If you’re wondering how long it takes for gesso to dry then you’re probably eager to start working on your painting. Or perhaps you’re wondering how long you have to wait before applying another coat of gesso. The answer varies depending upon the circumstances, as described in detail below.

How long does it take gesso to dry? Gesso dries to the touch in 10-20 minutes depending on the humidity, temperature, and air currents. If you want to apply an additional coat of gesso, you only have to wait until it’s dry to the touch. Allow it to dry for at least 24 hours before painting on it with oils. If you’re using acrylics, then you can start painting as soon as it’s dry to the touch.

Factors That Affect How Long It Takes Gesso to Dry

There’s no exact time frame for how long it takes gesso to dry because it depends upon the weather conditions. Different indoor conditions and geographic locations will affect the drying times.


Every region has it’s own weather conditions. If you live in the desert where the humidity is low, the gesso will dry faster because the dry air allows the water to evaporate quicker. The Southern states in the US are known for having high levels of humidity so the gesso will dry slower in those areas.

However, most art studios are located indoors and the conditions are affected by heating and cooling systems. Air conditioning makes the air cooler but it also lowers the humidity. Working in an air conditioned studio will make gesso dry faster. Heating systems also lower the humidity levels and will decrease the drying times.


Gesso will dry faster in areas that are hotter because it makes the moisture evaporate at a faster rate. Cool locations will slow down the evaporation rate and cause slower drying times.


If you gesso your canvases outdoors the wind will make it dry faster. The wind can be a nuisance so avoid priming your canvases outdoors on days that are very windy.  If you want the gesso to dry faster then use a fan or hairdryer.

Indoor studios can also have their own air currents. Forced air heating systems work by blowing air through vents and so does air conditioning. These drafts will make the gesso dry faster. An open window can also provide some air flow that will help to speed up the drying times.

How Long Gesso Should Dry Between Coats

You can apply another coat of gesso as soon as the first coat is dry to the touch. The only problem you may encounter is that the first coat may lift if the previous layer isn’t entirely dry. This is usually not a problem though if you don’t apply it too thickly.

It’s when you apply thick layers of gesso that you may have to wait longer for it to dry. Acrylic paint typically dries from the outside in. Thick areas of gesso may be dry to the touch on the outside, but the inside may still be wet. If you disrupt the outer layer, it can peel back and create a small flaw in the surface.

How Long Gesso Should Dry Before Painting with Acrylics

The gesso only has to be dry to the touch before start painting on it with acrylics. The only problem you may have if the gesso is not entirely dry is that the gesso may start to lift as you’re working. You don’t want the gesso to lift when you start painting because it would tint your acrylics with white. If this isn’t a problem for you then you can start painting with acrylics immediately.

How Long Gesso Should Dry Before Painting with Oils

You should wait at least 24 hours before painting over gesso with oils. Ideally, you want to wait 48 hours to make sure there’s no moisture present.

Moisture causes adhesion problems when painting over it with oils. Oil and water don’t mix very well. In fact, lithography is a printing method that relies upon this fact. The printing plates are kept wet and the water prevents the ink from sticking to the non image areas. Any area that’s wet will completely resist the ink.

While your painting may not feel wet, the small amount of moisture that may be present in the gesso could affect the adhesion. If you touch the canvas with the back of your hand and it feels cool, then there’s definitely moisture present.

How Long Gesso Should Dry Before Drawing on It

Allow the gesso to dry completely before drawing on it with pencil or other dry drawing mediums. If there’s moisture present in the gesso, it won’t accept pencil marks very well.

There’s nothing wrong with drawing on it when it’s wet, I just find that it’s not a great surface for drawing. The pencil marks may look dull and light. Wet or moist canvas also feels soft when you draw on it, like drawing on a wet rag.

When gesso is completely dry, the rough surface is perfect for drawing with pencil or charcoal. The lines are dark and have crisp edges.

How to Dry Gesso Quickly

You can use a hairdryer to dry a layer of gesso. Move it around to dry the entire canvas at once.

To dry gesso quickly, use a hairdryer set to warm or hot. A hairdryer affects all of the variables that decreases the drying times. It increases the temperature, lowers the humidity, and provides a strong air current.

