Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Making MDF Canvas Panels

To make your own canvas panels, you will need some basic material:
  • 6” X 8” MDF panels (2mm thick)
  • Primed canvas
  • Scissors
  • PVC glue
  • Synthetic paint brush (for household paint)
  • Rubber roller (mine is one used for linocut)
  • Newspaper sheets to protect your table
  • Dictionaries or other heavy books
I asked my framer to cut for me fifty 6” X 8” panels using the 2 millimetres MDF that he uses for backing frames. This way, I am sure the panels are the exact dimension.
The canvas is some cotton canvas I bought cheaply at an art shop in Paris. These off-cuts are narrow bands at the end of a canvas roll that the shop cannot use for stretching canvasses, but that are perfect for making you own small canvasses or canvas panels.

Cutting the canvas

I put a piece of MDF on the reserve of the canvas and cut the canvas around, allowing a seam of 3 cm (or one inch).

Gluing the canvas to the panel
I put the MDF panel on a sheet of newspaper and applied the PVC glue with the brush.

I then centred the piece of canvas on the MDF panel and pressed firmly with the rubber roller to ensure there was no air bubble between the canvas and the panel.

I then folded the long side of the canvas on the back of the MDF (without gluing them) because the piece of canvas tended to roll on itself.

The panels were put to dry overnight under a pile of dictionaries.

Gluing the sides
I cut the angles of the canvas so that they would not overlap when folded.

I applied some glue on the side of the canvas and put the canvas panels aside for a couple of minutes. The glue softened the fabric and made it easier to fold. In addition, the glue started to set and became stickier.

The panels were put again to dry overnight under a pile of dictionaries.

Toning the canvas panels
I prefer to work on a canvas toned with a neutral colour. I also like to apply to primed canvas an additional layer of gesso. The following process combines both operations.
In a used plastic container (ice-cream tubs work well for that), I poured some acrylic gesso.

To tint the gesso, I squeezed some Ultramarine blue acrylic paint, the same quantity of Yellow Ochre and half the quantity of Vermillion Hue.

I mixed the paint with the white gesso until I obtained a nice grey.

There was enough tinted gesso to cover 17 panels and I had some left for a first layer on a 14 X 18” canvas I bought.

I let the canvasses to dry and they were ready.

I work in batch to make canvas panels, which saves time and material.


Anonymous said...

Hi There,

I use this idea regularly even glueing heavy Arches W/Colour paper to MDF, then priming with a neutral colour. This makes a lovely surface for oils.

However using canvas or paper,
I cover my panels in pairs. I clamp them together, covered faces inwards with woodworkers' 'G' clamps (Obtainable cheaply at open market tools stalls.)

I place cooking foil in between the boards, to avoid any 'sticking together'. Each board supports the other ensuring a good bond. I advise two clamps per edge, for a panel of say 18 x 14 ins. You might want 10 or 12 clamps for larger boards.

Now, I am also a woodworker and have plenty of clamps. But once you have bought yourself say 16 3" clamps at around £1.50 each you always have them to hand. The quality of the clamps isn't the best, but they are quite suitable for this particular job.

This really does work. I do water the PVA glue down slightly mind, as this makes the canvas easier to move about before the final clamp.

You will make a better job if you intersperse battens between clamps and the backs of your panels and you won't mark the panels with clamping circles. This also spreads the pressure and prevents warping.

A sheet of stout sugar paper or similar glued to the back of the boards, after you have folded your canvas over, will hide the worst of the folds and help prevent bowing of the sheet.

For oil/acrylic paintings, I prefer 6mm thick MDF. This isn't too heavy in sizes up to 30 x 20 inches. It's stable and it's cheap.
If you buy a whole sheet from a timber merchants who provide free cutting, just give them a rough drawing of how many panels you want from the sheet and leave it to them. You panels will be perfectly dimensioned on their saw-table and the resultant panels will make the faming so much easier too.

This might sound involved, but once you have all the gear to hand, and you think it through, you will find it goes like a breeze.

Hope this helps.
Happy Painting and be lucky.

Benoit Philippe said...


Thank you very much for sharing your own experience and tips.



Anonymous said...

My pleasure Benoit; glad to be of help.

I lost my password for, so when I find it, I will post my blogger name!


sharilynn said...

where do you get the MDF board from? is it like chipboard? and you mentioned you use 2mm.. is that roughly 1/12th or 1/8th of an inch?

thanks, shari

Benoit Philippe said...


MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. It is made by breaking down soft wood into fiber and then form into panels using heat and pressure. In chipboards, wood particules are bigger and bound with glue (you can also use chipboard primed with gesso to paint). You can find MDF in hardware or DIY stores. Look for off-cuts to have a bargain.

3/32 inches is 2.38 millimetres. There is no rule on how thick it should be. Rule of thumb is that for larger format, you need a thicker panel to avoid wrapping.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the great info on canvas panels. I am the Chairman for STAG (Simon's Town Art Group) where we have approx. 90 members. I would like to show them your methods with your kind permission. Please let me know if this is OK with you. Kind regards, Venitia Eglington.

venitia said...

Dear Benoit, I sent a blog to you today, but had forgotten my pass word, which I now have. Thanks again for your great info pages. Venitia

The PMS Diaries said...

Hi Benoit,

Thanks for your invaluable advice.

I was wondering what your experience of making larger canvas covered panels. (say around 80 x 100cm or larger)

I am a painter in oils, but am interested in experimenting with inkjet canvas prints and then overpainting for less expensive editions.

My fear is that stretching cotton on ordinary stretchers will eventually lose it's shape for large format paintings, and that's the only type of canvas available for inkjet archival printing.

Otherwise you can order printed on linen but the quality is less archival.

I'd be interested in hearing any of your experiences. Would you glue canvas onto large panels, or staple to the back?

Anonymous said...

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