Varnishing Your Acrylic Paintings – The In’s and Out’s


So now let’s talk about varnishing your finished acrylic paintings. Is it necessary? Will it help them look more presentable and appealing? Let’s tackle these questions now in this post.

Applying varnish, or sealer, to a complete project is often a critical, and final step. It’s a two-fold step – giving your project a layer of protection against the elements , and giving it a certain “look” with more visual appeal. So without further ado, let’s dive in now.

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varnishing acrylic paintings

Is Varnishing Necessary?

First things first….is this step necessary? It depends. I never have varnished any of my oil paintings as they tend to have a natural sheen to them. As far as my acrylic work goes, some I do and others I don’t. It depends on the painting itself, the style and technique I used, and sometimes (back in the day when I was still learning…) the quality of the paint I was using at the time.

As a result, I’d end up with “flat” looking artwork. A coat of glaze would be a good way to remedy this. Here is example of an older painting I did that I have never applied anything to beyond paint:

acrylic painting is varnish necessary

There are some professional artists that are not in support of the practice. This article I discovered explains a different perspective on why varnishing acrylic paintings is not that beneficial.

Is Mod Podge a Varnish?

Oh yes, good ol’ Mod Podge.  I’ve definitely used my fair share of it on sculptures as well as paintings, as you can see from this one example. This famous crafter’s go-to essential is labeled as a trifecta “glue, sealer,and binder”. But does it constitute a varnish? I say no.

An application of it may make a piece look more appealing to some degree, but it may not offer the protective layer a good varnish does. Another potential problem is that there’s always a chance that the Mod Podge will end up with a “tacky” feel afterward.

Sorry guys, this stuff is great for some things, not so much paintings.

Image credit: Image by FernMakes

It goes on white and has about the same consistency as white glue then dries clear. It’s not that different from PVA glue as that is its makeup.

Varnish, on the other hand, is used to seal and protect a piece of artwork, from dust, dirt, UV sunlight and fading. I save the Mod Podge for decoupage and paper-based collages and mixed media pieces, but for my paintings, I’m going to opt for the real thing. Real varnish. You should, too, to get the best results!

For application you can use a brush like this or a sponge applicator.

How to apply varnish?

Very strategically. I always get prepared by keeping my paintings face up on a flat surface and go over them first with a microfiber dust cloth and sometimes I might shoot it with a little blast of the computer duster. stuff in a can. Getting started: Dispense your portion of the liquid product in a bowl and use something like a foam applicator brush.

Make long sweeping strokes beginning at the top and work your way down. It helps if you have adequate light so you can see where you last applied the product. The tricky part is resisting the temptation to go over areas previously applied to as this can create overlap lines which won’t look good. Allow to dry.

You can certainly apply another coat afterwards if you prefer. I generally stop around the second coat mark. If you choose a good quality varnish, you shouldn’t have to worry about the product getting sticky or clumping up beyond the first-coat mark.

I always made it a habit to photograph my paintings first then varnish, as my varnished work tended to have a glare in the resulting pictures. It could have been a case of using a more high-gloss formula however. You can choose matte (natural looking, no gloss)  satin, which is a mid-range look, or gloss for your finish.

Here is an example of some of my work with a satin finish:

example of varnish gloss finish

Good Brands of Varnish to Use

As long as we’re on the subject, let’s look at some good brands of varnish/gloss to try that I have used.

Liquitex Basics makes an excellent varnish in addition to their line of paint. It comes in Matte and Gloss finishes, and in a 4.5 oz bottle. You could combine the Matte and Gloss together and adjust to get a finished look more suited to your liking since they don’t carry a Satin version. It does have a fair amount of 4 and 5 star reviews backing i t up.

Second brand I’d recommend is Winsor Newton Galeria. I use their proprietary brand of paints which are excellent and the gloss is great too, it also comes in Matte and Gloss finishes, which you could also adjust to get a more mid-range look. This brand Winsor and Newton also has a varnish made for oil paintings which is hard to differentiate at first – so be sure to look for the “Galeria” on the bottle.

Liquitex Professional Satin Varnish, 237ml (8-oz)Liquitex Professional Satin Varnish, 237ml (8-oz)See on AmazonFolkArt Waterbase Varnish (8 Ounce), 792 SatinFolkArt Waterbase Varnish (8 Ounce), 792 SatinSee on AmazonSargent Art 32 Ounce Acrylic Gloss and VarnishSargent Art 32 Ounce Acrylic Gloss and VarnishSee on Amazon

If you’re like me and you love a nice satin finish, you might want to look into FolkArt’s brand Satin waterbased finish. It comes in a 4 or 8 oz size bottle and is not just a good choice for paintings, but small art projects as well. It gets favorable reviews from people who have used it for other craft projects like painted rocks and polymer clay sculptures as well.

What Products Should NOT Be Used to Varnish Paintings?

Not everything you see advertised is a good choice. It’s always a good idea to do a spot test if you are unsure, with a certain product.

I DO NOT recommend products with polyurethane. It can damage the finish of the painting. I admit I have used it on polymer/air dry clay sculptures, which are a different ball game.

I am also a fan of spray sealant, however, it is solvent based and I prefer to use that for standalone objects or sculptures I have painted, but not my paintings.

The brand I most commonly use is Krylon – you can find it at home improvement stores as well as other venues that cater to hobbyists. I especially like this product for three-dimensional craft projects as well as paintings.


So now you know all about the nitty-gritty of varnishing your finished acrylic paintings. You can also employ these guidelines to other painted crafts too like paper-mache and sculptures. Good luck to you and let me know in the comments if you have some additional thoughts or questions.

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