10 Alternatives to Gesso: What Can be Used in Place of Gesso?

If you’re an artist who loves to create beautiful, textured works of art, then you’re probably familiar with the medium that is gesso. It’s a popular primer used to create a surface that’s ready for acrylic or oil paints. However, there are times when you might find yourself without gesso, and that’s where exploring alternative options can come in handy.

Luckily, there are quite a few products that you can use in place of gesso. From simple household items to specific art supplies, there’s always a substitute that can get the job done. In fact, some of these substitutes can provide even better results than gesso, depending on your desired finish and texture.

While gesso is a staple in many artist’s studios, it’s important to know that there are alternatives that can work just as well. Whether you’re trying to create a unique piece or just can’t make it to the art supply store, exploring your options can open up a whole new world of possibilities. So, let’s dive into the world of alternative primers and see what creative outcomes await!

Why Use Gesso?

If you’re a painter or an artist, you might have heard of gesso. Gesso is a type of paint primer that is applied to many types of surfaces, such as canvas, wood, paper, and metal, before painting on them. It’s made of a mix of plaster of Paris, chalk, and glue. Gesso is an essential material for any artist as it prepares the surface for painting and improves the longevity of the artwork.

  • Prevents paint from soaking into the surface: Gesso helps seal and prime the surface, preventing paint from being absorbed into the surface and affecting the color.
  • Provides a smooth surface: Gesso helps to create a smooth surface for painting and adds a bit of texture to the surface, which allows the paint to adhere better.
  • Improves durability: Gesso creates a barrier between the paint and the surface, improving the adhesion of the paint and reducing the risk of paint damage from moisture or other factors, resulting in a longer lifespan of your artwork.

The Purpose of Priming a Canvas

Before we dive into the alternatives to gesso, let’s first understand the purpose of priming a canvas. Priming a canvas means preparing it before applying any paint. Without priming, the paint can seep into the canvas, creating uneven patches and causing the colors to appear dull and lifeless. The primary purpose of priming a canvas is to create a barrier between the paint and the canvas, allowing the paint to glide on smoothly and retain its vibrant color.

Alternatives to Gesso

  • Acrylic Gesso: This is the most common alternative to traditional gesso. It is made of acrylic polymer emulsion and provides a smooth and absorbent surface for painting. It is also more flexible and durable than traditional gesso.
  • White Acrylic Paint: White acrylic paint can also be used as a primer on canvas. It is not as absorbent as gesso or acrylic gesso, but it still provides a smooth surface for painting on. However, it is crucial to use a high-quality paint to ensure that it creates a barrier between the canvas and the paint.
  • Clear Gesso: This alternative is ideal for artists who want to maintain the natural texture of the canvas. Clear gesso is made of acrylic polymer emulsion and dries clear, creating a transparent primer.

Preparing the Canvas for Priming

Before priming a canvas, it is crucial to prepare it properly. First, stretch the canvas onto a wooden frame. Once the canvas is tight and taut, apply a layer of primer using a brush or roller. It is recommended to apply two to three layers of primer, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. After priming, sand the surface of the canvas lightly using a fine-grit sandpaper to create an even texture that is conducive to painting.


Priming a canvas is an essential step in the painting process that ensures the longevity and vibrancy of a painting. While traditional gesso is the most popular option, there are alternatives, such as acrylic gesso, white acrylic paint, and clear gesso. When preparing a canvas for priming, ensure that it is stretched properly and adequately primed with two to three layers, allowing each layer to dry before sanding the surface for an even texture.

Gesso Alternative Pros Cons
Acrylic Gesso Creates a smooth, absorbent surface; flexible and durable; suitable for a wide range of painting techniques Can be more expensive than traditional gesso
White Acrylic Paint Cheaper than gesso; provides a smooth surface for painting; easy to find in art stores Can create a less absorbent surface; requires several coats to create a suitable barrier between canvas and paint
Clear Gesso Allows for the natural texture of the canvas to show through; dries clear, creating a transparent primer; suitable for a wide range of painting techniques Can be more expensive than traditional gesso; not suitable for artists who want a completely smooth surface

When choosing an alternative to gesso, it is essential to consider the pros and cons of each option. While each alternative has its benefits, it is crucial to select one that aligns with your artistic style and medium. Priming a canvas may seem like a small and mundane task, but it is an essential step that can significantly impact the quality and longevity of a painting.

