Stretched canvas and wooden panels are two of the most popular acrylic painting surfaces.
Both stretched canvas and wooden panels have unique advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your painting style and preferences, you might like one or the other.
What are the pros and cons of stretched canvas and wood panels? Let’s take a closer look at these two popular acrylic painting surfaces.
Advantages of Wood Panels
Some painters like wood panels. Wood panels provide a range of popular benefits, making them the preferred choice among some painters but not others.
Crucial advantages of wood panels include:
Surface Texture Control: Wood panels give refined control over texture. You can customize texture from perfectly smooth to sandpaper gritty, depending on your priming. Sure, you could purchase canvas with various degrees of roughness, but wood panels let you adjust roughness at a moment’s notice. If you want to adjust the roughness of your surface without leaving the studio for supplies, then wood panels have a huge advantage.
Support: Wood panels are solid surfaces. This makes them ideal for techniques like heavy palette knife scraping and sanding. You can also adjust durability and support based on the type of wood material.
Easy Storage: Wood panels are easy to store – even if you’re less-than-careful with painting supplies. Stretched canvases are relatively weak, and you can easily dent or damage a stretched canvas during storage.
Customizable Thickness: Wood panels can be as thick, sturdy, or thin as you like. Medium density fiber (MDF) boards with ¼” thickness, for example, form a sturdy sheet and are reliable painting surfaces for many painters. Other painters opt for Masonite hard board, a type of composite wood product that’s thinner than other panels, helping it weigh less than traditional wood panels.
Make Your Own Panel: Some artists like the idea of making their own wood panel. You can cut your own piece of wood to your desired dimensions, for example, to create the optimal customized painting surface.
Paint Like the Old Masters: As Ashley Hurst at The Virtual Instructor explains, painting on a panel lets you approach painting like the old masters. Stretched canvas painting was popular for decades, but wooden panel painting was popular throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. If you want to give your painting a historic feel, then wooden panels might be the right option.
Price: Stretched canvas can be expensive, often double the price of boards. You need to buy a canvas role, get stretchers, and stretch the canvas.
Paint With or Without Canvas: Some painters add canvas to a board t make a canvas board. Others paint directly onto the board. You can experiment with both, then choose the option you like.
Disadvantages of Wood Panels
Wood panels aren’t perfect, and many painters have never used wood panels whatsoever. Disadvantages of wood panels include:
Weight: Many artists dislike the weight of wood panels. Wood panels can be cumbersome and unwieldy. Sure, you could buy lighter weight wood panels like Masonite, but they’re still heavier than canvas.
No Built-in Texture: Some artists like the customizable texture of wood panels. They like having complete control of texture based on how they prime the panel. Other artists, however, like to pre-select the texture of a stretched canvas.
DIY Panels: Not all artists want to create their own wooden panels. Some artists don’t want to buy their own wood and cut it down to size.
Advantages of Stretched Canvas
Many artists prefer stretched canvas for its familiarity, ease of use, and pre-built customization options, among other advantages.
Easy to Buy: Numerous art supply companies offer ready-made stretched canvas and canvas panels for artists. Wherever you shop, you should have plenty of options at all different prices.
Familiarity: Many artists are simply familiar with stretched canvas. They’re accustomed to painting on these surfaces, and they know what works and what doesn’t.
Customizable Texture: Stretched canvas comes with pre-built texture options. You don’t have to prime the surface to your desired texture. You just start painting.
Limited Preparation Time: Stretched canvas lets you start painting quickly. You don’t have to cut a board to shape or prime it.
Disadvantages of Stretched Canvas
Although stretched canvas is more popular, it has various disadvantages compared to wooden boards and canvas panels.
Loosening: Stretched canvas can become loose and require re-stretching over time. With higher-quality stretched canvas, this shouldn’t be an issue, although it could impact lower-quality canvases more frequently, disrupting your painting process.
Mounting Issues: Some painters struggle to mount stretched canvas squarely on the stretcher bars. It can be difficult to position everything, and it often requires some muscle.
Changes in Surface Tension: Temperature changes, vibrations, and other factors can impact the surface tension of the stretched canvas.
Weakness: It’s easy to puncture stretched canvas. Many artists work with stretched canvases with holes in them until they find a replacement.
Final Word: Should You Choose Canvas Panels or Stretched Canvas?
With art or any type of painting, surface plays a crucial role. However, many painters focus more on the process or the medium instead of the surface.
Whether you’re working with stretched canvas or wooden panels, there are advantages to both methods. While stretched canvases have been more popular in recent years, wooden panels are making a comeback.