varnishAcrylic paints dry hard and waterproof and are much more durable than, for example, oils. Then why use varnish? 

Varnish protects the painting from dirt, dust, ultraviolet rays, humidity, and scuffing. More, it can also give your painting a certain aesthetic appeal by evening out the painting’s final appearance, making it all equally glossy or matt, and enhancing the vibrancy of the colors . This step is convenient when you are planning to sell or maybe exhibit  some of your artworks. 

Do you want your finished acrylic painting to stay looking its best? Then adding the right varnish in the right way will be a sound investment!

Types of Varnish

Varnish SmartThere are three main types of varnish: 

Gloss varnish will really bring out the colors in a painting. It revives dull colors and makes the surface glossy and shiny ==>

Satin will give you something in between glossy and matte. To achieve satin, semi-gloss finish, you can also mix gloss and matte varnish.  ==>

Matte  will give a nonreflective finish and tone down, particularly glaring color scheme.  It will actually lighten darker colors. Satin and matte varnishes will also soften the colors.   ==>

With some practice and experimentation, you’ll discover what you prefer.

Two different formulations

Acrylic resin varnish supposedly creates a better high gloss finish. In general, acrylic resin varnishes are glossier, stronger and clearer than  polymer ones. However, the downside of resin is that it’s toxic if inhaled, so you will need to apply the varnish in a well-ventilated area. To thin this varnish and to clean your brushes afterward, you’ll need to use mineral spirits.

Acrylic polymer varnish  is non-toxic and can be diluted with water. This means you don’t need any smelly chemicals to clean-up, and you can wash your brush with regular soap and water when you are finished. If you plan to use a satin or matte varnish, then an isolation coat would be an asset.

Removable Varnish

Over the years dirt and dust will stick to the varnish. Which is why most varnishes are removable, and the painting can be re-varnished to look as good as new. Art conservationists say that it’s preferable to have the removability option, in case the varnish somehow yellows or something needs to be cleaned. It’s important to keep the longevity of the artwork in mind.

Not every varnish is removable. Always check the properties on the package. If you use a removable one, some manufacturers recommend you apply an “isolation coat” before you varnish the painting. The isolation coat acts as a barrier between your painting and the varnish, protecting your painting from the chemicals that remove the varnish. 

For an isolation coat, you can get a ready-made isolation liquid or use an acrylic gel medium or gel gloss, diluted with water. Make sure to allow at least 24 hours  for the isolation coat to completely dry before applying your varnish.  

How to Varnish

Whichever type you buy, you should always follow the instructions on the container because some varnishes (like polymer ones) need to be diluted with water, and drying time varies from brand to brand. 

Step-by-step recommendationsvarnishing:

  1. varnish-smart-1Wait until your painting is completely dry.
  2. Choose a dust free area to work in, keeping windows and doors closed. Also make sure that the surface is free from dust, dirt, or lint.
  3. Use a flat wide, soft, tightly packed varnishing brush, keep it clean and dust free, and use it only for varnishing. It’s an important process that you don’t want to mess up by accidentally mixing paint in with the varnish. 
  4. Stir the varnish well and pour it into a clean flat saucer or tin (give it a quick rinse before use to wash out the dust particles) and load your brush. Wipe it on the side of the saucer so it is not dripping. The jar you use has to be allocated exclusively for varnish. Never use old paint jars.
  5. Keep the painting  flat on a table or work surface – avoid working vertically. Also, keep you painting flat and undisturbed for a few hours while the varnish dries.
  6. Keep in mind. that there is a chance that any excess varnish might drip down the side of the painting, so always lay something down to protect the surface underneath, for example wooden.
  7. Apply the varnish in 1 to 3 thin coats rather than one thick coat.
  8. Use long even strokes from top to bottom while moving from one side to the other, and remove any bubbles. Move the brush in the same direction each time. Start at one corner and work your way across the whole painting in a parallel fashion.
  9. Once you leave an area, avoid going back over areas that you have done. For those areas that you have missed, simply allow to dry completely and re-varnish.
  10. After finishing a layer, look at the surface of the painting from an angle. If you see any dust or other debris that may have fallen into the varnish, gently and carefully pull it out using something small and pointed. 
  11. Leave to dry for up to 24 hours (drying time is indicated on the package) and if a second coat is required, apply at right angles to the first.
  12. When you finished varnishing, carefully and thoroughly clean the jar and the brush

Lastly… for Varnish Beginners

If you have never varnished before, or you are trying a new type of varnish for the first time, always do a test application first on a small piece of painted canvas pad to make sure you like the final result. For example, when you are painting, instead of using a paper or napkin to wipe off extra paint, do it on some cheap canvas pad. Then you can apply varnish on this pad and see how it’s going to look.

Varnishing protects your painting from dust and dirt, and brings it to a more professional look. So don’t hesitate and give it a try! You are welcome to leave a comment if you have any question about this article.

Best of luck,