How to varnish an acrylic painting

How to Varnish an Acrylic Painting

Varnishing is the final step in the painting process. Learn how to varnish an acrylic painting by following the steps below.

Varnishing is really easy to do and you only need a few supplies to do it. The varnish layer will take several days to fully dry and set. So if you’re planning on shipping your artwork, leave enough time to complete the varnishing process.

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What are the benefits of varnishing an acrylic painting?

It’s not necessary to apply a layer of varnish, but it can bring many benefits to the appearance and longevity of your artwork. If you want to sell your paintings or hang them up for years to come, a coat of varnish will protect the painting.

By adding a layer of varnish, you can protect it from dust, normal wear and tear and UV. Colours will be less likely to fade over time. Plus the varnish deepens colour contrasts, making shadows appear darker and vibrant colour mixes appear brighter.

Another great thing about applying varnish to a painting, is that varnish coats are removable. So if they accumulate dust or dirt over the years, you can remove the coat and apply a new one. Applying a new coat of varnish gives a painting a new lease of life. 

Removing and reapplying the coat of varnish doesn’t have to be done on a regular basis, and likely not even within a lifetime. The removable coat is there as a protective measure, increasing the archival nature of the painting itself.

When should you varnish an acrylic painting?

Apply varnish after your painting is finished and fully dry. If you have used thick texture in your work, press your fingernail into a section of the thick paint to ensure that it has set all the way through.

Another tip, before you learn how to varnish an acrylic painting, is to photograph your work beforehand. As, if you get a gloss varnish, it can make the surface appear more reflective, which can obscure the photographed image. So before varnishing, make sure you capture the artwork in its best light for social media, your website or for print. 

What supplies do you need for varnishing an acrylic painting?

  • Golden Polymer varnish: get it in gloss, satin or matte. This removable varnish is high quality and UV resistant. 
  • Golden Isolation Coat. The isolation coat acts to create a barrier between the artwork and the final coat of varnish. It is a permanent clear acrylic medium. If the varnish needs to be removed at a later date, it protects the painting whilst the varnish is being removed. It also helps to create a more uniform varnish application and blocks any pigment that may be on the surface of the painting. Applying an isolation coat is permanent, so ensure the artwork is completely finished first. It’s optional to use an isolation coat, but it is advised. 
  • Varnish brush: Liquitex offers a great range of broad, flat brushes made for varnishing. 
  • Protect your table, desk or floor from any varnish run off with a tablecloth or sheet.

How to varnish an acrylic painting: step-by-step instructions

Step 1: Apply the isolation coat using the Golden Isolation Coat

  1. Ensure your work is finished, dry and free of dust. 
  2. For every 30cm2 (square foot) of painting, you’ll need around 30ml (1 ounce) of isolation coat liquid. This depends on how smooth and absorbent the painting is. If the painting has a lot of texture and is more matte, you may need more. 
  3. Load the brush and start applying the isolation coat to the middle section of the painting. Ensure it’s evenly spread out.
  4. Paint the edges of the painting, from the edges inwards (so liquid doesn’t spill over).
  5. Use the brush to smooth out the coat and wipe off any excess.
  6. Hold the painting to the light to ensure that it’s completely covered and no sections are exposed.
  7. Clean your brush and any other materials.
  8. Wait around 2 days for the isolation coat to dry before varnishing.

Step 2: Apply the acrylic varnish

  1. First create a mixture of Golden Polymer Varnish and water. Mix 3 parts varnish to 1 part water in a clean jar. Mark the container to help to measure out the quantities. However, ensure to read the package or product page for instructions on the ratio of water to varnish to mix, as it can differ if you’re using a different product. Stir the varnish and water together until combined. Test the consistency of the varnish on a strip of paper before painting it onto the surface.
  2. Apply the first coat of varnish. Use long, overlapping strokes to ensure the entirety of the painting is covered. Before it dries, hold it to the light to make sure there are no missed areas.
  3. Clean all your materials thoroughly after each layer, as dry varnish can cause paint brushes to harden and can be difficult to remove. Use water to clean, brush soap helps to remove the varnish from the bristles too.
  4. Each layer of varnish could take around 5 hours to dry. If you’re using satin or matte Golden varnish, it’s not recommended to apply more than two coats, otherwise it could appear cloudy. Two coats of varnish is a good amount, if you’re using gloss you could apply three.
  5. Apply the next coat of varnish and clean your materials.
  6. After the final layer of varnish has been applied, wait around 2 days for it to fully dry and set. Leave it in a clean, dust free area to dry.

Your acrylic painting is complete!

Once the varnish is dry, the painting is complete. Hang it on the wall, send it to a gallery or a client. Varnishing is easy to do and once you’ve done it a few times, you won’t even have to think about the process. Check out our other acrylic painting tutorials to learn more about the medium, techniques and supplies to enhance your painting practice.

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