When it comes to varnishing your artwork, the decision between matte and gloss can be a tricky one. When considering matte vs gloss varnish, both options have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the desired effect you want to achieve.
But you do need to keep in mind that some types of varnishes are not suitable for the medium so I have provided a table of the most common mediums and the types of varnish I think best suits.
TLDR: The choice between matte and gloss varnish depends on personal preference and the desired effect for your artwork. Matte varnish provides a natural, non-reflective finish suitable for textured pieces which is great for when photographing artworks, while gloss varnish offers a shiny, reflective finish that enhances colors and durability. Consider factors like display location, lighting, texture, and the medium used when choosing between the two types of varnish.
Matte varnish has a flat, non-reflective finish that can give your artwork a more subdued and natural look. It can be particularly effective for pieces that have a lot of texture or detail, as it won’t detract from the intricacies of the work.
Matte varnish is also less likely to show fingerprints or smudges, making it a good choice for pieces that will be displayed without glass or in areas with high humidity.
Choose a suitable matte varnish for the medium use. You should not use a matte varnish for oil paintings on acrylic paintings or watercolors.
On the other hand, gloss varnish has a shiny, reflective finish that can make colors appear more vibrant and add depth to your piece. It can also help protect your artwork from UV damage and other environmental factors.
Gloss varnish is more durable and resistant to scratches and scuffs, making it a good choice for high-traffic areas or pieces that will be handled frequently.
One of the biggest issues I have with gloss varnish is that it can create glare and reflections that may be distracting or undesirable, especially if your artwork will be displayed in a brightly lit area.
Choose a suitable gloss varnish for the medium use. You should not use a gloss varnish for oil paintings on acrylic paintings or watercolors.
Which varnish is suitable by medium
The table below offers a summary of the recommended varnish types (gloss, matte, or fixative) for some of the more common painting mediums, taking into account the protection and aesthetic enhancement each varnish offers for the respective medium.
Matte vs gloss varnish by medium
|Painting Medium||Recommended Varnish||Reason|
|Acrylic||Gloss or Matte||Gloss varnish enhances color vibrancy, while matte varnish provides a more subtle finish.|
|Oil||Gloss||Gloss varnish offers better protection from cracking over time and enhances color depth.|
|Watercolor||Matte||Matte varnish reduces glare and reflections, maintaining the delicate appearance of watercolor paintings.|
|Gouache||Matte||Matte varnish preserves the natural matte finish of gouache and prevents glare.|
|Pastel||Matte (fixative)||A matte fixative is typically used for pastel artwork, providing protection without altering the appearance.|
|Charcoal & Graphite||Matte (fixative)||A matte fixative is typically used for charcoal and graphite artwork, preventing smudging without glare.|
|Ink||Gloss or Matte||Gloss varnish can enhance color intensity, while matte varnish preserves the natural appearance of ink drawings.|
|Encaustic (wax)||No Varnish||Encaustic paintings typically do not require varnish due to the natural protection provided by the wax medium.|
|Tempera||Gloss||Gloss varnish provides protection and enhances the colors of tempera paintings.|
|Mixed Media||Gloss or Matte||Choose based on the desired finish and overall aesthetic; consider i|
Factors to Consider
When deciding between matte vs gloss varnish, it’s important to consider the context in which your artwork will be displayed. Some factors to keep in mind include:
- Lighting: If your artwork will be displayed in a bright room or under direct light, a matte finish may be preferable to avoid glare or reflections.
- Texture: Matte varnish can enhance the texture of a painting, while gloss varnish can make it appear smoother.
- Color: Gloss varnish can intensify colors, while matte varnish can mute them slightly.
- Durability: Gloss varnish is generally more durable and resistant to damage than matte varnish.
- Materials: Consider the materials you’re working with. For example, if you’re using oil paints, a gloss varnish may be necessary to protect the painting from cracking over time.
matte vs gloss varnish – Wrap up!
When considering matte vs gloss varnish, the choice depends on your personal preferences and the specific needs of your artwork.
Matte varnish provides a subtle, non-reflective finish that works well for a natural look or pieces with lots of texture, while gloss varnish offers a shiny, reflective finish that can enhance colors and provide more durability. I personally prefer matte or semi. I never go for gloss. It’s my personal taste.
Consider factors such as the artwork’s intended use, display location, and overall aesthetic when making your choice.
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Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech). While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
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