Non-traditional Gesso Alternatives

When it comes to art supplies, some may find that the traditional gesso is either too expensive or not readily available in their area. Luckily, there are non-traditional gesso alternatives that artists can use to prime their canvases or surfaces for their artworks. Here are three examples:

  • Acrylic Matte Medium – This is an affordable alternative to gesso that most artists may already have in their stash. Acrylic matte medium makes a good base layer for paintings because it is opaque, dries quickly, and creates a satin, non-glossy surface for paint to adhere to. It is also waterproof, which makes it ideal for outdoor paintings or artworks that will be exposed to moisture.
  • Plaster of Paris – This non-traditional gesso alternative is a bit more tricky to work with, but it can give your artworks a unique texture. Mix plaster of Paris with water in a 1:1 ratio, and apply it to your canvas or surface. Let it dry completely before painting over it. Plaster of Paris creates a slightly gritty, sandpapery texture that can add depth and interest to your art pieces.
  • White Gouache – If you have gouache paint lying around, you can use it as a substitute for gesso. White gouache is opaque and dries matte, which makes it perfect for priming canvases or surfaces for watercolor paintings. Simply dilute the gouache with water to create a thin consistency, and apply it to your surface.

D.I.Y Gesso Recipe

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also make your own gesso using just a few ingredients:

  • 1 part talcum powder or calcium carbonate
  • 2 parts white glue or PVA glue
  • 1 part white pigment (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide)
  • Water (as needed)

Mix all the ingredients together until they form a smooth, even mixture. Add water as needed to achieve your desired consistency. Apply the gesso to your surface and let it dry completely before painting over it.

Comparison of Gesso Alternatives

Below is a table comparing the features and benefits of the different gesso alternatives:

Gesso Alternative Features and Benefits
Acrylic Matte Medium Cheaper alternative to gesso, dries quickly, waterproof, creates a non-glossy surface for painting
Plaster of Paris Unique texture for artworks, creates a slightly gritty, sandpapery surface
White Gouache Dries matte, ideal for priming surfaces for watercolor painting, can be mixed with water to create a thin consistency
D.I.Y Gesso Cheaper alternative to store-bought gesso, can be customized to desired consistency and texture, can be applied to various surfaces

With these non-traditional gesso alternatives, artists can get creative with their priming techniques without breaking the bank. Experiment with different materials to see what works best for your art style and painting process.

Pros and Cons of different Gesso alternatives

If you are an artist who constantly uses gesso, you might have thought about trying out other alternatives. Before using a specific alternative, it’s important to understand its pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision that works for you. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Cost: Different gesso alternatives come at different price points. Some are cost-effective while others can be quite expensive. It’s essential to choose an option that fits your budget but still offers quality results.
  • Consistency and texture: Gesso alternatives come in different consistencies and textures. Ensure that you get one that suits your specific needs. Some may have a thick consistency, while others may be looser, enabling you to apply them with a brush.
  • Drying time: The drying time of gesso alternatives varies. Some alternatives may dry faster, while others may take longer. It’s essential to go for an alternative that will suit your project’s timeline.

Acrylic Paint as a gesso alternative

Acrylic paint is a popular alternative that you can use in place of gesso. While it’s not an exact replacement, it still gets the job done, and you get to enjoy its pros:

  • Cost-effective
  • Can be used to prime both canvas and panels
  • Dries quickly

However, it has its cons:

  • The texture might not be as smooth as compared to gesso
  • It may not be the best option for oil painting.
  • Can yellow over time

Clear Gesso as a gesso alternative

As the name suggests, clear gesso is a gesso alternative that has no color. If you’re looking to maintain transparency on your canvas or board, you can use clear gesso. Its pros include:

  • It won’t change the transparency of the surface
  • It’s more flexible and won’t crack easily
  • Can be tinted depending on the desired color

While it may sound like the perfect gesso alternative, it has its cons:

  • Clear gesso is expensive compared to other alternatives
  • It’s quite difficult to apply because it’s thinner than other gesso alternatives
  • It can soak into the canvas, making it harder to paint and requiring more coats

Chalk Paint as a gesso alternative

Chalk paint is a popular alternative that is widely used by artists. Its benefits include:

  • It’s cost-effective
  • Dries quickly
  • Provides a unique texture that can add depth to your artwork

However, its downsides include:

  • It may not be suitable for archival purposes
  • The texture can be unpredictable and may not be as smooth as traditional gesso
  • It may require several coats to achieve the desired texture and consistency

Table Salt as a gesso alternative

Finally, using table salt is a unique way to replace gesso. Here are some benefits:

Pros Cons
Cost-effective Not archival-friendly
Provides a unique texture that can add depth and dimension to your work The texture might not be consistent
Can create interesting patterns on your artwork The drying process may be challenging

Before using table salt as a gesso alternative, note that it might not be suitable for all acrylic painting techniques. Ensure you test it before using it in a major project.

Preparing a Canvas for Painting Without Gesso

Traditionally, gesso is used to prime canvases before painting, but it is not the only option. In fact, there are several alternatives to gesso that can be used to prepare a canvas for painting, each with its own unique qualities. Here are five options to consider:

  • Absorbent Ground: This is a clear, acrylic-based medium that creates a rough surface that is ideal for gripping paint. It mimics the absorbency of a standard gesso but without the white color. It can be used on raw canvas or on surfaces that have been painted because it will create a porous and grippable surface.
  • Kilz Primer: While it is technically not made for art supplies, Kilz primer works remarkably well as a priming agent. Applied directly to the canvas, it sets firmly and allows for smooth brush strokes while helping the paint stay in place.
  • Clear Gesso: As the name suggests, clear gesso does the same job as traditional gesso but without the added white color. It creates a semi-absorbent surface that is suitable for both acrylic and oil paints. It is a top choice for those who want to preserve the color of the canvas while still creating an even surface for painting.
  • Acrylic Paint: Some artists skip gesso altogether and prime their surfaces with a few thin layers of acrylic paint. It can be applied directly to the canvas in the same way as gesso and has the added benefit of stripping any oil from the surface of the canvas while creating a toothy absorbent surface.
  • Oil Ground: Finally, if you are a fan of oil paints, you may prefer to use an oil ground on your canvas. Oil ground is usually made from a mixture of white pigment and linseed oil, and it creates a smooth, slippery surface that is ideal for oil paint. Be aware that it takes longer to dry than other alternatives.


There are plenty of options available when it comes to preparing a canvas without using gesso. Each medium has its own unique qualities and is suitable for different types of paints, techniques, and artists’ preferences.

Option Ideal For Pros Cons
Absorbent Ground Acrylic & Oil Paints Rough texture, Prevents paint from sliding, Clear Not white, May create uneven areas on canvas
Kilz Primer Acrylic & Oil Paints Smooth finish, Allows for thinner coats, Quick drying Heavy fumes, Not a designated art supply
Clear Gesso Acrylic & Oil Paints Semi-absorbent, Colorless, Prevents paint from sliding May dry out brush bristles, May require multiple coats
Acrylic Paint Acrylic Paints Quick-drying, More toothy surface, Strips oil from canvas Not suitable for oil paints, May require many layers
Oil Ground Oil Paints Smooth finish, Ideal for oil paints, Thick texture Longer drying time, Not suitable for other types of paint

Whichever medium you choose, be sure to test it on a small section of canvas first to ensure that it meets your needs. With these alternatives, you can keep creating beautiful works of art with or without gesso.

DIY Gesso Recipes and Application Techniques

If you’re an artist, you know how important gesso is to prepare surfaces for painting. However, sometimes gesso can be expensive or not easily accessible. In such cases, you might want to consider making your own gesso with a few simple ingredients you might already have at home.

Here are some DIY gesso recipes to consider:

  • Plaster of Paris Gesso: Mix one part plaster of Paris with one part water. When mixed, add three parts white glue and mix well. Add water for desired consistency.
  • Chalk Gesso: Mix one cup of hot water with two tablespoons of calcium carbonate powder and two tablespoons of white glue. Mix well, then add another half cup of water and continue mixing until homogeneous.
  • Baby Powder Gesso: Mix one cup of baby powder with one cup of white school glue. Add one tablespoon of white acrylic paint and mix well. Then add 1/4th cup of water and keep mixing until you achieve the desired consistency.

When applying gesso, it’s crucial to have a clean and dry surface. Use a wide brush or roller and apply thin layers, letting each layer dry before adding another. It’s recommended to apply three to four layers of gesso. Use sandpaper to smooth out any rough surface before applying the next layer.

