Preparing polyester

Q. I’ve been painting in oil on polyester canvas for about a year, and I love the tightness of the surface. I was told recently, however, that the paint might not permanently adhere to the polyester. Do you know of any long-term testing done on this product? How should the polyester be primed for use with oil? Does it require a special process?

A. Most synthetic fabrics are too nonabsorbent to accept the application of an artist-applied ground or paint. There may indeed be an eventual loss of adhesion between the fabric and applied coatings, though I haven’t heard conservators discussing this problem. There are polyester fabrics on the market (Fredrix’s Polyflax, for instance) that are durable, but these have been preprimed with a heat-set acrylic dispersion groundNnot a process you can do yourself.

There’s one acrylic fabric that a few of my colleagues have used mounted on rigid panels with some success: Sunbrella, a sailcloth product used for awnings and boat covers. Before you can use it for the purposes of your painting process, you must wash the support with soapy water to remove its waterproofing. When it’s dry, you can see and feel its napped surface texture, which is perfect for accepting oil primer. I don’t know of any art material manufacturer who prepares it or recommends it, however, and even though it has a surface texture it, too, is considered nonabsorbent.

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