What Varnish Should Artists Use – Satin Vs Gloss Varnish Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paint does not actually need a gloss varnish as it already dries with a glossy finish due to it being an acrylic polymer-based paint (it dries with a shiny plastic film), that is unless you messed it up and it now looks matte.

So maybe you should ask, “Should I varnish my acrylic painting with a satin or matte finish?”.

Satin Varnish

A satin varnish will give your painting a beautiful lustrous sheen, while still allowing the brushstrokes and texture of the painting to show through.

Gloss Varnish

A gloss varnish will give your painting an even higher level of shine, making the colors appear brighter and more vibrant.

Matte Varnish

Matte varnish will give your painting a very natural look, with little to no shine.

Which varnish should you use on your acrylic painting?

It really depends on the look you are going for.

If you want a glossy finish, unless you have done something to the acrylic paint such as adding a medium that turned the acrylic paint matte then a gloss varnish is not needed as acrylic paints tend to dry gloss as a default.

Gloss Paintings

Gloss paintings are harder to photograph and reflect whatever light bounces on them. Gloss finishes are also more suited to contemporary style paintings and pop art style acrylic paintings.

Gloss finishes will also enhance the values in a painting, making the bright colors brighter and the darker colors darker.

If you want a more softer look then you can add a satin or matte varnish on top of your painting.

Satin Paintings

Satin paintings are the middle ground for most artists and people who are buying art.

A satin finish will give it a slight sheen that makes it look glitzy while being not so soft.

It makes the darker tonal values seem darker while providing a little more balance across the range of colors.

If you are going for a very natural look then a matte varnish is probably the way to go.

Matte Paintings

Matte paintings are easier to photograph and reflect the light less.

Matte varnishes will make darker tones seem a little lighter and the lighter tones a little darker.

It gives the appearance of spreading the light evenly across all values and in the process it evens them out a little.

Choose what you like

When it comes to satin vs gloss varnish for acrylics, there is no right or wrong answer. It really depends on the look you are going for with your painting.

If you are unsure, it is always best to test out both satin and gloss varnish on a small section of your painting to see which one you prefer.

Types of varnish for acrylic paints – gloss, satin, matte

There are three types of varnish you can use on your acrylic painting: satin, matte or gloss. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right one for your needs. Most reputable brands provide acrylic paint varnishes that are satin, gloss or matte.

Satin acrylic varnish:

Satin varnish has a bit of a sheen to it, but is not as glossy as gloss varnish. It’s perfect for giving your painting a subtle shine without making it too reflective.

This type of varnish can also help to protect your painting from fingerprints and smudges.

Does satin acrylic paint varnish protect it from UV light? Yes, all acrylic paint varnishes will protect your painting against UV light bit it is still recommended not to hand any artwork in direct sunlight.

Matte acrylic varnish:

Matte varnish has no sheen at all and will give your painting a flat, non-reflective finish.

This is a good choice if you want to minimize the appearance of brushstrokes or if you’re going for a more muted look.

Does matte acrylic paint varnish protect it from UV light? Yes, all acrylic paint varnishes will protect your painting against UV light bit it is still recommended not to hand any artwork in direct sunlight.

Gloss acrylic varnish:

Gloss varnish is the shiniest option and will give your painting a bright, reflective finish.

This is a good choice if you want to highlight details or make your colors pop.

Just like satin and matte varnishes, gloss varnish will also protect your painting from UV light and smudges.

Does gloss acrylic paint varnish protect it from UV light?

Yes, all acrylic paint varnishes will protect your painting against UV light but it is still recommended not to hand any artwork in direct sunlight.

How to apply varnish to acrylic paintings

Most acrylic paint varnish come in a spray can but some are also available in liquid form that can be applied using a broad brush.

Spray varnish are convenient but they can dribble down the painting or create a bit of a mess if you are not experienced with the proper way to apply a spray varnish.

My tip is to purchase a varnish that can be applied to a painting that is laid down flat on the floor and then brushed on using long broad strokes.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and if using a spray varnish, ensure there is lots of ventilation.

Can I remove varnish on an acrylic painting if I don’t like it?

Yes, you can remove varnish from an acrylic painting as long as you used a spirit removable varnish.

When it comes to removing varnish, I like using a specialist product like the Winsor and Newton Artists’ Acrylic Varnish Remover.

Acrylic varnish remover lets you remove varnish from acrylic paint quite safely while minimizing the risk of damaging the paint on your painting.

While you can use other types of spirits I like this product as it was made specifically for removing varnish from acrylic paints and it is made by a specialist artist paint manufacturer.

It works on most acrylic paint varnishes such as acrylic gloss, satin, and matte. Once you have removed the varnish, you can clean the surface and apply a new coat of your preferred varnish.

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