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Medium Density Overlay

24 thoughts on “Medium Density Overlay”

    • Hello Steve,

      Medium Density Overlay and Medium Density Fiberboard are different products with similar abbreviations. MDO is an overlaid plywood panel, MDF (aka “Masonite”) is made from wood fibers. It should be possible, if they are not available in a store, to order MDO or Medium Density Fiberboard online from larger retailers like Lowes or Menards and pick them up at a store location. Check the websites for these stores and see if it is listed as available for pick up or delivery. A local retailer or lumber yard may also be able to order some in for you as well.

      If you have any additional questions you can contact us at help@goldenpaints.com

  1. Hello Scott,

    Could you please provide guidance on cradles for larger pieces of MDO? What width and overall dimensions would necessitate cradling? How would cradles be attached in a manner that would be considered archival as it relates to fine art pieces exclusively for interior spaces?

    Thank you

    • Hello Joe –

      Thank you for your question. Recently, in some of our conversations with conservators we have found that cradling is no longer seen as favorable or “archival”. The general feeling is that cradling may cause more issues than it may solve. Tension and a tendency to bend are still present in the wood, they are simply restrained and over time the wood may seek an avenue to relieve this tension. This could make its way to the surface of the plywood panel and manifest itself in the form of surface checking or cracking. It may even telegraph to the paint layers themselves. In the case of MDO and plywood in general, the cross laminated structure helps increase the dimensional stability of the panel, making it more resistant to warping, but the environment, even in an interior setting, is always a factor. What separates MDO plywood from some plywood offerings is the overlay and its phenolic resin coating, which may additionally help to reduce the risk of surface checking over time and increase the moisture resistance of the panel. We mention this upfront as a caution, since the recommendations around plywood continue to change as we learn more over time.

      If you wanted to cradle an MDO panel for aesthetic or practical considerations like hanging or framing, much depends upon the width of the panel itself. Thinner panels have a tendency to warp and if you are using anything below ¾” (18mm) thickness, it should be braced in order to keep the panel in plane. We generally recommend perimeter bracing for panels that are 12” (30cm) or more, regardless of thickness. If the panel is much larger than this, we recommend perimeter bracing and cross-bracing be applied every 12” (30cm). The use of plywood cradling strips, being more dimensionally stable than solid wood strips, may help to reduce the potential of warping over time as well. Depending upon the size of the panel, either 1×2” (5x10cm) or 1×4” (5x20cm) strips could be used for the cradles. We recommend lap joints for joining the cradling, which is created as a unit separate from the panel itself. The cradle should be glued together and to the panel using a professional grade wood glue.

      For more information these Just Paint articles may be helpful:
      Understanding Wood Supports for Art, a Brief History
      Plywood as a Substrate for Painting

  2. Hi Scott,
    Would MDO provide a good substrate for mounting linen? Do you have any resources you can point to for advice on mounting canvas or linen on panels?

    • Hello John,

      Being a rigid support with good dimensional stability, MDO would be a great substrate for mounting linen or canvas for painting. We typically recommend using Soft Gel as an adhesive that is applied to the face of the panel. You shouldn’t have to apply any product to the back of the linen or canvas as long as you put enough gel onto the panel surface. One way to assure an even, thick application onto the surface, is to use a notched trowel. Place the linen or canvas onto the surface, lightly smooth it out with your hands. Apply plastic sheeting on top and use something like a foam or nap roller to spread out from the middle any excess material or air bubbles. Once it looks consistently smooth, you can lay another large piece of MDO or hardboard over the plastic sheeting on the face and then weigh it down. This should be allowed to dry overnight. The next day, remove the wood and the plastic from the surface and then allow the linen to dry for another day before trying to trim the edge. We have a video that demonstrates adhering paper to panel, which is essentially this same process, but with paper. It may be helpful, here is the link: Adhering Watercolor Paper to Panel Using GOLDEN Soft Gel

      Please feel free to contact us at help@goldenpaints.com if you have further questions.

