Acrylic gesso is a key ingredient to any painting. Artists spread the material across their canvases before applying paint to prime the surface and ensure that the work will have a long life. Put simply, gesso makes a canvas more hospitable for acrylic paints. There are white and transparent gesso products, and we’ve got the rundown on the best options available.
1. Grumbacher Gesso
Most acrylic gessos today have a plastic-like finish, but not Grumbacher’s, which is formulated with marble dust, or calcium carbonate, which dries to a more natural-looking finish with a good amount of tooth. It’s our top pick for this reason, but also because it offers what we’d consider a perfect middle-ground consistency: thick but still flowy, and it thins well with water if you want a smoother finish. It’s also properly opaque and can be used as a solid substitute to titanium white.
2. Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Gesso
Clear gesso has a number of advantages over white: For one thing, if you have sketched out your painting on your canvas, you can use clear gesso over the top without losing visibility. For another, it allows the natural tone of raw canvas to show through. Finally, you can also use it to create different-colored primers using opaque paints. Windsor & Newton’s gesso is made with a clear resin that has balanced absorbency. Note that it also has a strong tooth, which makes it a favorite for pastel artists, though it can be sanded to create a smoother surface. The relatively small (7.6-fluid-ounce) jars of this gesso are costly, but the quality is worth the price.
3. Golden Acrylic Gesso
Golden’s gesso, which is white and opaque, is good for artists who prefer a fluid gesso. It applies easily straight from the bottle and self-levels. Despite the thinner consistency, this gesso doesn’t streak and provides good semi-absorbent coverage. One key aspect of Golden’s product is that it dries quickly and smoothly, minimizing the need to sand the surface and making it an excellent mid-grade choice, especially for those who hate waiting around for their surfaces to be prepared. If using with oils, make sure to apply at least three layers.
4. Liquitex BASICS Gesso
To get the bad news out of the way first, this gesso has a strong odor. If you’re still reading, congratulations: This lightfast and archival white gesso is an easy-to-use choice at a great price. Not only does it apply smoothly to canvas, but it can prepare paper for acrylic and oil paints as well as charcoal and pastels. The thinner consistency allows artists to build up the exact amount of coverage they want, but it also results in lots of tooth for better adhesion. The squeeze-bottle format is user-friendly, and the gallon size is perfect for classrooms—plus, unlike similarly priced options, it won’t dry out for quite some time.
5. Atelier Interactive Liquid Gesso
Easily the thinnest gesso on our list, this primer spreads out quickly when applied to result in extremely smooth painting surfaces. It’s consistent in body and presents a clean white too. This is a particularly good choice for artists who want more open time to work as it’s designed for use with Atelier’s Interactive acrylics, which can be rewet when needed. If the fast dry time of acrylic has frustrated you and inhibited your blending abilities, you’ll appreciate the flexibility and luxury of time that interactives offer.