How to Apply a Varnish to an Acrylic Painting

varnishing_an acrylic paintingAn uneven finish in your painting, some parts matte, other parts glossy can be very off-putting to the viewer.

A unified finish enhances the colours and is a great way to add both a professional finish to your paintings and add dollars to the sale price.

No one technique for varnishing suits every situation. The texture of the paint surface, the desired finish, speed of completion, etc all affect which technique is best to use.

On a side note, it’s also the number 1 trick to making your acrylic paintings look like oils…

Varnishing Acrylic Paintings

What exactly is a Varnish?
A thin protective layer between the finished painting and the atmosphere. It should be transparent, colourless and form a good bond with the paint surface yet still be removable without affecting the painting. It is usually a combination of a resin and a solvent and applied to the painting when it thoroughly dry – with acrylics this can be within 24 hrs.

Acrylics attract dirt
Acrylics are different than oils because they are more flexible when they dry leaving a softer exterior than oils.

This makes it easier for dirt and dust to adhere to, this soft skin can make removal of varnish tricky so some tutors advise placing your acrylics behind glass and not varnishing.

However, I have always varnished my paintings following a proper procedure as I prefer the aesthetic without glass.

With the right varnish and technique, it can not only benefit the longevity of the painting but enhance the finish – turning matte to gloss and bringing the colours to a new vibrancy.


When acrylic paint dries and the water evaporates off, small droplets of the polymer (the binder of acrylic paints is an acrylic polymer) join together to form one mass – this holds the key to the softness.

They also leave very tiny micropores that are left open to the elements and these again collect dust.

If you cover the paint with a harder surface it will help to protect it from extremes of temperature or humidity, it also provides a layer that can be cleaned, rather than trying to remove dust particles ingrained in the paint layer.

If in future the varnish will need to be removed, taking away all the dust and dirt with it, and replaced with a fresh coat you need to be able to wipe the varnish back without disturbing the paint. For this, you need an isolation coat.

What is an isolation coat?

An isolation coat is a transparent layer of a medium that physically separates the underlying layer of paint from the varnish to be applied.

When a solvent is used to dissolve the varnish, the isolating layer will prevent it from reaching the paint layers, where damage could occur.

Golden Soft Gel (Gloss) thinned with water is a suitable isolation coat. It provides adequate levelling and foam release. See (How to apply an isolation coat to acrylics)

Pro tip: The isolating layer is also of critical importance when applying a matte varnish over an absorbent surface to prevent a cloudy or “frosted” appearance from occurring. This frosted appearance results from the varnish and solvent being absorbed into the support while the matting agent remains exposed on the surface, where it appears as a white solid.

Think of it like a wedding cake.

The cake mix is the paint, soft and moveable. The next marzipan layer is the isolation coat, slightly thicker but still flexible, the final icing layer is the varnish – harder, slightly more brittle but protects the cake inside.

Step 1: Should I choose spray or brush?

I recommend brushing varnish for works that are quite smooth in finish and are non-moveable. i.e acrylics, oils. However, if the surface is too impasto pools of varnish will settle in the nooks.

I’ll always assess the surface and texture to see what is more applicable, brush or spray. If you have delicate multimedia pieces or highly textural works spray varnish will be the way to go.

Pro tip: If you are using pastels or chalk it is advisable to fix them first with a pastel fixative.

How to prepare for varnishing with a brush

  • Make sure you have applied an isolation coat.
  • Wipe over the surface with a lint-free cloth. Make sure it is clean and dry.
  • Place your painting on the horizontal in a dust free room. If you are varnishing the sides of a canvas you can slightly raise each corner with a small piece of wood so the painting doesn’t stick to the surface below.
  • Use a clean brush and then only use this brush for varnishing, it will be tempting if you are in a rush to use another brush that you ‘think’ is completely clean. I’ve done it before and the polyurethane loosened off dried on acrylic paint and went over the painting, not a good idea.
  • Find a clean jar, same reason as the brush, varnish loves clean!
  • A flat, dust-free area. You need to be able to leave the painting in this position for an hour or two

Step 2: How to apply a varnish with a brush

1. Get a clean, wide brush – I usually use a 2-inch flat nylon brush, you can use a ‘varnish’ brush, but it is not essential. I wouldn’t recommend a decorators brush as it will show too many brush marks, you want a brush that is smooth to the touch so you can just glide it over the surface.

2. Pour out some varnish into a shallow dish. It is easier to control the amount of varnish on your brush this way.

3. Lay your work on a board -I use a piece of MDF, or newspaper, you are bound to get some overspray and/or drips.

4. You need to work quickly but gently – Apply in long even strokes to cover the surface top to bottom while moving from one side to the other.

5. Work side by side, left to right, slightly overlapping each stroke – you are aiming to have no visible brush marks

6. Once you leave an area, do not go back over areas that you have done. If you do, you risk dragging partially dry resin into wet, which will dry cloudy over dark colours. If you missed any areas, allow drying completely and re-varnish. 3 thin coats are better than 1 thick one.

7. After varnishing. I often cover my painting with a board slightly larger than the canvas, resting it on props so it hovers and reduces the amount of dust that could fall on the wet varnish layer. Alternatively, with a large canvas, I will prop them facing a wall when the varnish is semi-dry.

How to apply a spray varnish

  • Wipe over the surface with a lint-free cloth. Make sure it is clean and dry.
  • Place your painting vertically in a dust free room. This is very important, it won’t attract as much dust as horizontally and prevents you from being over heavy-handed – creating runs.
  • Place your painting on top of a board that is larger than the canvas.
  • Shake, Shake, Shake… and then shake some more. This is the bit you read on the back of a can and then shake for 10 seconds and eagerly start spraying. Put a timer on your phone, anything to ensure you shake that can for 2 minutes, it’s worth it for an even finish.
  • Apply the spray at an even distance away from the canvas. At least 30 cms away, it’s a natural tendency to move your arm closer to the canvas, so just be aware of this.
  • Regularly check the nozzle for blockages. It’s the nature of spray varnishes to become blocked really easily but I keep a rag next to me and a practice canvas so I can clean the nozzle, check the spray flow on the practice canvas and go again for real. I find I have to do this several times when I’m spraying a varnish.
  • Shake, Shake, Shake… and then shake again.
  • Overspray the edge. Start with the canvas and finish after the canvas spraying the board underneath. This ensures an even coverage.
  • Work in thin layers. 2-3 layers should be fine but can be as many as 20 – 50 for a super glassy effect. This is personal preference, so experiment.

Understanding the 7 key functions of a Varnish

1. Change the surface finish to gloss
2. Making the surface more matte
3. Provide a more unified finish to the various areas of a painting
4. Increase colour saturation
5. Protection for the paint surface
6. Allow for ease of cleaning
7. Protection from UV radiation

Increase colour saturation & sheen

Have you ever noticed how much better paving look when it’s raining? The reflection of the water on the paving slabs makes them look fantastic, the same is true of colours in paintings.

When a permanent gloss sheen is on a pigment it looks richer and more saturated.

In an Oil painting initially, it is the oil that gives the glossy effect, however, over time as the oil dries out it is actually the varnish that gives the sheen.

Different finishes of the same brand can usually be intermixed within each product type or used sequentially, to achieve any desired level of gloss.

Pro Tip: A word of warning when using a matte varnish, if not correctly mixed the matting agent (which is white) can sometimes leave a milky finish to your paintings. This is particularly noticeable on blacks.

