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How To Varnish An Acrylic Painting

How To Varnish An Acrylic Painting

A good acrylic painting is all about that perfect and luxuriously colorful acrylic paint finish to create a powerful impact on viewers. 

However, if the finish on your acrylic painting looks uneven, it won’t attract viewers or garner positive reviews. That’s why you have varnishes to add that extra professional touch to your painting and make it shine. 

Varnishing can help in increasing the vibrancy and depth of acrylic paintings and help achieve a glossy sheen, making your painting instantly more attractive. But the question that might be running through your head is – how to varnish an acrylic painting? 

There’s no one way to varnish an acrylic painting because different artists prefer using different techniques. And today, we’re here to talk about varnishing acrylic paintings using various techniques and varnishes. 

So, without further ado, let’s get our canvasses ready! 

How To Varnish An Acrylic Painting

How To Varnish An Acrylic Painting

What Is A Varnish?

First, let’s learn what acrylic paint is for and its downsides. Acrylic paintings are not equipped to withstand external elements on their own without proper protection. Varnish acts as an additional protective layer to shield your painting from dirt and debris to avoid fading or dulling over time. It must be colorless, transparent, and bond well with your acrylic paints without causing any chemical reactions. 

Other than this, the varnish layer needs to be removable so that you can strip it off if needed without ruining the color of your painting. Varnishes are essentially a resin solution containing a chemically inert solvent that won’t damage the acrylic paint. 

You can apply the varnish layer once your painting is completely dry, but make sure to apply only an acrylic varnish for an acrylic painting. Do not use varnishes for oil paintings for acrylic paintings and vice versa because the chemical composition of different varnishes varies significantly. 

Usually, acrylic paints take around 24 hours to dry completely, and it’s best to add the protective varnish layer after a day or so. However, if your painting dries early, you can easily apply the varnish layer before the 24-hour mark. 

What Are The Different Types Of Varnish?

There are mainly three types of varnishes that you can use. In this section, we’ll discuss the qualities and characters of these varnishes, so let’s dig in! 

1. Matte Varnish

Light saturation and color contrasts play a vital role in making any painting stand out in the crowd. Matte varnish plays with the color contrasts and brightness of your painting by managing its darkest layers. 

A matte varnish contains solid matting agents in the varnish layer that scatter light at the painting surface. You can avoid light reflection and showcase the soft colors of your painting much more prominently. 

On the downside, without the high-sheen finish, your painting might look a bit dull and hazy if you choose to use this varnish. 

2. Gloss Varnish

When it comes to gloss varnishes, Dammar varnish is the most popular among artists because of its high-gloss finish. Even though the traditional Dammar varnish often turns yellow and darkens over time, it’s much more efficient in protecting the color of your paintings compared to modern acrylic resin varnishes. 

Gloss varnishes, like Liquitex gloss varnish, reflect light on the painting surface due to their high-sheen finish, instantly attracting viewers and increasing the value of your painting. Moreover, they are excellent for highlighting darker values and enhancing the vibrancy and color saturation of paintings. 

But, if you are working with a glossy varnish, you need to be careful about the lighting because of its light-reflecting quality. Your painting might reflect too much light and lose its depth of color. We would suggest considering the lighting of the room before deciding to apply a gloss varnish to your paintings. 

3. Satin Varnish

If you want to create the perfect mid-sheen finish for your painting, the satin varnish is an ideal choice. It will help you achieve a finish somewhere between gloss and matte without being too dull or vibrant. 

You get to play with both gloss and matte finish if you choose a satin varnish. It will help you bring out the depths of colors in your painting, just like a matte varnish. At the same time, it’ll also provide a luxurious sheen to the painting like a gloss varnish. 

We found that it creates the perfect balance between the dark and light values of your painting that can have a powerful and unique impact on viewers. 

What Are The Necessary Varnishing Supplies?

