Acrylic painting! It’s wonderful for so many reasons. The colors are bright and plentiful. The process of painting with acrylics is super easy, and you can use them on many different surfaces. However, acrylics are known for losing their flair and going opaque after a period of drying out or being in direct light. They often lose some of their original shiny or matte attributes, and they can contain uneven patches as well. One solution that works for many artists is varnish. Using varnish for acrylic painting is a wonderful final touch that can really bring your work to the next level. Here’s why!
- Protection: Varnish provides protection for your artwork from environmental factors like dust, dirt, and UV light. This means that your painting will look just as beautiful as the day you finished it for years to come.
- Enhancing color: Varnish can also enhance the colors in your painting, making them appear more vibrant and rich. This is especially useful if you want your painting to really stand out and catch people’s attention.
- Evening out texture: Varnish can help to even out the texture of your painting, which can be especially helpful if you have a highly textured surface that you want to smooth out a bit. But, realize that if you want to keep that textured surface, you may want to go easy on the varnish or skip it altogether.
- Simplicity: Varnishing your painting is a process that can be done relatively quickly and easily. It’s a great way to put the finishing touches on your artwork and make it look truly professional.
Welcome to our best varnish for acrylic paint guide. We’ve gone through some of the premier varnishes out there and recommended some of the brands we like a lot.
Spoiler alert: We really like Liquitex and Winsor & Newton.
Table of Contents
Our Top 4 Best Varnish for Acrylic Paint Review
Not all varnishes are made the same, and as such, not all of them will rank the same. We took into consideration attributes such as, time to dry, light refraction, and more.
Quick note, I’ve been using some of these products for many, many years. Way back when, as an art student, I worked at a large framing / art supply store. It was incredible. I was able to try and use lots of art supplies that would have been too expensive for me at the time. But, I was also able to try lots of lower priced, typical art supplies like the varnishes listed here. I really did come to like Liquitex and Winsor & Newton. In a pinch, I’d use whatever was on hand, but certain products become comfortable and familiar.
Here are a few I’d recommend…
1. Liquitex Professional Gloss Varnish
Economical? Check. Clearcoat? Check. Does not alter or mess with the temperature of your mix? Double-check.
This professional gloss varnish from Liquitex is truly a do-it-all varnish with an unmatched value proposition that helps it bag the “best varnish for acrylic painting on canvas” title.
Now, let us get one thing straight. There are a number of other substitutes for the Liquitex. Substitutes are a fair lot cheaper.
But why then did we term the Liquitex as being economical? Well, firstly, the Liquitex is a whole lot thicker than the substitutes. You can dilute it out if the need arises.
Secondly, you use a lot less of Liquitex to achieve the same level of glossiness. Thus, the term economical. The example is similar to that of expensive paint.
Expensive paint is, well, more expensive. But you get more pigment per unit volume when compared to cheaper substitutes. Varnishes can be gauged in terms of their purity.
Next comes the post vanish hue. The varnish overall has a nice gloss level – no complaints there. The color enhancement is typical of a clear coat varnish.
And the blue hues are accentuated with these varnishes. That said, a thick coating does provide a slight bluish play with the lights.
- Unmatched value proposition, a true do-it-all clear coat varnish
- The varnish is a whole lot thicker than its counterparts
- Blue hues are accentuated with this varnish, slight bluish play with the lights
- The temperature hues remain unadulterated, so the base colors are true
2. Winsor & Newton Artists’ Gloss Varnish
Now, we could not forget the oil painters out there. For you folks, we have handpicked a level performing varnish too, a glossy one at that.
We are introducing the Winsor & Newton Artists’ gloss varnish, another no-nonsense varnish that is made to deliver exactly what is advertised. Let us have a look.
So, the varnish coat itself is a clear coat with a moderate to a medium gloss finish.
Not for those looking for that ultra-gloss effect, but for those looking to preserve and perhaps accentuate some of the hues in their painting, this will certainly do the job. Multiple coatings are an option with this varnish.