Protection & ease of cleaning the paint surface

As varnish has a harder surface than the dried Acrylic paint it helps protect it.

When an isolation coat and varnish are applied correctly, the painting will be able to be cleaned easily. Used correctly the thinners used to remove the varnish will not penetrate the isolation coat and damage the paint film.

Protection from UV radiation

Ultra Violet Light Stabilizers, which can be found in some modern varnishes disperse UV radiation before they hit the surface of a painting. These varnishes are especially useful if you’re using materials that haven’t got a great lightfastness. It won’t render the surface completely lightfast but will considerably lessen the effects.

If you have any other questions about varnishing leave a comment in the box below.

You might also like:

1. James Bernstein, Conservator of Fine Paintings offers a more technical description of varnishing acrylic paintings on the Golden Acrylic website.
2.How to apply an Isolation Coat to an acrylic painting
3. The 3 reasons why artists varnish their paintings, and why some artists don’t
4. 7 Questions to ask yourself before varnishing an oil painting



This Post Has 414 Comments

  1. Hi I came over from DPS. I am an Australian ceramist and the only painting I have ever done was in high school. I have nearly finished a sketchbook for the sketch book project 2012 and I have used poster paints on the pages and I will collage some text and some images into the sketchbook as well. I was wondering how to seal the pages as this sketchbook will be housed in the Brooklyn Art library and will be handled often. Thanks for the tip about the sealer coat. cheers Kim

    1. Hi Kim,
      Nice to hear from you,
      The medium that I mentioned to create the isolation coat “Golden – Soft Gel Gloss” can also be used to great effect for collage techniques. Instead of diluting it with water you use it neat, straight from the tub.
      This will be perfect to seal the pages as well, it really is a magic medium!
      Either paint both sides of the image you want to collage with the medium and attach to the sketchbook or cover the page with a coat of medium, stick your image on, wait for it to dry and then cover with another layer of medium to seal it.
      It is surprisingly sticky and is also available as a Matte medium which might give a better aesthetic for your sketchbook project. The only thing to be careful of is buckling. If the paper is very thin you might get slight buckling. Try it with a test piece first. But as the sketchbook project paper sizes are quite small it should be fine. Good luck with your sketchbook!

        1. You’re welcome Kim,
          Thanks for the link to your post. I too had been struck by Chris Jordan’s photographs. If you do use the matte medium to seal your sketchbook it will act as a both a strong physical and conceptual idea.
          The acrylic medium is a plastic, the very thing that is damaging the birds, but will act as a protection to your thoughts and ideas on the issue.

  2. Chris Jordan was lovely in person as well. But the most important thing to come from that meeting was my subsequent friendship with Dr Jenn Lavers. Dr Lavers has given me some cigarette lighters that were responsible in part for the deaths of Laysan Albatross Chicks, just before they were due for their first flight. They provide powerful inspiration.
    I didn’t even think that the acrylic medium was a plastic, that is indeed food for thought.

  3. Mr. Kemp,

    Is there a particular varnish you can recommend?



    1. I use the Golden range of varnishes for Acrylics and Winsor and Newton gloss varnish, for Oil paints.


      1. Thank you so much for all of your detailed helpful tips. This has been very informative.

        1. Good one Stephanie, pleased you found them helpful.

  4. Hey Will,

    I was wondering what the difference is Cabot or Rustoleum varnish compared to that of Golden or Liquitex. Can the the more industrial based products be used on acrylic paintings? The only reason I ask this is because I have large acrylic paintings ( measuring anywhere from 4ft x 4ft to 8ft x 20ft) on wooden panels that i would like to seal. However, like many artists I am running into the issue of the cost of products compared with the size of my work.


    1. Hi Griffin,

      Thanks for dropping by! Mmm I see your issue with that sized canvas, what a painting!
      I personally haven’t used the more industrial varnishes on my paintings so it is hard for me to say with confidence. When I was a student I painted a large acrylic canvas with yacht varnish as I wanted a super glossy effect and also didn’t have the funds, the main downside was a yellowing over time, and no way of removing/reapplying another coat.

      I put it down to trying to achieve that ‘old master glow’! and quite liked the aesthetic. Also, often household varnishes ( as with household paints) are designed to be repainted every 5-10 years so aren’t as archivally sound. However, for that sort of scale I appreciate the concern of going artist quality. If you don’t mind a slight yellowing and don’t mind if you can’t remove it then give it a go. A small trial run is always advisable as all varnishes differ from manufacture to manufacture.

      Hope this helps,

  5. I am starting to do mixed media collages with acrylics. am wondering if I really need to use a varnish as a topcoat? or can I get away with just using a gel medium on top….I bought the Golden varnishes to try out since they are UVLS. I want to be able to say my work is protected from UV damage/fading but now I notice the Golden polymer mediums and gel mediums also say they offer some UV protection. are most people using varnishes doing whole paintings? my work will have some paint brushed on top of collaged papers but that is all. I know one collage artist who uses Golden Self Leveling Gel as a topcoat. is that advisable? it feels quite sticky so I wonder if it would attract dust.

    1. Hi Ellen,

      Golden Gel Topcoat with UVLS will give your collages a pretty good amount of protection, without the need for varnishing.
      This product has better UVLS protection than the other Golden mediums (for example, self leveling gel), which only have UV resistance, so could be the perfect choice for your work.

      Varnishing is up to the individual, it does add a higher level of protection, but you can always add a coat of varnish on top of the Golden Gel Topcoat if you change your mind in the future.



  6. thx, I will use the topcoat instead. I had written that down somewhere and then misplaced my notes! it is confusing with all the different Golden products. I would rather use the less toxic ones.

  7. I am new to painting and I just varnished my acrylic painting on canvas with Liquitex gloss varnish. I followed instructions I found from different sites on how to apply. They all pretty much said same thing. The first thin coat looked really nice after drying. So I put the second coat on going in right angles to first coat as the instructions stated. While brushing it on it seemed like it went well but upon drying it showed itself in bands the width of the brush. After letting it dry I assumed a third coat in the direction of the first would take care of it but it didn’t. I don’t know what happened other than I was told that maybe I didn’t allow enough drying time before re-coating. That may be the reason and I will know better next time , but is there a way to fix it? The gloss is permanent. I am looking for a solution to fix this painting.

    1. Hi Janet,

      Oh no! What a shame, there is a solution, but it would involve adding a lot more coats of varnish until the levels have evened out again ( some oil paintings have over 20 coats of varnish to create a glass like sheen)

      You can build up these layers useing an acrylic spray varnish, this enables you to adjust the thickness of the varnish in very thin layers, Golden and winsor and newton make a spray varnish for acrylics.

      There is a video on youtube showing you how to apply Golden Archival spray varnish.

      It sounds like the second layer you applied was just a little too thick, and the varnish was pushed to the edges of the brush. Good luck in bringing the painting back from the brink!


  8. Hi Will,

    Is it a good idea to use water based Golden’s polymer varnish for acrylics? I know it’s non removable.


    1. Hi Yuval,

      The Golden polymer varnish is a nice varnish, it is a removable varnish, as all good varnishes should be.

      The following is from the Golden Acrylic website:

      ” Polymer Varnish remains soluble in alkaline solvents, such as ammonia. This means the varnish can be easily removed; taking with it any accumulated surface contamination without damaging the painting surface. The use of such a removable varnish provides a valuable tool to anyone trying to restore or clean a painting.”


