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Understanding the difference between panels and canvas types

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Sometimes artists use specific names for their canvas or panels and you’re left wondering what on earth it means. It can be a bit intimidating, and you certainly don’t want to order it if you don’t know what it is. Don’t worry, I’ll help you make sense of panels, cradled panels, canvas, and gallery wrapped canvas (aka gallery depth canvas).

First you should know that I’m not going to describe whether any of these “surface types” or “substrates” are safe for artwork. There are many great resources out there on the archival merits of panels, canvas, and even painting on aluminum or glass. I’ve done enough research to be confident that all of the panels and canvas that we use in our artwork will last for many decades without any archival issues, and even centuries!

Our artwork is almost all on panels or canvas. Cradled panels and gallery wrapped canvas are simply specific styles of panels and canvas. All of these are great options, and if you’re commissioning custom work, we’ll direct you to the best option.


Canvas is the most common painting surface that you’ll see out there. If you go to an art show, the majority of paintings will be on canvas. Canvas is simply a cotton cloth that’s been stretched over a frame, primed, and then painted on to create the artwork.

Standard depth
View from the back
Canvas has a texture

Standard canvas are stretched on a 5/8 to 3/4 inch frame, which is fairly shallow. While some people like to display them without a frame, they’re generally not very suitable for that and will require a custom frame for display.

The image wraps around the side
Very durable structure, resists warping

Gallery wrapped canvas is the same canvas, but it’s been stretched onto a much thicker frame (typically 1.5 inches) for a more dramatic presence. One of the nice features of gallery wrapped canvas is that the sides are wide enough to paint, giving a nice illusion of depth, and won’t have to be framed. Of course, they can still be framed if that’s the desire, although it will require a custom frame.

  • All of the benefits of a standard canvas, with an impressive depth.
  • The sides can be painted for a unique effect. All of ours are painted on the sides, unless otherwise noted.
  • Sturdy frame is less likely to warp over time.
  • See paintings that are gallery wrapped


Panels are sheets of wood or composite material that are specially designed to paint on. Artists have actually used panels of various types for hundreds of years with great results! Many artists prefer panel over canvas because it can be sanded to a smooth surface, greatly enhancing the look of the painting. It’s a stylistic preference, and most of my small or detailed works are on panel as the texture of canvas can be distracting in those cases.

Very thin
No backing
Beautiful, smooth surface

Standard panels are quite thin. In some cases, it can be prone to warping, which is why I use only high quality artist panels that are designed to resist any warping or issues with aging. I’ve recently come to enjoy the standard panel as it is the simplest to display. You can often place a standard panel in frames that you already have, or can easily buy at most stores, by simply removing the glass to allow for additional space. You shouldn’t use glass with an acrylic or oil painting anyways, so removing the glass is fine.

  • Smooth surface allows for more detail, especially on smaller paintings.
  • The simplest option for framing as they can be inserted into many frames, although they must be framed to display them. See below for tips on how to frame them!
  • Suitable for work that is 8×10 inches or smaller. (I often use it for my 5×7, 8×8, and 8×10 paintings)
  • See paintings that are on panel
Roughly the same depth as a canvas
Structural backing
Smooth surface

Cradled panels are the same surface material as a standard panel, but they’ve had a frame adhered to the back. The frame serves two purposes: it further helps resist warping (especially in larger pieces) and it gives the panel a greater depth that’s more similar to a standard stretched canvas. While I’ve done some paintings on cradled panels, I tend to avoid it as it isn’t as easy to hang as a standard panel… and in my opinion has few advantages over a standard panel unless you’re going larger than 8×10 inches where warping is more of a concern.

  • Same smooth surface as standard panels, although there are textured options as well.
  • Supported on the back to resist warping, allowing for larger sizes.
  • The additional depth from the supports requires a custom frame or a frame specifically designed for paintings, making hanging a tad more complex.
  • See paintings that are on cradled panel


Note the different depths.

Largely the difference comes down to a stylistic preference and how you plan to frame (or not frame) the work. You’ll often see that Lorrie’s poured paintings are all on canvas, typically gallery wrapped (it leaves a very nice edge where the paint wraps the side). For my work, I typically use standard panels when working small, medium sizes may be cradled panel or canvas, and larger sizes are almost always gallery wrapped canvas.

Feel free to let us know if you have any other questions!

Bonus! Framing a standard depth panel

A standard panel typically fits into normal frames.
Replace the frame backing.
Simple framing!

The reason I love standard panels is that they are SO easy to frame and hang. I have many panels that are up in my house in frames that I purchased from Target at a very reasonable price.

  1. Buy a frame in the size that you need (e.g. for an 8×10 panel you’ll purchase a 8×10 frame).
    *Note that most, but not all, frames will work with a standard panel. It can be a bit of trial and error, but 90% of the time I find that they work. Make sure the frame is returnable.
  2. Remove the frame’s back, insert, and glass. Discard the insert and glass (you don’t use glass with a panel).
  3. Insert the panel into the frame.
  4. Replace the frame backing, making sure it fits well.
    *This is where you’ll have problems with some frames. Some frames are too tight to get the back on again, but it’s not normally an issue.
  5. Enjoy your framed panel by placing it on a desk, mantel, or hanging it on a wall!

See paintings that are on panel