Canvas is a versatile, sturdy material that takes well to both acrylics and oils. Though stretched canvas first appeared in 14th-century Italy, the material was used only rarely by painters at the time; wooden panels remained the most common painting surface. Today, of course, canvas is widely used in painting and is available in a variety of weights and weaves. Though you can buy canvas that is already primed, it’s much easier to stretch unprimed canvas because the raw surface presents a looser weave. In shopping for canvas, look for material that takes gesso well and has a good balance of strength and stretchiness. For help choosing, browse our selection of the best unprimed canvas products below.
1. PRO ART Canvas Roll
This 100 percent natural cotton duck canvas comes in 3- and 6-yard rolls between 24 and 63 inches wide. We like its versatile 7-ounce weight, which means that it is lightweight, handles light coats of gesso well—without absorbing it like a sponge—and is easy to both stretch over and remove from a frame. Its surface is a natural off-white, smooth, and uniformly woven from edge to edge. The roll format allows you to easily cut custom sections sized perfectly for your stretcher bars; it also helps keep the canvas wrinkle-free.
2. Nasco 1100424 Fine Arts Cotton Canvas Roll
If you’re seeking a canvas with a more rustic feel, consider this untreated cotton duck. Unlike most other picks on this list, it is yellowish-brown rather than white, but the color is pleasant rather than muddy. Like our top pick, this is a 7-ounce fabric, and it is double-filled, which means that it is woven more tightly for a flatter surface. This option comes in a 6-yard roll with a 62-inch width.
3. Mybecca Unprimed Cotton Canvas
Made by environmentally friendly processes, this all-natural cotton duck cloth is 58 inches wide and comes in lengths of 1, 5, 10, or 15 yards; it is usually shipped folded to protect it from damage during transit. Useful for painting, staining, and sewing, this material stands up to gesso and has a 10-ounce weight. What makes it really stand out from the competition is that its back is coated with polyurethane. This makes it water resistant and durable for the outdoors yet the fabric remains supple and pleasing to the touch.
4. Fredrix Unprimed 548 Cotton Roll
This canvas is the heaviest on our list, weighing in at 12 ounces. You can prepare it with two or three coats of gesso, and the surface is rugged yet uniformly woven. This canvas is also great for stretching over large frames, able to maintain high tensile strength even when extended across a big surface area. Available in a 6-yard roll measuring 72 inches wide, this material can easily be cut to suit a range of projects.
5. U.S. Art Supply Canvas Roll
This is a 7-ounce textile, but it feels finer than similar options, which makes it a good option for artists seeking a noticeably light fabric. It is ultra-malleable and can take light coats of gesso, but exercise caution when stretching it, especially over sizable frames, to prevent ripping. This canvas roll is also slightly less expensive than others on our list, making it a good option for artists shopping on a tight budget.