Gesso vs Acrylic Paint: Key Differences Explained

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 11 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

When it comes to creating artwork, understanding the differences between gesso and acrylic paint is essential. Gesso and acrylic paint are both widely used in the art world, but they serve different purposes in the artistic process.

Gesso is a crucial art supply that prepares the surface for painting. It is thinner than acrylic paint and dries hard, providing a slightly textured surface that is ready to accept acrylic paint. Acting as a primer, gesso prevents the paint from soaking into the canvas or other surfaces, ensuring better adhesion and enhancing the vibrancy of colors.

Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is the actual paint used for creating artwork. Made with acrylic polymers and pigments, acrylic paint is applied directly on top of the gessoed surface to bring the artistic vision to life.

Key Takeaways:

  • Gesso is used to prepare the surface for painting, while acrylic paint is the actual paint used for creating artwork.
  • Gesso is thinner than acrylic paint and dries hard, providing a slightly textured surface.
  • Gesso acts as a primer, preventing the paint from soaking into the surface.
  • Acrylic paint is made with acrylic polymers and pigments and is applied directly on top of the gessoed surface.
  • Understanding the differences between gesso and acrylic paint can help artists make informed decisions and create artwork with desired effects.

What is Gesso?

Gesso is a substance that plays a crucial role in the world of acrylic painting, serving as a primer and preparing surfaces for artwork. It can be thought of as a thin, consistent layer similar to white acrylic paint. However, it possesses unique qualities that differentiate it from acrylic paint itself.

When applied to a surface, gesso dries hard, creating a slightly textured finish that provides an ideal foundation for acrylic paint to adhere to. Acting as a sealant, it prevents the paint from soaking into the canvas or other surfaces, ensuring better adhesion and enhancing the longevity of the artwork.

Gesso is not limited to just canvas; it can be used on a variety of surfaces, including wood, metal, and even paper. This versatility makes it an essential tool for artists working with different mediums.

Gesso comes in various colors and grades, allowing artists to add dimension and uniqueness to their work. Colored gessos expand the possibilities of creativity by providing different effects and enhancing the final artwork. Additionally, there are options such as black and clear gessos that offer even more flexibility in artistic expression.

Understanding the distinction between gesso and acrylic primer is essential. Gesso is a specific type of primer designed for preparing surfaces for acrylic paints, while acrylic primer is a more general term that encompasses primers used with various types of paint.

In summary, gesso serves as a preparatory layer, sealing and enhancing the surface to ensure optimal performance of the acrylic paint. Its ability to create a textured foundation and provide tooth for the paint to grip onto make it an indispensable tool for artists seeking to bring their creative visions to life.

Types of Gesso

Gesso traditionally comes in white, but nowadays, there are also colored gesso options available on the market. These colored gessos can be used to create different effects and enhance the artwork. Additionally, there are black and clear gessos that offer unique possibilities for artists. The choice of gesso color depends on the desired effect and the artist’s preference. It is also important to note that gessos come in different grades, with artist grade having more pigment and opacity than student grade.

See also
DIY Guide: How to Make Gesso for Canvas

When it comes to creating art with gesso, the color options extend beyond just white. Colored gessos are available in a range of hues, allowing artists to experiment and add vibrancy to their work. Whether you want to create a soft pastel background or add bold splashes of color, colored gesso gives you the flexibility to explore and create unique compositions.

Black gesso, on the other hand, offers a dramatic and striking base for artwork. It creates a dark background for paintings, drawings, or mixed media pieces, adding depth and enhancing contrasts. This bold choice can bring intensity and intrigue to your artwork, making it particularly popular among artists who prefer a more avant-garde or unconventional approach.

Clear gesso, sometimes referred to as “absorbent gesso,” differs from traditional gesso in that it doesn’t have any pigment. It is a translucent coating that provides a sealant for the surface while maintaining its natural color. Clear gesso is commonly used on surfaces like wood or raw canvas, where preserving the natural appearance is desired while still providing a protective layer.

Exploring the different types of gesso allows artists to expand their creativity and achieve a wide range of effects in their artwork. Whether you opt for traditional white gesso, colored gessos, black gesso, or clear gesso, each offers unique possibilities for artistic expression. Consider experimenting with different types and grades of gesso to find the perfect combination that best suits your artistic vision.

Do I Need to Gesso my Canvas if it is Pre-Primed?

