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What kind of paper/material is suitable for acrylic paint?

The question arose in the context of children switching from drawing with watercolors to acrylic. For watercolors they simply used white printer paper, but this seems not to be good enough for acrylic - it gets easily deformed and/or soak through. Buying canvas does not seem an economically viable option - as the paintings are mostly of low quality, but produced in great quantities. Still, once the children have put their hands on acrylic paints, they will use them...

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You'll want either canvas paper or canvas boards; both of these are very inexpensive alternatives to stretched canvas.

Canvas paper comes in a pad, much like a standard sketchbook; numerous brands are available. The price runs about $1 per sheet (USD). Images shown as examples are from two larger brands, Strathmore and Canson; many other brands are also available, from just about any source that sells art supplies.

The yellow cover for Strathmore Canvas Paper, textured finish, 10 sheetsThe blue cover for Canson Oil & Acrylic paper, 24 sheets

Canvas Panels are effectively a small board wrapped in gessoed canvas, ready to use; pricing for these also runs around $1 each when purchased in bulk. Since they're around a solid base, they will have no warping at all; these are what I remember using myself as a child, learning to paint with acrylic. Many brands offer these, and I commonly see them as "generic" or "private label" (store brand) offerings in nearly every store selling acrylic painting supplies; the example image below is a random option from Amazon: A stack of Horizon Group USA branded Canvas Panels

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If the children are young -- or even if they're old but not picky -- cardboard can be great for acrylic paints. Cut up boxes with them and then use the results as your canvas.

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  • I'll second thicker paper, but, unlike the other answerers here, I think you'll need paper weights of at least 200 GSM, preferably above 250/300, especially if you want to prevent warping.
    For better results, you'll want to apply a ground first (of (acrylic) gesso, for example). Some of the warping of even lighter paper types might be prevented this way, but require you to put in some more time and effort: you'll need to fasten the paper with tape along the edges to retain the tension and assure that they dry flat.

  • More rigid materials like plastic and wood and even metal can be used (user discretion advised, as the hazards involved obviously vary with the age of the children).
    For longevity, all of these, and especially plastic and metal, need proper preparation, or they will simply not last particularly long (but possibly long enough for your purposes):

    • These materials can be prepared by sanding (and with metals in particular it is important to wear a mask and to work outside or in a well-ventilated area), to give them more texture for the paint to hold on to.
    • After this, I recommend applying a ground as well. With wood to prevent it from absorbing the paint and bleeding; with plastics and metals for additional grip.

Notes:

  • Consider using objects that aren't flat or rectangular. Regard everything in thrift stores as potential "canvas", and only then check if it's viable: this can open up some creative new territory.
  • It might be wise to check with local shops: thrift stores at times get large supplies of useful materials; hardware stores tend to have a lot of materials they can't sell any longer (especially wood), which they might want to give away for free or very low prices. For cardboard you could even organize a door-to-door collection (we used to do things like this when I was young, but it might not be considered safe any more).
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I cannot recommend any specific brand of paper, but you should be able to recognize suitable sketch books by feeling them.

I assume you are familiar with the feel of your current paper. How stiff is one sheet if you hold one edge horizontally and let it droop? The usual thickness (or more correctly: weight) of printer paper is 80 g/m2. Some very cheap sketch books use paper of only 70-75 g/m2. You can feel the difference with your bare hands if you are used to touchng regular printer paper.

You should be able to find sketch books of 85 - 90 g/m2 online or in office supply shops, probably marketed at college or university students. Anything that feels thicker than usual but still thinner than cardboard is ok. They usually have their weight printed somewhere on the front cover or on the back. This small difference makes it more resilient against warping, but keeps the price in mid-range (as opposed to specialized aquarelle paper). I doubt that you'll need paper that's even thicker.

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For my daughter, to use with a range of paints, pens, etc. I get cheap sketch books (I've now checked, it's 130gsm). We have a chain of shops selling basic art supplies, toys, and discount books. Their own brand materials are well worth it for kids (and adults joining in with them) even if they wouldn't be a good idea for professional art, except as practice materials, or for archival.

She's just been using her acrylics on scrap card though (smooth, coated stuff). That's another option but not something I buy specially.

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    They've gone up, but still under £2 ($3) for a 50 sheet A5 sketchbook that takes wet paints well
    – Chris H
    Feb 14 at 18:11

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