  9. Hi Will,
    Great news since I’ve already bought it on a recommendation of the sellerperson at a local store.

    Thanks for your help,

  10. Hi Will,

    I’m a hobbyist painter. I just self-study and been reading your articles :) I need your help.. Its just recently that I started making big artworks (3×4′, 4×4).. My problem is.. the gloss varnish I applied didn’t look even. I can see parts that looked like there’s no varnish and some parts that are shiny.

    It’s bothering me.. :( I use acrylics by the way and most of my paintings are a bit textured.

    I put 2 coats of gloss varnish already.. I’m scared to apply another coat as this may ruin it even more. I didn’t apply any isolation coat coz for some reason, I couldn’t find any. Bummer.. Please help me.. I plan on selling my pieces and this problem hinders me for doing so.. Is there a way to correct it?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Lauren,

      You are not alone! trying to achieve an even sheen with a gloss varnish on that scale of painting is an art in itself. I would recommend using a spray varnish as it will be easier to achieve an even sheen. Make sure you shake the can for at least 2 minutes though to get a perfect finish. I would set a timer for 2 minutes and shake for that long, because its longer than you think!

      Also, keep the varnish in the same room as the painting so the varnish has ‘warmed up a bit’ you don’t want to spray a cold varnish in a warm room.

      Good luck,

  11. Hi Will!

    Thanks so much for the great tip! I really hope I’ll be able to find a spray varnish around here..

    Few more questions here, sorry..

    How soon can I apply another coat?

    Should I spray in one direction only or it doesn’t matter as long I’ll be able to cover the whole canvas?

    Should I still use a gloss spray?

    What brand can you recommend? My apologies for the questions.. Just wanna make it right. Thanks soo much, Will!!! :)


    1. Hi Lauren,

      As soon as the varnish is touch dry underneath you can spray ontop.

      The brand I usually use are ‘Golden’ and ‘Winsor & Newton’ they both do an acrylic spray varnish.

      Personally I would continue with the gloss varnish.

      Spray one thin coat one direction, check how it looks, and if it needs another coat turn the canvas 45 degrees and apply another thin coat. Continue in this manner until you have the perfect Varnish finish!


  12. Hi Will,

    Thanks so much for the great advice and tips!! :)


  13. Hi,
    I have been using various paints on my canvases, I have even used at times Benjamin moore household paints as i like the flow better. I just recently finished a painting using household acrylic paint and I then applied a matt non-removable acrylic varnish. After a couple of days and due to potential lightfastness issues, I then sprayed it with a UV removable acrylic varnish. My question is, can the first non-removable varnish be considered as a top coat and secondly, is it ok to mix both varnished the way I have?


    1. Hi Michael,

      The biggest difference will be the potential yellowing of the Matt non-removable acrylic varnish, if it is not an archival artist varnish.
      You could consider it a top coat, however I personally recommend an isolation coat as this is archival.



  14. Hi Will,
    I have a question about texturing my canvas. My friend took an art class and they used ceramic tile adhesive to texture the canvas. I’ve done several paintings with it and it seems to work great. She also varnishes with valspar unique interior faux finish clear protection. It is a non yellowing finish that comes in satin, matte and glossy. Both of these techniques seem to work wonderfully and produce beautiful finished paintings. Just wondering what you think of doing this and whether you think these products are suitable for this use.
    Thanks, Connie

    1. Hi Connie,

      Personally I use materials that are tested for their archival qualities and are artist quality. I haven’t use either of the materials you mentioned so couldn’t comment if they are suitable. However, if you are getting good results and are pleased with them carry on using them.


  15. Hi Will,
    I have been painting for a few years now and discovering new ideas and learning on my own. I recently started painting portraits with acrylics but since I dont feel comfortable using acrylics on the face I have used oil paint(Burnt Umber) for the face and skin.For the ornaments and clothing I used acrylics. I have done this on a 30inch by 36inch canvas. I am not sure how to give it a finish now as I used both mediums.
    I request you to help me on the fininshing.
    Thanks alot for all your articles they really help me.

    1. Hi Abhati,

      It can be tricky when working with both mediums as the solvents used to remove an oil varnish can remove the acrylic paint if you’re not too careful.

      So, ideally, you would paint your acrylic, apply an isolation coat to protect the acrylic.

      Then paint your oil paint and apply a coat of removable varnish, such as Soluvar from Liquitex.

      It is a removable, non-porous final varnish designed for use with oils and acrylics. It can be removed with mineral spirits or turpentine.

      Hope this helps,

  16. Hello Will,
    Thanks so much for your help. I will work on both the mediums the way u recommended.
    I will now try to practice more with acrylics only as it drys faster and gathers less dust since i live in a semi-arid climate.
    I really appreciate your help.


    1. You’re welcome Abhati, one thing I forgot to mention was the isolation coat will form a barrier to the oil paint ‘grabbing’ onto the canvas, so when you apply the isolation coat you would have to carefully brush around the sections you are going to continue to paint with oil. This way the oil paint with form a good bond. I’d do a couple of practice pieces first before experimenting on a fully worked up portrait!


  17. HI Will,
    Yes you are right, that’s what I thought as I am not used to working with the isolation coat or varnish, I do need to practice with some smaller pieces first. Even though I have managed to paint for a few years without using the coating, I am very curious to know more about it. Your articles help me learn and expand my knowledge on painting and the best part is there is no end to learning.

    Thanks so much,

  18. Hello! I’ve been painting for a while and just recently started using varnishes to seal my work. I’ve come to notice it can make some of my work run (usually only when I’ve used more watered down acrylics). If I use an isolation coat, will this prevent the runnage?

    1. Hi sam,

      When Acrylic paint dries it forms like a plastic surface so would never ‘run’ in with a wet layer on top.

      The only thing I can think of is were you using an Open Acrylic or Atelier Interactive Acrylics as these both have a curing time, when they appear dry they can still be reactivated when you add water on top.

      An isolation coat is used between the acrylic paint and varnish, but will still run if your paint isn’t fully cured.



  19. If my gloss varnish is too shiny can I then spray a matte or satin varnish as the second coat to make the painting less shiny? Will this affect the blacks in the painting? Will it make my painting less clear which I definitely don’t want?



    1. Hi Judith,

      Yes, you can add another coat of semi-gloss or matte varnish ontop. It will effect the blacks though and make them appear lighter. The matting agent in both ( less in the semi-gloss) can sometimes add a slightly milky finish. This doesn’t happen every time, just if the matting agent isn’t mixed thouroughly in. If you’re painting is very dark I’d make a test canvas just painted black and try a few alternatives of varnish, this is the safest way to go to guarantee you won’t have any clouding with the varnish.


  20. Hi Will, thanks for the email you sent with your advice about isolation coats, that was very kind of you to take the time… I really like your website here, I would like to add a tip to people here about isolation coats.

    It is always worth mixing the isolation coat slowly (as Will advises) this limits bubbles, but I would add, its best to mix it 24 hours before use as this allows unwanted air bubbles to escape and you don’t want air bubbles in the isolation coat!

    Good Luck!

  21. Very helpful, thanks for posting this information.

    Sorry to ask a stupid question, but I’m new to this. Is it better to varnish before or after stretching the canvas on a mount?

    1. Hi Charles, the varnish would be applied right at the end of the painting process, so the canvas would have already been stretched onto the stretcher bars.