Most pre-stretched canvases are pre-primed with gesso, which means they are ready to be painted on. However, it is recommended to apply an additional coat or two of gesso to the pre-primed canvas to enhance its tooth and absorbency. This allows for better paint adhesion and ensures that the colors appear more vibrant. Ultimately, whether to gesso a pre-primed canvas or not depends on your preference and desired effect. Some artists may choose to paint directly on the pre-primed canvas without adding any extra gesso layers.

Gesso on Pre-Primed Canvas Painting Directly on Pre-Primed Canvas
Advantages
  • Better adhesion
  • Enhanced vibrancy of colors
  • Increased paint absorption
  • Opportunity to customize the canvas surface
  • Saves time and effort
  • Smooth surface texture
  • Preferred for certain effects or styles
Disadvantages
  • Additional time required
  • Extra cost for gesso
  • Potential for overworking or textural inconsistency
  • Possible reduced paint adhesion
  • Colors may appear less vibrant
  • Limited surface customization

How to Prime Canvas

Priming canvas with gesso is a crucial step in preparing it for painting. By applying gesso, you create a smooth, durable, and archival surface that enhances the longevity of your artwork. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prime canvas with gesso:

  1. Gather your materials: To get started, you’ll need a wide, flat brush and gesso of your choice.
  2. Prepare the canvas: Ensure that your canvas is clean and free from any dust or debris. It’s also a good practice to gently sand the canvas to remove any imperfections and create a smoother surface.
  3. Load the brush: Dip your brush into the gesso, making sure to load it evenly.
  4. Apply the gesso: Starting from one edge of the canvas, brush the gesso onto the surface in smooth, horizontal strokes. Work your way across the canvas, covering the entire surface. Apply even pressure to ensure a consistent layer of gesso.
  5. Dilute if necessary: Depending on the consistency of the gesso, you may need to dilute it with water. This helps in achieving a smoother application. Follow the instructions on the gesso packaging for the recommended dilution ratios.
  6. Let it dry and repeat: Allow the first coat of gesso to dry completely. This usually takes a few hours. Once dry, inspect the surface and sand it lightly if needed. Then, apply a second coat of gesso using the same technique. Applying multiple coats ensures full coverage and a sturdy base for your artwork.
See also
Gesso Drying Time on Canvas Explained

After priming your canvas with gesso, you’ll be ready to unleash your creativity and start working on your masterpiece. Remember to let each coat dry before applying the next one and feel free to experiment with different gesso types, such as colored or clear gesso, to achieve unique effects in your artwork.

Can I Use White Acrylic Paint Instead of Gesso?

While it is possible to use white acrylic paint as a substitute for gesso, there are some differences between the two. Acrylic paint, when dry, creates a smoother and less textured surface compared to gesso. Gesso has a toothy texture that allows the paint to adhere better, while acrylic paint can result in a more slippery surface.

However, in certain situations, such as creating a more smooth and uniform surface, using acrylic paint instead of gesso may be preferred. It is important to consider the desired effect and the type of artwork being created when deciding whether to use gesso or acrylic paint.

Squeeze Bottle vs Jar

Gesso, the essential surface preparation for your canvas, comes in two convenient options – squeeze bottles and jars. The choice between the two depends on your personal preference and the desired application method.

1. Squeeze Bottles:

Squeeze bottles allow for direct application of gesso onto the canvas, making it easier to control the amount applied. Simply squeeze the bottle to release the gesso, and you’re ready to go! This method is great for artists who prefer a more precise and controlled application.

2. Jars:

Jars of gesso provide the option to dip your brush directly into the gesso and apply it to the canvas. This method allows for a more traditional approach and gives you the freedom to work with a larger quantity of gesso. It’s perfect for artists who prefer a more tactile experience while applying gesso with a brush.

Both squeeze bottles and jars are effective methods for applying gesso, and the choice ultimately depends on your personal preference and comfort.

It’s important to note that gesso may dry quickly. If you’re using a squeeze bottle, ensure to clean the nozzle after each use to prevent clogging. For jars, make sure to tightly close the lid to prevent the gesso from drying out.

