Varnish for Painting – Types and Differences

Varnish for Painting - Types and Differences of Artists Varnish by Smart Art Materials

Today I want to tell you about the final coat for our artworks - Varnish for Painting. So what is Varnish and why do you even need to use it?

Varnish is hard when dry, transparent top layer that is applied to the dried painting to protect it 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 gift, sell or exhibit some of your artworks. The word "varnish" can also be used as a verb - "to varnish the painting". 

Different Types of Artist's Varnish Finishes

Varnish for Painting - Types and Differences of Artists Varnish by Smart Art MaterialsThere are three main types of varnish finishes: 
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 of Varnish For Painting

Varnish for Painting - Types and Differences of Artists Varnish by Smart Art MaterialsAcrylic resin varnish 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 some varnishes produced to be removable (check the properties on the package), and the painting can be re-varnished to look as good as new. If you use a removable one, most 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 gloss gel, diluted with water.

Different Application of Varnish

Finally, here we come to the application of Varnish. Generally, there are two ways to apply it onto a finished artwork - with a brush or with a spray. The first way is traditional - you just use your brush to apply varnish evenly onto a dried painting. This way is very popular, but it does require some skills and is more time-consuming. 

Varnish for Painting - Types and Differences of Artists Varnish by Smart Art MaterialsSpray Varnish for painting is a convenient modern time-saving alternative. When would you want to use it?  Well, pretty much any time, but this varnish works especially good for the textured paintings. The thing is that when the painting is textured, it can be really hard to varnish it evenly. In this case, spray varnish comes to the rescue. It covers everything evenly, it's easy to use, it doesn't require any special skills and you don't need to use a brush. So it definitely has a lot of benefits. and this can be your varnish choice for any artwork. I do recommend spray varnish for beginners.

Ensure the Longevity of your Artwork

Are you ready to hang your acrylic paintings on the wall? Do you want it to look more professional and to stay looking its best? Then adding the right varnish in the right way will be a sound investment! So don't hesitate and give it a try! If you don't know what brand to go with, I highly recommend you to read this review of one of my favorite varnishes. You are welcome to leave a comment if you have any question about the Varnish for Painting.

Best of luck,


8 thoughts on “Varnish for Painting – Types and Differences

  1. thecraftzoom says:

    My husband is an artist, and he never varnishes his paintings! I am going to tell him about your article, as I do believe in the preservation of a good painting. I like you way you have explained what each type of varnish does, and what they do to the colours on the paintings. Really easy to understand and read. Thank you.

    • Olga says:

      Hi there,
      You are welcome 🙂 I’m sure your husband will love the result once he tries to varnish his artworks! Let me know if you are going to have any question.

  2. jeffrey16201 says:

    Amazing article post on using varnish for painting, I never thought there was so much I could learn about varnish in one article post.

    How did artists ever start using varnish on their paintings, how difficult is the technique to learn for a first timer to do?

    Do you recommend any specific type of varnish to be easier for a beginner to use?

    • Olga says:

      Hi Jeffrey, I’m glad you liked this article 🙂

      I actually have no idea when did artists start to use varnish, this is a very good question! Whoever came up with this idea was absolutely brilliant! 

      And what about the specific type of varnish, check out this article… this is the review of one of my favorite varnishes. Varnishing itself is not very complicated, but definitely gets some practice to get used to. 😉

  3. CJ508 says:

    This was a very informative article. I didn’t realize that varnishing a painting was such an important step in preserving them.

    I have several paintings that I have picked up from local artists in my areas that I know are not varnished. Would it be advisable to apply varnish to the painting now after the fact to aid in preserving them? If that is not a good option is there another way that I could go about preserving the paintings?

    Thanks for your help in advance!

    • Olga says:

      Hi there! Thanks for stopping by and for such a good question! Yes, you can definitely varnish your painting afterward, but you need to make sure:

      1. painting is completely dry, no water/moisture at all. otherwise, varnish will not adhere.
      2. painting is dust/dirt free. Clean it with dust clean brush before varnishing, otherwise, you will lock all the small particles in the varnish for ages to come! 
      Good luck and let me know if you have any other question 🙂

  4. Jerry says:

    Hi Olga! Interesting review of varnish for paintings. I wonder, when it protects the paint, it would be easy to clean now and then, with water and soap? Then you would not have to remove it. I sure like the spraying option though, it sounds so much easier to use! 

    • Olga says:

      Hi Jerry, thanks for checking out this article and for your question! Varnish protects the painting very well, especially if it’s a good quality varnish, however, I would not recommend you to wash painting with water and soap – just a wet cloth would be more them enough. If you will maintain the painting clean from the dust and away from high level of moisture, you don’t need to worry about removable varnish. 

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