  22. Hi Will,

    I am an artist and decorative painter. I am finishing a large painting for a client that is in acrylics. In my decorative painting business, I have applied final topcoats (on walls for faux finishes or murals), and have used sealers between coats on some finishes. I normally use Faux Effects products. (I normally do murals, not individual paintings) I have a variety of topcoats, all water based. They are in gloss, satin, and dull. I’m planning on a satin. Wasn’t sure if an isolation coat is really necessary. With wall finishes, I know it keeps colors from moving, but this painting doesn’t seem as delicate as some glazed finishes that will move without an isolation coat. Can I get by with a basic satin finish, or is an isolation coat absolutely necessary?

    I’d appreciate your opinion.


    1. Hi Donna,

      The isolation coat is more for ease and smoothness of application of the varnish and removal of the varnish.

      It isn’t absolutely necessary to put an isolation coat on if you’re using a top coat as this will protect the painting and has great Ultra Violet Light protection.

      The satin will give you a nice finish, so go for it!



  23. Hi Will,
    Im currently painting a large (1.2m x 1.8m) outdoor mural on marine ply with some local primary school children. We have used acrylics and are really pleased with the work so far. We want to hang the murals on the wall outside . What would you recommend for varnishing something of this size…bearing in mind the usual school budget restrictions!

    1. Hi Michelle, for that size canvas a single can of spray varnish should do the job if you’ve got a well ventilated space to spray in. The liquitex removable varnish is a good choice as it can be used both internally and externally. It’s also available in tubs if you prefer using a brush.

      Good luck with the mural,


  24. Hello Will

    I just completed painting a table top with acrylic paint. While in process, I gently and briefly dabbed at a small smudged area of fresh paint with a very slightly damp cloth to remove it. I was stunned when it not only removed the fresh paint but also the layer of acrylic beneath it (that had been dry for over 24 hours). I was able to repair the spot but wondered why this happened. In the process of trying to figure out what went wrong. I found out that the carpenter who made my tabletop gave it a base coat of an oil-based paint.

    I am not an experienced painter – this is a one-off project for my home – so I am a bit stymied about how to seal the table once I’ve finished painting it. I am afraid that whatever varnish I use will lift the acrylic layers under it as they are not bonded well with the oil-based base coat.

    A potential problem is that I am in the middle east in a country where there is not a large selection of art products. I can get gel medium – although probably not a reputable brand.

    Do you recommend sealing the table with gel medium – and, if so, what sealant can I put over that? It needs to be well-sealed because it is a dining table, subject to food spills, etc.

    Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Sasha,

      I can sympathize, having painted many a reclaimed furniture piece!!

      Painting acrylics over the top of an oil based paint can sometimes lead to this sort of problem on tables, etc…. I’ve found using a brush can lift off the acrylic layer with the slightest of tampering, even gently rubbing can result in a flaked paint layer.

      As you need the table to be well-sealed and washable, I would advise 1 or 2 thin coats of spray varnish (intended for furniture) first, then when that’s well dry, you should be safe to brush on a decent, thicker top coat of varnish with a soft brush, to seal the deal.

      You don’t need to use art products, it’s more the friction of application that leads to problems, which is why I always find spraying varnish onto delicate work the best solution.

      You could spray it all and build up the layers but it’s often more costly this way, you could always buy a can and see how far you get with it.

      Hope this helps and good luck,


  25. HELP!
    I’m at my witts end!
    I’ve done a MASSIVE painting 15foot by 5foot on faux leather with acrylic. . . . . It doesn’t get easier. . . . It then needs to be functional ie roll ed up and stored when not in use BUT walked on when in use! What can I put as a protective layer over the top to stop it sticking to itself? But at the same time be strong enough to withstand the rolling, unrolling/walking?
    Please please help. Any advice would be grateful.


    1. Hi Shannie,

      This is a tricky one as most varnishes will always have a tendency to stick when rolled, I’d suggest trying a sheet of thin silky fabric laid onto the piece of faux leather before rolling.


  26. Thanks for your reply Will.

    Wouldn’t the silk stick to the acrylic? Is there nothing I could coat/paint it with to protect it? I’m absolutely lost so please forgive my ignorance, I would even try yacht varnish if I thought it would coat it and stop the acrylic sticking to itself when rolled.
    Thanks again for your help and my apologies in advance for the naive questions.


    1. Hi Shannie, if you’re worried about the silk sticking you could always use stiffish piece of plastic (like the plastic sheet you’d cover the floor for decorating) or a spare bit of unpainted canvas.

      Also, roll is loosely with the painting facing outwards, rather than the painting facing inwards.


      1. Hi again……humour me here…(what do you mean again!)

        Just an after thought but would a clear PVA glue work? The theory being that acrylic is porous and the PVA would seal and coat it in a flexible, wipe clean, durable layer??? (maybe? hopefully? possibly? no?)

        Dementedly yours,


        1. Hi Shannie,
          Personally I wouldn’t use PVA glue due to archival issues and would use an isolation coat (soft gel gloss acrylic medium)


  27. Hi,

    I painted a large painting with acrylic paints – I would like to use some pastels on top in small amounts. Can I top both the acrylic and pastels with self leveling gel? I like that shiny finish and have used it in two coats on acrylic paintings then varnished… but I am not sure it will work with pastels?

    1. Hi Lucy,

      I personally haven’t tried it myself, but I would just try a tester piece and see what happens. You might find the pastel needs a fixtative before pouring on the self levelling gel to make sure you don’t get any unwanted smudgings! Maybe try one with fixative, one with out and see what happens.


  28. Good morning Will,

    I recently completed several acrylic paintings, and now considering varnishing them for protection. I have never varnished before, but would look to use a spray.

    I am having issues on deciding which varnish to use, be it satin or matte? I don’t want to use a gloss, as I don’t want a shiney/glasss effect to the painting.

    Can you give me a definitive guide on the pros and cons of satin and matte please?

    With very best wishes,

    1. Hi Ben,

      The only real difference (apart from the aesthetic finish) is the the matt varnish has a greater chance of giving blacks in the painting a milky effect. If your paintings are quite light in tone this won’t be an issue. However, if you have applied an isolation coat to the painting the varnish will cover more easily and you won’t run the risk of the matting agent (which is white) grabbing onto any absorbant areas of your canvas.

      The best advice it to try them both on a couple of small test pieces. This way you can judge the sheen you want, and if you want to get super specific you can get a tub of matt and a tub of satin varnish and intermix them untill you achieve the perfect sheen you’re after.

      Good luck with the varnishing!


      1. Just what I was looking for!! Thanks. What about applying Golden Soft Gel (matte) for the isolation coat? And then the liquid ex matte for the varnish. In the past I’ve used just the liquidex finish but now I think I should try for the varnish also.

        1. Hi Holly, Golden don’t recommend using the soft Gel matte for an isolation coat, just the soft gel gloss, then apply your matte varnish ontop.

  29. Hi

    I’m finishing up making a longboard and I’ve put acrylic paint onto it and now I’m varnishing it and i was wondering if it will work?


    1. Hi Dom, if it’s for a longboard and you’re not intending on removing the varnish in the future for aesthetic reasons I would be tempted to use a yacht varnish.

      It will be more affordable than the acrylic painting varnish, might yellow slightly, but gives really good protection.


  30. Hi,
    I just finished the first acrylic painting, but I dont have any varnish :( I guess the paint will dry before I can buy it…is there any way i can save it ?
    For my watercolour paintings, I used to spray some transparent glue in water mixture..dont know it will work for acrylics or not…

    1. Hi Swapniel, your painting will be fine without varnish for a while, so don’t worry too much, the acrylic forms a strong bond when it dries. The Varnish is to protect the surface for the future.


