DIY Canvas Panels For Oil Painting?

Hi everyone!

Does anyone have experience making their own canvas panels? They’re my favorite surface but they’re hard to find in some formats - mostly I paint very small, and I’d love the freedom to try really odd formats.

I’ve done some research and the consensus seems to be to use MDF as backing because it’s tough and easy-ish to cut. Dust is a health hazard though. I’ve also not seen a lot of people seal the MDF - I would’ve assumed since it’s pressed wood that moisture and swelling would be an issue?

Then there seem to be two popular methods for attaching the canvas:

  • gluing it with acid-free PVA that dries with some flexibility (Gamblin make some I’ve heard). Would there be issues with the glue seeping through the canvas and affecting its surface?
  • using Gesso primer to stick the canvas to the MDF, then applying a few more layers of Gesso as primer. I’m suspicious of this, is Gesso enough to bond canvas to MDF long-term?

There are also so many types of Gesso/primer to choose from, it’s really intimidating! There’s acrylic, liquid, porous, non-porous, or salmon-flavored (ok, I made that one up).

Ideally I’d like to use primed canvas anyway because I found some I like, so I’m thinking maybe the PVA route is easier for me? I’ve read on this forum that some primer is better than others (something about cracks in oil paint) so if I can avoid priming my own canvases that’d be a bonus.

Obviously the thing I’m worried about is that, if I do this wrong, the problems may come months later and affect a lot of paintings, including sold ones. Has anyone tried this and found any gotchas?

I should mention I’m fairly new to oils, still in my first year. These might be really obvious questions to you professionals :slight_smile:

Thank you!

You can use an archival glue or heavy acrylic gel medium to glue canvas to a panel. Some people seal the panels first with 2 coats of GAC 100 from Golden, then once dry glue the canvas. It’s important to seal all sides of the panel, particularly if it’s Mdf or hardboard.

I made several panels using primes canvas pads. I used acrylic gesso to glue the canvas to MDF. Gesso is not a glue, but the polymer film it creates seams to be strong enough. I cannot comment on how strong the bond will remain in the long term. The plus moment is that gesso is archival by nature.
However, the biggest problem I found is different. The panel, even 6mm MDF, start buckling towards the side where the canvas is. Disregarding the pressure I apply, humidity of the panel, the way I dry it, sizing of the panel it always buckle.
It seems the issue is fundamental in case of gesso. I do not know if the same problem appears if PVA is used.

Try heavy gel medium or archival glue. Put lots of weight on the panel once you apply the canvas to the panel, for at least 24 hours. It should do the job. The gesso is probably too much, so it warps the panel.

Thank you! That was exactly one of my concerns. Can i ask how long after gluing the panels start warping?

I’ve seen someone (on Youtube, so take it with a grain of salt) paint a big “X” in glue on the backside of the panel. I haven’t tried, but the theory was that it would counter the pull of the shrinking glue on the front and keep the panel flat. I might run an experiment on this, hence my question about how long the warping takes. If it happens quickly then that’s actually great, well, at least better than if it happens weeks or months later after the painting may have been sold.

Thanks Joseph! I was wondering about the sides of the panel. Most videos I’ve seen only seal the back of the panel and I wondered about this. The open cuts on the sides might be more susceptible to moisture.

Once you remove the weight you see the warp. I tried to correct it like you mentioned by applying gesso on the back side after or before attaching the canvas. It reduces the warp, but it never goes away.

The best I managed to achieve is this. On a side 30 cm long it is about 0.5mm. So if you put the panel on a flat surface in the middle there will be a gap of 0.5mm. It does not sound a lot, but it is visible. I would expect that a longer panel will have more. The key for reducing the warp was to apply gesso to the back side after the front was dry.
And i agree with you about ages. They have to be protected.

Hi Nils,
It’s important to seal the sides as well, especially if you use hardboard aka Masonite or any type of mdf, as all these materials are prone to absorb moisture.

I used to make my own linen canvas boards and I never had any warping.

