Whether you’re a beginner or someone with any level of expertise in acrylic painting, you’re going to want to varnish your work so that it stands the test of time. Varnishing your acrylic paintings creates a protective layer for your work that protects the beautiful skill you’ve displayed.
There are different types of varnishes, and there are even different ways to apply varnish depending on your painting medium and method. So how can you know which of the varnish styles, application methods, or formulations is just right for your type of work? Well, you can read the tips and tricks we’ll reveal below. So let’s get into it!
Different Types of Varnish Finishes
To begin, let’s examine the different types of varnish finishes. There are three categories of varnish finish: gloss, satin, and matte. Each finish has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as styles of painting that they pair with quite well. We’ll parse those features out below:
- 1. Gloss
The first varnish finish is gloss. Gloss is a frequently used varnish finish that creates a shiny, or glossy, layer atop your paintings. Gloss varnish helps to bring colors out and is especially useful for reviving dull colors. A varnish finish is great for really making your paintings pop
- 2. Satin
The next varnish finish to consider is a satin finish. Satin varnish finish is the medium ground between a gloss finish and our third finish, matte. Satin is sometimes referred to as semi-gloss as well, and the term provides a great definition for the nature of a satin finish. Not quite glossy, but not exactly dull either. This finish will make your highlights pop a bit more and give your lowlights a bit of life.
- 3. Matte
The final finish to discuss is the matte finish. The matte finish has no gloss whatsoever. A matte finish is non-reflective and, as such, tones down colors. A matte varnish finish is great for softening sharp, hot colors and lightening your darks.
As a side note, it’s recommended to use an isolation coat with both satin and matte finishes (we’ll define them later).
Formulations of Varnish
In addition to having various finishes, varnishes are created via two different formulations, which creates two distinct styles of varnish. Those formulations are resin and polymer. Let’s check out each formulation’s pros and cons:
- 1. Resin
First and foremost, the resin formulation is generally cheaper than the polymer – something always worth noting. Resin is the better option for high gloss paintings, or paintings that you wish to give some vibrance via a gloss finish. Often times the resin formulations are clearer upon finish than the polymer options. However, it’s necessary to note that resin is highly toxic and IS NOT to be inhaled. Therefore, you must apply it in well-ventilated areas or outside.
Using resin, the cleanup requires a bit more, and thinning the varnish requires mineral spirits. The same goes for cleaning your brushes, you’ll need mineral spirits to do so.
- 2. Polymer
The second formulation option is a polymer. Polymer varnish is easily thinned, or diluted, with water and you can easily clean your tools afterward with just soap and water. Acrylic polymer varnish is often used in cases where you’re going to apply an isolation coat. An isolation coat is a separate application that you perform before applying a varnish. By applying an isolation coat to your painting before applying varnish, and in particular, a polymer varnish, you’re creating a protective coat between the varnish and the painting. This is done so that after the varnish has collected some wear and dust over the years, it can be peeled away and re-applied without damaging the painting itself.
Polymer varnish is great for the long-term protection of your paintings as you can re-apply it over the years. It’s also ideal for satin and matte finishes, especially matte finishes. Additionally, the polymer isn’t toxic and is the best option for those without access to well-ventilated areas they can work in.
To summarize briefly, the resin is the ideal formulation for gloss finish paintings and for well-ventilated or outdoor working spaces. Polymer is great for those looking for a chance to re-apply protective coats in the future and have an easy clean-up and non-toxic working experience.
Application of Varnish
As has been the case with the finished style and the formulation of the varnish, you too have an option of application method when varnishing your work. You can go the traditional route of the brush, or choose the spray method. What’s the real difference?
- 1. Spray
Using a spray to apply varnish to your paintings is a quick application method and naturally applies a more even varnish than your hand might without taking some time. Applying varnish via spray is also ideal for textured works as the spray will cover the highs and lows of the textured paint more evenly.
- 2. Brush
Your other option is to use a brush and varnish your painting in the traditional manner. Using a brush is a more authentic feel, in our opinion, and is ideal for glossy varnish applications. Of course, using a brush means you’ll also have some clean-up or at least more than you would if you were spraying. It also means that you need be more skilled to accomplish a successful varnish as it takes precision and a delicate, patient eye.
Whichever application method you decide to roll with, it’s always an important step to test your varnish before applying it. For instance, you could be considering doing a satin and matte finish for your work. You should test that mix on a practice piece similar to your work in nature to be sure you’ll get the intended results. Once you’ve found your mix or process that provides you with your most ideal varnish, go ahead and apply it to the real stuff.
In conclusion, the varnish process for acrylic painting is far from a universal practice. As we’ve discussed, there are three separate varnish finishes: gloss, satin, and matte. All of these can be mixed and matched in varying degrees to produce the effect you seek. Additionally, the type of varnish formulation plays a role in your choice by providing two separate varnishes in terms of their produced outcomes. And, in addition to that, you can choose to either spray the varnish on or pursue the traditional brushing method.
All of this is to say that just as is the case with most art, the varnish process is to be worked and crafted to your liking by yourself, the artist. We’ve provided you with the information you need to kickstart that journey and discover evermore ways to make your work pop!