Let’s say you’ve finished your painting. The work of a couple of hours (and probably days) is over. It was worth it! There is a mess around you as usual. You have pulled the last stroke of the brush and you are ready to set it aside. You look at your work proudly with a smile. You are ready to open that bottle of wine as a prize and celebrate another great work that will contribute to your career as an artist.

If you think it’s over, think again. I am sure that almost everyone has noticed one magical thing called varnish that their favourite artists use (whom they faithfully stalk).


You must have wondered if coating the painting with protective varnish is REALLY necessary?

Not really. Acrylic paint itself is very durable, especially professional paints. It holds well when it comes to UV rays, dust.

BUT, there are various benefits that will be useful to your painting if you cover it with varnish. So it’s better to wait with that wine before you declare the work done.

The varnish comes in a glossy, satin or matte finish. I usually stick to glossy varnish but when I run out of that bottle I will try the matte. Of course, you may have your own preferences, but start experimenting and see what you like.

You can mix any of these types of varnishes to get the exact finish you are looking for, it will take a little experimentation! I have already described in this post how to use varnish.

One thing I want to add quickly is that if you want to take a picture of your art, do it NOW – before it is varnished. The varnish will inevitably cause glare if light flashes on it, which makes photography difficult. I always take pictures of art before varnishing. I tried doing it the other way, and believe me, it’s a pain. It’s possible, but it takes a lot of patience, trial and error, and takes up a lot of space on your camera’s memory card. Attempts to photograph from various perspectives.

So what are the real benefits of varnishing a painting?

1. Helps to deepen or saturate the colors on the canvas

If I had to single out just one reason why I love varnish and recommend it to everyone, then that would be this reason.

Varnishing creates a deeper, richer version of acrylic found on the canvas. And if this is something you want to do with your work, then varnishing should be considered as an option that you will include in your daily painting routine.

But if you carefully made your painting look a certain way, and you are afraid that the varnish could negatively impact the work, then do not varnish it.

If you are unsure you can always experiment and try varnishing on a work that you do not plan to sell or exhibit. Or simply apply a small amount of paint to the canvas, and add the varnish. See how the color behaves and looks. You will notice that the color is more vibrant and comes to the fore.

This will help you before painting an important artwork, so you can be sure of your decision.

2. Prevents the accumulation of dirt and UV penetration

When the acrylic paint dries, the surface itself may appear to be super smooth. However, that cannot be further from the truth. Dried acrylic paint, topologically speaking, is actually very uneven, with a lot of bumps and indents because the paint penetrates into cracks in the canvas or any uneven surface on which it lies. Not to mention that your brush strokes like to leave small indentations here and there. This uneven surface is the perfect little home for dirt and dust which makes cleaning a challenge.

When varnish is used on the painting, a coating is applied that evens out the surfaces, filling in all the super tiny bumps and cracks on the surface of your painting. This will be of great help in the years to come because you can simply use a damp cloth to wipe and clean the surface with varnish, your art will look like new.

In addition, the varnish can help slow down the degradation of the color of your acrylic paintings due to exposure to UV light. Of course, if you are painting in a sketchbook or the painting will hardly see the light of day, then varnishing is not so important. But like most of us, we love to see or sell our paintings in the best light so that the world can enjoy them, so it’s a good thing to make sure the paintings last for decades without losing their vibrancy after a few years.

I would add that I think that painting pictures is a must if you sell them. Because in that way, your customer will be able to enjoy the beauty of your work for generations to come. We certainly would not like our customer to put a huge amount of money on our artwork and after some time the color fades. Paintings are an investment for the soul.

Take, for example, the Mona Lisa, which was painted more than 500 years ago. Since the portrait is so valued, it is regularly varnished for preservation. The old varnish would become blurry, so a new layer gets added to restore transparency.

Why is Mona Lisa not cleaned

Mona Lisa survived

3. Extends the life of your image

Like all physical things in life, nothing lasts forever.

As much as we hate to admit it, the hours we’ve poured into our painting can be lost by degradation and time flowing non-stop. In addition, when the artwork remains unprotected, attempting to clean or touch it can be harmful.

Varnish can help extend the life of your paintings, in large part because the paint is better preserved and helps to create little or no interference when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. Basically, the less you have to touch the original part of the art itself, the longer and more resistant the art will be.

