Save Money! Learn How to Gesso a Hardboard Panel for Painting

Painting on hardboard or Masonite panels is economic and produces great results for oil and acrylic painters. In this short video I teach you how to prepare a panel for painting. This is an easy process and only takes about ½ hour (at most!) from start to finish and will save you money.

Be sure and check out the added tips below this video…

Here are a few extra tips:

  • I usually make an assembly line and gesso a series of panels all at once.
  • Sometimes I use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. Once dry, I can immediately begin to paint on the prepared panel and expect great results!  Hardboard allows me a smooth surface for fine detail, glazes and texture. Most of my paintings are painted on hardboard!
  • To prevent warping of larger panels – gesso both sides.
  • For extra large boards over 30×40, I suggest ‘cradling’ the back of the board.  Cradling makes the panels’ rigid using wood bars that are glued to the back of the panel.  My custom framer does this for me.
  • Make sure you use at least 2 coats of gesso because hardboard/Masonite is highly absorbent and the paints will sink otherwise.
  • Use a tweezer to pick out any brush hairs, clumps or lint.
  • Sand and ‘knock-down’  the rough edges of the board to help conserve the life of your brushes!
  • Use un-tempered hardboard which will not yellow with age.

Let me know how this works for you!


2012-03-10T12:57:50+00:00 March 23rd, 2010|Fine Art Tips, General, How To Paint, Draw & More, Videos|28 Comments


  1. Steve June 12, 2010 at 7:37 am


    Thanks for the tip, I can’t wait to try out your techniques.

    • Lori McNee June 13, 2010 at 8:25 am

      Hi Steve, great! Glad you found this article helpful. Let me know how it works for you. 🙂

      • Graham December 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm

        Do you gesso the back of larger boards that are cradled?

        • Lori McNee February 8, 2015 at 1:06 am

          Usually there is no need to gesso the back of a cradled board. However, if it looks warped give it a try! Thank you for visiting.

  2. SakillilaLela June 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Hiya im new on here. I hit upon this website I have found It amply accommodating & it’s helped me loads. I hope to give something back and guide other users like it has helped me.

    Cheers, Catch You Around.

  3. Wholesale sunglasses June 13, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Nice article. Thank you for this info

  4. eve isk June 14, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Very good post.
    Thanks for you great post.

  5. natascha June 15, 2010 at 3:26 am

    thank you very much for this useful video ,lory! ♥

    • Lori McNee June 15, 2010 at 5:58 am

      You are so welcome, Natasha. Great to see you here at FineArtTips…let me know how shipping your painting overseas works for you – hey, share a tip about that! Thanks, Lori 🙂

  6. Keith W. Johnson October 5, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Hi Lori, again I love your site. I was curious where do you buy your boards and what type of wood to you use. I called Lowes and they had several types of wood. Unlucky for me the salesman did not know what type of wood an artist would use. Can you help? thanks

  7. Rebecca December 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Lori,

    I applied gesso to a panel using a similar method. I used Golden’s gesso and did 3 layers. The surface seems to be very porous compared to store bought gesso boards. Does the gessoed surface need to be sealed prior to painting with oils?



    • Lori McNee January 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm

      Well, I find that most hand gessoed boards are rather porous and soak up the paint. After I apply the first layer of my oil underpainting, the board is not as absorbent. In the past, I have sealed the gesso with ‘re-touch varnish’, but I am use to working without it now.

      I find store bought boards to be just about as absorbent and more expensive…

      I hope this helps you. Good luck!

  8. Carol Ann Burin April 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Hi Lori,

    I’m in the process of painting a large landscape on hardboard 50 x 42. I had my caprenter craddle the support. I’m planning on using three to four coats of gesso on both sides. It was suggested that I first use PVA sizing on the board before gesso. You don’t mention PVA sizing, Do you feel it is not necessary? Also the carpenter used nails near the mitered corners of the craddle backing, not just glue. Do you think this could be a problem? Right now nails can’t be seen and I think they will be covered once the painting is framed, but I have some concern.

  9. Eileen August 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Do we have to gesso the back side as well? I have read some conflicting info on this, and scare tactics from art stores wanting you to buy their boards instead of going to the hardware store.. I have hardboard that is smooth on both sides and untemperred, sanded down one side and gessoed five times for use with my oils, so far so good but I worry about the longevity of the peice. Heard some info on chemicals in the boards leeching up to the surface even if you did gesso many times, but i don’t believe this

    • Lori McNee October 24, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      I would gesso the backside also if the board is larger than an 18×24. Otherwise, it will warp a bit. I hope this helps.

  10. Roz January 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Lori, thanks for your great site. Can you advise me if i can wax finish over an acrylic painting on plywood? thanks, Roz

    • Lori McNee January 19, 2014 at 11:28 pm

      A wax finish? Well, wax doesn’t stick to acrylic. Acrylic is to dense for the wax to grab onto. You can use a water based polyurethane by Minwax. This will give you a similar feeling. Let me know what you think! ~Lori

  11. Mary Ewing April 9, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Your work is beautiful. You should try our gesso panels and save your time and talent for your art! They are also archival, durable and all wood. They have a wonderful smooth surface with a nice tooth that doesn’t suck up all of your paint.
    I will send you a sample if you can provide your street address for shipping. My husband got his MFA at the University of Idaho — your neck of the woods.

  12. Sarah April 26, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Hi Lori,
    Thanks for the informative video. I did an oil painting on Masonite board, how long should I wait before sealing it? When an oil painting is done on canvas it is usually 6-12 months before it can be sealed. Any suggestions for the masonite?

    Many thanks, Sarah

    • Lori McNee April 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Hello Sarah, do you mean varnished? Just like with canvas, yes it takes 6-12 months to completely cure before varnishing. I hope this answers your question.

  13. Dana December 4, 2014 at 3:25 am

    Thank you for your knowledgeable video’s.
    I am wondering if you know the difference between the kind of gesso I can buy at a hardware store, which is typically used for priming sheet rock panels before painting- and the kind of gesso that is sold in art stores. The price difference is astronomical. Would the simple gesso used on walls be sufficient for priming a canvas to be painted with acrylic? Are there any differences in the archival properties?

    Thank you in advance for your consideration of these questions.

    Best regards,

    Dana Lynne Andersen

    • Lori McNee February 12, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Hello Dana, my apologies for the belated reply. If you are using acrylic paints, wall paint can be used. However, I would suggest using painting on a board/panel rather than canvas because it may not be quite as flexible. I know a lot of artists who use wall paints for beautiful paintings.

      I hope this helps! 🙂

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