  31. I went for shopping yesterday for the acrylic’s mediums etc..And I did some mistake in choosing … I bought the varnish which says ‘gloss varnish for oil paintings’, and I bought the gloss medium instead of the gel…
    I can’t use the medium as an alternative of gel I guess… But the oil’s varnish will do or I need particularly acrylic varnish?

    1. Hi Swapniel, I definitely wouldn’t use the oil varnish on your acrylics, you need one specifically for acrylics. You can intermix acrylic gels and acrylic mediums fine on your paintings.


      1. Oh okay, I will look for one specifically for acrylics. Until then I am just keeping the paintings wrapped in cellophane, I hope it will protect them from dust…

  32. Hello,

    I recently finished painting a wooden piano bench with acrylic paints and wanted to seal it with varnish. Is it necessary to put an isolation coat, or will it be okay to just apply the varnish?

    1. Hi Amelia, no you shouldn’t need an isolation coat, you’ll be good to go straight away with the Varnish, unless you want to remove and replace the varnish in the future.


  33. Will,
    Do I need to do more than one coat of varnish?

    1. It depends on the finish you are after, if you’re trying to get a deep gloss glass-like effect I’ve known artist apply 30 – 40 coats, however, often one or two coats will suffice for most applications.

  34. hi will
    please what is an isolation coat I have finished my first acrylic painting

    1. Hi Sarah, an isolation coat is a barrier you apply to your painting which aids smooth application of a varnish, and allows for easy varnish removal and cleaning in the future. her’s an article about applying an isolation coat.



  35. Hi Will,

    I’m a hobbyist painter but exhibiting for the first time in a joint exhibition late November 2013.

    I have been reading your website Q&A’s and have found them very illuminating. I was not aware that acrylic paints need to cure. I have been having issues with one of my painting techniques – I drip paint onto a wet surface for the beautiful effects it produces, however, I have found that the colours are not fast and was really worried about varnishing them. These paintings were finished July/August and are being exhibited late November. Please can you advise me regarding when and how to varnish.

    As I have found that the colours are not fast I was wondering if a spray varnish might work so that I don’t have to move the paint, or would you suggest some method of fixing the paint first? I have used Daler Rowney Cryla Artists Acrylic (the paintings are on canvas). I was planning on doing test pieces with the varnish first but if the paint needs time to cure then testing won’t work as I don’t have any pieces with watery effects already done in test.

    Should I apply an isolation coat? I think it unlikely that purchasers will want to remove and re-apply varnish.

    I have used metallic acrylic paints in some of my pictures, would you recommend a satin or a gloss varnish? I also have one piece with a lot of black and payne’s grey in it so I’m not keen on using a matte varnish. Some of the metallics have been applied over texture (3d fabric paint so the texture is not very deep).

    Your advice would be much appreciated, Jo

    1. Hi Jo,

      Pleased you’ve been enjoying the website, when you say ‘the colours are not fast’ could you clarify?


      1. Hi Will, thanks for replying so quickly, sorry for my late reply, I’ve been on holiday in Greece. By the colour not being ‘fast’ I just meant that the colour runs if I get it wet or touch it with a wet brush or add more colour. I haven’t touched these pieces for 2 to 3 months, how long does acrylic take to ‘cure’ if it was applied very wet? Hope this clarifies, regards Jo

        1. Hi Jo,

          Mmm, very strange, that’s what I thought you meant.

          Acrylic is usually touch dry in a few minutes and fully cured in 24 hours, unless the paint is particularly thickly applied.

          Acrylics dry by evaporation, if they were applied very wet they would dry even quicker.

          The only acrylics that ‘re-open’ when wet are Golden OPEN acrylics or Atelier Interactive acrylics, what brand are you using?


  36. Hi Will,
    I put an isolation coat on my painting, waited a few days and then brushed on Golden Satin Varnish per the instructions. In spite of being careful, I have many many tiny bubbles. Where did I go wrong, and is there any way to fix it?

    1. Opps! Told you the wrong varnish – it’s Liquitex Satin Varnish so it’s permanent. Could I very lightly sand it with very fine sandpaper and then re-varnish?

      1. Personally I wouldn’t sand the surface as it would dull the surface of the varnish, the only way to try with a super fine wet and dry paper would be to apply the varnish to a scrap piece of card/canvas with bubbles in the varnish and then test onto this, but you would still loose the clarity of the varnish.

    2. Hi Patty, the tiny bubble can come if you’ve miked the varnish, but haven’t let all the foam bubbles pop out before applying.

  37. Hi Will – i have read and researched many sites however i am still not sure what varnish is best for my current work using cut and reassembled book covers. I have been sealing the finished work with diluted PVA glue and then using Galeria matt varnish by Windsor Newton. I feel the finished result is too flat. I need to preserve the beautiful colours of the book covers. Any suggestions would be appreciated – all my work is using non traditional materials in mixed media assemblages. Thank you, Regards, Kareina

    1. Hi Kareina, a matt varnish will always dull the colours you’ve painted, whereas a gloss varnish will make the colours appear more vibrant. I would make a sample swatch of matte / satin and gloss over the same solid colour so you can judge which effect it best for your book project.


  38. For Acrylic paintings which would you recommend, Matte of Gloss varnish?

    1. Hi Eileen, it is an entirely personal choice, depending on the mood, feel and finish you’re trying to achieve. Both will protect the painting, a gloss varnish will bring out the colours in the paints more.


  39. Hi Will,

    I just varnished two acrylic paintings. One was small and very easy to varnish. (I used Golden). It came out great. The other was 16X20 I believe, and it was a disaster. Some of the paint, which had been dry for weeks, actually came off when I stroked the varnish brush across the surface. Is there any way to prevent this in the future? Was the isolation coat not thick or even enough?

    Thanks for your help,

    1. Hi Erin,

      How strange, when you have an isolation coat applied (I usually apply a couple of coats) the varnish ‘sits’ ontop, so the paint brush doesn’t actually touch the paint, it touches the isolation coat. Think of it like laying a sheet of glass over your painting and then painting a varnish ontop of the glass, it couldn’t take off what’s underneath the ‘glass’. So a thicker isolation coat sound like it would be the answer.



  40. I varnish all my acrylic paintings. I use a satin or gloss varnish. I’ve tried different brands. The last one I used was by Liquitex. The problem I am having is that after applying the varnish my white paints are turning lavender or pinkish if I’ve painted over a darker color (especially black or red). What can I do to prevent that from happening? Is there a specific type varnish I should be using? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Iris,

      Artist quality acrylic paints, once dry, shouldn’t then bleed other colours as they create a plastic resist. out of interest which brand are you using?

      Also, have you applied an isolation coat first?



  41. I want my painting to have a slightly aged look. Where can I find a varnish that leaves a slightly yellowed tint. I have been searching online for hours and am beginning to feel like I’m the only one who has ever wanted the the yellowing.

    1. Most natural varnishes will yellow with age, but it can take a while to happen. My advice would be to apply a glaze of a muted yellow to the whole of your painting to give the yellowing effect and then to apply a standard varnish ontop – instant Old master!

  42. Hi Will,

    First off – thanks for this website! I just starting painting again after completing one portrait four years ago and then convincing myself I was rubbish ^.^. I’m loving being back into it again and have picked up loads of great tips from your site which I am slotting into my method and learning.

