Best Gesso for Oil Painting: A Quick Guide to Top Primers

Best Gesso for Oil Painting: A Quick Guide to Top Primers

Good gesso is a necessary tool when preparing your canvas for oil painting. As someone who used to be clueless about preparing an oil painting surface until I went deep into the topic, I want to make sure you understand why gesso is vital for your artwork and one of the best materials to use to ensure a smooth surface to paint on. Gesso’s primary purpose is to create a suitable surface for your oil paint. Without gesso, the raw canvas fibers can absorb the oil from your paints, leading to dull, lifeless colors and possible canvas deterioration. Whenever you purchase a pre-primed canvas or cotton canvas you will find it too is primed with gesso.

There are many gesso brands on the market, and choosing the right one is key to achieving the best results. The quality of a gesso can significantly impact the final appearance, texture, and longevity of your oil paintings. It’s essential to be careful when selecting a gesso that delivers a smooth, durable surface for your creative pursuits. This article will introduce our top recommendations for the best gesso for oil painting and help set you up for success.

The right gesso will provide a reliable foundation for your artwork. It helps to enhance the vibrancy of your paint colors and provide a textured surface for paint adherence. So, as you dive into the world of oil painting, remember that the proper gesso is a vital element. By ensuring that your canvas is adequately primed, you’ll be able to fully express your artistic vision with confidence. With that said, which gesso would I say is the best gesso for oil painting?

Recommended Gesso For Oil Painting

When choosing the best gesso for your oil painting project, consider these top-rated options that cater to your specific needs. Each brand offers unique qualities and benefits to enhance your art. I have used all of these gesso brands and rate each one highly, so I will give you not one definitive best gesso for oil painting but a choice of 5 gessos that you can confidently purchase based on price and stock availability.

Let’s have a look at the best gesso for oil painting:

Liquitex Gesso is a popular choice and it is also a personal favorite of mine. Liquitex is great, especially for those on a budget. But don’t think cheaper means bad. You can use it on various porous surfaces like canvas, paper, fabric, wood, and plaster. Plus, it dries quickly, so you can save time between coats.

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Here are some of the pros and cons associated with Liquitex Gesso, specifically in the context of oil painting:


  1. Versatility – Liquitex Gesso can be applied on a wide range of porous surfaces, including canvas, paper, fabric, wood, and plaster. This versatility allows artists to work with multiple mediums while using the same base preparation. You can also mix it with Liquitex Professional Gesso if you have any lying around.
  2. Fast Drying Time – It dries relatively quickly compared to some other brands. This means artists can apply multiple coats in a shorter time, making them convenient and efficient.
  3. Absorbency – It provides a good amount of absorbency without soaking up too much oil from your paints. This ensures your oil paints retain their rich, vibrant colors after application.
  4. Consistency – Liquitex Gesso has a great consistency that provides excellent coverage. It’s not too thick or thin, making applying evenly across your chosen surface easy.
  5. Price – As you’ve mentioned, Liquitex Gesso is more affordable than many other brands on the market, making it an excellent choice for artists working within a budget.


  1. Coverage – While the consistency is generally praised, some users have reported needing multiple coats to achieve the desired level of opacity, particularly when working on darker surfaces or with heavy textures.
  2. Adhesion – Though Liquitex Gesso is known for its good adhesion properties, occasional reports of peeling or chipping have occurred over time, especially if the artwork is subjected to rough handling or unfavorable environmental conditions. I have never experienced this by the way.
  3. Texture – After drying, it can leave a slightly textured surface that may not be desirable for artists seeking a perfectly smooth finish. However, this can be managed with extra sanding between coats.
  4. Brightness – Some artists have noted that it’s not as bright white as some other gessoes, which might affect the final vibrancy of some oil colors. I have no issues with this last one as I like to make my primed layer a little ‘dirty’ with some underpainting anyway.

Like I always say, the “best” gesso for oil painting largely depends on your personal preferences, the specifics of the project, and budget considerations.

While Liquitex Gesso certainly has its advantages, there may be other brands that cater better to certain specific needs, which is why I have listed a few more brands below. As always, it’s a good idea to test a few different products to find what works best for your individual art practice.

Golden Gesso appeals to artists who prefer a more fluid consistency. Easy application and smooth coverage make it an excellent choice for priming your canvases. You’ll appreciate the even texture it provides for your oil paintings.

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Grumbacher Gesso is another highly recommended option. Known for its outstanding quality, this gesso caters to professional artists who value longevity and durability in their work. Give your painting a solid foundation that will stand the test of time with Grumbacher.

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If you’re a fan of Winsor & Newton, their gesso is worth considering. Perfect for both oil and acrylic painting, this multipurpose gesso ensures excellent adhesion and long-lasting results. You and your artwork will benefit from this versatile option.

