Matte vs Gloss Varnish: Which is Better Suited for Your Art?

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.

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

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.

Gloss Varnish

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.

Varnish suitability 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 MediumRecommended VarnishReason
AcrylicGloss or MatteGloss varnish enhances color vibrancy, while matte varnish provides a more subtle finish.
OilGlossGloss varnish offers better protection from cracking over time and enhances color depth.
WatercolorMatteMatte varnish reduces glare and reflections, maintaining the delicate appearance of watercolor paintings.
GouacheMatteMatte varnish preserves the natural matte finish of gouache and prevents glare.
PastelMatte (fixative)A matte fixative is typically used for pastel artwork, providing protection without altering the appearance.
Charcoal & GraphiteMatte (fixative)A matte fixative is typically used for charcoal and graphite artwork, preventing smudging without glare.
InkGloss or MatteGloss varnish can enhance color intensity, while matte varnish preserves the natural appearance of ink drawings.
Encaustic (wax)No VarnishEncaustic paintings typically do not require varnish due to the natural protection provided by the wax medium.
TemperaGlossGloss varnish provides protection and enhances the colors of tempera paintings.
Mixed MediaGloss or MatteChoose 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *