The 9 Most Common Canvas Sizes and Why You Should Use Them

In Acrylic Painting by Chris BreierLeave a Comment

What are the most common canvas sizes for painting? I analyzed the canvas sizes from 6 different brands of canvas from and the most common sizes are in the list below. The above graphic compares the common canvas sizes on a wall, with furniture that’s drawn to scale.

  • 8×10
  • 9×12
  • 11×14
  • 12×12
  • 12×16
  • 16×20
  • 18×24
  • 24×24
  • 24×30

How I Determined What the Most Common Canvas Sizes Are

It would be easy to write about what I assume are the most popular canvas sizes, but I wanted to base this post on actual data. Surveying artists for this data is one approach, but it’s time consuming and probably not very accurate.

So I reasoned that the most common canvas sizes are also the most frequently purchased. I compared all of the canvas sizes from a variety of retailers. I assumed that all of the retailers will carry the most popular sizes, while only a few of them will carry the odd sizes.

My hypothesis seems to be true, the 9 canvas sizes that I list here are in stock at all of the retailers that I checked. The least popular sizes were only available in one brand of canvases. A few examples of these odd sizes are 10″x30″, 3″x9″, and 8″x16″.

The Most Common Canvas Sizes on a Wall

The illustration at the top of this post will help you to determine which canvas size will work best in your circumstances. It includes a sofa that’s 43″ tall, so you can get a better sense of the scale. The height of the wall is equivalent to a standard 8′ ceiling.

This graphic should give you a better idea of how much space a particular sized canvas or print will take up on the wall. The smaller paintings may not take up as much space above the sofa, but a grouping of small paintings can have the same impact as one large painting.

Small paintings may work better in smaller rooms, but I don’t recommend hanging a painting in the bathroom. A better solution is to decorate your bathroom with inexpensive prints or reproductions.

Why Using Common Canvas Sizes Is Important in Painting

The size of the canvas influences the entire process. It determines the size of the prints that you can make, your framing options, shipping costs, and the cost of framing. You also want to select a canvas that fits the proportions of your reference material so you don’t have to crop or distort the image. It’s to your advantage to think about the entire process of making and selling a painting before purchasing a canvas.

How the Size of the Canvas Affects Your Framing Options

There are many standard frames available that you can use to frame your paintings yourself. For example, there are 9″x12″ floater frames that will fit a standard 9″x12″ canvas. You can purchase one of these frames and secure the painting to it with the screws that are included with the frame. They’re inexpensive and yet they have a professional appearance. I prefer the solid maple floater frames.

On the other hand, if you create a painting with a unique size, then it will require custom framing. Custom picture framing is expensive, it can cost many times the price of an off the shelf picture frame.

It’s not uncommon to spend over $200 on picture framing. This can destroy your profit margins if you plan on selling your artwork. You may end up with very little profit if also have to pay a commission to a gallery.

For example, if you sell a painting for $500 and the gallery receives a 40% commission, then you’ll receive $300. However, you still have to subtract your costs. The $200 framing job will leave you with $100, and you still have to subtract the cost of the canvas and paints. That leaves you with $70 and you’ll have to pay taxes on that.

In comparison, you can paint on a common canvas size and frame it yourself with a standard sized frame. The cost of these frames vary, but they range from $20 to $50. That’s an additional $150-$180 that you can earn per painting.

The point is that it pays to analyze your process and to optimize it. Otherwise, you may not be earning any money with your sales.

Aspect Ratios in Painting

The aspect ratio of a painting is the relationship of the width to the height of the canvas. In other words, the aspect ratio describes the proportions of the image. Aspect ratios are similar to fractions, in the way they’re always expressed in the lowest possible terms. For example, you can reduce a fraction from 4/8 to 1/2. However, aspect ratios have a colon between the numbers instead of a slash.

Aspect ratios are often used to describe the proportions of TVs and computer displays. For example, most TVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9. This simply means that if the TV was 16″ wide then the height would be 9″. A TV that measures 32″ x 18″ also has a 16:9 aspect ratio.

A perfect square would have an aspect ratio of 1:1 because both sides are the same length. For instance, 12×12 canvas would have an aspect ratio of 1:1 instead of 12:12.

