Best Varnish for Acrylic Paintings: A Guide to Protecting Your Artwork

If you're an acrylic painter, you know that varnish is an essential component of your painting process. Varnish can protect your painting from dust, UV rays, and other environmental factors, as well as enhance the color and texture of your work. However, choosing the right varnish for your acrylic painting can be a daunting task.

There are many different types of varnish available, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Some varnishes are glossy, while others are matte. Some dry quickly, while others take longer to dry. Some are removable, while others are permanent. Therefore, the best varnish for acrylic paintings will depend on personal preference, the look that is wanted to achieve, and the intended use of the painting.

In this article, we'll explore the different types of varnish available for acrylic paintings and provide you with tips on how to choose the best varnish for your painting. We'll also discuss how to apply varnish to your painting and provide you with some best practices to ensure that your painting is protected and looks its best for years to come.

What is Varnish for Acrylic Paintings?

When it comes to acrylic paintings, varnish is an essential protective layer that helps to preserve the artwork and enhance its appearance. Varnish is a clear, glossy or matte finish that is applied over a dry acrylic painting to protect it from dust, dirt, and UV light.

Applying varnish to your acrylic painting can also enhance its aesthetic appeal. Varnish can make colors appear more vibrant and can add depth and dimension to the artwork. It can also provide a uniform finish to the painting, making it look more professional.

There are different types of varnishes available in the market, but it's important to choose the right one for your acrylic painting. You should use varnish that is specifically formulated for acrylic paint. Using varnish for oil paint on an acrylic painting can cause it to crack over time so pay special attention to the varnish that you pick.

Acrylic varnishes come in different finishes, including gloss, matte, and satin. Gloss varnish will give your painting a high-shine finish, while matte varnish will give it a flat, non-reflective finish. Satin varnish gives a mid-sheen finish, in between the matte and gloss varnish finishes.

When choosing a varnish for your acrylic painting, it's important to consider factors such as the type of painting surface, the desired level of glossiness, and the environmental conditions in which the painting will be displayed. Some varnishes may be more suitable for certain types of surfaces or environments, so it's important to do your research before making a purchase.

Overall, varnish is an important component of acrylic painting maintenance that can help to protect and enhance your artwork for years to come.

Why Use Varnish on Acrylic Paintings?

As an artist, I always use varnish or some sort of top coat on my acrylic paintings. It is an essential final step that enhances the painting's colors and protects it from dust, dirt, and UV light. Here are some reasons why I use varnish on my acrylic paintings:

Protecting the Painting from Dust and Dirt

Acrylic paintings can easily attract dust and dirt, which can ruin the painting's appearance. Varnish creates a protective layer that prevents dust and dirt from settling on the painting's surface. It also makes the painting easier to clean, as you can wipe the varnish layer without damaging the painting. 

Enhancing the Colors and Gloss of the Painting

Varnish enhances the richness of the colors and glossiness of the painting, making it look more vibrant and alive. It can also create different finishes, such as glossy, matte, or satin, depending on the type of varnish used. Glossy varnish makes the colors pop and adds depth to the painting, while matte varnish creates a soft, velvety finish.

By applying varnish, you can help ensure that your paintings remain beautiful and vibrant for years to come.

Providing a Protective Layer against UV Light

UV light can damage the pigments in the painting, causing it to fade over time. UV-Resistant Varnish contains UV inhibitors that protect the painting from harmful UV rays.

It also prevents the painting from yellowing, cracking, or peeling due to exposure to sunlight. This is particularly important if you plan to display your painting in a sunny room or near a window.

Types of Varnish for Acrylic Paintings

There are various types of varnish available, each with its own unique properties. In this section, we will discuss the different types of varnish for acrylic paintings.

Spray Varnish

Spray varnish is a popular choice for artists who want a quick and easy way to apply varnish. Spray varnish is available in both gloss and matte finishes. It is easy to apply, dries quickly, and produces a uniform finish. However, spray varnish can be difficult to control, and it may be challenging to apply the varnish evenly. Additionally, spray varnish can be toxic, so it is essential to use it in a well-ventilated area.