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Lastly, Liquitex Professional Gesso is the premium choice for artists who demand top-quality materials. This non-toxic, lightweight gesso creates a perfectly prepared painting surface for both oil and acrylic paints. In all honesty, I did not see much of a difference between this and the normal Liquitex Gesso except for opaqueness and coverage. You can also get this in clear if you are working with a pre-drawn canvas such as paint by numbers.

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To sum it up, select the best gesso that best suits your artistic preferences and budget. With options like Liquitex, Golden, Grumbacher, Winsor & Newton, and Liquitex Professional, you can be confident in the quality and performance of any of these highly reputed brands.

The other bonus with these gesso brands is that you can use them to prime canvases for not only oil painting but also acrylic paintings.

Another notable brand that my artist friends have recommended but I have not used is Utrecht Professional Acrylic Gesso: A slightly pricier option, but worth it for the quality. I have been told that this gesso is also perfect for priming your canvases.

Types of Gesso

Now to use gesso to prime surfaces for oil painting you don’t actually have to use an oil based gesso. You can go via a few routes and each has its own pros and cons but all are a good choice for paint surfaces.

Traditional Gesso

Traditional gesso gets its name from the use of rabbit skin glue, which helps give the surface a strong bond. This type of gesso is popular among oil painters, as it provides a smooth, consistent base for their work. In addition, it creates a barrier between the canvas and the paint, preventing paint from soaking through. Here’s a quick look at the key components of traditional gesso:

  • Rabbit skin glue
  • Chalk or gypsum
  • White pigment (usually titanium dioxide or zinc oxide)

Acrylic Gesso

Acrylic gesso, also known as acrylic ground, is a more modern alternative to traditional gesso. It’s made by mixing an acrylic polymer with calcium carbonate and pigment. This type of gesso is great for both oil and acrylic paintings, as it offers a durable, water-resistant surface that allows paint to adhere easily. Plus, it dries quickly, so you can get started on your artwork faster. Some highlights of acrylic gesso include:

  • Water-resistant and flexible surface
  • Dries quickly, allowing faster work
  • Compatible with oil and acrylic paints

Remember, an acrylic primer or gesso is important to use when working with oil paints, as it prevents the oil-based paint from damaging the canvas fibers.

Oil-Based Gesso

Oil-based gesso, sometimes referred to as “oil ground” or “alkyd primers,” is another option for preparing a canvas for oil painting. This type of gesso uses an oil-based primer combined with pigments and other materials to create a resilient surface for your artwork. While it can take longer to dry than acrylic gesso, oil-based gesso can offer unique texture and protection for your canvas. Consider these features when choosing an oil-based gesso:

In short, selecting the best type of gesso for your work depends on your needs, preferences, and the materials you plan to use. Understanding the differences between traditional, acrylic, and oil-based gesso will guide you in making the right choice for your art.

Surface Preparation


Preparing your canvas is essential for successful oil painting; making sure to use a quality gesso ensures the best possible surface. When selecting a canvas, consider materials like linen or cotton. Linen canvas often serves as a top choice for professional artists due to its durability and smooth texture, while cotton offers a more affordable option that is still suitable for most oil paintings.

To prime your canvas, apply gesso – an acrylic-based primer designed specifically for oil painting. It’s important to apply multiple thin layers, allowing each layer to dry thoroughly and sand between coats. This will create a smoother and less absorbent surface to work on.

Wood Panels

Wooden panels, such as plywood or MDF, provide a sturdy support for oil paintings. Preparing them is key to preserving your work over time. Begin by applying a size, a sealer that protects the wood and prevents acids from affecting the painting surface.

Next, choose either acrylic or oil-based gesso to prime the panel. A good-quality gesso that’s specifically formulated for oil paint is necessary here. Once applied, use the same process as with canvas, multiple thin layers and sanding in between, to achieve the desired smoothness.

Aluminum Panels

Aluminum panels serve as an increasingly popular surface for oil paintings due to their lightweight and non-reactive nature. To prepare the surface, start by thoroughly cleaning it with alcohol or another solvent suitable for removing grease and other contaminants.

Subsequently, you may apply a universal primer specifically designed for aluminum surfaces that works with oil paint. In contrast to canvas and wood, you should apply a primer in a single, even coat, ensuring that the entire surface is covered. Once dry, your aluminum panel is ready for your oil painting masterpiece!

Remember, preparing your painting surfaces with care will enhance the longevity and appearance of your artwork. So, be sure to choose the best products and follow proper application techniques for successful oil painting on your desired surface.

Gesso Application Tips

Applying gesso to your canvas can greatly improve your oil painting experience. Let’s start with some necessary tips for a smooth gesso application process.

