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Primed vs Unprimed Canvas

primed vs unprimed canvas

Painting is such a relaxing and fulfilling hobby. Also, if you find that you are quite skilled at it, you might even sell a couple of your pieces. Now, before you get too ahead of yourself, you should start by choosing your materials. One of the first things that you will need to choose is the canvas.

When you are shopping for canvases, you will find that you will be choosing between two main options – primed vs unprimed canvas. Which one should you choose? Let’s figure out which of these options is better for you.

Primed vs Unprimed Canvas: The Main Differences

Let’s discuss the things that are different between primed and unprimed canvases. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be able to choose which one works for you.

Points for Comparison Primed Canvas Unprimed Canvas
Ease of Use Can be used immediately; no further preparation is needed Can be used as is, but will not produce ideal results for beginners
Durability Lasts longer as the primer and underlining protect the canvas fiber The canvas deteriorates faster because there is nothing protecting the fibers against the solvent in the paints.
Availability Readily available Harder to source and can only be bought in rolls
Versatility Cannot choose the type of primer used You can use whatever primer you want to
Cost A bit more expensive compared to unprimed canvas Much cheaper as it is practically raw fabric


primed canvas
primed canvas

The most obvious difference between the two types of canvases is that one has a layer of primer already applied on the surface. The reason behind putting primer on canvas is to make the canvas less absorbent. This will prevent the paint from seeping into the fibers. The result is that it keeps the colors vibrant and the edges sharper.

The primer would also provide extra texture for the paint to hold onto. On the other hand, if you use unprimed canvas, you will be getting a glossier finish, which is a good thing if that is what you are looking for.

Ease of Use

Primed canvases are generally easier to use. The primer on the canvas makes it easier to apply the paint on the surface. It will almost seem like you are painting over a thick sheet of paper. If the primer is thin enough, the texture of the canvas will still show through the paint.

Unprimed canvas is quite difficult to use, especially for beginners. Even if you use thick oil paints, you will notice that the canvas fibers absorbed a good amount of the paint. This will lead to smudgy-looking paintings. However, an experienced artist would be able to make art pieces that exploit this particular effect.


There is no contest between primed and unprimed canvases when it comes to durability. The primer acts as a layer of protection for the canvas. Without the primer, the solvents in the oil or acrylic paints will cause the fibers in the canvas to deteriorate more quickly than usual.

In addition, primed canvases are typically covered with sealants and sometimes with an undercoat. These additional layers provide protection against dust and dirt, which makes the paintings last much longer.


unprimed canvas
unprimed canvas

When you are shopping for canvases, you will notice that most art supply shops typically carry only primed canvases. You will also find that primed canvases come in various forms, like pre-stretched over boards and frames. However, you can also purchase primed canvases by the roll.

On the other hand, you will typically only find unprimed canvas in rolls. This means that if you want to use an unprimed canvas, you will need to learn how to stretch it over a board or frame. If you are a beginner at canvas painting, then you probably do not even know how to stretch canvas.


This is one of the qualities that an unprimed canvas might have a bit of an advantage over primed canvases. Most of the primed canvases you will see in art supply stores use acrylic primer, so you do not have a choice about what to use.

If you want to use another kind of primer, you should strip off the existing primer and reapply your choice of material. With unprimed canvases, you do not have to go through the preparation steps. You can brush on your choice of primer on the canvas.


Obviously, primed canvases are more expensive than unprimed canvases. Not only are you paying for the canvas, but the price also includes the cost of the primer and the backing.

On the other hand, when you are buying unprimed canvas, you are basically just buying fabric by the yard. However, you will need to buy additional framing materials and you also have to spend quite some time preparing the canvas for use.


Between primed vs unprimed canvas, which is better? As you can probably see above, it is better if you choose primed canvases. Although unprimed canvas is much more affordable than primed, you will need extensive preparation before you can even use it. If you have no experience in stretching and framing canvas, it is not advisable to use unprimed canvas.

Beginners at canvas painting are highly advised to use primed and pre-stretched canvas. Not only can you use primed canvas immediately but you will also realize that primed canvas surfaces are easier to paint on compared to raw canvas.

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