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What Can I Use Instead of Gesso?

what can i use instead of gesso

If you are an artist, then you are probably aware of how useful gesso is in priming the canvas. Many artists use it and consider it as the traditional medium to prime and prepare a surface for painting. But what if you don’t have a gesso? It could make you wonder “What can I use instead of gesso?”.

Well, you don’t have to worry as there are actually a few alternatives or substitutes to it, including acrylic primer, clear gesso, and gel medium. Get to know more about these gesso alternatives, and your other options, and experiment with them to determine the best one for you through this article.

Most Commonly Used Gesso Alternatives/Substitutes

You can indeed find several answers to what can I use instead of gesso on canvas. The most common gesso alternatives used by a lot of artists are the following:

Acrylic Primers

use to acrylic primers

One good alternative to gesso is the acrylic primer, which is mainly designed for use on different surfaces, including wood, metal, and canvas. What’s great about this primer is that you can easily apply it to a canvas with the help of a paintbrush.

You can use it instead of gesso as the two have the same constancy. Just make sure to dilute the first coating to ensure that the canvas fibers will get to absorb it with ease. Acrylic primers are also quite thin, which is why they dry faster compared to gel mediums.

Most artists like acrylic primers because they are flexible and easy to clean up. The fact that they are not that prone to cracking is also a good thing as such provide your artwork with more permanence.

In addition, it is economical as it prevents you from consuming too much paint. A single coating is usually enough. It also works for both exterior and interior purposes.

Matte Gel

use to matte gel

You can also use the matte gel if you are in search of something that is quite the same as gesso but does not have the acrylic binder. Basically, this option works as an acrylic polymer emulsion. It is easy to find it in many art supply stores both online and offline.

One thing to note about matte gel, though, is that it is less durable compared to gesso. With that in mind, it is highly recommended to put on one more layer of anything above it before you start painting.

For you to use the matte gel as a primer, you should mix it with water (50:50 ratio). Apply this to the canvas similar to other primers.

Gel Medium

use to gel medium

This gesso alternative refers to a kind of binder that lacks pigment. It is mainly based on water and tends to blend or combine everything together with the aid of acrylic paints. Among the things that make it impressive are its flexibility and permanence.

One more thing that a gel medium can do is that it increases the clarity of paint. It also tends to dry completely without reducing adhesive traits, which is the reason why it works great when making collage work.

Many artists also use it mainly in providing their paintings with more texture. It also serves as the last coating of paintings, which helps keep them protected from potential scratches. It is versatile in that it works for a wide range of projects while maintaining its opacity for a longer period.

Clear Gesso

use to clear gesso

If you find yourself needing a surface that’s rougher than what the matte gel and gesso can provide, you can go for clear gesso. It works well if you feel like your drawing materials will perform better when utilized on surfaces that have a bit more tooth.

Basically, a clear gesso is a type of matte medium that features a fine transparent aggregate, which promotes ease in creating darker pencil lines. The reason behind this is that it develops a rough surface capable of grabbing the material of your pencil more while drawing.

Clear gesso can also give your painting something to cling to since it has this somewhat subtle texture. Note, though, that this roughness may also cause your brushes to experience wear and tear sooner. This is the reason why you should avoid using your expensive paint brushes if you intend to use clear gesso as your primer.

Rabbit Skin Glue

use to rabbit skin glue

While rabbit skin glue was primarily an option in the past, several professionals and artists nowadays still pick it as an alternative to gesso. Note, though, that it tends to cause cracks in the paintings’ layers due to the contraction and expansion associated with the change in humidity.

Despite that, a lot of oil painters and specialists, especially old-school ones, still prefer it. If you intend to use this gesso substitute, remember that it is unsuitable for acrylic paintings. It only works for oil paintings.

Also, compared to gesso, it is harder to use since it still needs hot water to dissolve the granules. One more thing to remember is that it tends to emit an odor because of the mixture’s decomposition.


There are indeed a lot of alternatives for gesso, so you don’t have to fret when finding the best answers to what can I use instead of gesso. You just have to learn more about each possible alternative, so you can make a sound choice as to which one can meet your painting requirements.