All about canvas types

linen canvas

All about canvas types

AUTHOR:Dr. Alisa PalatronisPUBLISHED:November 17, 2021
SOURCE:www.z-antenna.comLENGTH:13 minutes (2600 words).

Z-ANTENNA is the “E-Magazine for Curious Mind” brought to you by Dr. Alisa Palatronis, who shares her personal experience and scientific knowledge about longevity, art, travelling, psychology, nutrition and urban chemistry in the 21th century. Contact us any time at zet.antenna@gmail.com.


No matter whether you are a beginner or a professional painter, this article may bring a value for both: it covers the canvas topic from a general knowledge to the smallest details of a fabric. Let’s get in!

In this article you will learn about canvas types and their structural and technical properties. All about canvas quality: fabric constituents, fabric density, its roughness and much more!

Please note that this article is not sponsored. One day I called to one art supply shop and asked for an advice about canvases. I got a highly professional explanations and answers to all my clumsy questions and I have realized – this knowledge should be transmitted to others. Mr. Albinas Voloskevicius, the owner of an art supply shop with whom I was talking, kindly agreed to share his knowledge. As it appeared, he has more than 20 years’ experience in manufacture of canvas frames! There was a separate 1.5 hour interview by a phone-call and, later, an unforgettable excursion to the manufacture itself! I’ve got A4-size samples of all canvas types to “understand” them better, however, the same is available for any painter just upon the request:)

Primers and how to indicate canvas quality by naked eye will be discussed in the next article.

Subscribe to my blog and stay tuned!

Why to have knowledge about canvas type?

In general, any canvas type is good for any paint type (oil, acrylic, tempera, gouache, crayon or mixed techniques).

However, small nuances, if you pay attention to them, can lead to great or just simple results, and give just as much joy from the painting process as the results you achieve. More so, the quality of the paint and the condition of the surface (your canvas!) are those few essential variables which determine how long a paint job will last.

A professional, an artist with experience, would pay more attention to the canvas material. When you have already discovered your painting style, your color pallet, your manner of painting and other tools, when these painting tools become obedient to you and the value of your painting is supposed to be high, encountering a different canvas can fundamentally change the painting process and the result, make a well-known process to be an uncontrollable experiment. And the other way round, in the hands of a professional, the knowledge about canvas properties may open a whole new era of fruitful experiments and achievements.

For amateurs, it is welcomed to try different styles, techniques, tools and materials, including canvases. And here, the knowledge about canvas properties and its technical parameters would make these experiments not blind and chaotic, but more conscious and purposeful, adding a value to the overall painting progress.

As Mr. Albinas Voloskevicius has told for this interview: “You can’t put up a big task ignoring the little things.”

The knowledge about canvases

Let’s agree on the abbreviations.

First letter “C” means “canvas”, and the second letter means the origin of a fabric. The number after letters indicate specific canvas properties, such as canvas thickness or the amount of each fabric in mixed canvas. For example, CC-1 (canvas cotton 1) will indicate the thinnest cotton canvas.

There are much more canvas types on a global market. In this article we would try to cover the most popular.

Abbreviations of canvas types in this article: CM means canvas mixed, CL means canvas linen, CC means canvas cotton, CS means canvas synthetic, CJ means canvas jute and CB means canvas primed black.

Canvas types

Mixed canvases

Mixed canvases (CM) consist of synthetic fabric (usually polyester) and cotton, sometimes with a small addition of viscose.

Canvas type mixed: polyester and cotton CM-1 canvas.
  • CM-1 canvas is made of 65% polyester and 35% cotton. Weaving density is 370 g/m (or 0.25 lb/ft). It is a medium-soft fabric to touch.

CM-1 canvas fabric is moderately soft and relatively slippery. Polyester guarantees the strength of the canvas, while cotton provides elasticity. Due to the high concentration of synthetic fabric, it is almost impossible to tear CM-1 canvas in either direction. Therefore, this canvas type meets the needs of most painters. It can be used for making small and extremely large frames, as for example, 1.5 x 4 meters (or 65 x 160 inches).

CM-1 canvas type is the most popular among painters due to its good value for money. It is universal type of canvas, suiting to paint both hyper-realistic portraits, landscapes and/or abstracts.

However, high concentration of synthetic fabric also determines the “slipperiness” of the canvas. If you are going to apply paints with short quick strokes, the paint may not adhere to the canvas extremely well due to the low “stickiness” of the canvas material. And oppositely, for abstracts, where you need a kind of paint flow, when slipping is easy and non-sticking to a surface, with loose strokes – the same slipperiness may be a source for painting joy and helper.

Canvas type mixed: polyester and cotton CM-2 canvas.
  • CM-2 canvas is made of 30% polyester, 68% cotton and 2% viscose. Weaving density is 360 g/m (or 0.24 lb/ft). It is a medium-soft fabric to touch.