Best part? The varnish does not go yellow over time. Even though it is meant for oil paintings and if it is subjected to those harsh gallery lights.
Thus, it makes a valuable addition to the arsenal of any self-made oil painter. The finish is clear and transparent and is smooth to the touch.
Another great aspect of this varnish is that it is completely removable. Got some white spirit handy? It is perfect for removing the varnish layer.
Or if you fancy some distilled turpentine for varnish removal, you could opt for that as well. Just keep in mind that this varnish is not suitable for use as a standalone medium.
- Clearcoat with a moderate to medium glossy finish; not ultra glossy
- Preserve and accentuates some of the hues in oil paintings
- Does not yellow over time
- Can take a stand against the harshest of gallery light
3. Liquitex Professional Gloss Fluid Medium
Next up, we have yet another do-it-all product, something you could use as a glazing medium, like an extender, or even go so far as to use as a fixative.
For those looking for all of the above plus a finish that is not so glossy, let us acquaint ourselves with the Professional Gloss Fluid Medium from Liquitex.
So, how would we go about recommending this product? We recommend using this particular Liquitex as a final varnish instead of a primary varnish.
Adding on the fact that this product can be diluted with a little water, it easily bags the best acrylic paint varnish award.
The glossing fluid can also be used in a spray format using a spray bottle.
Three parts water and one-part Gloss Fluid Medium, and you have in your hands a brilliant fixative for glossing over (excuse the pun) those fine lines before going about and applying the absolute final coat of varnish.
This varnish can also be applied standalone with a synthetic brush or a foam one. It is very adaptive.
The only problem we could find with this varnish is that it can streak. And if you are not careful enough, you could easily overwork the varnish.
- Could be utilized as a glazing medium, as an extender, or even as a fixative
- A finish with a medium gloss, not ultra glossy
- The varnish can be easily diluted with water
- A brilliant fixative in spray form, for glossing over those fine lines
4. DecoArt DS19-9 American DuraClear Varnishes
Now, to make it a little easier for the newcomers to varnishing, we have a varnish with which you can control the gloss levels simply by messing around with the number of layers—introducing the DS19-9 American DuraClear from DecoArt, our nominee for the best varnish for those just starting to experiment with this medium.
The winning feature of this varnish is that it is quite thin. What does that equate to? Well, for starters, we do not necessarily need to thin it down with other liquids or such.
Two, its thinness means that you have a much wider degree of control over how much glossiness you are expecting the varnish to deliver.
Simply pile on layers upon layers to achieve your desired level of glossiness. No hush, no fuss. Neat right? Do keep in mind that this varnish is more of a glaze than a sealer.
And as such, it is fairly non-toxic. Thus, if you have other projects lying around (like pottery), you can use this varnish on those as well.
- Simple, no-nonsense, beginner level varnish
- Quite thin, no need to water it down
- Thin enough that you get a greater degree of control
- More of a glaze than a sealant, fairly non-toxic
Things to Consider before Buying Varnish for Acrylic Paint
You can’t just go into a store and blindly buy a varnish for your precious paintings, right? Of course not! So come and learn about varnishes in detail here so that you can protect your work in the best way possible.
Types of Application
There are two types of varnish applications you can go with. They are brush-on varnish and spray-on varnish.
With a spray-on varnish, you will definitely have less control over where it spreads.
But they are still preferred by many people because they are gentler than varnishes that have to put on using a brush.
Brush varnishes may also cause the foam to form on the surface of the paint, so in that regard, spray-on varnishes are a bit less risky.
However, you will have more control over the brush on varnishes. So, it really depends on your preference here.
Types of Varnish
Again, we have two types here – acrylic resin and acrylic polymer varnish.
- Acrylic Resin
These will give you a glossier finish on the painting. They are much clearer, and they bind very strongly to the paint.
But if you are using the acrylic resin, then you will have to apply an isolation coat on the painting first. This will make sure that the acrylic resin doesn’t make the colors go cloudy.
