10 Reasons Not To Varnish Gouache – Explained Easy

varnish gouache

Gouache is a popular painting medium for its vibrant colors and versatility. However, when it comes to varnishing gouache paintings, there are several reasons why it may not be the best option. If you’re wondering if you should or should not varnish gouache then you’re in the right place as I will cover in detail why you should not varnish gouache.

The main reasons you should not varnish are first, gouache paintings tend to have a matte finish that varnish can alter. Second, varnish may cause the colors to shift or darken over time. Third, some varnishes may cause the gouache to crack or become brittle. Lastly, varnishing may not provide significant protection to gouache paintings since the medium is water-soluble and vulnerable to moisture.

In this post you will learn:

  • The top 10 reasons in detail why you should not varnish gouache.
  • Understand why it may be best to avoid varnishing gouache paintings.
  • If you insist on varnishing gouache which varnish to use and how to apply it.

10 Reasons why you should not varnish gouache

  1. Gouache paintings have a natural matte finish that varnish can alter, making them look glossy and unnatural.
  2. Some varnishes may cause the colors in the gouache painting to shift or darken over time, which can negatively impact the overall appearance of the artwork.
  3. Certain types of varnish may cause the gouache paint to crack or become brittle, which can compromise the integrity of the painting.
  4. Gouache is a water-soluble medium, which means that it is vulnerable to moisture. Varnishing may not provide adequate protection against moisture damage.
  5. Varnishing a gouache painting can be a time-consuming and complex process, and if not done correctly, it can damage the artwork.
  6. If the varnish is not applied evenly, it can create a patchy or streaky appearance on the surface of the painting.
  7. To varnish gouache paintings can be an expensive exercise, especially if you choose to use high-quality archival varnish.
  8. The process of varnishing may require you to frame the artwork, which can be an additional expense and may limit your options for display.
  9. Removing varnish from a gouache painting can be challenging and may require professional restoration services.
  10. Finally, some artists and collectors prefer the natural, unvarnished look of gouache paintings and believe that varnishing can detract from the unique qualities of the medium.

How Do I protect a gouache painting without varnish?

There are some options available to you to protect your gouache painting without varnishing it, I have listed a few for you here.

Frame it under glass

One of the most effective ways to protect a gouache painting is to frame it behind glass. This will not only protect it from dust and damage, but also from UV light, which can cause the colors to fade over time.

Store it properly

If you’re not planning to display your gouache painting, store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Cover it with acid-free tissue paper or glassine to protect the surface from dust and smudging.

Handle it carefully

When handling your gouache painting, be sure to wash your hands and handle it with clean, dry gloves or a barrier sheet to prevent smudging or transferring of oils from your skin to the surface.

Avoid touching the surface

Try to avoid touching the surface of the gouache painting, as this can cause smudging or damage to the paint. If you must touch the surface, use a clean, soft brush or tool.

Use a fixative spray (not varnish)

A spray fixative can provide a protective layer without altering the appearance of the gouache painting. Be sure to choose a fixative that is specifically formulated for use with gouache or watercolor paints.

Keep it away from moisture

Gouache is water-soluble even after you think it has dried, which means it can be vulnerable to moisture damage. Keep your painting in a dry environment, and avoid storing it in humid or damp areas.

By taking these steps, you can help to protect your gouache painting and ensure its longevity without the use of varnish.

What do you use to seal gouache?

So you have gone against my advice and your own better judgement and want to varnish or seal your gouache painting. So what do you use to seal gouache that will cause the minimum of risk of damage?

If you have decided to varnish or seal their gouache painting, it is important to use a product that will cause minimal risk of damage. One option is to use a spray fixative, which can provide a protective layer without altering the appearance of the artwork.

A spray fixative can also help prevent smudging or smearing of the gouache paint, especially if the painting will be handled frequently or transported. Another option is to use a UV-resistant acrylic spray varnish that is specifically formulated for use with gouache or watercolor paintings. It is important to choose a product that is archival and non-yellowing to ensure the long-term preservation of the artwork.

It’s also recommended (as usual) to do a spot test of the product on a small area of the painting first to ensure it won’t ruin anything and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Best varnish for gouache

Krylon Fixative Spray

This is a popular spray fixative that can provide a protective layer without altering the appearance of the gouache painting. It is archival, acid-free, and dries quickly. The other thing I like about this spray is that it dries matte so it mimics the look of gouache.

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Winsor & Newton Professional Fixative

This spray fixative is specifically formulated for use with watercolor and gouache paintings. It is non-yellowing, dries to a matte finish, and provides a durable protective layer.

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Golden Archival Varnish

This UV-resistant acrylic varnish is formulated for use with watercolor and gouache paintings. It is non-yellowing, provides a clear, satin finish, and is highly durable.

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Liquitex Professional Spray Varnish

This acrylic spray varnish is designed to provide a protective layer for watercolor and gouache paintings. It is UV-resistant, non-yellowing, and provides a clear, glossy finish.

satin varnish

Schmincke Fixative Spray

This spray fixative is designed to protect watercolor and gouache paintings from smudging or smearing. It is non-yellowing, acid-free, and dries to a clear, matte finish.

Schmincke Fixative Spray

It’s important to note that different brands may have different formulations and properties, so it is important to research and choose a product that is suitable for your specific needs and preferences.


As with any art technique, there are bound to be questions that arise. Here are a few common ones related to varnishing gouache paintings:

Can I varnish a gouache painting that has been reworked?

Yes, you can varnish a gouache painting that has been reworked, but make sure that the surface is completely dry before applying the varnish and be ready to no longer be able to change or update the gouache painting.

How long should I wait before varnishing a gouache painting?

While some say it is generally recommended that you wait at least six months before varnishing a gouache painting to allow the colors to fully cure that is incorrect if you know that gouache paint never cures or dries and can be reactivated easily with water even after 20 years.

Can I use a varnish meant for acrylic or oil paintings on gouache?

It’s not recommended to use a varnish meant for other mediums on gouache, as they may not be compatible and could cause damage to the painting.

10 Reasons Not to Varnish Gouache – Wrap up!

In conclusion, varnishing a gouache painting is an important step to protect it from damage and preserve its colors for years to come. By following the proper techniques and using a compatible varnish, you can ensure that your gouache paintings will look their best for years to come. Whether you prefer brushing on varnish or using a spray varnish, there are a variety of options available to suit your particular needs. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and varnishes to find the one that works best for your artwork.

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