Preparing Canvas for Vinyl Application

Preparing Canvas for Vinyl Application main article image
Posted on March 13, 2021 by Wendy Boulay

All of us crafters have been there. You find an exciting canvas art project that you simply must create. Then just as you’re ready to apply your vinyl; low and behold, it refuses to stick! Not to worry! Through trial and error, I’ve found the best techniques that worked for me and I am sure will work for you too.

Choosing Your Canvas

You really can use any canvas that you like – I frequently visit the craft section at the dollar store! There is no need to invest a lot of money; this particular one was purchased in a 2-pack from Walmart for only $4.50. This being said, you will definitely want to give the canvas a quick inspection before buying it. Check for imperfections such as warped or missing staples, tears in the canvas, and scratches. Any of these issues might cause your vinyl to resist sticking and create an undesired end result.


The real secret to applying your vinyl without a hitch is paint! Painting your canvas makes the whole process go much more smoothly while doubling as an added aesthetic appeal. You can choose to only paint the area that you are applying the vinyl to, or just paint the entire canvas. You can even create a “marbling” effect as I did for my funny little bathroom sign. The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating your painted base layer. It really depends on your project or mood!

I always use acrylic paint – but I have heard of success with watercolor paints as well. I caution with oil paint, however. I have never used it but I do know that using an oil-based stain and finish on wood signs can cause peeling and eventual lifting of your vinyl; so I advise you to proceed with caution when using oil-based paints.

Feel free to use any acrylic paint – I personally use DecoArt crafters paint which I can even purchase from the dollar store as well – who doesn’t like affordability?

One important step to do just before you paint is to take a lint roller and quickly roll it over the canvas to remove any dust or debris from sitting on the store shelves. This will help your paint go on evenly without those pesky fuzz balls getting in the way!

To begin, simply pour some paint onto your palette or plate, mix your colors if necessary, then paint the sides and top of your canvas. 

  • Time-Saving Tip: To help speed up the application and drying time, painter’s pyramids will come in handy! I use them when I am staining or painting my wood signs and canvases because they allow me to work on my entire project in one sitting (as long as the shape of the blank permits).

Allow your first coat to dry for at least 30 minutes before adding a second coat, depending on how thick you applied it. To be safe, I always wait 1 hour when working with acrylic water-based paint before moving on to my second coat. While applying the second coat of paint is optional, I always recommend adding one, By applying two layers of paint it gives you more control over accidentally applying too thick of a coat – thus resulting in possible paint peels; plus, drying time seems to be much faster with two thin coats.

  • Creative Painting Tip: To add a little extra creativity to your project, you can easily create a marble-like blended effect to your canvas. To do this, paint your second coat first and then take a drop or two of white paint. Using your paintbrush, quickly dip it into the white paint and randomly spread it on top of your canvas while it is still slightly wet; blending as you go.

Allow your paint to completely dry before moving on to the next step. I usually wait 12-24 hours to be safe.

Acrylic Finishing Spray

Once your paint is thoroughly dry, applying a layer of acrylic spray over the canvas really gives that extra sticking power. I have only ever used Mod Podge brand but feel free to try any other water-based spray sealer you wish. The spray is optional, however, I find it very helpful in adding an extra layer for the vinyl to stick to, and will also protect the paint in the long term. To use, spray an even coat over the entirety of your canvas – you might want to do this outdoors.

Allow to dry for 24 hours before applying your vinyl.

Note: I have also tried using regular Mod Podge when I have run out of spray, which worked just as well in getting the vinyl to stick, but it does leave a slightly sticky residue on your canvas. To avoid this, I recommend using the spray if you can.

Applying Your Vinyl

Now that you have properly prepped your canvas, it’s time to apply your vinyl! Use a transfer tape that is not quite as sticky as Cricut’s tape. I only ever use the AT-75 transfer tape from Stick It Vinyl. It holds onto your decal flawlessly and releases so much easier when applying vinyl to wood or canvas. Your decal will still resist a little bit, so just make sure you go slowly and burnish frequently as you go.

  • Application Tip: Vinyl always prefers to be applied to a hard surface and as we all know, the canvas is elevated on a wood frame. To help with this, grab a book or wood block that will fit inside of the frame behind the canvas. This will give you a harder surface to burnish on!

Once you have your decal applied, leave it for 24-48 hours to allow the vinyl to “cure” to the canvas. You can stop there or if you want to seal your project, you can absolutely do so but it is not necessary. Just make sure when choosing your finishing product that it is water-based…we don’t want that vinyl to lift with oil-based products!

That’s all there is to it! Incorporating these preparation tips should help you with almost all of your vinyl canvas projects this spring! What are you making next?

Keep on Crafting!

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3X Added to favorites

Joanne Pinto Ridder

September 21, 2021

Thanks for the concise and well written directions. I will watch for more of your ideas.

Wendy Boulay's profile picture
Wendy Boulay

September 21, 2021


Thank you! 😊

Jan Hunter

March 20, 2021

Loved the extra tips for creating a successful project using canvas and vinyl!

Wendy Boulay's profile picture
Wendy Boulay

September 21, 2021


Thank you!

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