You will need to make the isolation coat yourself by mixing the acrylic resin varnish directly with water in the ratio 2:1.
Then apply the coat over the painting, let it dry, and finally, put the acrylic resin over it to have that clear finish on the acrylic painting.
Another thing to note is that these acrylic resin varnishes are toxic to your health, so you need to work in an open space and do the whole thing as quickly as you can so that you are not exposed to it for a long time.
- Acrylic Polymers
The number 1 reason people do not use the acrylic polymers is that, unlike the resin, polymers are not toxic at all. With these, you will also need to use an isolation coat.
Make the isolation coat by using water to dilute the polymers in the same way as you did with the acrylic resin, and then use it by following the same instructions.
Types of Finish
You may already know this, but there are three types of finishes. They are glossy, matte, and satin.
- Glossy Finish
These are mainly for paintings that have very vibrant colors. The glossy finish makes the colors pop and gives them a very alluring appearance when light falls on them.
But with these, there will be more glare on the painting when strong light falls on it. So that might be a reason to consider the other finishes.
- Satin and Matte Finishes
These finishes have some major similarities. They will both soften the colors a little bit. And they will also make sure that there is no glare on the painting even when it is viewed under strong light.
The only major difference between them is that the matte finish looks very flat and often lifeless, whereas the satin finish doesn’t look as flat or lifeless.
Satin is actually the middle ground between the glossy finish and the matte one.
How to Apply a Varnish to an Acrylic Painting
- Wait for the painting to dry completely: Make sure your painting is completely dry before applying varnish. This usually takes about 24-48 hours, depending on the thickness of the paint and the humidity in the room. If you apply varnish to wet paint, the varnish will most likely bleed into it.
- Choose your varnish: There are different types of varnish available, such as glossy, matte, or satin. Select the one that will best suit your painting and desired finish.
- Prepare your workspace: Set up a clean, well-lit workspace and make sure to protect the surrounding area with plastic or newspaper.
- Apply the varnish: Use a clean, soft brush to apply the varnish in thin, even coats. Start with the edges of the painting and work your way inward, making sure to apply the varnish in one direction only. Avoid over-brushing or overworking the varnish, as this can cause bubbles or streaks.
- Let the varnish dry: Allow the varnish to dry completely between coats. Depending on the brand and type of varnish you use, this can take anywhere from 2-24 hours. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific drying times.
- Apply additional coats: Apply 2-3 coats of varnish for best results, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.
- Clean your brushes: Clean your brushes with soap and water immediately after use, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Store your varnish properly: Store your varnish in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here we have the most commonly asked questions regarding the best varnish for acrylic paints:
1. Do I need to apply multiple coats of varnish on my painting?
Two coats of varnish is a good idea to properly seal in all the colors of the painting and protect it from the elements, but it does also depend on how much you want to smooth out rough textures.
2. How long do I need to wait between two coats of varnish?
It usually takes about 4 hours for the first single layer of varnish to dry, but it’s very important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying time.
3. Should I try out a test patch of varnish before doing the whole painting?
Definitely! It’s generally a good idea to test varnish this way because you can check how it might alter anything, such as the colors, before you use it over your finished work.
4. What if external debris falls on the varnish layer?
If you see any dust particles or other debris on the layer of varnish, use your nails or a small tool like tweezers to lift it up carefully and remove it before it settles further into the varnish layer.
5. Why is it important to varnish paintings?
Varnish can help to protect the colors from the fading effects of UV rays, and it also prevents dust from accumulating on the paint and ruining its true luster.
Best varnish for acrylic painting: Final thoughts
If you’ve created a painting you like, you really should protect it against the ravaging effects of time and sunlight.
For some artists, varnishing a painting is an absolute must. If you fall into this camp, try to buy the best varnish for acrylic paint that you can, so that you can keep your work of art in its best possible condition.
Let us know if you have a favorite varnish or finishing process in the comments below.