Best Alternative for Gesso and How to Make Your Own Gesso

Gesso is probably one of the best and most widely used primers for Acrylic paint. Is sounds like a magical substance but it is actually just a mixture of chalk, gypsum, and pigment together with a binder. So you could actually make your own Gesso or you could use something very similar to prime the surface for painting. I tried a couple of alternatives including mixing my own gesso and I will share everything, that I discovered and my experience using these alternatives in this article.

In short, the best alternatives for gesso are either commercial acrylic primers or Clear Gesso. It is also possible to paint directly on the surface without any primer or, if a cheap alternative to gesso is needed, then gesso can be easily made at home with ingredients that can be bought almost anywhere.

So, unfortunately, there aren´t really any significantly cheaper alternative to gesso, at least when you want something right out of the box. If you are searching for a cheap alternative, then you have to make your own gesso. That sounds kind of daunting but it isn´t actually difficult to do at all.

If you are just searching for a regular old commercial alternative to gesso, then there are a couple of commercial acrylic primers, that behave very similar to gesso. Two primers, that I like to use are the Fleur Universal Primer and Golden Pumice Gel Mediums.

You can get the Fluer Universal Primer and the Golden Pumice Gel Mediums right here on the Blick art store.

The last alternative to gesso is not using any gesso or primer at all. You can paint directly on the surface without any primer. The paint will be absorbed a little bit by the surface and the color will not be as vibrant but for most applications, this will barely matter at all.

Gesso AlternativeDescriptionPros and Cons
Fleur Universal PrimerThis is a universal primer for multiple surfaces including wood, glass, and plastic. It is white in color and is very similar to gesso.Unlike gesso, it works on a lot of different surfaces even on non-absorbant surfaces.
Golden Pumice Gel MediumsThese Gels are great as a primer for acrylic paints. They can also be used to seal your work afterward.Holds on most surfaces but it is more expensive than regular gesso.
Make your own GessoGesso can be easily made at home by mixing taclum powder, white glue, white paint, and water. It’s very cheap but it is a little difficult to get a nice consistency.

How to Make Your Own Gesso

Making your own gesso is the cheapest alternative to commercial gesso and it is really quite easy to do. You only need some household items and some easy to come by ingredients. This is probably my most favorite alternative to commercial gesso there is.

In short, to make your own gesso all you need to do is mixing 1/4 cup of taclum powder (Baby powder that has taclum powder as an ingredient can also be used), 1 tablespoon white glue (Elmer´s glue or PVA glue), 1 tablespoon white acrylic paint, and as much water as you need until the desired consistency is achieved.

So as you can see making your own gesso is actually quite easy.

Here are the ingredients, that you will need, in a little more detail:

  • 1/4 cup of taclum powder
  • 1 tablespoon of white glue
  • 1 tablespoon of white acrylic paint
  • as much water as you need

Where to Get Taclum Powder From

This is probably the hardest ingredient to come. Taclum powder can´t simply be bought in a regular store but don´t worry, there are several ways to still get it without too much inconvenience.

There are some online stores, that sell taclum powder but you can sometimes also get it at your local pharmacy.

My prefered way, though, is to simply buy baby powder. Quite a lot of baby powders have taclum powder as the main ingredient. So you can easily just buy one of these baby powders and use that instead. The receipt will still work just fine.

What White Glue Should you Get

There are a lot of different white glues on the market but you should stick to a very basic one for this receipt.

I would recommend either using PVA glue, wood glue (or something similar), or Elmer´s glue. Try to get the basic variants of these glues without any fancy additions like glitter or fast-drying variants.

Mixing it All Together

Finally, all you have to do is to mix 1/4 cup of taclum powder or baby powder, 1 tablespoon white glue, 1 tablespoon of white acrylic paint (or any other color you like), and a little bit of water together in a mixing bowl.

Add some water little by little as you mix the ingredients until the mixture has the consistency you like. I personally like the consistency to be a little more fluent than acrylic paint. But that is up to you, really.

You can use the mixture just like regular gesso. It will dry a little bit slower than gesso and the surface will be a little smoother but other than that it is almost exactly like commercial gesso just way cheaper.

Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Instead of Gesso?

This is a very common question and I personally asked my art teacher the exact same thing back in my high school years. Gesso is quite expensive compared to acrylic paint and in the end, gesso is just acrylic paint mixed with some glue and chalk, right? So how can it be so different? At least, that is what I thought.

So acrylic paint can´t be used instead of gesso. Acrylic paint can be used as a base coat but it is not the same as gesso and if the surface has to be primed then gesso is a better choice than acrylic paint. Gesso, unlike acrylic paint, will create the perfect conditions for paint application on most surfaces.

Just because a major ingredient of gesso is acrylic paint does not mean, that acrylic paint is the same as gesso.

Acrylic paint will not stick to most materials the same way as gesso does and even though you can use acrylic paint as a base coat gesso does so much more than just providing a base color coat.

Unlike acrylic paint, gesso will actually create a solid surface on which the color can sit without losing its vibrancy or changing its color in the slightest.

Gesso also creates a very fine texture for the paint application and gesso can be sanded down. So by using gesso you can actually get rid of any uneven parts on the drawing surface.

And while you don´t have to use gesso in order to paint on most materials and surfaces it will still create the perfect conditions for your paint and the result will be much better compared to not using any gesso as a primer.

Is Gesso Necessary for Acrylic Painting?

This is another question, that a lot of newcomers to the world of painting have. I personally started out without using any primer at all and I only started using gesso after I already painted with acrylic paint for about a year or so. I immensely saw a difference but still to this day I sometimes do a painting with acrylics without priming the surface with gesso at all.

So in short, gesso is not necessary for acrylic painting it is, however, very helpful for some paintings. If you plan on painting on wood then using gesso as a primer would be a good idea. Gesso prepares the surfaces and creates the perfect conditions for acrylic paint. So it is very helpful but not necessary.

When I started using gesso to prime my painting surfaces I immediately saw an improvement in the color quality of my paints.

The acrylic paint no longer got dull when they dried instead they stayed almost as vibrant as they were when they came out of the tube. Which made a significant difference.

Another thing, that I notice was, that I didn´t need as many layers of paint as I did before. The gesso prepared the surface so well, that only a little bit of paint was already more than enough to cover a huge part of the surface easily.

So gesso helps a lot with preparing the painting surface and creating the perfect conditions for acrylic paint but it is not necessary.