Another way to think about it is this: if you have a painting in your family for a long time and you want to restore its vividness, it would be much better if the painting was varnished compared if it’s not. If you want this restoration option at any time, then you will want to consider using varnish.

As for cleaning and maintaining, I recommend the following:

  • Before cleaning, make sure that the artwork has varnish on it. It happened to me that the painting we bought a long time ago is not varnished, and when I cleaned it, a pink mark remained on the painting, which still stands today.
  • If you are thinking of removing the old layer of varnish – maybe you should leave it to a professional or if you are not able to – try it on an old painting first as a test. There are chemicals that are specifically designed to remove varnish from the artwork – varnish removers.

4. Creates a uniform shine on the entire surface of the painting

Have you ever seen flaws on the surface of your painting? As if some areas look brighter than others, whether because you re-applied another coat of paint somewhere that might have been brighter than another coat of paint? In short, no matter how you turn your canvas, you will notice an imbalance of light reflection and it bothers you a bit.

In this situation, nail polish can help.

Adding a coat of varnish can even out the reflection of the surface, giving your eyes a better viewing experience. If that’s what you want to achieve, you’ll probably want to varnish your art piece.


Now comes the important question: what kind of varnish to choose?

When it comes to choosing different gloss varnishes, there are 3 great candidates: glossy, matte and satin.

Each of them has its ups and downs in terms of the overall aesthetics of painting.

Here’s an example, you’ll notice the difference.

Vrste laka

Photo source: willkempartschool.com

Varnish with shine

Glossy varnish, as the name suggests, gives your art a glossier finish – similar to what you would normally see in magazines. There is more reflection of light, colors “stand out” more, and dark colors like black are enhanced. Basically, if you want to make more contrasts in your colors and you don’t particularly like how your colors look matte, then applying a glossy varnish is a great solution.

Matte varnish

Matte varnish is practically the opposite effect of glossy varnish. It contains a white mattifying agent which, when dried, creates a smooth, less reflective surface. Unlike glossy varnish, matte varnishes does not dry completely transparently and can even out your colors to a slightly darker gloss; for example, dark colors such as black will look a little grayer, thanks to a not-so-transparent white matte finish. Once again, if that is your general intention or you really don’t mind, then yes, the matte varnish is for you.

Satin varnish

Last but not least, satin varnish is like a glossy varnish but better, that many artists like to use – mainly because it is not as glossy and bold as glossy varnish, but it is not as matte as matte varnish. It stands beautifully between two glows. Your colors will not contrast, however, they will not look muted either. In fact, some artists state that adding satin varnish to their paintings adds that positive vibe.


If you are still not in favor of the idea of varnishing a painting, what are the other alternatives?

You have 2 options:

  • Acrylic sealer – Using acrylic sealer can help fill in tiny holes and cracks in your acrylic painting and prevent dirt from accumulating. In addition, sealing can help protect paints from direct exposure to UV radiation, helping paintings last longer than they would if left to themselves without any protection.
  • Another alternative is not to use any mediums, but leave the art as it is. It is not a strict rule that you have to varnish, the decision is up to you. I personally prefer varnishing because that way I am sure that my works are protected and they will last and last.

But leaving the “naked” artwork, dried acrylic can last a generation or two, especially if you have high quality paint. It may accumulate some dirt along the way, which can be a challenge to clean, but if you like that look, then skip the varnish.


How to be sure that varnishing is for you?

Take one safety test. I suggest you take a test painting and try in a small corner the varnish of your choice.

When the varnish dries (which usually takes 1-2 days), look at how the painting looks. If you absolutely hate the effect or prefer one glow to another, then you are ready to make a decision is varnish your cup of tea.


What varnish do I use?

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times about my paintings, and I have to honestly answer that I varnish each of my paintings. Whether if it’s for a client, a friend or for my home.

Slika laka

However, when it comes to any paintings I sell, I add glossy varnish to help seal the color. Personally, if I sell a painting to a customer, I assume they want that piece of art to last for generations.

I prefer to varnish all my paintings.

All in all, I hope this will help you in making a decision when considering whether to varnish your next painting.

And yes, don’t forget to open that wine!

What do you think about varnishes? Are they necessary? What are your favorites?

Comment and share your opinion with others!


Did you enjoy this blog post?

If you have additional questions about varnishing a painting, write to me at my email art@jovanalipovac.com.

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Enjoy the art and happy painting!

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