First, make sure to shake or stir your gesso before use. This will ensure a consistent texture. Then, apply the first coat of gesso on your canvas using a flat brush or palette knife. Spread it evenly, covering the entire surface, and be mindful of your brush strokes. This first layer will fill any gaps and provide a strong foundation for your oil paint to adhere to.

Allow the first coat of gesso to dry completely before moving on to the second coat. Drying time may vary, so be patient. When the first layer is dry, apply the second coat of gesso in the same manner as before. With each coat, the gesso will create a nice toothy surface. This is key for oil paints to grip onto.

You may want to apply a couple of coats of gesso to ensure a well-prepared canvas. Each layer of gesso enhances the surface’s texture, providing a better painting experience. Just remember to let each coat dry fully before adding the next one. Being careful with your brush strokes helps to create an even surface for your oil paint to glide smoothly.

In the end, practicing your gesso application techniques will yield improved oil painting results. Your canvas will be ready for vibrant, long-lasting oil paintings.

Selecting the Right Gesso

Selecting the right gesso for your oil painting project can make a significant difference in your artwork. You want a good quality gesso that will create an ideal surface for your paints. Finding the perfect gesso will help in improving the surface of the canvas and enable you to achieve the best results.

When looking for the perfect gesso, consider the following factors:

  • Quality: Choose a high-quality gesso that offers smooth coverage without any lumps. High-quality gessoes usually have a balanced mix of binder and pigment, giving your canvas the desired texture.
  • Adhesion: Pick a gesso that sticks well to the canvas and forms a strong bond. You don’t want your paint to flake or peel off over time.
  • Drying time: Opt for a gesso with a quick drying time, ideally one that dries in a few minutes. This will save you time between coats.

Here are some great gesso options for oil painting:

  • Liquitex Basics Acrylic Gesso: This gesso is known for its quality and smooth coverage at an affordable price. It works well on most porous surfaces like canvas, paper, fabric, wood, and plaster.
  • Utrecht Professional Acrylic Gesso: A popular choice among artists, Utrecht’s gesso is characterized by its smooth application and ability to create an ideal surface.
  • Golden Artist Colors Acrylic Gesso: If you prefer a more fluid gesso, Golden’s product is an excellent option. It has easy application and provides good adhesion for your oil paints.

Remember, the key to successful oil painting starts with choosing the right gesso. By considering factors like quality, adhesion, and drying time, you can create the perfect base for your masterpiece. Happy painting!

Oil Painting Surfaces

Oil Primers

To create a fantastic oil painting, you need to start with the right surface. One of the key elements of this preparation is applying a primer. A suitable primer for oil paintings is gesso, which provides a toothy and slightly textured surface. This texture helps oil paint adhere to the surface and prevents the paint from soaking into the substrate. Some popular alternatives to gesso are calcium carbonate and zinc oxide. These materials can also be used as primers for oil painting, providing the necessary grip and rigidity to the painting surface.

Choosing the Right Substrate

When it comes to choosing the right substrate for your oil painting, you have two main options: rigid supports and flexible supports. Some popular choices for oil painting surfaces include:

  • Rigid Supports: These are surfaces like wood panels or hardboard. Rigid supports offer excellent durability and are less prone to warping or cracking. Your oil paint layers will have a stable base to adhere to, ensuring that your artwork will last for years to come. Be sure to seal the surface with a proper sealer before applying the primer.
  • Flexible Supports: Canvas is the most iconic flexible support for oil paintings. When using a canvas, you can choose between stretched canvas or canvas board. Both offer a versatile surface that allows for natural movement and expansion without damaging the paint layers. Remember to prime your canvas with gesso or a suitable alternative, ensuring the surface is ready to accept the oil paint.

Whether you choose a rigid or flexible support for your oil painting, proper surface preparation is vital. By understanding the benefits of different primers and substrates, you’ll set yourself up for success and create a long-lasting oil painting that showcases your artistic talents. So, gear up and enjoy the journey of creating your masterpiece!

Creative Uses of Gesso

Gesso is a necessary material for any aspiring painter. With gesso, you can prepare various surfaces for painting, allowing you to explore your creativity even more. This versatile material comes in different colors like white, black, and clear. Some gesso contains titanium dioxide as a primary ingredient, providing a high level of opacity and ensuring proper coverage. Let’s dive into some fun and simple ways to use gesso in your artwork.

Using clear gesso on your canvas leaves the natural surface visible while still providing essential protection. This option offers a compelling look, with paint over visible wood grains or fabric patterns. If you’re looking to experiment more with your painting style, clear gesso may be your new favorite material.

White gesso is the most common and versatile type. By adding it to paper, you strengthen the material while preventing paint or ink from soaking through. The added texture helps paint or ink adhere more easily, opening up a world of possibilities in your creative process.

Black gesso introduces a new dimension to your artwork. Starting with a darker base instead of traditional white makes colors stand out and creates more dramatic contrasts. Use this unique approach to enhance the depth in your paintings and drawings.

