm #

    As I see, it’s ok to use 3 coats of acrylic gesso, followed by the oil ground, or 2 coats of PVA glue followed by the oil ground. So, in the first case (acrylic gesso + oil ground), the acrylic gesso acts as a size too? I thought the acrylic gesso would require a size of glue before it. Would it be correct to use the first coat of PVA glue, the second and third coats of acrylic gesso, and then apply the oil ground? I ask because there isn’t this combination in the table. Great article!

    • Greg Watson August 14, 2019 at 11:49 am #

      Hello Elisane,
      Thank you for your comment. Acrylic Gesso does act like a size, in that, with enough coats it blocks oil penetration. It can be applied directly onto raw fabric and requires a minimum of 3 coats to block oil. Where most of our clear acrylic mediums only require 2 coats to block oil penetration, Gesso requires 3 because it is more absorbent than the other products mentioned in the article, allowing the oil to soak further into the layer. It should be fine to simply apply 3 coats of Gesso then Oil Ground, OR, size the fabric with PVA size first, then apply Gesso over that followed by Oil Ground. Using two coats of Fluid Matte Medium should also be sufficient to block oil penetration and then Oil Ground can be applied over that. Here is a video showing the use of Fluid Matte Medium as a size and then the application of Oil Ground:
      Ultimately, you want to make sure you have enough sizing product on the raw fabric to block oil penetration. Beyond that, it is about convenience and whether the sizing product, or combination of products, matches your preference for feel and ease of use.
      We hope this is helpful. Please follow up with additional questions at or call 800-959-6543 and ask for technical support.
      Greg Watson

  14. lili November 22, 2019 at 11:35 pm #

    I oil primed a canvas and I can’t manage to get rid of the sand scratches, I used a 120 and 300 sandpaper.
    How can I get rid of the sand scratches? I add 2 coats of oil primed and waited for it to dry and then light sanded with 300 sandpaper but i can still see the scratches.

    • Greg Watson December 18, 2019 at 4:10 pm #

      Hello Lili,
      It can be challenging to remove all the minute scratches in a surface after sanding. Several thin coat of ground or color that have been thinned with solvent, either scraped on with a palette knife or brushed onto the surface may help. You may find that the scratches start to fill as you begin to build and brush color on the surface.
      Hope this helps.
      Greg Watson

  15. Féline April 10, 2020 at 12:04 am #

    I’m absolutely in love with your brand!

    I buy already primed rolls of good quality cotton duck. Which primer should I use on top of these ‘already primed’ canvasses? They say it’s not necessary, but I still want to do it because I don’t like the texture of the canvas. Just Golden Gesso?

    • Michael Townsend April 10, 2020 at 3:50 pm #

      Hello again, Féline.
      Thank you for your kind words about our company, it means a lot to us!
      Regular GOLDEN White Gesso is a great start. You can also begin using other products to create a specific quality, such as the Pastel Ground, Absorbent Ground, Fiber Paste, etc. As with any acrylics, if you plan on applying oils over them, be sure to allow for at least 3 days of curing to help ensure the best mechanical bond between the paint and grounds.
      – Mike Townsend

  16. Louis August 5, 2020 at 12:53 am #

    Hello, can I apply Williamsburg Oil Ground to an already pre primed Belgian Linen ? If so, can I add pigments / oil colors to the mix ?

    Williamsburg Oil Ground would do the same job as this mix (Blanc de Meudon, linseed oil, alkyd resin) ?

    Thank you so much !

    • Sarah Sands August 5, 2020 at 3:33 pm #

      Hi Louis – My first instinct is to say yes since a pre-primed canvas would be ready to accept oil paints, so really no reason why an oil ground should be any different. However, I would quickly caution that we have no way of knowing the composition of the primer and no direct experience applying our ground on top. The main concern would be if the priming contained zinc oxide, which has been linked to cases where the grounds became brittle over time and caused adhesion issues with overlying paints due to the formation of metallic soaps. For more information take a look at these articles:

      Zinc Oxide – Reviewing the Research

      Zinc oxide grounds in 19th and 20th century oil paintings and their role in picture degradation processes

      If possible, you might try contacting the manufacturer of the linen and seeing if they can tell you more from their end, especially concerning zinc oxide, and what their recommendations would be.

      As for whether our oil ground would do the same job as Blanc de Meudon combined with linseed oil and alkyd resin, I think it would come down to what you want in terms of quality. We have not used that other recipe, but in general chalk in oil would produce a more yellowing layer and, by itself, a less durable film – although the alkyd component should help in that aspect. But without a side by side comparison, which we have never done, I would not be able to speak to how they feel or perform differently from each other.

      Hope that helps a little. You might also want to ask this question over at MITRA, which is run by conservators who might have more experience with Blanc de Meudon. You can find that site here.


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