Linen, Polycotton or Cotton Canvas – Which should you use?

Artists are confronted with lots of choices. What medium to paint with? How large to work? What should subject matter to choose? which paint to use?

An equally important question is what surface to choose. When working with watercolour, paper is the obvious substrate (surface) to use.  However, if you’re working with oil or acrylic you can use paper if it’s properly primed or also a variety of different panels but artwork is presented best, last longer and has greater ‘sale’ appeal and value if it painted on a stretched canvas which is the most popular substrate among both hobby and professional artists.

Cotton or Linen – What is the Difference?

Many artists often think of canvas and linen as being two different surfaces. For centuries the word ‘canvas’ typically means a fabric used as a painting surface. The difference is that some canvas is made from cotton fibres while other is made from linen fibres. –  Let’s take a closer look at the two.


is appealing to many because of its affordable price.  Much less expensive than linen, it is a popular support for oil and acrylic painting, especially for students and is classified according to its weight and surface texture. A properly prepared cotton canvas can have a longevity close to a linen canvas although there are very few works on canvas over 100 years old to provide a comparison whereas there are hundreds if not thousands of works on linen many hundreds of years old that testify to it’s longevity.

Some canvas is considered too flexible for large paintings, is of a lesser quality and is susceptible to changes in ‘tightness’ along with changes in relative humidity and atmospheric moisture, it does not carry the prestige or perceived value of Linen and Linen is generally the preferred substrate of major galleries and collectors across the world.


is by far the better-quality product because of its strength and resistance to decay. Woven from flax, the weave can show throughout many layers of paint. 

Primed with an oil, acrylic or universal primer this is the classical standard for oil paintings and most of the more highly prized acrylic paintings. Linen is difficult to prime and stretch properly and is best left to professionals unless you are an experienced and confident stretcher.

It offers the smoothest and stiffest painting surface of proven longevity.  The surface should be sealed with Rabbit Skin glue or ph neutral PVA prior to priming to seal the fibres and act as a barrier between the linen and the primer. If oil is applied to an un-sized canvas the oil will eventually weaken the fibres and undermine the permanence of the image painted on its surface.


Linen, while expensive, is the traditional choice and has many qualities that make it attractive to the artist inc: Linen is the most durable fabric to put paint on. Linen’s warp and weft threads are equal in weight so less susceptible to the expanding/contracting problems created by moisture.

– Linen is very receptive to sizing and priming applications.

– Linen retains its natural oils which preserve the fibre’s flexibility and keeps the canvas from becoming brittle.

– Linen has a more “natural” weaved finish than cotton and is available in a variety of textures, weights and smooth or rough finish.

– Because of its strength linen holds up to a heavy painting hand and does not become slack as easily as cotton canvas.

The choice of which surface to use is ultimately down to the individual artist, their budget, the ‘quality’ of the products they wish to be associated with and the sale price they seek to achieve.

However it is a reality that works on linen out sell those on cotton in major galleries across the world several fold and experienced art buyers will typically choose works on linen over and above those on cotton. Of course a buyer may fall in love with a particular work and the painting surface may be seen as irrelevant but if they are seeking for example an Australian Landscape to add to their collection and there are two piece on their shortlist, research by the major auction houses show that the piece on linen will have the advantage.

In areas of high humidity, or movement of a canvas from a drier environment, you may notice that linen slackens off and may need to be re-stretched several times over the life of a painting.

At Highly Strung we offer custom made and ready made stretchers in both student and artists quality canvas and 4 different weights and ‘tooths’ and are happy to provide samples and alternatives for our clients to try.

We also supply primed Cotton, Polycotton, and Linen by the metre

We freight nationwide and our stretched canvases are of a quality accepted by all major galleries across Australia and Worldwide.