What Is Gesso And What Is It Used For?

You might have come across the product name Gesso when looking for ways to paint your miniature walls, but also wondered what is Gesso used for.

Today, we will dive deeper into this topic straight away, so that it all becomes clear to you!

But First: What Is The Main Purpose Of Gesso?

Gesso is a primer or so-called pre-treatment agent, and it consists of chalk (gypsum), paint pigment, and a binder mixture, which prepares the surface for painting.

A primer ensures that the paint will not be absorbed or repelled by the surface on which you want to apply the paint.

You can apply it on different surfaces, such as:

  • Glass
  • Wood
  • Canvas
  • Metal
  • Stone
  • Plastic

What Can You Do With Gesso?

So as I said, it is used as a primer which means that it lays a layer between the surface of an object and the paint.

For a surface such as glass and metal, it is not easy to paint it directly.

By using Gesso first, you can make sure that the paint stays well on it.

Wood and canvas have a tendency to soak up the paint.

By using Gesso, however, the paint gets absorbed many times less. This also means that you need to use less paint.

Although nowadays there are more and more canvases that already have a layer on them.

Gesso: preparations.

First of all, you need to clean the surface of the object thoroughly and remove all grease and dirt.

If necessary you can also sand the surface slightly with a fine piece of sandpaper.

Make sure that the object is well and dry, because Gesso and water don’t mix.

You can now apply the Gesso with a brush, a sponge, or even by just using your fingers.

I would only apply Gesso with my fingers though to make the paint thicker if I need some more depth in the paint.

Or you can “stamp” it, like in the video below, for a nice effect on the walls:

This is a technique that is used a lot by painters. But let’s move on with our Gesso.

How to use Gesso for texture?

If you use a paintbrush you can still see the streaks, so using a sponge will get you a better and much smoother result.

If some unevenness is still left you can sand it slightly to get it smooth again.

Several thin layers of Gesso will be required, depending on the surface, and even two or three coats will definitely be needed for the best result.

From the second or third layer of Gesso, you can already start to mix it with paint.

Keep in mind though that the color of your paint will become lighter because Gesso is white and will remain so.

Allow the object to dry thoroughly between coats. If the surface isn’t completely dry yet, you can still remove the previous layer.

Now, if you don’t want a smooth surface, you could play around with your brush or sponge and “dab” the surface with it, it will appear rougher.

You can see what it does, if you don’t like it, you can always undo it.

As I mentioned before, Gesso can’t stand water, so if you have made a mistake you can easily clean the surface by rinsing it with water, and then you can just start over again.

When you have applied all the layers of Gesso, then you can start painting the surface.

If you want to protect the end result of your project, you could always add a layer of varnish.

Using varnish also makes it easier to clean your (miniature) project.

How to make Gesso yourself?

Can you make Gesso yourself?

Yes, you can. Although I have done that myself just one time because it can be easily bought in a store and it is quite affordable to me.

Especially for miniature projects, just one bottle of Gesso can take you a long way.

Maybe I will try it again someday, and then I will let you know the result.

Anyway, this is how you make Gesso:

Starting with the ingredients:

  • 1 part wood glue, an all-purpose glue, or craft glue. The glue should be PVA-based.

  • 2 parts distilled or boiled and cooled cold water

  • 6 parts lime, talcum powder, or calcium carbonate in powder form

  • White acrylic paint ( or another color of acrylic paint if you want to make black gesso for example)

Furthermore, you need:

  • An electric scale or kitchen scale that weighs every gram

  • A measuring cup or plastic cup in which you can weigh the ingredients

  • A clean bucket to mix everything in

  • A large spoon or small scoop

  • A whisk

  • And a large pot or several small pots, and well-closable jars to store the Gesso

Making Gesso, step-by-step.

  • Put the measuring cup on the scale and make sure that the scale is at 0. Fill it with 250 gr of water.

  • Now set the scale back to 0 and ad the glue until the scale is at 125 gr.

  • Mix these two ingredients together well

  • Pour this mixture into the bucket and stir it again with the whisk

  • Weigh 500g of lime/talcum powder/calcium carbonate into the clean, dry measuring cup and gradually add this to the bucket while stirring

  • Stir everything well until all lumps are gone

  • Add the paint in 2 parts of 60 ml and stir everything well again.
    The more paint you add now, the whiter the gesso will be.

    This also depends on how much pigment is added to the paint and the quality of the paint.

  • If you feel like the gesso is too thin, you can add some lime/talcum powder/calcium carbonate while stirring.

    This can be added up to 250g.

When you think the gesso is ready, you can put it in a good sealable jar or bucket so that you can keep it for a long time.

Where Can You Buy Gesso?

If you don’t have the patience to make Gesso yourself, you can easily buy it at hobby stores or online.

Look at the shelf that says ” hobby painting”, and I’m sure you will see it!

This blog post contains images and affiliate link from Amazon

Gesso: more FAQ answered for you:

Check out more FAQs on Gesso below:

What Can Be Used Instead Of Gesso?

Off course, you could just paint your surface without Gesso, or prepare it yourself as I explained above, or an alternative for Gesso could be a commercial acrylic primer.

Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT use Mod Podge as an alternative to Gesso, because this will cause serious problems with your miniature piece.

In terms of Mod Podge being VERY sticky and it works as a sealer as well! 

Is Gesso The Same As Acrylic Paint?

Gesso is clearly not the same as acrylic paint, as acrylic paint isn't suitable as a primer, and Gesso is thinner than acrylic paint.

Is Gesso really necessary?

Although Gesso provides you with a more absorbent surface to work on, it is technically not necessary to use. So the answer to this would be no!

If you would not use Gesso for canvas though, the paint would definitely sink into the weave of the canvas. Gesso makes it stiffer and easier to work on canvas.

Can I use acrylic white paint instead of gesso?

Well: yes.. and no..

Both products are white and can be used as a primer, but the thing is with Gesso that it is very absorbent and dries to a more mat finish.

Acrylic paint is more glossy.

And Gesso has the ability to reduce the acidity in paper, wood, and canvas and therefore makes sure that your work will last a lifetime!

My Final Conclusion

I really think that I have answered all your questions on Gesso?

If not, you can always ask another question in the comment section below or join me on my social media channels or Facebook group.

Please do let me know if you have used Gesso and what you think about this crafting product!

I wish you happy crafting!

Kind regards,


4 thoughts on “What Is Gesso And What Is It Used For?”

  1. Thank you for this information. I always wondered why people used primer and I never knew another name for it was gesso. Glad to see that you can also make your own although judging by your recipe it does look likk it takes some work. But if painting your miniature houses or rooms it might be well worth it to purchase a bottle of gesso as you won’t use a lot of it for small projects. 

    • Hi Michel!

      I totally agree with you, to me all the work is not worth the little bit of savings , but I did want to be complete in my blog post anyway;-)

      Thanks for the comment and I wish you happy crafting!

      Kind regards,


  2. First off, thank you for explaining what a primer is.  To be honest, I have always heard the term, and never knew what it meant, even though I have painted several things!  It seems like Gesso will save money in the long run as it will cause you to use less paint ultimately.  I guess I should consider using it for now on hahah.

    • Hi Jessie!

      You are welcome and do let me know if Gesso is worth using in your case 😉

      I wish you happy painting haha!

      Kind regards,



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