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Varnishing Acrylic Paintings: Do's & Don'ts

Are you considering varnishing your acrylic painting but are intimidated? Never varnished before? Are unsure what to expect from your varnish? I have some simple tips for you.

First of all, WHY should you varnish your original painting?

Many reasons! I like it because it protects the painting from ultraviolet rays, dust and moisture, it also makes it easy to clean.

Varnish also can make your acrylic paint colors POP! Even if using student grade paints. In fact, I highly suggest you invest in some satin varnish if using student grade acrylics. It will make your colors seem more vibrant and it gives the painting a nice, professional, sleek finish. If you cannot afford professional paints, try varnishing your pieces for a professional finish.

Another reason I love varnish is if you glaze, or paint in washes/layers, you will LOVE how varnish pulls those layers out! You will be able to see so much more after you varnish. It works fantastic on WOOD too.

My recommended varnishes:

  • Liquitex Matte Varnish

  • Liquitex Satin Varnish

  • Liquitex Glossy Varnish



DO: Use a new, soft bristled paintbrush to varnish.

Soft bristles are super important. If you try using an old paintbrush, or one with course bristles you are going to see streaks in your varnish. Apply with a new brush that will be used exclusively for varnishing. I usually use a 1" brush, or larger, depending on the size of the painting.

DON'T: Forget to rinse the heck out of that brush when you're done.

Your varnish brush can be rinsed out, but it must be rinsed out multiple times in order for the brush to be saved. I will usually allow the brush to soak in clean water for a bit after rinsing multiple times. it's kind of a pain, but you'll ruin your brush otherwise.

DO: Make sure your acrylic painting is lying flat on a surface when varnishing.

Varnish is extremely runny and thin, therefore it drips and runs easily. It's best to varnish your painting on a flat surface.

DON'T: Varnish your painting on an easel.

DO: Work in small areas.

Work in small, concentrated areas. Load your brush with a small amount of varnish and spread.

DON'T: Drop a large pool of varnish on your painting and try to spread it around.

Varnish can dry quickly, depending on room temperatures and environment. Remember, a little goes a long way when it comes to varnishing!

DO: Follow the brushstrokes when applying varnish.

Apply the varnish in the same direction as the brushstrokes of the painting. This will give you the best coverage and less chance of seeing your varnish brushstrokes.

DON'T: Apply varnish in right/left or up/down strokes.

If you apply varnish in this way you WILL see these varnished strokes on your painting and it can detract from the paintings overall appearance.

DO: Varnishing only in a room or area where there will be no wind and no dust (or loose dirt) nearby.

This is vital as you don't want any sediment settling onto your freshly varnished painting. It's a quick way to ruin a painting.

DON'T: Varnish around pets, either.

Pet hair seems to be attracted to varnish. For a myriad of reasons keep pets away from freshly varnished paintings. Too many things can go wrong. Same goes for small children. Just don't risk it.

DO: Allow your varnished painting to dry between coats.

It's tempting to rush a second coat of varnish, but take your time! Also, make sure your acrylic painting is completely cured (they say 48 hours) before varnishing.

DON'T: Apply below 60 degrees F.

Acrylic paints and mediums become increasingly brittle in cold weather. Varnish does not set well in temps below 60.

Tiny painting that has been varnished

Tiny acrylic painting that has been varnished

REMEMBER: Varnish is permanent, and it is important you exhibit patience when working with it. Your painting depends on it!

If you have any questions about varnishing your acrylic painting feel free to reach out to me. Happy varnishing!


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