    I have just applied isolation coats (with the soft gel gloss) to a couple of my newest paintings with a view to varnishing them tomorrow. I’ve don’t have any spray, so have read the brush method here.

    My question is – have you ever used a sponge to apply varnish to paintings? I saw a video showing the method the other day with someone using a very slightly damp sponge, putting some varnish on the sponge and then rubbing it over the painting, the idea being that it is quick and even application. Just wondering if this was something you would recommend, or should I stick to brush method?
    One of the paintings I want to varnish is my very first commission, (which took ages!) so I don’t want to mess it up! :)

    Thanks for any help!


    1. Hi Sophie,

      Yes if its a water based varnish and a fairly small painting you’ll be able to get an even finish with a sponge. Just work in thin layers and build up slowly.


  43. Hi Will
    Great site! Your follow up on all of these questions is great!!
    I have just painted a very large 2m x 2m acrylic canvas. Most of the painting is a very dark charcoal almost black colour, (atelier interactive acrylics) and the problem is that it has dried very patchy. Some areas totally matte while others are slightly glossy. Is varnishing my best option to achieve a uniform finish. if so, is an isolation layer essential? and is there a way to ensure that the varnish will not dry patchy as it is such a large area? i think id have to rule out spray as i only want to varnish the dark colour. Any advice greatly appreciated :-)

    1. Hi Andy,

      Pleased you’ve been enjoying the site.

      If you have a read of this article, and then a read of the comments you’ll see this link to the best recommendations for varnishing and applying an isolation coat specifically with Atelier Interactive.

      Hope it helps,


  44. Hi Will,
    I would like to know how long do you need between vanish coats …..I have been applying them as soon as my paintings feel dry but they seem to be tacky and some of them I completed months ago. I paint in acrylics, I do use an isolation coat and 3 coats of vanish.
    Regards Judy

    1. Hi Judy, varnishes can vary depending on manufacturer and how thick you apply the varnish. But most waterbased varnishes dry after 24hours.


  45. Hi Will,
    I have used UNI POSCA pens on my acrylic paintings around 5 months ago. Now I applied varnish paint on it but it was dissolved because that pen line was not dried enough. I did not apply isolation coat so how can I remove that varnish paint?
    I used Liquitex high gloss varnish.
    For my other paintings, how can I varnish them? I used that pens for my all acrylic paintings.
    I can not apply isolation coat because I am afraid it happen again.
    So I am thinking of spray varnish. Is that good idea? Without isolation coat, it can be removed for future repainting?
    Your advice will be much appreciated.
    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Sung, it depends on the Varnish that was used – if it was a removable or non-removable varnish. You might this article helpful to understand the differences.

      The Posca pens are water-based so this could be the reason why the varnish was dissolving/altering the finish. It might be worth emailing Posca direct to see what they recommend for the best protection of the pigments they use in the pen. Let me know if you find out any recommendations from them.



      1. Hi Will,
        I sent email to posca but no reply. I am not going to use it any more.
        Thanks for your advice.


        1. Hi Sung, what a shame they didn’t get back, thanks for letting me know.

  46. I followed the directions for golden archival matte spray varnish on an acrylic painting on wood panel but after several weeks its still tacky. I am planning on using the surface as a desk top so I need it to be hard. What would you recommend?
    Thank you Will

    1. Hi Tracy,

      Mmm, I’m not sure why the Matte varnish is still tacky after several weeks, have you tried Golden technical support? they are super helpful for product specific info.

      Let me know if you find out why its still tacky.


  47. Hey Will!
    I’ve found this article and the one about the isolation coat to be very helpful! So thank you so much for writing these! I just finished my first ever Acrylic painting on a canvas and I want to make sure it doesn’t get damaged from dust or anything! Haha. So, I noticed that you provided the exact brand of isolation coat you use (Golden Soft Gel Gloss) and I have ordered that. But I was wondering what exact brand of varnish you use. If you could help me out with that it would be greatly appreciated!

  48. Hi Will, I have been read all your recommendations regarding varnishing acrylic paintings and taken them on board. I paint using two very different techniques. One with palette knives, thick layers of paint mixed with varying mediums and/or fibres and the other by heavily diluting the paint with water and various flow enhancers. I am currently working on two separate collections but all the paintings to date are left unvarnished as I am scared of ruining them, particularly the heavily watered, more pastel like ones which use a lot of Paynes Grey in various dilutions. Any advice you can direct specifically for those in terms of isolation and then varnishing would be invaluable. Many thanks :-)

    1. Hi Shelly,

      You don’t need to varnish the paintings, but what I would do is make a few mini tester pieces (about 6 inch square) they can be on thick card and then you can create ‘extreme’ versions of your larger works. So one with very thick impasto paint, one with super thin wash layers. Then experiment with the different finishes, spray varnish or isolation coat, gloss or matte, varnish or no varnish, until you find the perfect finish you’re after.

      Hope this helps,


  49. Hi Will,
    I am doing mixed media collages on masonite board using the Golden Acrylics. I put the Golden Self Leveling Gel on as a topcoat and don’t use varnish. I’m wondering if you know whether or not the gel topcoat will become tacky at outdoor shows where the temperatures can be upwards of 90 degrees. Would a varnish stand up to these temps better?
    Likewise, do cold outdoor temperatures affect the Gel and/or varnish coats?
    I can’t seem to get answers from the Golden website or their reps.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Deb, I couldn’t say 100% as I personally haven’t tested the Gel to that level of heat. The Mineral spirit varnishes usually always dry to a harder surface than polymer varnishes or gels so would be less likely to tack up. The Golden technical advice would probably be the best bet. I would also be temped to make a couple of test pieces with the self levelling gel and take keep it outside and check the temperature and tackiness.


  50. Hi Will, I saw a youtube video of someone varnishing with a sponge and it was so quick. I was wondering what you thought of this method.

    1. Hi Deborah,

      I touch briefly on the pros and cons of a sponge on this article:

      Q. Do you ever a use a sponge to apply an isolation coat?

      A. No, a sponge has the tendency to cause froth and bubbles in the isolation coat, but can be used when applying certain water-based varnishes.

      If you’re working with a fluid polymer varnish and not applying an isolation coat then it can work.



  51. Hello Will! I have a question about re-painting?
    I recently finished an acrylic ( mainly normal Atelier interactive ) on canvas work, then put about 3 layers of spray varnish on it ( I used Schmincke gloss acrylic 50 580 ) but I have since decided to re-do a couple of parts. I wasn’t even aware of an isolation coat, so haven’t done that. Oops!

    My question is – do I need to remove the varnish on the areas I wish to re-do? Or can I simply paint over the varnish and then re-spray the whole thing?
    Alternatively, is there a product that I can paint onto the varnish to make it workable with acrylics again without the need for removal?

    Also, a tip that I found for spray-varnishing is to put the can submerged almost completely in hot water before using it. I had HEAPS of trouble with droplets and spots and this was a great solution!

    Many thanks Will


    Gareth Price!

    1. Hi Gareth,

      Nice to hear from you, for Atelier acrylics its a bit different because of the re-wetting qualities of the paint. You might find this article from Marion Boddy-Evans helpful and this varnishing download from the Chroma website helpful.

      You can’t apply a product to the varnish to make it re-workable again.

      Hope the articles help,



  52. I just painted over the varish and resplayed on it. It works O.K.
    If you trying to remove varinish paints you will have problems with your acrylics paints. Acrylics also will be removed. especially Atelier….

