Can You Gesso Over Oil Paint?

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Gesso is an excellent tool for anyone who likes to paint on canvas and although there are some other substances that you are able to use to prep the canvas, gesso is definitely one of the better options that has stood the test of time. More and more people have been switching from paper based painting to canvas based painting recently and this has resulted in a bunch of questions about using gesso in different situations.

One of the more common questions that we have noticed people asking time and time again is if you can gesso over oil paint or not. With more people starting to paint on canvas and the popularity of oil painting sky rocketing right now too, we wanted to take a look at using gesso with oil paint in todays article.

Please keep in mind, there are a wide range of gesso and oil paint products on the market with some performing considerably better than others. The quality of your equipment will always come into play when looking at something like this but higher price tag does not always mean higher quality so there is no need to go out and break the bank to get great results.

Can You Gesso Over Oil Paint?

As the majority of gesso products are acrylic using a water based formula, we would not recommend that you use gesso over oil paint. Oil and water tend not to mix well and can often result in problems with your oil paint risking you totally ruining your painting if you do attempt to gesso over your oil paint.

Even a decent acrylic gesso will still cause these issues as it is not the quality of the product that is causing you problems, it is the water based nature of most gesso products. If you were thinking of using gesso over your oil paint as a way to seal your artwork then an oil paint sealant will be a much better option in most cases.

An actual oil paint sealant will work well when used over dried oil paints and offer that additional layer of protection for your artwork with minimal risk to it during the application process. A suitable sealant would always be our recommendation to our readers over a gesso product as it should easily be able to outperform gesso without putting your oil paints at risk.

Can You Oil Paint Over Gesso?

You can usually apply your oil paints over most types of gesso on canvas provided you apply your gesso and then leave it to dry prior to applying your oil paint. The water in the gesso will evaporate leaving the gesso to prime the canvas for use and your oil paints will then sit on the gesso without issue.

Unlike the previous scenario where you were applying fresh gesso with its water content over the top of dry oil paints, you are not applying your oil paint over dry gesso without its water content. This method uses your gesso as a primer as it should be used rather than as a sealant and offers much better performance with oil paints.

A decent acrylic gesso product will work wonders for this situation but be sure to leave your gesso to dry fully prior to applying your oil paints or you will quickly run into issues with the water in the gesso. Provided that your gesso has fully dried, there will be no water present for it to cause problems with when you apply your oil paint.

Can You Only Get Acrylic Gesso?

Although there are a huge number of gesso formulas on the market these days, almost all of them are acrylic based using a water based formula. This means that almost all gesso products out there will have the exact same risks when used with oil paint, especially if you are trying to use your gesso over your oil paint.

As we touched on earlier in the article, gesso is designed for use as a primer rather than a sealant so you should be using it before you use your oil paints rather than using your gesso on your oil paints. If you are looking for a sealant product then there are plenty of oil safe sealants on the market that will work well on your oil paints.

If you are wanting to use your gesso over your oil paints as a way to try set a base for other paint types above your oil paints then some sealants can work well for this too. That said though, most people would use their oil paint as their final layer in a mixed medium painting due to the water in other paint types presenting a risk to your oil paints.

Is It Worth Using Gesso Alternatives With Oil Paint?

When used as a primer as designed, gesso will usually work well with oil paints provided it has been left to dry correctly prior to applying your oil paints. This means there is usually no need to use a gesso alternative with your oil paints when using gesso correctly.

If you were looking to use gesso over oil paint then there are definitely better options out there as we have mentioned above. A sealant will almost always offer you better performance than gesso when used over oil paints no matter your goal and that would be the route we would recommend to our readers.

Products such as Mod Podge are a very popular option instead of gesso that can work well as a primer on your canvas before applying your oil paint. Although there is still a risk when using Mod Podge due to it being water based, the risk is smaller than using gesso over your oil paint as a sealant so it can be done in thin layers. That said though, an oil safe sealant is almost always the best route to take when using anything over your oil paints.


That concludes our article going over if you can use gesso over oil paint or not. In our opinion, it should be avoided and although people do it and can get decent results, in our opinion, they are the minority. The risks are just too high in most cases when it comes to oil painting and an oil safe sealer should always be used instead.

The sealer will offer better protection and performance in most cases with a much smaller risk of causing problems with your oil paints when used over them. The sealer can often be used as a protective layer for your oil paints as well as a priming layer for any additional layers of paint using other mediums too but you will have to research the specific sealer and paint mediums compatibility for optimal performance.