Brush-On Varnish

Brush-on varnish is another popular option for artists. It is available in gloss, satin, and matte finishes and can be applied with a brush, which gives the artist more control over the application.

Brush-on varnish can be applied in thin layers, which allows the artist to build up the finish gradually. However, brush-on varnish can be time-consuming to apply, and it may be challenging to achieve a uniform finish without brush strokes. 

Gloss Varnish

Gloss varnish is a popular choice for artists who want to enhance the vibrancy and depth of their colors. It gives a shiny, reflective finish that can make your paintings look more vibrant and alive. Gloss varnish is perfect for paintings with bold colors and high contrast.

However, glossy varnish can be reflective, which can make it difficult to view the painting from certain angles or under certain lighting conditions.

Matte Varnish

Matte varnish is a great option for artists who want to reduce the glare and shine on their paintings. It gives a flat, non-reflective finish that can make your paintings look more subtle and subdued. Matte varnish is perfect for paintings with softer colors and more delicate details.

However, matte varnish may not be as durable as glossy varnish, and it may require more frequent reapplication.

Satin Varnish

Satin varnish is a good compromise between gloss and matte varnish. It gives a mid-sheen finish that is not too shiny or too flat. Satin varnish can enhance the colors of your painting without making them too vibrant or overwhelming. It is a versatile option that can work well for a variety of painting styles.

The Best Varnishes

When choosing a varnish for your acrylic painting, it is important to consider the type of finish you want, as well as the durability and protection you need. Some varnishes are removable, while others are permanent. Some are water-based, while others are solvent-based. It is important to choose a varnish that is compatible with your painting and that will provide the protection and finish you desire.

Some of the best varnishes for acrylic paintings include Sargent Art Acrylic Gloss and VarnishLiquitex Professional Gloss VarnishTri Art Liquid GlassKrylon UV ResistantGolden Varnish with UVLS, Total Boat Halcyon Polyurethane varnish, Rust-Oleum Universal Topcoat, Aleene's Acrylic Sealer, Timeless Archival Print Varnish in matte finish, and Timeless Archival Print Varnish in satin finish, and Timeless Archival Print Varnish in gloss finish.

These varnishes provide a strong protective layer and enhance the colors of the painting without causing any damage or discoloration.

In conclusion, the type of varnish you choose for your acrylic paintings will depend on your personal preferences and the needs of your artwork. Whether you choose spray varnish, brush-on varnish, glossy varnish, satin varnish, or matte varnish, make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and use the varnish in a well-ventilated area.

How to Apply Varnish on Acrylic Paintings

Now let's talk about how to properly apply the chosen varnish on your acrylic painting to ensure you get flawless results.

Preparing Your Painting Surface

Before applying varnish on your acrylic painting, it is important to ensure that the paint is completely dry. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the thickness of the paint and the humidity in the environment.

Once the paint is dry, clean the surface of the painting with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove any dust or debris. 

If the painting has been stored for a long time, I wipe it with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or grime.

Choosing the Right Brush or Applicator

To apply varnish, you can choose a soft-bristled brush, a foam applicator, a piece of cotton t-shirt, or a sponge. Make sure that the brush or applicator is clean and free from any dirt or debris. Down below I share some videos with you that show different varnishing methods that some of the best Youtube artists use. Choose the one that works best for you and use the brush or applicator that is suitable for that varnishing method.

Applying the Varnish in Thin Layers

To apply varnish, I pour a small amount of varnish on a clean container and dip the brush or applicator into it. I apply the varnish in thin layers, starting from one corner of the painting and moving towards the other corner. I make sure that I apply the varnish evenly, without leaving any streaks or bubbles.

In general, follow these steps to apply liquid varnish on your acrylic painting:

  1. Choose a well-ventilated area and protect your work surface with a drop cloth or newspaper.
  2. Shake the varnish container well to ensure that the contents are mixed properly.
  3. Using a clean, soft brush, apply a thin layer of varnish on the painting in long, even strokes. Avoid overworking the varnish to prevent bubbles and streaks.
  4. Allow the varnish to dry completely before applying another coat. The drying time may vary depending on the type and brand of varnish, so refer to the label for instructions.
  5. Repeat the process of applying thin, even coats of varnish until you achieve the desired level of protection and finish.

