How To Tell If A Canvas Has Been Primed

No matter your level of experience as an artist, it is crucial to have a thorough knowledge of your canvas before beginning to paint. This begins with the process of priming, which involves adding a sealant to the canvas to prevent the paint from seeping into the fibers. By doing so, your paint will have a more vibrant appearance and will last longer. The question at hand is: how can you determine if a canvas has already been primed? Let’s explore the answer.

1. Look at the color

One of the simplest ways to tell if a canvas has been primed is by looking at the color. Unprimed canvases are often a plain, off-white or beige color. Once primed with a layer of gesso (a mixture of chalk, glue, and white pigment used as a base for acrylic and oil painting), the canvas changes to a brighter white color.

2. Feel the texture

The texture of a primed canvas is also different from an unprimed one. A primed canvas feels smoother and more sealed, while an unprimed canvas feels rough, raw, and fibers can often be felt when touched. If you run your hands over the canvas, the primed canvas will feel slightly gritty, bumpy, and will have a uniform texture thanks to the layer of gesso applied.

3. Do the water test

If the first two checks are inconclusive, there’s a simple test you can perform to check if your canvas has been primed. The water test. Here is how to perform it:

Step 1: Take a small amount of water on a brush or your finger.

Step 2: Apply the water onto the canvas.

Step 3: If the water soaks into the canvas quickly, it is likely unprimed. If the water sits on top or only mildly soaks into the canvas, it has been primed.

4. The Absorption Test

Just like the water test, the absorption test allows you to figure out whether or not a canvas has been primed by observing how it reacts to paint. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Dip a brush into any kind of paint.

Step 2: Paint a small stroke on the canvas.

Step 3: If the paint soaks into the canvas and loses its vibrancy quickly, chances are the canvas is unprimed. However, if the paint maintains its vibrancy and sits on top of the canvas, then it has likely been primed.


Remember, priming a canvas is a crucial preparatory step for any painting. It not only seals the canvas and makes the paint application smoother but it also enhances the life and vibrancy of your artwork. So next time you’re about to start a masterpiece, make sure your canvas is primed!