Now that you know about different types of varnishes, it’s time to learn about the basic supplies you’ll need to varnish your painting. First and foremost, you’ll need a varnishing brush to apply the varnish layer to the dried acrylic paint. A large, flat brush works best for varnishing because it helps cover the entire painting in a few brush strokes. 

You can choose an old, worn-out brush or buy a new one from the store for varnishing purposes. Also, make sure it has soft bristles that won’t come off while varnishing the finished painting. Keep this brush separate from your regular paint brushes to avoid contamination and mixing of paints or varnishes. 

Other than this, you’ll need some distilled water, a jar to mix the varnish, and some paper towels or old rags to avoid creating a mess. A palette knife can come in handy for stirring the varnish, and also place some plastic bags below your painting to protect the floor.

How To Varnish An Acrylic Painting

Why Does Your Acrylic Painting Need A Varnish?

Before we go into the details of different varnishing techniques, you need to know why acrylic paintings need varnishing. As the acrylic paints dry, the acrylic polymer binders join together, forming a mass that offers a soft texture to your painting. 

These acrylic polymers leave small micropores that gather dust over time, causing the paints to fade. Applying a polymer varnish protects and covers the painting, helping it withstand humidity and temperature differences while providing adequate UV protection. It also becomes easier to clean a varnished painting instead of struggling to remove dust particles deposited within the paint layers. 

Make sure to apply a removable varnish layer so that it can remove all the dirt and dust if you ever need to replace it with a new coat of varnish. In that way, you can simply change the varnish layer without disturbing or damaging the acrylic paint. And to do that, you need to apply an isolation coat before working with acrylic varnishes. 

What Is An Isolation Coat?

A transparent layer of isolation coat is applied that physically separates the underlying acrylic layer from the varnish for easy varnish removal. If you use a solvent-based varnish, the isolation coat will stop the varnish from reaching the paints, thereby preventing damage to your painting. 

The golden soft gel gloss is an ideal example of an isolation coat. Once you thin it down with water, it offers adequate foam release to protect your painting. It simply sits on top of the paint surface, acting as a barrier between the varnish and the paint layer without disturbing the paint. 

Moreover, applying an isolation coat is essential if you choose to do a matte varnish over an absorbent surface to avoid making the painting frosted or cloudy. The frosted appearance occurs when the varnish and solvent get absorbed into the substrate, but the matting agent rests on the surface, looking like a white solid mass. 

How To Prepare Your Acrylic Painting For Varnishing?

Before varnishing the painting, you need to consider a few things to protect the painting. Firstly, make sure that the painting is dry before you even think of applying the varnish to avoid any smudging of colors. Next, gently wipe the canvas surface to remove any dust or debris that can ruin the varnishing process. 

We recommend placing your painting on a flat and even surface like a workbench or table. By laying the painting on a flat surface, you can ensure that no drips of varnish appear on the painting. Start by pouring a small amount of varnish in thin layers over your painting; otherwise, the varnish might accumulate in different areas, making the painting look uneven. 

If you’re using spray varnishes, make sure to maintain a distance of 6 to 12 inches from your artwork while applying the varnish. Pick a side of the painting for spraying the varnish and gently spread it over the entire surface as evenly as possible. 

How To Apply Varnish With A Brush?

We’ve covered the basics of varnishes, and it’s time to look into some popular varnishing techniques. Depending on the requirements of their paintings and their preferences, artists can choose different techniques for varnishing. 

Some prefer to apply liquid varnish using a brush, while others are more comfortable using a spray varnish. In this section, we’ve discussed the technique of applying natural varnishes with a brush in a few easy steps. 

Step 1: Apply Isolation Coat

If you want to make the varnish easily removable, apply an isolation coat to your painting. Even though applying the isolation layer is optional, it helps protect the paint if you ever need to replace the varnish. 

Step 2: Clean The Painting

Wipe off the surface using a lint-free cloth to remove dirt or dust particles. Also, make sure that the painting is dry and clean to avoid any contamination or smudging when applying the varnish. 