  53. Hi Will,
    What great info! Thank you for sharing your expertise so generously.

    I make mixed media pieces, stretched canvas with acrylics, watercolor ground from Daniel Smith — an absorbent ground that allows me to use water soluble inks and watercolor paint, pastels, pencil, colored pencil, etc. Some pieces also include paper, and stitching with linen thread.

    I really like the look of unframed stretched canvas, and I also paint the sides of the stretched canvas, so framing is not an option, but I want to protect my pieces from dust, UV, etc. as best as possible.

    Given that my finished paintings are often not waterproof, how would you recommend varnishing? Ideally I’d like an isolation coat, but I’m afraid that using gel will cause the paints and inks to move.

    Would it be appropriate to seal the surface with MSA spray varnish–as an initial isolation coat below the “protect the paint layer in the event of varnish removal” isolation coat, then apply a coat of gloss gel, then more layers of spray varnish after that?

    Also, how should I advise my clients to dust/clean their paintings? Can a painting varnished with several layers of spray MSA be safely cleaned with a damp cloth?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Hope you’re doing well. For your mixed media pieces I wouldn’t personally recommend a varnish due to the watersoluble nature of your materials and the way the varnish can alter the aesthetics of the piece.

      You might find this article of interest which is Golden Paints recommendations for varnishing watercolours.

      Hope it helps,



  54. Will,
    Thank you for the information and your great advice. I agree, testing is always the best way to go.

  55. Hi
    I used up my satin varnish on a painting I did in two light coats but it is patchy in the light. Is it ok to apply a matt varnish on top please?



    1. Hi Nat, yes you can apply a Matte varnish ontop of the satin varnish


  56. I want to put an isolation coat over Gesso. It is acrylic paint too so is there any problem with the idea?
    Thanks for lessons, tips and help. i’d be at a stand still with out it.

    1. Hi Jon, you can put an isolation coat over gesso but you’ll then loose the absorbency and ‘tooth’ you would have achieved by applying the gesso and painting straight onto that.

  57. Hi Will,
    I’m wondering if you have any advice on sealing oil paintings. I have a large oil painting on a wood panel and I’m not sure how and when to seal it. I was thinking polyurethane but I’m concerned about discoloration of the paint. I’m also wondering how long to let the painting dry before applying the seal. I’ve been using fast drying oil paints and mediums due to a time constraint. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!

  58. My question is .
    I have an acrylic painting, I would like to highlight areas with a silver metallic pen to
    simulate chrome.
    If I do this ,and wait correct amount of drying time (2 weeks)
    When I varnish the painting with gloss.
    Will the gloss smudge the areas where I used the silver?
    thank you

    1. Hi Wendy, the varnish might smudge the pen depending on the materials used in the pen. I would make a small test piece first just with the silver pen and then varnish just over that and see if it smudges. Alternatively you could use a silver acrylic paint.

      Hope this helps,

      1. Thank you
        I guess I’m buy some acrylic silver .

  59. Hi Will, If I decide to use a gloss gel over my finished acrylic painting do I have to then use a spray varnish or can I either just use a varnish or just use a gel gloss; Thank you

    1. Hi Suzette, if you decide to add an isolation coat of soft gel gloss, you can then apply either the spray varnish or brush varnish.

  60. Hello Will,

    I was hoping for some advice. I am making set dressing for an outdoor shakespeare production an need to make around 100 love letters to hang from trees that will be open to the lovely british summer time. I have spoken to some paper suppliers and they have suggested rag paper as the best way to go I was just wondering if some matte varnish over the top would make them more weather hardy? Also would the varnish cause ink to run on application?

    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Bethany,

      Personally if they’re going to be outside, I would opt for a simple solution of Matt laminating the letters, then trimming them very closely to the letter.

      Varnishing them is an awful lot work that may cause running and wont be 100% weatherproof, however if you laminate them each letter would have to be smooth and not crumpled/ aged looking you might want.

      Try one of each methods this week and hang them in your garden for a couple of weeks – so you can see what’s going to work aesthetically and practically!

      Hope this helps,


  61. Hi Will,

    I am a beginner, mostly painting for myself and family, so nothing super fancy. I toned a canvas with oil paint a year ago, but ended up not using it. I recently decided to do a painting with acrylics and used said canvas since I had it around. I know acrylics over oils is a no-no, but it’s already done, and was a very thin layer of oil. I’d like to varnish it, but am unsure how to go about it. Any feedback would be appreciated.


    1. Hi Pamela, personally I wouldn’t varnish it due to the acrylic/oil combination, but if you’d still like to go ahead a spray varnish would be your best bet that is suitable for both oils and acrylics.


  62. Hi Will,
    I am thoroughly impressed by your website and its clear, useful information. My first stop is always here when I have a painting concern!

    I just started using acrylics and would like to varnish what I’ve done so far. I used Liquitex gloss varnish (acrylic polymer emulsion) and was told that I can simply clean the brush with soap and water. It became gummy as soon as the water touched the bristles. After using olive oil and lots of soap and painstakingly picking at the brush I managed to get most of it out. There must be a better way?! Thanks.


    1. Hi Cindy, pleased you’ve been finding the website helpful, mmm, that’s strange, most acrylic polymer based varnishes will behave really well with soap and water. Was it just with this one brand?

  63. Hi Will

    I have applied imitation gold leaf onto a thinly painted acrylic ground. It didn’t stick very well as I used pva instead of size, as I had it in the house and had read somewhere that this would work. I want to paint acrylics over the top now, and I understand that if I use an MSA varnish, I can do this. I’m also hoping that this will help stabilise the flaky gold leaf. The patchy appearance of the gold leaf doesn’t bother me as intend to paint heavily over the top. Can i use Golden MSA varnish with UVLS without dulling the gold leaf?

    many thanks!


    1. Hi Lindsey, when working with gold leaf I usually use an Oil Gold Size (I use one from C. Robertson & Co) so haven’t personally tried to see how much ‘stick’ you get with PVA. My advice would be to have a small test piece with the PVA and the Gold Size, spray with the varnish and then carry on. However, another point to note is the varnish is designed as a final gloss finish, so will give you a slippy surface to work onto and will make it harder for the acrylics to adhere.


  64. Hi Will,
    I am an oil painter – however i just completed a VERY large acrylic piece – and asked advice from a group of other professional artists who use acrylic exclusively about varnishing- was told to do an isolation coat. As this painting is so large using a brush really was not practical so i was told to use a short nap de-linted “long john” roller- the kind that is about an inch or so in diameter. Not a foam roller. And I used Golden Gloss Poly medium that I had thinned a bit – as I was planning on a couple of coats – and stirred, not shaken it- it is about 80 % medium and 20 % water (the medium itself right out of the jar is fairly runny so I did not want to thin it too much) all of which fell directly in line with what I was told to do by this group of artists… I only applied one coat, however an amount of the painting looks as if it has cloudy marks from the roller all over it. It is not quite dry yet – meaning not bone dry – it is dry to the touch, but not if you grab it – your fingers will stick to the surface a bit – and this is about 10 hours after I applied the medium isolation coat. Is there something I can do to eliminate the cloudiness? Do I have to repaint the whole thing? Can I sand the isolation coat down? Of COURSE I have a potential buyer for this painting showing up….HELP!