You’ll want to keep the hair dryer moving around to different parts of the canvas. This is especially true if you have it set to high heat. Hair dryers can reach high temperatures and you want to avoid scorching the canvas.

Another reason to move it around is that you want to dry the canvas evenly. You don’t want to dry a small section of a canvas while the rest of it is still wet because the canvas has a tendency to shrink as it dries.

If you don’t happen to have a hairdryer there are other ways to make gesso dry faster. Look for ways to increase the temperature, lower humidity, and increase the air flow.

In this photo I’m using a box fan to dry a coat of gesso.

You can set up a box fan so the air is blowing across the surface of the canvas. It’s not as fast as using a hair dryer but it doesn’t require your attention. This is a good method if you gesso a number of canvases at once. The fan can dry a canvas as you’re coating the next one.

Some artists like to gesso their canvases outdoors on a hot and sunny day. It should make the gesso dry faster but you have to watch out for debris from trees or other plants. If a small piece of dirt or debris lands on your painting, try and pick it off with a clean palette knife before it dries.

How Many Coats of Gesso Should I Apply?

The amount of gesso that you apply depends upon if you are going to paint with oils or acrylics. It also depends upon how much texture you prefer. If you prefer painting on smooth surfaces, then you probably want to apply at least three coats of gesso.


I would recommend applying at least three coats of gesso to your canvas if you’re painting with oils. Allow it to dry for 48 hours so there’s no moisture present. This will ensure proper adhesion of the oil paint to the canvas.

If you don’t want to wait that long then get into the habit of preparing a number of canvases in advance so you’ll always have a canvas that’s ready to go. Another option is to buy a canvas from the store. It’s probably been sitting around for weeks or even months since it was coated with gesso.

Gesso is more important for oil painting than it is with acrylics. The gesso provides a barrier between the canvas and the oil paint. If linseed oil is allowed to seep into the canvas, it will affect the longevity of the painting.

Over time, the oils will cause the canvas to break down. Look at the back of some of your oil paintings. If the canvas has yellow spots on the back of the canvas, then you’re not applying enough gesso.

Those yellow spots are the linseed oil from the oil paint. The linseed oil from the paint seeps through the gesso to the back of the canvas. This happens because you may have only applied one coat of gesso or perhaps the coats were too thin. If the canvas doesn’t have a tight weave, there may have been a few pinholes that weren’t plugged up by the gesso.


You can apply as many or as few coats as you want when painting with acrylics. There aren’t any oils in acrylic paint that can affect the longevity of the canvas.

It’s even possible to paint on canvas without using gesso but it’s not the best painting experience. So I would suggest applying at least one coat of gesso. It’s more dependent upon what kind of texture you want to paint on. Apply more coats if you like working on a smooth surface.

Final thoughts

Take the time to properly apply a few coats of gesso to the canvas before you start painting and allow it to dry thoroughly. Gesso provides a pure white surface to work on that readily accepts acrylic, oils, and drawing mediums. In the case of oils it also protects the canvas from deteriorating over time.

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  1. Melissa Wunstell says:

    Hi i applied gesso to a used canvas and it cracked because the second layer i put on was either too thick or too soon after the first layer….Can i save it?

    1. Chris Breier says:

      It’s difficult to say without seeing a photo of it. I have to assume that the old painting was acrylic. You probably already know this, you can’t use acrylic gesso over an oil painting.

      You said that you applied a thick layer of gesso. What you’re describing as cracks may possibly be what’s known as crazing. This is when the acrylic film shrinks as it dries and it tears apart. If this is the case, then the gesso may have enough adhesion to the acrylic painting beneath it. It’s possible to fill in the crevices with acrylic gel or molding paste, but it’s going to be difficult to create a smooth surface.

      There’s always the risk that the cracks may show through in the final painting. You lose the texture of the canvas when you paint over an old painting, and I find that the texture of the brushstrokes from the previous painting can be distracting.

      In my opinion, I would consider it a “sunk cost” and move on to a fresh canvas. The time and money that you spend fixing this could be spent on creating a new painting. It’s disappointing when a painting doesn’t turn out, but this happens to every artist. I hope this helps!

      Golden has an article about the difference between a crack and a craze:

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