How to Select a Canvas Size That Fits the Proportions of Your Image

It’s important to take the time to figure the aspect ratio of your reference material, and then select a canvas with the same proportions. Otherwise, you may select a canvas that doesn’t fit into the proportions of the image that you want to paint. An obvious example of this is that an 8″x10″ reference photo wouldn’t fit into a square canvas. You’d have to crop part of the photograph off to make it fit onto a square canvas.

As I said, that’s obvious. But an 8″x10″ photo also doesn’t have the same proportions as any of the following canvas sizes: 6×8, 11×14, 12×16, or 12×18. How do you figure out what size canvas to get when you’re in the art store shopping for blank canvases?

Click on the chart of common canvas sizes above to download it as a PDF.

I understand that there are artists who want to avoid math at all costs. So, I created a table to make it easier to figure out. In the table above, the aspect ratios of common cameras and devices are along the top, and all of the canvas sizes with the same aspect ratio are in the list below it. For example, the second column contains canvas sizes that fit into the 2:3 aspect ratio. This aspect ratio is the same as most point and shoot cameras. The photos from these cameras would fit perfectly into any of the canvas sizes listed in this column. The most common sizes are in yellow: 9″x12″, 12″x16″, and 18″x24″.

A Digital SLR (DSLR) has an aspect ratio of 2:3 which doesn’t fit into many small canvas sizes. It fits into 4″x6″ and 12″x18″. One way to deal with this and open up your options is to crop the image to fit into a different aspect ratio. It’s best to do this before you begin painting so you can control the cropping. You don’t want to be in the middle of a painting when you realize that part of the image isn’t going to fit on the canvas.

I’ve also highlighted some of canvas sizes in gray to represent other sizes that are available, but they’re not as widely available as the 9 sizes listed at the top of the post.

The Proportions of the Canvas Determine Print Sizes

The aspect ratio of your paintings determine the size of the reproductions that you can sell without having to alter the image.

I normally paint images that fit into the 4:5 aspect ratio because it fits into many standard print sizes. For instance, I can create prints in the following sizes: 4×5, 8×10, 16×20, 24×30, and 32×40.

The problem with selecting odd sizes is that you have less print options available and you also have to deal with framing prints too. It’s much easier to find frames and matboards for 8″x10″ prints than it is for an odd size. Remember, custom sizes will increase your costs and reduce your profits.

Perhaps you ignore these costs because you feel that your art is more important than profits. However, if you can increase your profits to the point of not having to work a job, then you can spend a lot more time focusing on your artwork.

Larger Canvases Cost More to Ship

When you sell your work online, you’ll have to figure out how much to charge for shipping it to various locations. The size and the weight of the package will have an influence on the cost. There’s usually a threshold where the cost of shipping increases dramatically if the package exceeds a specific dimension.

The box that you ship your paintings in has to be larger than the painting. Typically, you need at least an extra 3″ around all sides of the painting. So, you need to add at least 6″ to both the width and the height of your painting when shopping for a box. The extra space is for padding to protect the painting. The idea is if someone drops the box on the corner, the extra space will cave in without damaging the painting.

This is important to figure out before you select a canvas size to work on so the shipping fees won’t be a surprise. Most of the common canvas sizes are small enough so that you ship them at a reasonable price.

If selling artwork online sounds a lot like running a business, that’s because it is!

Final Thoughts

Having a strategy for the sizes of your paintings will make your life as an artist much simpler. When you paint in a common canvas size, you will save a lot of time and money.

A painting with a 4:5 aspect ratio will fit onto a canvas that you can buy at a store. You won’t have to spend time stretching and priming the canvas yourself. Framing is simple because you can frame it with an “off the shelf” picture frame. Making prints from this painting will be easy because it will fit into the many common sizes for prints and picture frames. You won’t have to waste time with cropping and altering the image to fit, or pay for custom framing. Most of the common sizes are small enough to ship without too much hassle or expense.

There’s nothing wrong with working in odd or unusual sizes. Just be aware that it’s going to be more expensive and require more work in every step of the process.

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