      – Scott Fischer

  3. Hi, I have been using braced plywood painting panels for a few years and so far found no problems. As a still life painter using both heavy and soft body acrylics, plywood gives me the perfect, smoothest painting surface. I buy these panels untreated giving them three thin coats of gesso,sanding between the second and final coat to achieve a very smooth finish but with enough tooth for painting.On completion of the paintings, I apply one or two isolation coats,then up to three coats of varnish. Really pleased with plywood as a substrate,no problems

    • Hello David,

      As a substrate, plywood has a lot of desirable qualities, many of which you highlighted in your comment. If you are finding a way to prepare plywood that works well for you and is smooth, then that is excellent, we are happy to hear you are finding success! We at GOLDEN really like Medium Density Overlay Plywood, because it has a resin coated paper overlay, which produces an exceptionally smooth surface that hides wood grain. The overlay also helps prevent the incidence of surface checking, which can occur as a result of fluctuations in the relative humidity of the environment. If you are able to maintain or control the humidity of your working or storage conditions, then surface checking should not be an issue for works done on plywood. When works are shipped for exhibition or relocated for any reason and there is a significant enough change in relative humidity, there can be a risk for the plywood to develop surface checking. We recently wrote an article on this phenomenon that can be found here:Surface Checking and Plywood, Is It a Concern?

      We hope this is helpful and if you have more questions, feel free to contact us at help@goldenpaints.com

    • Hello Charles,

      Sorry for the delay in response. Medium Density Overlay or MDO, is a form of plywood that comes with the paper overlay already attached to the surface. You could buy the MDO plywood in boards, some box hardware stores may have it in stock, but some have it available for order online for pick-up and a local hardware store might be able to order it in for you as well. We hope this answers your question. If you have additional questions about MDO you can email help@goldenpaints.com or call 800-959-6543 and we would be happy to help.


      Scott Fischer

    • Hello Kelsey, thank you for your question. The thing to keep in mind about MDO is that it has a resin impregnated paper overlay. So in the true sense of a stain, it would not soak directly into the wood. We have not tested staining the MDO specifically, we have tested it as a viable painting substrate for easel painting or for use with murals. What we can say is that it is receptive to acrylic paints, so it could take a stain with acrylics for example, if you wanted to alter the color a bit. We have not tested it with other traditional stains. We would recommend testing first to see if that could work for you. Here is a link to technical info on staining with acrylics:Woodstaining Objects

      In terms of sealing the MDO, for functional use, we would recommend finishing with something like a polyurethane to have a surface that can withstand repeated use and contact with objects. It already has a resin impregnated into the paper overlay which helps seal it from moisture, but it still might benefit from a more durable topcoat if this is a desk. Acrylics, if you were to stain with them, would not hold up as a functional topcoat on a desk for example. They are thermoplastic, if they were to get hot, they could become soft and sticky. A traditional stain may be more appropriate, but again we would recommend testing to be sure that would work for your application.

      We hope this helps, if you have more questions feel free to email us at help@goldenpaints.com we would be happy to discuss this further!

      Warm Regards,


  4. I have been commissioned to complete a series of 12’ x 24” murals in a historic district that requires panels on top of the original brick, I am looking for a place I can purchase primed 3/4” MDO in the Midwest. Any leads.

    • Hello Brant,

      Thank you for your question. To get the MDO you could inquire at a local hardware store and see if they have it. If not they may be able to order it in for you. As far as primed, some manufacturers will prime the MDO, you just want to make sure it is a paintable surface. A quick google search of pre-primed MDO or Sign Painters Board comes up with quite a few option. Just make sure you follow their recommendations and it may be worth checking with them about whether or not this is good for outdoors. There is also a link on APA Plywood page for finding manufacturers: https://www.apawood.org/manufacturer-directory. This may help you find who is producing the MDO and give you more info for you search. We hope this helps! Feel free to email us at help@goldenpaints.com if you have more questions.


    • Hello Andrew, you should be able to use deck screws through MDO. It has a craft paper over lay, but it is b/c plywood. The deck screws would be a good option for the exterior. Depending upon location, you might want to seal around the screw to prevent moisture from creeping into the wood through the screw hole. Let us know if you have more questions. Help@goldenpaints.com



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