There are a few gesso application techniques that can make your artwork stand out. The first one is to use a toothbrush to create a “spray” texture on the surface. Dip the toothbrush in gesso and run your finger over the bristles to create a spray pattern. The second technique is called scumbling, where you apply a thin layer of gesso and, while wet, use a blunt object like a credit card or plastic spatula to create surface texture.

DIY Gesso Recipes Ingredients Instructions
Plaster of Paris Gesso Plaster of Paris, water, white glue Mix one part plaster of Paris with one part water. When mixed well, add three parts white glue and mix until homogeneous. Add water for desired consistency.
Chalk Gesso Hot water, calcium carbonate powder, white glue, white acrylic paint Mix one cup of hot water with two tablespoons of calcium carbonate powder and two tablespoons of white glue. Mix well, then add another half cup of water and continue mixing until homogeneous. Add white acrylic paint and mix well.
Baby Powder Gesso Baby powder, white school glue, white acrylic paint, water Mix one cup of baby powder with one cup of white school glue. Add one tablespoon of white acrylic paint and mix well. Then add 1/4th cup of water and keep mixing until you achieve the desired consistency.

Gesso is an essential part of any painting process. DIY gesso can be a cost-effective way to prepare surfaces for painting, and with these simple recipes and techniques, you’re sure to create artwork that stands out and is unique.

How to experiment with alternatives to Gesso

Trying out different alternatives to gesso can lead to discovering unique textures, finishes, and effects. Here are seven ways to experiment:

  • Acrylic paint: Acrylic paint can offer a smooth finish similar to gesso. It can also add color to your canvas, making it a versatile alternative.
  • PVA glue: Mixing PVA glue and water creates a texture that can mimic gesso. It’s also an affordable option, as PVA glue is relatively inexpensive.
  • Clear gesso: If you want the same benefits as gesso but without the white color, clear gesso is an excellent alternative.
  • Chalk paint: Chalk paint has a porous, matte texture that can make for an interesting base layer on your canvas.
  • Matte medium: Matte medium has a similar consistency to gesso, and it can be used as a base layer or mixed with paint to create a smooth finish.
  • Sanding: Sanding your canvas can create a unique texture that can add depth to your final piece. However, it’s important to note that sanding can damage your canvas over time.
  • Primer: Primers designed for walls or wood can be used as an alternative to gesso. However, they may not be archival and may yellow over time.

When experimenting with these alternatives, consider their compatibility with the type of paint you will use and the desired outcome for your piece. It’s also essential to do a patch test before applying it to your entire canvas to avoid potential compatibility issues.

By experimenting with different alternatives to gesso, you can find a unique approach to your canvas that suits your creative vision.

Frequently Asked Questions: What Can be Used in Place of Gesso?

Q: What is gesso?
A: Gesso is a primer that’s applied to a canvas, board or other surface before painting to improve adhesion and create a consistent base for the paint.

Q: Can I use white acrylic paint instead of gesso?
A: Yes, you can use white acrylic paint instead of gesso. It’s important to ensure that the paint is heavily pigmented and has a thick consistency.

Q: Are there any other options besides white acrylic paint?
A: Yes, you can also use clear gesso, rabbit skin glue, PVA glue, modeling paste, and chalk-based paint.

Q: Can I use gesso as a sealer?
A: Yes, you can use gesso as a sealer, but it’s not ideal. It’s better to use a separate sealer, such as varnish or fixative.

Q: Is gesso necessary for all types of painting surfaces?
A: No, not all painting surfaces require gesso. Some materials, like paper and cardboard, do not require it.

Q: How should I apply the alternative to gesso?
A: The application method will vary depending on the material being used. Generally, you’ll need to apply it evenly with a brush or roller, making sure to cover the entire surface.

Q: Can I mix different types of primer?
A: It’s not recommended to mix different types of primer. Stick to one type to ensure a consistent paint adhesion.

Closing Thoughts

Now that you know some alternative options to gesso, you can experiment and find what works best for you and your artwork. Whether you choose to use white acrylic paint, rabbit skin glue, or modeling paste, just remember to apply it evenly and cover the entire surface. Thank you for reading, and be sure to visit our website for more tips and tricks on creating beautiful art.