Linen vs cotton canvas / oil vs acrylic primer

I recently bought a short length of linen canvas to try out and I’ve primed it with acrylic gesso. Should I have used an oil primer instead? What are benefits of linen vs cotton and in the case of linen the oil vs acrylic primer?

Good linen will give you a very nice, smooth surface to paint on, much smoother than canvas. Of course, there are no “benefits” of linen vs. canvas. It all depends on what you intend to paint on it.

If you are going to paint a landscape with very loose, rough strokes there is no need to spend the extra money on linen because canvas will probably give you a much better surface for that type of painting.

If you’re going to paint a portrait or a still-life with a very fine finish, smoothing out all brush strokes, with high details, then linen will be your best bet because trying to get that kind of finish on canvas will have you pulling your hair out. Unless of course, you put about ten coats of gesso on the canvas and sand it down between each coat, getting a very smooth surface. But, if you can get that with linen there is no real point to going with canvas.

As for acrylic vs. oil priming, acrylic is more of an all-purpose coating on canvas and linen. It allows you to paint with acrylics, watercolors and oils. You could even do pastels on it. But, if your canvas or linen is oil primed you will need to stick with oil paints.

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Hi Jane , in simple terms, linen is a superior fabric to cotton, even in household terms, such textiles, linen was regarded to last longer. With oil priming vs acrylic. The bond with oil primed surfaces is chemical and mechanical with acrylic primed. So the argument is, paint should stay bound to the oil primed surface longer than an acrylic surface. It’s all academic these days I guess, as it’s the source of a continuing debate

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Thank you Dave. Good information.

Thanks Joseph. Good info!

Hi, linen is far better than cotton canvas but about the same to paint on. I have been told however by several galleries I deal with that a purchaser will often ask if the support is canvas or linen and the linen will often result in a sale. The other thing that I find using linen is that because of the extra cost I do actually try harder and think more about the painting as I am painting it, nearly always giving me a better result.

I have always painted on cotton until recently I tried some linen and was very surprised at how different the weave is. The weave of linen is just beautiful. To be honest now that I have painted on linen, I really dont want to paint on cotton anymore.

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