Step 3: Place The Painting

After you’ve cleaned the painting, it’s time to place it horizontally on a flat and even surface in a dust-free room. Raise the sides of the canvas using a small wooden piece to keep the painting slightly elevated from the surface. In this way, it’ll become easier to varnish the sides of your canvas. 

Step 4: Get Your Varnish Supplies

Once your painting is all set and cleaned, gather your varnishing supplies. Get a clean and flat brush, a container for mixing, and a stick or palette knife for stirring the varnish. Be careful to avoid stirring or shaking the varnish too much while mixing it because that can create bubbles or foam. 

Step 5: Start Varnishing

Dip your clean brush in the varnish and carefully apply it from one side of the canvas to the other in long and even strokes. It’s best to apply a first thin coat of the varnish so that it doesn’t pool in different areas, as that will make your painting look dull and clouded. 

Remember to check your work from time to time to avoid missing any areas. Once the first coat is completely dry, you can apply a second coat for better results. It’s best to apply the first thin coat horizontally and the second coat vertically to cover the entire painting without missing any spots. 

Step 6: Safely Store The Painting

After you’ve completed varnishing the painting, let it rest so that the wet surface can dry properly without any disturbance. To create an even varnish finish, you need to keep your painting in a fixed position for one to two hours. So, leave the painting as it is and try not to move it. 

How Can You Apply A Spray Varnish?

Artists usually apply high-quality spray varnishes, like the Grumbacher spray varnish, to avoid the pooling of varnish in different areas. If your painting has an impasto surface, a liquid varnish can easily accumulate in small nooks and corners; hence it’s best to use a spray varnish under these circumstances. 

Step 1: Basic Preparations

The basic preparation steps are the same for both spray and liquid varnishes. You need to clean the painting and make sure it’s dry before applying any varnish. However, it’s best to place the painting vertically while applying a spray varnish to avoid being heavy-handed with the varnish. 

Step 2: Shake It Well Before Spraying

When it’s time to spray the varnish on your painting, read the instructions on the spray can carefully. Then, shake the can for around two minutes, and spray away. Always make sure to shake it well from time to time while applying the layers to create an even finish. 

Step 3: Maintain The Distance

While applying the spray varnish, maintain a distance of around 30 cm or 6 to 12 inches from the canvas to achieve the perfect finish. Even though it’s a natural tendency to get closer to the canvas as you spray, be mindful about maintaining this distance. 

Step 4: Pick A Side

Start spraying from one side of the canvas and spread it evenly throughout the surface. You can pick any side and remember to overspray the edges so that you have enough varnish to spread over the entire painting in a single stroke. 

Remember to spray the varnish in thin layers to get the best finish. Two to three coats of spray varnish are usually enough to protect your painting, but you can always add more coats. 

Step 5: Keep It Clean

After spraying continuously for a while, clean the spray nozzle as spray varnishes tend to block the can’s nozzle quite easily. Keep a rag close by for the purpose, and check the flow of your spray varnish on an empty canvas before you start applying it to the painting. 

Step 6: Let It Dry

Once you’ve covered every inch of your painting with the spray varnish, it’s time to let it dry. Spray varnishes dry pretty quickly, but you can wait for one or two weeks to be on the safe side. 

Young beautiful smiling woman with dark curly hair sitting on chair drawing amazing picture on canvas happily looking in camera in cozy art workshop

How To Varnish An Acrylic Painting Final Thoughts

With that, we come to the end of our extensive guide on how to varnish your acrylic paintings. After going through our article, we hope you have a better idea of different varnishes and how they work to protect your paintings. 

But, be careful while choosing the varnish because the wrong varnish can ruin your painting. In this context, never use an oil varnish for your acrylic painting or vice versa, but always look for varnishes that work well with acrylic mediums. You can also check our other article on acrylic paint vs oil paint to get an idea comparing these two. 

And on that note, we will sign off. Take care and stay creative! 

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson is the heart of the team, senior editor and our Head of Product Reviews which means she sets the testing parameters of each group review ensuring that tests resemble everyday use.

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