How to Prepare a Masonite Board for Painting!

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Tutorials | 39 comments

Hey everyone! I thought today I would go through how I prepare masonite boards to paint on.

I paint on masonite for 95% of all of my work. When I first started out with acrylics it was all on canvas which really drove me crazy for a few reasons. First of all the texture – I just didn’t like it. I like small details and the bumpiness of the surface just didn’t allow for that at all. Secondly the cost – after a while you can see how the figures pile up and doing a canvas shopping run can be downright exhausting.

Things I like about Masonite:
1. It is inexpensive: Instead of paying several dollars for a few medium sized canvas, you can buy a wall sized masonite board which can be cut either by the hardware store you buy it from, or you can even labor through it yourself with box cutters like I do πŸ˜‰

2. It is Light-weight and durable: If you need to ship as much as I do –Β  you know that shipping a canvas can be a bit scary as they are liable to get warped if anything is pressing on them the wrong way. Wood is great, but also can be heavy increasing shipping costs. Masonite is light but durable. The only time when I would think twice is if the board is extra large, which may make it slightly bendy. Consider framing before shipping a larger masonite piece, it’ll stiffen it right up.

3. Details, details, details: There’s nothing like that extra smooth surface to work on. If you like all your details, eyelashes, bits, and bobs where have you to beΒ  as clean and sharp as possible a smooth surface like a masonite board is a great option.

Question – how to you prepare it then? You can’t paint directly onto a masonite board as the paint won’t adhere to it properly. So I will show you my method to how to make it a wonderful smooth working surface!

1_materials for preparing a masonite board to paint on

Here are the items you will need! Minus the sandpaper, which will come later. Newspaper, white gesso, a bowl of water, a standard wall paint brush and of course! A piece of masonite.

using water to thin out gesso

Lay out all of your newspaper with the board in the middle as you may spray off onto the edges with your paint brush so keep that in mind! First, dip the tip of the brush into the gesso, then dip it directly into the water to get it a bit wet.

This will allow the gesso to go on smoother and thinner. This helps out loads when it comes to sanding down the board. The thicker and gooier the gesso, the more ridges and bumps are left behind!

using paint brush first layer of gesso on masonite board

First, paint the gesso on horizontally. Cover the whole board with quick strong strokes. After you can go back softly with the brush and smooth out any hard ridges which may of come up.

first layer of gesso on masonite

This is what the board will look like after one coat. It will be a bit thin, so some of the masonite will peek through. Clean out your brush now and wait for about an hour or two till it is dry to the touch!

solid wood base for sandpaper gesso on masonite

Here is my sandpaper – I use a small piece of wood and wrap the sandpaper around it creating a sturdy base so I can sand the board with a bit more strength (and reduces the likelihood I will cut myself as well – it has happened!)

sanding a gessoed masonite board to paint on

Start sanding in the OPPOSITE direction which you painted, so in this case sand the board vertically. Continuously wipe off the dust which will gather on the board and feel out with your hand any bumpy spots so you can sand them smooth.

sanded first layer of gesso on masonite

The board after being sanded first time – a bit transparent!

second layer of gesso put on vertically

For the next layer put it on vertically, this will ensure no ridges will occur – just in case.

Repeat the sanding horizontally once the second layer is dry and then put on the third and final layer of gesso. This is three layers of gesso which makes sure that it will be a sold smooth base for you to work on! Remember to alternate between horizontal and vertical layers!

finished gessoed masonite board ready for painting acrylics and oils

This is the final product! Smooth as a baby’s butt! Completely opaque and ready to work on – modeled by the rather hidden Richard πŸ˜›

I hope this helps you if you are considering using masonite as a base. It is a rather simple process, and though it takes awhile to dry the actual work time of gessoing and sanding only takes 5 minutes for each layer.

Let me know how this works for you and show me any works you may produce! I’d love to see!





  1. Thank you, so kind of you to share how you prepare your board. i did this once, it took quite a while and i did not like the dust at all. I think a mask is a good idea. your board looks so inviting….

    • How strange Tammie! I havent had a problem with over-excessive dust – but just in case anyone does find that happens a mask is a great tip!

  2. That’s great, I had no idea! πŸ˜€

    If I ever going to try traditional again I might just try this, I don’t like the texture on the canvas as well.. to paint on that is.

    Really nice tutorial, you should do more of them! πŸ™‚

    • Its a nice solution if you ever do give paints a try again my friend ^^ I was happy to make it! Hehe, I may just do that…once I have some knowledge to share with the world πŸ˜‰ <3

  3. just wondering, did you lightly sand the masonite panel prior to priming ?

    • hey Dave! no, I didn’t sand the masonite board before anything else went on it πŸ™‚

      • Thanks for the reply plantiebee, having been in the painting industry a while ago now, we always lightly took the gloss off an article before priming etc to help adhesion, but with masonite I assume it has some porosity that would help alleviate sanding, I would like to try this myself for my part time painting, I assume you prime both sides, and edges, I think I have read somewhere either the standard or tempered masonite should be completely primed all round to stop any chemical reaction at a later time, are you using the standard or tempered masonite ?


        • Hey Dave – the masonite is so thin, that the edges get painted no matter what, but i have never painted the backside nor have i seen any reason to. So far since beginning to end using masonite, I have never seen any adverse reactions to the painting layers on top. I followed the technique given to me by Jasmine Becket Griffith and I would hope that an artist of her caliber wouldnt paint on a surface which would be later ruined! My partner also has a degree is carpentry and has helped me prepare the masonite boards and he has stated there shouldnt be any leakage of chemicals through to the painting. So I wouldnt fear! And enjoy painting :D!

