Why Should I Varnish My Acrylic Painting?

Why varnish acrylic paintings?

There are a number of reasons for finishing painting with a good varnish. Most importantly, is the protection of your paintings and making them easier to clean. Did you know that dry acrylic paint actually holds onto dust? Now if this would help with your housework it would be great, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way.

The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute website tells us this:
"Acrylic films are not as hard as oil films. The surfaces of the soft acrylic films hold onto dust and dirt. The paint may even flow around the particles, over time, so that they are incorporated into the film."

Beyond the importance of adding a shield, I like the way a varnish unifies the painting and enriches the surface. Some acrylic paints are very glossy and others have a mat finish. When you use paints with different levels of sheen, side by side, the work will have a patchy appearance.

You can see the difference in my two paintings of rabbits: one has been varnished, the other has not. You might like the unvarnished look, the choice is up to you, but I prefer an even lustre.


This first rabbit painting has not been varnished. 

Rabbit two has been sprayed with two thin coats of acrylic varnish - satin finish. 

Varnishing tips:

The top layer of varnish should be made from a product that has a different base than acrylic paint so it can be removed along with the dust without damaging your painting. (This will be necessary, years from now when your paintings are worth a fortune!)

Because I use a variety of marking tools that remain water-soluble it is essential for me to "seal" them to prevent smudging. Spray varnish works best in this situation.

For brush-on varnish I choose Holbein Acrylic Crystal Clear. When applied with short, criss-cross strokes, one coat will enhance the rich colours and bouncing facets of light.

Gloss, satin or mat finish?
If you like high shine use gloss varnish.
Dark colours require gloss or satin.
Use gloss over metal leaf.
Mat works well on light colours and over fine drawing.
When in doubt or on a budget - go for satin!

Here is a link to the Smithsonian site for more information:

You are welcome to share this post.

Linda Kemp

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