Painting On Paper Vs Canvas (What Are the Differences?)

  • By: Artistic Bees
  • Time to read: 9 min.
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Whether you are an artist or just want a fine piece of art to hang on the wall, one of the most common dilemmas is whether you should go with canvas or art paper. There are some differences between the two. But at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. So, this guide will be all about painting on paper vs canvas.

A canvas does not need any glass frames and looks pretty cool on the wall. Since the frame is lighter, they are easier to move as well. Paper, on the other hand, does need a glass frame. Although you can get non-reflective ones to make things more appealing.

Canvas paintings are typically higher in value. But that is not always the case. If you do not use high-quality paints and tools and if the work itself is of poor quality, a canvas painting will end up looking cheap. Let’s dive into it all in more detail.

Painting On Paper Vs Canvas

The Basics Of Paper And Canvas Painting

I do not think anyone is going to disagree with me when I say that art is a form of expression. And the expression is very personal. Your art should bring out your personality. What do you like? What gets your creative juices flowing? All these might seem like silly questions, but when it comes to choosing the right surface to paint on, these are important factors.

So, which one is better, paper or canvas? And which one should you choose? To answer that question, you first need to understand what they are and the differences between them. That way, you can make a more informed decision for yourself. Let’s start with the paper first.


Paper is not a bad choice to paint on. You can also use paper if you are using acrylic paint. But there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. For example, acrylic paint contracts while it dries.

This means you really should not use paper that is too thin. Otherwise, you might see nasty wrinkles appear, and that would ruin your masterpiece. Surely not something you would want. Go for sturdy and fine art paper to avoid this mishap. Even watercolor papers work great too, along with Bristol boards.

Too thin paper

In some cases, there might be a reason for you to use thinner paper. You are not completely out of luck here. Tape can be used on the edges to stretch it out a bit. This will prevent it from wrinkling. Canvas, on the other hand, does not have this issue. This is one of the first major differences. I have a full section on the differences, so, keep on reading.

Paper for painting can have different textures. They can be very smooth or heavily textured. What works for you also depends on what kind of look you want.


If you want to opt for a high-end professional look, canvas is a great option. A lot of painters, especially those who use acrylic, will go for canvas. Although it might not be as affordable as paper, it is not that expensive either. Plus, it is somewhat easily available as well. Just visit any good art shop and you should find it.

One of the best things about canvas is the quality of the end product. It usually ends up looking better and gives more of a professional look.

Even if you do not plan on selling your artwork and do it more as a hobby, having a quality piece does not hurt at all. At the very least, it will make you prouder of your work.

Canvases coupled with acrylic paint will also remain intact and look pristine for longer. Acrylic does not contain oils. That means it does not damage the fabric of the canvas that much. And you also do not need to prime the canvas necessarily. However, priming it to give yourself a nice even and smooth surface sure does help.

When it comes to texture, canvas wins out here as well. You can choose from cotton, linen, or polyester. These are all fibers that are used in canvas painting. But these three are not your only options.

There are also some special ones as well, like jute or hemp. Fibers like poly-cotton make canvases much more durable and easier to work with. They absorb and hold onto colors like no one’s business.

What Are the Differences Between Paper And Canvas?

Let’s talk about the real stuff now. What are the real differences between the two? I already mentioned two important differences. But just to reiterate, I will go through them a bit more. And take a look at some other differences as well.

Canvas Is Thicker

As I mentioned before, the canvas is thicker. With paper, especially if it is thin paper, you will get warping. This is especially true if you are using watercolor.

There are some ways to mitigate this issue though. Like using tape. However, in general, the canvas is sturdier.

Canvas Usually Gives You a More Professional Look

Painting on canvas

Painting on a canvas will usually yield a more professional and high-quality look to your final art. This is important if you want your piece to come out the best it can be.

Do not think that paper is all that bad, though. If you use the right paper, as a fine art paper, the results can still be quite impressive. But for those who are looking for top-notch quality, canvases are a great option.

Paper Needs To Be Framed

Framing is a very important part of painting on paper. To protect the painting, it needs to be framed and, usually, glass is used. This does come down to personal preference somewhat. Some might look at the frame on their wall.

On the other hand, canvas does not need to be framed with glass. So, when you paint a piece and put it on the wall, it can make a very bold statement. Framing for paper, also means you will need to put in a bit of extra effort and also have to work with your local framer.

Canvas Does Not Give Off Reflections

This point is slightly related to the previous one. Since you do not need glass to frame canvas paintings, there is also no reflection to worry about. With paper, the glass can reflect light, which might not be the best for art that is on display.