Blending white and black gessos together offers shades of gray. These custom mixes let you experiment with different tonal foundations, bringing new meaning to your artistic creations.

Being a visual artist involves exploration, experimentation, and versatility. Gesso offers all that and more. Embrace the possibilities and unlock new creative potentials by using gesso in various ways. Don’t be afraid to let your creativity soar and make the most out of this vital painting ingredient. Happy painting!

Other Grounds and Substrates

When it comes to oil painting, there are a variety of grounds and substrates you can paint on. Many artists use gesso on surfaces like watercolor paper, canvas boards, and rigid substrates. In this section, we’ll talk about some other grounds and substrates you can use and the benefits they offer.

Watercolor paper is great for oil painting because it’s strong, easy to find, and affordable. To prepare watercolor paper for oil painting, apply a layer of acrylic gesso to make it less absorbent. This will help your oil paints glide smoothly and provide better coverage.

Canvas boards are another popular choice for oil painters. These boards use the same canvas material as traditional stretched canvases but come mounted on a sturdy cardboard backing. They’re ideal for beginners because they’re cheaper and easier to store. Remember to prime the canvas with gesso before you start painting to ensure proper paint adhesion and longevity.

Painting on porous surfaces like wood, paper, and fabric can have unique advantages. When you use gesso on these materials, the paint will adhere well and result in vivid colors. These surfaces can lend a different texture and creative flair to your artwork. Make sure you coat porous surfaces with gesso to create a smoother surface and prevent paint from soaking into the fibers.

If you’re looking for a more robust foundation, consider using rigid substrates such as wooden panels, metal, or even glass. These materials offer increased durability and resistance to warping. When painting on rigid substrates, the key is to prepare the surface with the appropriate ground, such as traditional gesso for wooden panels or an oil ground for metal surfaces.

As you explore the world of oil painting, don’t be afraid to experiment with different grounds and substrates. By trying out various surfaces and techniques, you’ll discover which ones work best for your artistic style. Remember to prime your chosen surface properly with gesso or another suitable ground to ensure a long-lasting and vibrant painting.

Additional Tips and Tricks

When looking for the best gesso for oil painting, it’s a good idea to consider the surface you’ll be using. Liquitex Basics Acrylic Gesso is an affordable option that works well on most porous surfaces like canvas, paper, fabric, wood, and plaster. If you’re ready to upgrade, Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylic White Gesso Primer is an excellent choice.

Gamblin Oil Painting Ground is another suitable gesso alternative for oil painting enthusiasts. Offering a non-absorbent, bright white surface, it provides a beautiful base for your artwork.

When applying gesso, follow these tips:

  • Ensure the surface is clean and free of dust or debris.
  • Mix the gesso well before use.
  • Apply the gesso evenly using a brush or roller.
  • Allow each coat to dry before applying another one.

Here are three gesso mixing techniques to enhance your oil painting experience:

  1. Mix gesso with oil paint in a 1:1 ratio for a balanced blend.
  2. Mix gesso with oil paint in a 2:1 ratio, with gesso as the dominant component for a smoother finish.
  3. Add a bit of distilled water to the mix for fluid consistency.

Remember, there is no definitive answer when it comes to choosing the perfect gesso. The best option depends on your personal preferences, skill level, and budget. Experiment and find the one that works best for you!

In your artistic journey, remember these vital points:

  • Practice makes perfect! Continue developing your skills.
  • Have fun with the process and stay open to new techniques.
  • Share your knowledge and experience with fellow artists, and learn from them as well.

Keep these tips and tricks in mind, and your oil painting projects are sure to be a success. Happy painting!

Best Gesso for Oil Painting – Wrap up!

Applying the right gesso for your oil painting is vital to ensure a well-prepared surface. With so many options available, finding the best one that suits your needs is key. Let’s recap on some top choices without making exaggerated claims.

For me, Liquitex Professional White Gesso stands out as a top choice. Its quality consistency provides excellent coverage, preparing your canvas with ease. Don’t worry about applying multiple coats; this gesso has you covered with just one. Remember, a well-primed surface brings out the best in your artwork.

When prepping your canvas, remember to apply gesso in thin layers. Allow each layer to dry before adding the next one. This technique ensures a smooth and evenly prepared surface. After all, taking your time in the initial stages pays off in the long run.

A helpful tip: consider using a brush or paint roller that leaves fewer marks on the canvas. This way, the surface stays smooth, and your oil painting glides on effortlessly. Plus, it’s always fun experimenting with different tools.

Now, with these gesso options and techniques in mind, you’re ready to create incredible oil paintings. Your artwork will benefit from a solid foundation that brings out the best in your skills. So go ahead, grab your favorite gesso and start making some art.

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