You could try I believe he does custom sizes. His prices are reasonable. I’ve never tries his canvas covered panels. The shipping cost maybe pricey but his product prices are reasonable.
If your putting gesso on a canvas for oils i think gamsol oil gesso is good i use it on my stretched canvas’s but I wait a week or two for dry time. Even though they say you can use acrylic.

Haidee Jo Summers made this video some years ago.

Honestly it’s a bit slapdash for my liking but she is a very successful artist in the UK. I’ve been following her for years. So it’s worked so her. :smiley:

Thank you for the tip, I’ve had a look at the store and it looks really good! Maybe I can do a bulk order to justify shipping all the way to Australia.
I’ve been looking into oil vs acrylic gesso because honestly I’m not sure i understand the difference. I have seen that acrylic is slightly brighter which might help me since I love saturated colors more than anything :slight_smile:

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Thank you, that’s a really good video!
I love that she shows wrapping the canvas all the way around, I think that would automatically seal the sides of the MDF so I’d have to worry less about moisture. I’m thinking of using Masonite which comes pre-sealed on the back.
I do like her “slapdash” approach, it shows that it doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect. That’s good to know for a newbie like me.

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Hi everyone,

Thanks again for the great responses!
I’ve also contacted Gamblin because I was considering their acid-free PVA glue for attaching canvas to panels. They said it was unsuitable but recommended the following process instead. You might find it interesting:

…[Gamblin] PVA Size is too thin to be used as an adhesive. For adhering paper or fabric to a rigid panel, we recommend Lineco Neutral Ph PVA Adhesive.

This is the system we recommend for adhering raw fabric to panels. This was developed by Robert Gamblin and Ross Merrill, former Head of Conservation at the National Gallery.


  1. Use a full strength PVA Adhesive to adhere fabric to panels. In hot weather, a very small amount of water may be added to the glue to improve its flow and slow the rate at which it tacks-up. The fabric should be cut slightly larger than the panel (approximately ¼” all around).
  2. Roll the glue onto the panel with a 4" smooth surface paint roller. Two coats are recommended. Let the first thin coat soak into the wood briefly before applying the second coat. The PVA adhesive will also serve as a protective size between the fabric and wooden panel.
  3. Lay the fabric on the glued panel using your hands to smooth it out flat. (For thin fabrics, a lighter application of adhesive on the panel is required. If you experience squeeze-through, take a damp cloth and wipe away surface glue before drying flat under pressure.)
  4. Roll out the fabric with a firm roller to get a good tight bond. Place a board and weight on the surface until adhesive dries. It is important to make sure the entire surface of the fabric is under pressure to keep it from pulling up as the adhesive dries. Multiple glued panels of the same size can be carefully aligned and stacked to dry with weight on top.
  5. Allow the glued fabric panels to dry thoroughly (36-48hrs.) before proceeding with surface size and ground.
  6. Apply a single coat of Gamblin PVA Size to protect the fabric from the natural acidity of Oil Ground. Brush on a second coat of PVA Size if painting on the fabric directly without a primer coat.
  7. After the size has thoroughly dried, place the panel face down and trim the canvas flush with the panel. Make sure to give ample time for all residual moisture to evaporate before applying Oil Ground. (In warm weather, after the panel has dried under pressure, place it in direct sunlight to drive out any residual moisture. Cooler temperatures and higher humidity may require waiting 2-3 days before applying the ground.)
  8. Apply two thin coats of Gamblin Oil Ground as per the instructions at Video Demonstrations - Gamblin Artists Colors

I’ve finally managed to get hold of all my materials, so I’ll be giving this a go on the weekend. My canvas is already primed so I’ll just skip the last step.
I’ve already cut some Masonite into shape (using a stanley knife which turned out to be a bad choice, I’ve had more fun at the dentist!)

Hey there! Love the conversation and found the techniques suggested really interesting. If you decide to move beyond flat boards, I would also suggest making a cradled panel and stretching canvas across that, stapling the fabric to the back of the cradle. I have made most of my undergrad work oil on panel and now I’ve started stretching canvas on top of old paintings to keep using that cradle. No need for this gluing process, although who knows if your gesso will seep through onto the panel if everything’s cheap enough. Regardless it’s worth an exploration.