Genuine Dilemma: Should I Varnish My Acrylic Painting? All Artists Need To Know

When you’re finished with your acrylic painting, the dilemma of whether or not to varnish it can be an agonizing one. Should I varnish my acrylic painting? Is varnish on acrylic actually necessary?

What is varnish and why would you use it on your acrylic painting?

Varnish is a clear, protective coating that is applied to paintings.

It can be either glossy or matte, and it serves to protect the painting from dirt, dust, UV rays, and other environmental factors.

Varnish also provides a layer of protection if the painting is accidentally bumped or scratched.

Varnishes come in both water-based and oil-based formulations, and they can be applied by brush, spray, or roller.

So we can agree that a varnish has a purpose in protecting paintings but is a varnish actually needed for acrylic paintings?

Well, the answer is no, you don’t have to varnish acrylic paintings.

There is no harm in varnishing acrylic paintings, but there is also no real benefit.

The paint is already flexible and resistant to damage.

Varnishing might change the appearance of the painting, but it won’t protect it any better than the paint already does.


Acrylic paints are made of pigments suspended in a synthetic polymer emulsion.

The binder, or emulsion, is what gives the paint its adhesive quality, while the pigment provides color.

Once the paint dries, the water evaporates and the binder hardens, binding the pigment to the surface.

Acrylic paint dries into a waterproof and flexible film. This is one of the advantages of using acrylic paint; however, it can also be a disadvantage.

The same water-resistant quality that makes it ideal for outdoor murals or painting raindrops on windows makes it difficult to remove from clothing and impossible to erase from surfaces like walls.

Synthetic polymer emulsions are chemicals that make up plastic and rubber. They are combined with water to create acrylic paint. These chemicals make the dried paint more flexible and durable than other types of paint.

So acrylic paintings end up drying into something that is actually quite tough and by design is actually resistant to the typical elements that may damage other types of mediums such as oil paintings.

The different types of varnish for acrylic paint and what each does

There are mainly two types of varnish for acrylic paints, these are:

Gloss varnish: This type of varnish will give your painting a high-gloss finish. It is very durable and can protect your painting from UV rays, scratches, and scuffs. However, it can also yellow over time.

Matte varnish: This type of varnish will give your painting a matte finish. It is very durable and can protect your painting from UV rays, scratches, and scuffs.

It can also yellow over time.

Either Gloss or Matte varnish can be applied by spraying, dipping, or brushing on.

Do a patch test before applying varnish to your acrylic painting by applying a small amount of varnish to an inconspicuous area of the painting.

Let the varnish dry completely before deciding whether or not to proceed with the rest of the painting.

Do I need to use a varnish if I mixed a resin into my acrylic paint?

If you’ve mixed a resin into your acrylic paint to give it a glossy finish, then you don’t need to use an additional varnish.

The resin will act as a varnish and will protect your painting from UV rays, scratches, and scuffs.

How to apply varnish correctly for the best results

When applying varnish, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area and that your painting is completely dry before you begin. Apply a thin, even layer of varnish with a soft, clean brush.

Allow the varnish to dry completely before applying another layer. When you are finished, clean your brush thoroughly with paint thinner as directed by the manufacturer.

When to varnish your acrylic painting – before or after framing?

You can varnish your painting before or after framing. If you varnish before framing, make sure the varnish is completely dry before you frame the painting.

If you frame the painting first, wait at least 2 weeks for the paint to cure before applying varnish.

You will find that varnish will take a lot longer to cure compared to your acrylic paint which will dry within a day.

Advantages of using a varnish sealant on your acrylic painting

Varnish can enhance the appearance of your painting by giving it a glossy, shiny finish. It can also protect your painting from dirt, dust, UV light, and other environmental factors that can cause fading or discoloration over time.

I have to admit I have varnished my acrylic paintings to make them more matte as the glossiness of acrylic paints makes them hard to photograph.

I also like to give my paintings an even sheen, as I find sometimes my paintings seem matte in areas and glossy in other parts.

Disadvantages of using a varnish sealant on your acrylic painting

However, varnishing your painting can also have some disadvantages.

For one, it can be difficult to remove varnish from a painting if you decide you don’t like the look or if it’s not protecting your painting as well as you’d hoped.

Additionally, varnish can yellow over time, especially if it’s exposed to sunlight.

If you’re considering varnishing your painting, be sure to do your research and choose a high-quality product that will protect your artwork for years to come.

Wrap up!

Personally, I have asked myself plenty of times should I varnish my acrylic painting which is why I wrote this guide in the first place.

The information out there is wishy-washy and they tend to sit on the fence or try to sell you a product.

Whether or not you should varnish your acrylic painting is ultimately up to you. Consider the pros and cons of using a varnish sealant and decide what’s best for your painting.

If you do choose to varnish, be sure to follow the instructions carefully and allow plenty of time for the varnish to dry before displaying or storing your painting.

Bonus content – How to varnish an acrylic painting

How to varnish an acrylic painting video

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