How to Apply Varnish for Acrylic Paintings to Protect Your Artwork

Acrylic Paint

As an acrylic artist, you know the importance of preserving and enhancing your masterpiece. This is where varnish for acrylic paintings becomes your trusted ally. 

As an artist, I know how important it is to protect my acrylic paintings from damage over time. One of the best ways to do this is by applying a varnish. Varnish is a clear, transparent protective coat that can be applied to a finished and completely dried painting to form a hard, clear, shiny surface when dry.

When it comes to varnishing an acrylic painting, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it's important to make sure that the painting is completely dry before applying the varnish. If there is any wet paint left on the canvas, the varnish will mix with it and create streaks. Additionally, it's important to choose the right type of varnish for your painting. Some varnishes are better suited for certain types of acrylic paints or surfaces, so it's important to do your research before making a decision.

Overall, varnishing your acrylic painting is a great way to protect it from damage and keep it looking great for years to come. By taking the time to choose the right varnish and applying it correctly, you can ensure that your painting will be able to withstand the test of time and continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

What is Varnish for Acrylic Paintings?

As an artist, I have found that varnishing an acrylic painting is an essential step in the painting process. Varnish is a clear, transparent protective coating that is applied to the surface of a painting to protect it from dust, UV rays, and yellowing. It also adds a layer of shine that enhances the vibrancy of the colors and pulls the whole painting together.

Acrylic varnish is made up of acrylic polymer emulsions that create a strong protective satin or matte finish. It is the perfect choice for most paintings as it is largely available and easy to apply. However, traditional oil varnishes are great for oil paints but are not suitable for acrylic paints.

When selecting a varnish, it is important to consider the finish you want. Varnishes come in gloss, satin, or matte finish. Gloss varnish provides a high shine and vivid color, while a matte finish provides a more subdued, natural look. Satin finish is somewhere in between the two, providing a subtle sheen that is not too shiny or dull.

It is important to note that varnishing should only be done on a completely dried painting, which usually takes about 24 hours. Applying varnish to a painting that has not fully dried can cause the paint to crack or peel.

Types of Varnish for Acrylic Paintings

When it comes to varnishing acrylic paintings, there are two main types of varnish to choose from: spray varnish and brush-on varnish. Both have their pros and cons, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of your painting.

Spray Varnish

Spray varnish is a quick and easy way to apply varnish to your acrylic painting. It comes in an aerosol can and is applied by spraying a fine mist over the surface of the painting. Here are some pros and cons of using spray varnish:

Quick and easy to applyDifficult to control the amount of varnish applied
Provides an even, smooth finishCan be difficult to achieve a matte finish
Dries quicklyCan be expensive

Brush-On Varnish

Brush-on varnish is applied using a brush, similar to how you would apply paint to a canvas. It comes in a liquid form and can be applied in thin, even coats. Here are some pros and cons of using brush-on varnish:

Allows for more control over the amount of varnish appliedCan be difficult to achieve an even finish
Can be used to create a variety of finishes, including matte, satin, and glossTakes longer to dry than spray varnish
Can be less expensive than spray varnishMay leave brush marks on the painting

Ultimately, the type of varnish you choose to use on your acrylic painting will depend on your personal preference and the specific needs of your painting. Both spray varnish and brush-on varnish can provide a beautiful, protective finish for your artwork.

For a more comprehensive guide on best acrylic varnishes for acrylic paintings, check out this other post that goes into more details on how to choose the very best one and step-by-step instructions with videos on how to apply it: Best Varnish for Acrylic Paintings and How to Apply It.

How to Apply Varnish on Acrylic Paintings

Paints Varnishes - varnish for acrylic paintings

Preparing the Painting Surface to Varnish for Acrylic Paintings

Before applying varnish on an acrylic painting, it is important to ensure that the painting surface is clean and dry. Any dust or dirt on the surface can be removed with a soft, lint-free cloth. If there are any stains or marks on the surface, they should be removed with a mild soap solution and then wiped dry with a cloth. It is important to wait until the painting is completely dry before applying varnish, which usually takes around 24 hours.

Another thing I ALWAYS recommend to my students before applying a liquid varnish is to add an isolation coat. This will prevent your dried paint from cracking when you put the layer of liquid varnish on top. Just apply a coat of spray varnish on your painting (let it dry) before adding a coat of liquid varnish.

Applying the Varnish

There are different types of varnish available for acrylic paintings, including gloss, matte, and satin. The choice of varnish depends on the desired finish of the painting. Here are the steps to apply varnish on an acrylic painting:

  1. Choose the type of varnish that you want to use.
  2. Stir the varnish gently to avoid creating bubbles.
  3. Apply the varnish in thin, even coats using a soft-bristled brush or a spray gun. It is important to avoid over-brushing or over-spraying, as this can cause the varnish to become cloudy or streaky.
  4. Allow each coat of varnish to dry completely before applying the next coat. This usually takes around 24 hours.
  5. If you want to apply multiple coats of varnish, repeat steps 2-4 until you achieve the desired finish.

It is important to note that varnish can change the appearance of an acrylic painting, so it is recommended to test the varnish on a small, inconspicuous area of the painting before applying it to the entire surface.


After researching and testing various varnishes for acrylic paintings, I can confidently say that adding a protective layer of varnish is a crucial step in the painting process. Not only does it protect the painting from dust, UV rays, and yellowing, but it also enhances the colors and overall appearance of the painting.

When selecting a varnish, it's important to consider the finish you desire, whether it's glossy, satin, or matte. It's also important to choose a varnish that is compatible with acrylic paints and won't cause any damage or discoloration over time.

Some of the best varnishes for acrylic paintings include Sargent Art 16 Acrylic Gloss and Varnish, Liquitex Professional Gloss Varnish, Tri Art Liquid Glass, Krylon UV Resistant, and Golden Polymer Varnish with UVLS. These varnishes provide a strong protective layer and enhance the colors of the painting without causing any damage or discoloration.

Overall, adding a layer of varnish to your acrylic painting is a simple and effective way to protect and enhance your artwork. By selecting the right varnish and applying it properly, you can ensure that your painting will look its best for years to come.

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