A high percentage of cotton in the composition of CM-2 fabric determines its features. Cotton adds elasticity to a canvas but also reduces strength. The fabric may tear if transported improperly, by rubbing too hard with a brush or spatula, or due to other accidental events.

CM-2 canvas is cheaper than CM-1, making it most suitable for beginners in painting simple sketches, testing various painting techniques, is popular in amateur painting sails, i. e., in all those cases where the picture you create does not claim to become a masterpiece.

Note: YouTube painters-teachers usually recommend not to save on painting materials quality and choose better canvas, better paints and so on. Here we should understand that the ultimate quality of the canvas depends on the manufacturer and raw materials quality, while in this article we only discuss the technical properties of the canvas and compare one with each other. You can find cheaper and more expensive canvases of the same composition in the same art supply store. Or you can opt for a higher quality by choosing an economy option from a more expensive (and more professional, most likely) brand. There is a difference, isn’t it?

Comparing both mixed canvases (CM-1 and CM-2), the surface of CM-2 is rougher. Therefore, the acrylic paint, for example, may adhere better to the adherent surface of CM-2 canvas than to the smoother surface of CM-1. It may be somehow easier to control acrylic paint on CM-2 (with higher percentage of cotton) than on CM-1 (with higher percentage of polyester).

Linen canvases

  • linen canvas CL-1 canvas is made of 100% linen. Weaving density is 320 g/m (or 0.22 lb/ft). It is a gentle fabric to touch.
  • linen canvas CL-2 canvas is made of 100% linen. Weaving density is 350 g/m (or 0.23 lb/ft). It is a medium softness fabric.
  • linen canvas CL-3 canvas is made of 100% linen. Weaving density is 460 g/m (or 0.31 lb/ft). It is a rough fabric to touch.

Linen is a highly valued material, but at the same time it is expensive. Painting on linen is worthwhile, for example, if you intend to sell your works to art collectors who, in addition to the painter’s work itself, will appreciate the materials used: the brand and quality of the paints, the material of the canvas, the quality of the frame, the “history” behind and so on.

Linen is a natural fabric, so it has its own “natural” properties. It is a light, breathable fabric which absorbs moisture and dries quickly, therefore, it is known as one of the top choice clothes fabric for hot summers.

Everything you appreciate in linen clothes is also typical of linen when used as a canvas. However, oppositely from benefits of linen clothes in summer, linen canvas may cause troubles if not knowing how to handle it properly.

After absorbing moisture, linen fabric can “relax” on the frame and lose tension to such extend that you will even not be able to paint properly at that time. Later, as the moisture evaporates, the fabric will acquire primary tension. Linen can “walk” this way through the frame numerous times if the ambient air humidity varies.

Linen canvas will absorb moisture from air: the more moisture in the air, the more it will be absorbed by linen. Unfavorable conditions for working with linen canvas are plein air and high humidity areas, such as Athens, Melbourne and Florida, if to mention a few.

Subsequently, favorable conditions for working on a linen canvas (and keeping linen-canvas pictures as a piece of art at home) are air-conditioned rooms or dry indoor air during the heating season in cold countries. This is, however, not the rule, but only a few general thoughts to help you imagine the overall thing.

Linen will also quickly absorb moisture from paint or other materials you will use for painting or as a background for painting (such as modeling paste).

Cotton canvases

  • cotton canvas CC-1 canvas is made of 100% cotton. Weaving density is 260 g/m (or 0.17 lb/ft). It is an extremely soft fabric to touch.
  • cotton canvas CC-2 canvas is made of 100% cotton. Weaving density is 370 g/m (or 0.25 lb/ft). It is a rough fabric

Cotton is a natural material. Cotton is soft to touch, and if comparing with synthetic fabrics which are a bit stiff, cotton may bring more pleasure to paint on. This, in its turn, may give a feeling of certainty and calmness and positively affect the overall painting process. Cotton is rather adherent than slippery, if comparing to synthetic fabrics.

Cotton canvases (CC) have properties similar to linen canvases. Cotton absorbs moisture from the environment fairly quickly and later may evaporate it. This process may repeat numerous times, however, without a return to its original state, and a painter (picture’s owner) may need to tense or loosen a fabric on the frame to ensure proper view of a picture.

The main difference between cotton and linen is that cotton is cheaper (or linen is more expensive:)) As already mentioned for CM canvases, cotton tears easily (more easily) if used without a synthetic additive, and the same is valid for linen.

Synthetic canvases

  • synthetic canvas CS-1 canvas is made of 100% polyester. Weaving density is 250 g/m (or 0.17 lb/ft). It is an extremely soft fabric to touch.
  • synthetic canvas CS-2 canvas is made of 100% polyester. Weaving density is 360 g/m (or 0.24 lb/ft). It is a middle-soft fabric to touch.

Synthetic canvases (CS) are made of synthetic fabric polyester. Synthetic canvases possess high strength. It is almost impossible to tear or pierce this material (of course, in the frames of a reasonable use and painting activities).