Remember to clean your brush with soap and water immediately after use, and store the varnish container tightly closed in a cool, dry place.

By following these simple steps, you can protect and enhance your acrylic painting with varnish, giving it a professional and long-lasting finish.

Other times, when I need a quick coat of varnish, I prefer to just apply spray varnish since it is easy to apply and it dries fast.

Watch the video down below to learn how Rinske Douna applies spray varnish and liquid varnish with a brush on her paintings.

And sometimes I prefer to simply pour the varnish onto my painting surface and tilt the canvas until the surface is completely and evenly covered with varnish, just like Julie from "Pouring Your Heart Out" Youtube Channel shows in the video down below.

Down below you'll find several other methods for varnishing acrylic paintings. Learn from some of the best artists on Youtube like Molly from Molly's Artistry, Left Brained Artist, Art by StudioTen, and Heather Mader Art.

Choose the method that works best for you!

Allowing the Varnish to Dry and Cure

After applying the first layer of varnish, let it dry for at least 24 hours before applying the next layer (unless you are using a spray varnish). Then repeat the process of applying thin layers of varnish and letting them dry until you achieve the desired level of glossiness. If using a spray varnish, you can just let it dry for a couple of hours (or whatever is indicated on the spray can) before repeating the process of adding thin layers of varnish and letting them dry.

Make sure that you allow the varnish to dry and cure completely before framing or storing the painting.

By following these steps, you will ensure that your acrylic paintings are protected and enhanced with a glossy finish.

Tips for Using Varnish on Your Acrylic Paintings

When it comes to preserving your acrylic paintings, applying varnish is a crucial step. However, it's important to use the right technique to ensure that your artwork looks its best for years to come. Here are some tips for using varnish on your acrylic paintings:

Test the Varnish on a Small Area First

Before applying varnish to your entire painting, it's a good idea to test it on a small area first. This will help you determine how the varnish will react with your painting and ensure that you're happy with the final result. Apply a small amount of varnish to an inconspicuous area of your painting and let it dry completely. If you're happy with the result, you can proceed with varnishing the entire painting.

Apply Thin Layers of Varnish

When applying varnish to your painting, it's important to apply thin layers. Thick layers can result in a cloudy or uneven finish, which can detract from the overall appearance of your artwork. 

Avoid Overbrushing

Overbrushing can cause streaks and unevenness in your varnish, so it's important to avoid this. Instead, use long, even strokes to apply the varnish to your painting. If you need to smooth out any areas, use a clean, dry brush to lightly blend the varnish. Be sure to avoid overbrushing, which can also result in an uneven finish.

Allow the Varnish to Dry Completely

After applying varnish to your painting, it's important to allow it to dry completely before handling or framing your artwork. This can take several hours or even a few days, depending on the type of varnish you're using and the humidity in your environment. Be patient and avoid touching the varnish until it's completely dry.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your acrylic paintings are properly varnished and protected for years to come.

Conclusion

In conclusion, varnishing an acrylic painting is an essential step in the painting process. It protects the painting from dust, UV rays, and yellowing, and adds a layer of shine that enhances the colors of the painting.

When choosing a varnish, it is important to consider the type of finish you want,  as well as the level of protection you need. Gloss varnishes tend to provide more protection, while matte varnishes can be more subtle and less reflective.

It is also important to choose a varnish that is compatible with acrylic paints.

When applying the varnish, it is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions and wait until the painting is completely dry before applying. Applying varnish too early can cause the paint to crack or peel.

It is also important to apply the varnish in a well-ventilated area and use a soft-bristled brush or spray evenly.

Overall, varnishing your acrylic painting can be a great way to protect and enhance your artwork. By choosing the best varnish for your acrylic paintings and following the proper application techniques, you can ensure that your painting will look its best for years to come.

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