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What's the difference? Common art material questions

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

Painting supports, mediums, techniques. I'm asked frequently what it all means. Let me break it down for you.

Painting Supports - The choice of the surface the image is painted on

Stretched Canvas

Simply, a piece of material stretched over a wooden frame. The benefit of working on canvas is you can see the weave of the fabric. Sometimes I work on unprimed darker linen but mostly a primed white cotton canvas. Canvas will come in all sorts of sizes and depths and can be framed or unframed.

Wooden Board

Usually primed with Gesso it has a similar painting effect to Synthetic paper, but there is an ability to soften the painting. They are usually deep and so can stand freely on their own or be hung without the requirement of additional frames.

Synthetic Paper

This paper is waterproof, tearproof and comes in a weight similar to light card. When used paints float on the surface but it doesn’t have the same blended quality as on canvas. It’s downfall is the choice of size although available in 5 meter rolls the maximum width is 120cm.

Painting Medium - The choice of medium changes the look


A firm favourite of mine. I love the colours, consistency and as they stay wet for longer, they give me the chance to rework the painting. Oils do take a long time to dry, if you are looking for a quick turnaround then this is not the medium for you. If however you are looking for a traditional painting with texture and brush strokes this is the best choice.


Similar to oils but they dry within a day (depending on how thick they are applied). They have a slight plastic like quality when they dry. However, if you are looking for “traditional painting”, and budget and time is tight, then pick acrylics over oils.


These are what I use on the synthetic paper paintings - so if you like these this is the medium you need. I use a range of alcohol ink and acrylic inks. They are vibrant when dry and give the fluid look to the paintings. The benefits of inks are that they dry within a matter of minutes. They do need to have a special varnish applied but even then its quick.

Mixed Media

Sometimes I use a range of mediums in one painting and this is called mixed media. I might use acrylics to create texture, and inks on top. Alternatively I may use pastels and enamels alongside the mediums mentioned above.


Not everything needs to be framed, below are your options.

Canvas: - Framed without glass - Unframed, edges painted white

Wooden Board: - Unframed, edges painted white - Framed without glass Synthetic Paper: - Framed with glass / perspex

- mounted or unmounted - Wooden hanging systems

I hope that helps!

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