It applies to both purchased and self-created paintings. So, if you have an area with very good lighting, you might want to consider canvas in that case. It is possible to minimize the glare/reflections on paper and glass. You need to place the light in strategic places. There is also non-reflective glass that you can ask for from your framer.

Canvas Frames Are Lighter

Compared to glass frames of paper, canvas frames are relatively lighter. This means two things. It is obviously physically lighter to hang on the wall. And transportation is easier too.

This does not mean that they are less sturdy though. But regardless of whether you are handling paper or canvas, you should always be careful with your painting.

Canvases Have Special Sealant

Perhaps one of the coolest features is that canvases often come with a special sealant. This sealant is there to protect it from UV rays and also moisture. That might not sound all that impressive. Wait till I tell you what it does.

Since the sealant protects it from moisture and UV rays, you can wipe the artwork without damaging it if you do it carefully. Now, you might be thinking, why would you ever need to wipe your artwork?

Well, life happens. And maybe something will spill on your artwork. You have the option of just wiping it off. Of course, I would not be doing you justice if I did not mention a couple of precautions first.

Always make sure the paint is completely dry before you start wiping stuff all over the place. Depending on the type of liquid or object you dropped on the painting, necessary precautions might be needed. Of course, the best thing to do is to be careful in the first place.

Paper May Have A Cool Texture

Some paper art can be printed on 100% cotton rag. This means that you get a cool and subtle texture, which actually looks pretty cool.

So, canvases are not the only ones that get some points for their looks and quality here, after all. But painting on this kind of paper may not be the most common thing in the world. The texture is the main difference between paper and canvas. Also, the framing is different.

Which One Is Right for You?

The big question is which one you should choose. Honestly, this is a question you have to answer for yourself. Both paper and canvas have their pros and cons. But what is most important is that you choose based on what you need.

Paper or art paper needs to be framed with glass, which can create reflections. There is the option of getting non-reflective glass as well. Canvases generally look better on the wall since they do not need a glass frame. They definitely make more of a statement.

On the other hand, paper is relatively less expensive than canvas. One thing you can do is choose a paper if you are a beginner. And as you get more experienced, you can slowly transition into canvases. Paintings and artwork done on canvases are typically of higher value. So, if you ever want to sell your artwork, it could be a good option.

Avoid Pitfalls When Working With Canvas

If you do choose to go with canvas, you need to keep certain things in mind. These will help you avoid common pitfalls when working with canvas (or buying canvas artwork). Often, you will hear people say that canvas artwork looks cheap.

This is not because of the material itself. It depends on the quality of the paint and also on the skill of the painter. So, I highly urge you to not skimp out on the quality of the paint you are going to use.

Prints on canvas are the best for handmade art like digital illustrations or even sketches. These are actually cheaper to make and can be a cool business venture as well. This is an easy way to make a couple of bucks while satisfying your creative drive.

Tips And Tricks For Painting On Paper And Canvas

Before wrapping things up, I wanted to leave you with a little bit extra. Here are some useful tips and tricks that will surely help your painting come to life. There are tips for both paper and canvases. So, none of you are left out.

Painting On Paper

  • Make sure your paper is durable: One way you shoot yourself in the foot before you even start is by buying cheap, low-quality paper. Make sure it is durable and heavy. It will look premium and work nicely with acrylic paints too.
  • Priming is important: High-quality, acid-free art paper does not need any sort of priming. However, a little bit of priming with acrylic gesso does not hurt. With acrylic paint, some oils and moisture might still get absorbed. Priming mitigates that issue.
  • Check out the telltale signs of what makes a good paper: Apart from weight and durability, good art paper should be acid-free. They should not turn yellow with time. You want to avoid paper that is too smooth or glossy as well.

Painting On Canvas

Stretching canvas
  • Prepping is very important: When you buy your canvas, do not start right away. Some pressing is needed. Prime it and also take off the wrapping. This might be simple but some people still make these mistakes.
  • Choose the right brushes: Some brushes are better for canvas painting compared to others. Oil paint or acrylic brushes are better.
  • Underpainting is your friend: Experimenting with underpaint is a great way to make sure you do not mess up the final thing. It can add depth to your finished piece.

Wrapping Up

There you have it. Now that you know all about the painting on paper vs canvas you should be able to make a better decision when it comes to choosing which medium you want to paint in. At the end of the day, you need to pick based on your preference and needs.

Thanks for stopping by!

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