The surface of CS canvas is the most slipping and smooth if compared with any other canvas type. Thus, synthetic canvas would be “more friendly” to oil paints and “less friendly” to acrylic paints, as acrylic paints require a bit rough surface, a kind of a surface to which this paint could stick and hold on, but not slip through when applied. 100% synthetic canvas is a really good choice for hyper-detailed paintings.

You can’t put up a big task ignoring the little things.

Albinas Voloskevicius, curator of art exhibitions

Jute canvas

  • jute canvas CJ canvas is made of 100% jute. Weaving density is 530 g/m (or 0.35 lb/ft). It is an extremely rough fabric to touch.

Jute canvas (CJ) has an extremely rough, wicker-like surface, which will add a texture to the whole painting. Jute fabric is more suitable for large paintings where paints are applied loosely, with wide strokes, for paintings where coarse expression is needed, rather than for a painting where accuracy and attention to small details is needed. Jute canvas possesses extremely high strength.

Black-primed canvas

  • Black-primed canvas CB canvas is made of 65% polyester and 35% cotton. Weaving density is 370 g/m (or 0.23 lb/ft). It is a medium-soft fabric to touch.

Black-primed canvas (CB) is a CM-1 canvas where a manufacturer uses a black pigment to prime it instead of a common white pigment. CB canvas has very similar technical properties if comparing to CM-1 canvas, with the only difference in color.

CB is a mixed canvas primed with an (acrylic) primer where black pigment (instead of Titanium white) is used. Black prime adds saturation, depth and sharpness to the background and the whole painting. Even if it seems that the whole canvas has been covered with other colors, the black micro-slots will be visible here and there, and will add an unique charm to the picture.

Take, for example, yellow color. Yellow color is the most capricious color, because even a few layers may be not clearly visible on a white background where you need just yellow. Try yellow on black canvas and see the difference!

It should be borne in mind that CB canvas compared to a regular white canvas, painted over with a black paint are not the same thing. A canvas simply covered with a black paint will require much bigger amount of a black pigment just to add color, but without other properties of a prime, and naturally will have not even surface.

By choosing black-primed canvas (CB) instead of painting with black paints over the white primed canvas, one could save time, money, and enjoy the process of a creation right away.

About weaving density

Threads form the fabric structure. The coarser the fabric, the thicker it is, and thicker threads are used to weave it. Even when the canvas is primed, the fabric structure is visible.

The thickness of the fabric is measured in grams per meter of a material. Weawing density determines the sense of softness of a fabric. A fabric could be very soft, soft (like CL-1, 320 g/m or 0.22 lb/ft), middle-soft (like CL-2, 350 g/m or 0.23 lb/ft), rough (like CL-3, 460 g/m or 0.31 lb/ft) or extremely rough (like CJ, 530 g/m or 0.35 lb/ft).

The durability of the canvas depends on weaving density too. For example, for soft, thinner CS-1 and CC-1 canvases, it is recommended to select a frame no larger than 1.5 meters or 60 inches. Additionally, cotton and linen are fabrics which stretch (CC and CL), meaning that the larger the dimension, the more it will stretch. As a result, the canvas may need to be adjusted (stretched) again and again on a frame, which is generally unnecessary procedure and may cause the damage of paint layers. 

The softer the canvas, the greater the smoothness, and this is favorable for painting small details like iris, hair or hyper-realistic details (examples: CM-1, CL-1, CC-1, CS-1 canvas types).

And, oppositely, the thicker the texture, the harder it is to paint highly detailed painting (example:  CJ canvas). If comparing the same type of a fabric, CM-1 or CC-1 will be softer and more favorable for painting details than textured CM-2 or CL-3, respectively.

Final remarks

  • Pay attention to where you suppose to paint (and hold your picture) when choosing the canvas fabric. Plein air, unheated study rooms or areas with high air humidity may affect linen and cotton fabrics, while canvases with synthetics would be more resistant to changing environmental conditions, both indoor and outdoor.
  • Weaving density matters. Canvases with a thicker, rough fabric (360-520 g/m or 0.24-0.35 lb/ft) are good for middle and large size painting (up to 4 meter or 160 inches), while canvases with thinner fabric (250-320 g/m or 0.17-0.22 lb/ft) would work better for small and middle size painting (up to 1.5 meter or 60 inches).
  • Synthetic fabric may affect adhering of acrylic paints: less synthetic – better adhesion.
  • Hyper-detailed paintings succeed to paint on extremely soft and soft canvas fabric, while rough fabric is more suitable for abstract, landscapes and non-detailed paintings.

Many thanks to Mr. Albinas Voloskevicius for sharing his valuable knowledge!

Albinas Voloskevicius is a curator of art exhibitions, director of A GALERIJA, a founder of “REGAMA” (manufacture of wooden frames for canvases) and an owner of e-shop dailininkams.lt.


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