          • Thanks again plantiebee for your time and information, I’m interested to try this masonite, being a smooth surface I think it will suit my abstract style better.



          • You are welcome, be sure to let me know how you get along :D!

  4. Thank you so much for the information. I’m getting ready to do some 24 x 24 panels and was running into conflicting information. The Grumbacher site says to wipe it down with 100% isopropyl alcohol and other people suggest sanding all sides

    • I have heard about the sanding both sides version, but never the alcohol…nor do I know of anyone who uses that method. I cant necessarily tell you which way is best or which way is right – but I have been using my own method so far for 2 years and it has worked very well for me πŸ™‚ You can try out a combo of the methods or just see what works best for you! Let me know how it goes πŸ™‚

      • Hello. I went ahead and sanded both sides–the backside lightly. Then I proceeded with your instructions. I have not painted on any of the surfaces yet. I will let you know how it works out. Thank you for your help…Elena

  5. What if you want the masonite background? Should you prime just the place you want to paint on?

    • You can get clear gesso πŸ™‚ I have never used it personally but friends of mine who paint on plain wood use it!

  6. i’m going to try it for thr first time today. thanks for step by step. im remodeling my kitchen and heartbroken to paint over existing mural i will look for ways to mount on wall

  7. Nicely described, thanks a lot.

    • You’re welcome πŸ™‚ Glad it helped!

  8. What if you don’t have gesso? And can’t get any for awhile

    • You can buy pre-treated masonite boards from art stores in the US – where you may not need any gesso at all. However, if you are going for the hardware store kind I would definitely recommend waiting until gesso (whether clear or white) is available to you!

  9. How do you keep the panel from warping while applying the gesso?

    • Hi Lillian, this is very strange. I honestly have never had a board warp while gessoing it. I have had it warp because I stood it up against the wall and having it lean there for awhile made it bend but not the gesso. I would first suggest a different type of masonite. If that still doesn’t help, make sure you aren’t using too much water mixed in with the gesso and use clamps to hold down the board afterwards. This will be a problem when it comes to gessoing the edges (which you can do later) but it would keep it from warping.

      • Really! How thick are your panels? And where do you purchase them from?

        • Oh they aren’t that thick. Maybe around 4 or so millimeters – I buy them at the hardware store here in Sweden. Like your regular Home Depot in the states. I get a huge board and have them cut them into roughly 40 x 60 cm pieces (or larger) then cut them down myself for smaller sizes. Where did you get the boards that warped?

          • I got mine at home depot. Could you please tell me more about your boards? Are they tempered or untempered? Perhaps theyve been coated with something that prevents warping?

  10. Applying gesso on both sides prevents warping.

  11. do you apply three coats of gesso on each side?

    • No, I personally have not. But according to other people here on the blog it prevents warping so I don’t think there is any harm in doing so!

  12. Truly great tutorialβ€”(I love letting other people use their materials to show me before I use my own and do something wrong.) I’ve applied lots of gesso, but never to masonite, so I’m glad I found your blog here.

    The one thing I noticed (and I think someone else pointed out) is not having a mask when you sand the gesso. A lot of gesso products say they’re non-toxic, etc, but a lot of Artists’ Grade gesso also contain “Chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer” (I’m in California.) So dust inhalation can at the least be an irritant, and worse. When I worked for an art store, we always made sure to explain sanding between layers, but to always wear a painter’s mask. Not critical, but safety first can’t hurt.

    • Yup, very true! It is definitely a good precaution to take ^_^

  13. Do you sand the final layer?
    Thanks for posting this:)

    • Hi Leah πŸ™‚
      Yes, I definitely sand the final layer of gesso! I wish you luck with your future projects!

  14. Hi, I have gessoed and painted on the “rough” side of Masonite in the past (I like the rough side for some reason, never thought to paint on the smooth side), but I just got some new hardboard (or it might be Masonite; in any case, it is a lighter shade of brown than what I used before), and it has a completely different “rough” side.
    The boards I used before had a sort of deep, checkered impression, and this new board has more of a smoother, fibrous kind of texture. Very solid surface, with consistent fine lines lightly impressed into it. I think I will like this “roughness” better than the old one.
    I’m just interested if you have any thoughts on all of this, and any advice you could give me on how to proceed.
    Thank you so much in advance.

    • Maybe you would like to try a clear gesso for this project? It is something I personally would like to experiment with! I know many people who use a clear gesso to work on wood or panels, so it could work well here. Best of luck!

  15. Hello, I ran across this blog and would like permission to share it with a group of painters. I would use possibly one image from the post as part of a slide, and list your blog site as reference for more information. Please let me know if this is okay with you. Great post and one that I was going to have to re-create visually for this presentation. Thanks for your consideration.

    • I am so sorry I am so late in replying! I was so busy with the end of school, it slipped by! Of course you can, thanks for being so kind to ask πŸ™‚

  16. Someone told me that the oils of the Masonite board will eventually yellow the gesso applied atop the Masonite board – not right away but years later! What is your opinion?

    • I currently have seen no yellowing from paintings I have had here for years, obviously I will keep monitoring it but I gesso the board 3 times so there is a pretty thick barrier. A lot of things can yellow oil paintings such as poor quality white paints and certain oils which you mix with the pigments – it can be a bit of a gamble no matter if it is on masonite or canvas! If you are worried though try out wood panels instead ^_^ Good luck!

  17. Thanks a million for reassuring me to go with masonry board. I host art classes twice a month and the canvases are rather expensive and a lot of the time i can’t get the size I want. Thanks again.

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