A hallmark medium of traditional painting, oil produces rich colors, variegated textures, and long-lasting works of art. If you’re starting with an unprimed or linen canvas, it’s recommended that you first prime your surface with an oil-friendly gesso. Oil primer keeps the paint solution from soaking into and eating away at the canvas fibers. Primer also keeps the canvas from turning brittle with age, as over time oil oxidizes and makes the surface of the canvas more delicate and prone to cracking. Choosing an oil primer can be tricky, as there are a lot of products on the market. Browse our selection of the best oil primers below.
1. Golden Gesso
The original manufacturer of commercially available acrylics, Golden is a classic go-to for quality painting materials. This flexible, rubbery solution can be applied over a variety of textures without cracking. Thanks to its high pigmentation, this gesso goes on opaque and can be used beneath both acrylic and oil paints. When using this product under oil paint, be sure to apply at least three layers.
2. Grumbacher Gesso
Another product made for grounding both acrylic and oil paint, Grumbacher’s 16-ounce tub of gesso is a quality choice. This gesso can be applied to a variety of porous surfaces such as canvas, wood, cardboard, plaster, and concrete. It can be thinned with water and tinted with acrylic colors, so you can achieve a full range of viscosities and tones.
3. Parrot Pro Art Premium Gesso
This professional-grade, super absorbent primer accepts a variety of mediums. In addition to acrylic and oil, this gesso works well with charcoal, pencil and crayon. Formulated with non-toxic materials, this product is available in a 16 ounce bottle that’s sure to last.
4. Liquitex Professional White Gesso
Liquitex’s white gesso, available in a range of sizes, is made for both oil and acrylic paint. Though best used on porous surfaces such as wood, linen or canvas, this gesso adheres well to non-traditional painting surfaces such as metal. When it dries, this gesso is both non-yellowing and water resistant. An added bonus? You only need one coat to properly prime your surface.
5. Gamblin Oil Painting Ground
Gamblin’s 32-ounce tub of bright-white primer is specially formulated to prime cotton and linen canvases for oil paint. This archival quality product is thicker than other solutions on this list, producing a smooth ground that won’t show brush strokes or let the canvas peek through. For a super-smooth surface, make sure to lightly sand the primed canvas after it dries before applying paint. To achieve a more viscous texture similar to paint, mix this gesso with gamsol oil.