Quote:

“Whether you prefer the precision of squeeze bottles or the traditional feel of jars, both options allow you to achieve the perfect gesso application for your artwork.” – Artist Name

Squeeze Bottle Jar
Squeeze directly onto the canvas Dip brush into gesso
Easier to control the amount applied Allows for a larger quantity of gesso
Provides a precise application Offers a traditional method

Applying Gesso to Canvas

Applying gesso to canvas is a straightforward process that prepares the surface for painting. To ensure even application, it is recommended to use a good quality brush, such as a wide, flat brush. Here’s how you can apply gesso to your canvas:

  1. Dip the brush into the container of gesso, making sure to coat the bristles evenly.
  2. Starting from one end of the canvas, apply the gesso in thin, horizontal strokes. Be sure to cover the entire surface of the canvas.
  3. If you prefer a smoother texture, you can dilute the gesso with a small amount of water. This will create a more fluid consistency.
  4. Allow the first coat of gesso to dry completely. This typically takes about 1-2 hours, depending on the environment.
  5. If desired, you can sand the surface of the gessoed canvas using fine-grit sandpaper. This step helps to achieve an even smoother finish.
  6. Once the first coat is completely dry, apply a second coat of gesso using the same technique.
  7. Allow the second coat to dry thoroughly before proceeding with your artwork.

Remember, it is recommended to apply at least two coats of gesso to ensure full coverage of the canvas. Each coat should be allowed to dry completely before applying the next one. By properly applying gesso to your canvas, you create a solid foundation for your artwork, enhancing the adhesion of the paint and resulting in a professional finish.

See also
Smooth Gesso Application Tips - Quick Guide

Conclusion

Gesso and acrylic paint are essential tools for artists. Gesso prepares the surface for painting, ensuring better adhesion and enhancing the vibrancy of colors. It comes in different types, grades, and colors to suit various artistic preferences.

Applying gesso to canvas is a simple process that can be done with a brush and allows for customization of the surface texture. By applying gesso, artists can create a slightly textured surface that is ready to accept acrylic paint, providing the ideal base for their artwork.

While gesso and acrylic paint share some similarities, such as being made with acrylic polymers, they serve different purposes in the artistic process. Gesso acts as a primer, sealing the surface and preventing the paint from soaking into the canvas or other surfaces. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is the actual paint used for creating the artwork.

Understanding the differences between gesso and acrylic paint is crucial for artists to make informed decisions and create artwork with the desired effects. By choosing the right type of gesso and applying it properly, artists can enhance the longevity and beauty of their paintings, ensuring that the colors remain vibrant and the surface texture suits their artistic vision.

FAQ

How is gesso different from acrylic paint?

Gesso is a thinner substance that dries hard and creates a textured surface, while acrylic paint is the actual paint used for creating artwork.

What is gesso?

Gesso is a substance used to prepare a surface for painting. It acts as a primer, sealing the surface and providing tooth for the paint to grip onto.

What are the types of gesso?

There are different types of gesso, including colored gesso, black gesso, and clear gesso. The choice depends on the desired effect and the artist’s preference.

Do I need to gesso my canvas if it is pre-primed?

While pre-stretched canvases are pre-primed, it is recommended to apply additional coats of gesso to enhance the tooth and absorbency of the surface.

How do I prime canvas with gesso?

To prime a canvas with gesso, use a wide, flat brush and brush on even, horizontal strokes. Apply at least two coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Can I use white acrylic paint instead of gesso?

While acrylic paint can be used as a substitute for gesso, there are differences in texture and adhesion. Gesso provides a toothy surface for paint to grip onto, while acrylic paint creates a smoother surface.

Squeeze bottle vs. jar: What is the difference?

Squeeze bottles allow for direct application of gesso, while jars allow for dipping the brush directly. The choice depends on personal preference and the desired application method.

How do I apply gesso to canvas?

Apply gesso with a good quality brush, using thin, horizontal strokes. Dilute with water if desired for a smoother texture. Apply at least two coats, sanding in between for a smoother finish.

What are the key differences between gesso and acrylic paint?

Gesso acts as a primer for preparing the surface, providing better adhesion for the paint. Acrylic paint is the actual paint used for creating artwork. Gesso dries hard and creates a textured surface, while acrylic paint has a smoother finish.

What are the main takeaways about gesso and acrylic paint?

Gesso and acrylic paint are essential tools for artists. Gesso prepares the surface for painting, ensuring better adhesion and enhancing the vibrancy of colors. It comes in different types, grades, and colors to suit various artistic preferences. Applying gesso to canvas is a simple process that can be done with a brush, allowing for customization of the surface texture. While gesso and acrylic paint have similarities, such as being made with acrylic polymers, they serve different purposes in the artistic process. Understanding the differences between gesso and acrylic paint can help artists make informed decisions and create artwork with desired effects.