    1. Hi Jan,

      The ‘Golden Gloss Polymer medium’ is designed to have a more ‘oil-like’ feel and is used for creating glazes, extending colours etc, rather than as an isolation coat, which is why you might be having some of the ‘sticky’ feeling to the surface.

      For an isolation coat I use ‘Soft Gel gloss’ diluted with water.

      To answer your questions:

      Is there something I can do to eliminate the cloudiness?

      Unfortunately, no

      Can I sand the isolation coat down?

      Not really.

      I know this doesn’t really help now, but with using any new varnish/materials I always make small sample test pieces and try out the materials before going in on the whole piece.

      I do hope you can find a way around it, as you can paint over sections of the cloudiness.


      1. I NEVER use rollers for isolation coat or varnish; they are prone to leaving small bubbles in the film and give an unwanted opacity to the layer.
        I have found one paint line (in US) that manufactures “Super Soft” synthetic brushes intended for commercial painters applying varnish to trim, etc. These work wonderfully when doing glazes or applying diluted Soft Gel Gloss as an isolation coat and are available in sizes up to three inches wide. The stiffer bristle brushes tend to leave texture marks, ridges, and may also contribute to the lifting of softer paint films noted by some respondents.

        Matte mediums and varnishes will reduce contrast and colour saturation due to the silicate particles typically used to give the matte finish. You cannot reverse this effect after the fact.
        Gloss mediums and varnishes may leave an objectionable reflective sheen on the surface, but tend to maximize colour intensity and contrast.
        Satin, or semi-mat, is somewhere between the two; providing a less glossy finish without substantially reducing contrast of dulling colours. The relative degree of these effects does vary from one product to another.
        With this in mind, I typically use gloss for isolation coat and initial coats of varnish. If I feel the reflective qualities are too much for a particular piece, one or two spray coats of a satin varnish are used to reduce gloss to an acceptable level.

        There is nothing you can do to restore the dulling effect of a matte coating once it is applied, so matte or gloss should be the very last decision made.

        There is no value in applying any isolation coat or varnish unless the final owner knows what you have done. Keep records!!! I include a sheet with each painting detailing the methods and materials used to prep the substrate, do the painting, and varnish the surface when completed. If the piece ever needs cleaning or repair, it may be impossible to determine this was done in acrylics, let alone what you may have done (or not done!) to protect the surface.

  65. Hi Will,
    I find your site really helpful and I admire your passion of sharing your experience with anyone of interest. I need your advice on a matter concerning the isolation coat and the top varnish. I paint in acrylics using brushes and pallet knives as well as modelling paste and acrylic household pastes and the result has some kind of texture in particular places of the canvas. Because of this texture, I was wondering is it good to put the isolation coat with golden gloss medium or not and then is it better and safer to spray the varnish or shall I try and varnish it with a brush. I am also unsure whether is better to use a mat varnish or a glossy one. You could have a look at some of my paintings at
    thank you so so much

    1. Hi Nadia,

      Thanks for your kind comments, your paintings don’t look too thick so you would be able to apply an isolation coat with a brush. The best thing to do is make a few small textural test pieces and paint varying thickness of paint on each. Then test with both spray and brush until you find the perfect mix for applying a varnish to your work.


  66. Hello! I am new to using acrylic mediums and varnishes and I came across your article. I varnished a piece recently and they looked great, but then I put them away in storage and a few of them got imprints from the wax paper between them. My question is — can I fix this issue just by adding another layer of varnish, or should I remove the current varnish layer (I used the Golden UVLS Gloss Varnish) and reapply?

    Thank you for your insight!!!


    1. Hi Mela, mmm, sounds a tricky one, as building up layers of varnish can often still show imprints through, but it would be easier to add an extra coat rather than remove the layer. I would try and ‘re-create’ the imprint on a scrap piece of canvas/board and then apply a couple of coats to see if it covers over the imprint.

      Hope you can save you paintings!


  67. Hello,
    Thanks for all your wonderful information.

    How long after applying varnish before it is safe to have the paintings touch each other in a storage rack, and before packing and shipping?


    1. Hi Addison, usually a few days after you’ve varnished you’ll be fine,


  68. Hi Will

    Just want to say how fab your website is – its literally a life saver!

    Quick question on varnishing – I’m about to ‘do’ my first one and thought I’d use a roller (it’s how I apply gesso and background and creates a perfect smooth surface)

    Planning to test on an old piece I’m not too worried about destroying but thought I’d see if you had any thoughts first?

    Verity x

    1. Hi Verity,

      Thanks for your kind comments, I personally wouldn’t use a roller because it can often cause the varnish to foam and give you lots of tiny bubbles that can leave round marks in the varnish surface. The extent of foam can vary depending on brand of varnish / roller, so give it a test because on some acrylic medium based varnishes they can work okay.


  69. I finally put some varnish on a few of my paintings and photos I’d transferred to canvas. I first did an isolation coat of soft gloss gel as Will suggested. That made the images a bit reflective so I turned to a matte varnish. Too flat. So I laid down a satin varnish and got the perfect result.

    1. Great one Hardy, pleased you found the sheen that suited you best.

  70. Hi Will, and thanks for all of this. I have a “funny” question. I have a finished acrylic painting on which I applied 2 coats of soft gel as an isolation coat, but not a final varnish, then put it away. Months later, I now see that I’d like to touch up the painting. Do you think I can do this? I assume that if I do, I would need to apply new coats of soft gel as isolation coats. Cheers. Anne

    1. Hi Anne, Yes, you will be able to paint over the isolation coat no problems, but after you’ve made your touch ups you’ll then need another coat (or two) of the isolation coat to even the sheen again before applying the varnish.


  71. Hi Will, I didn’t notice anyone else asking this so – I’ve been restoring a table using acrylic paints and to finish sprayed it with what I thought was an Acrylic Matte Clear coat. It smelled like an enamel/lacquer, and as I used it some spots turned milky. Have I ruined my table? Is there any way to remove the milky look? Thanks

    1. Hi Linda, the milky look is usually caused by the matting agent (which is white). Often with spray cans they need a really long shake before using (about 2 minutes) so the matting agent gets evenly dispersed.

  72. Will, I have put on an isolation coat and then varnished one of my paintings. It came out with a couple streaks that is very distracting. It has been sitting for months now, and I am wondering if at this point in time, I can fix the streaks by adding more varnish? Or is it a lost cause? I would appreciate your help!

    1. Hi Kari, yes you can add more layers of varnish ontop to try and even out the streaks, the number of coats will depend on the amount of surface texture/visible brush marks on the streaks.

  73. hello Will!

    Great site you have here. :)
    I also wish you could help me with opinions with a project am working on.
    So i’m doing a 20×22 canvas and im transferring a laser printed photo on it.
    I will cover it with charcoal and acrylic afterwards. The transfer is via soft gel glos medium. Id like to protect itwith varnish after reading your article. Question is, what
    varnish should I use so none of my mixed media will be destroyed. Also,
    i have no plans of touching it again in the future, so is it enough to varnish it and frame it with glass to remain a good piece forever? im new in this and have no idea how long the art can last. Hoping to hear back from you. Thanks a bunch and more power!!:)

    1. Hi Abbz, if you’ve no plans of re-touching or varnishing in the future you can apply a spray varnish to your work. I would fix the charcoal first with a spray charcoal fixative and then apply a varnish ontop. The best way to test is to make a small (6 x 4 inch) picture using the same mediums and try with the spray and see if the final aesthetic is to your liking.
      Hope this helps,


  74. Very nice, thank you for the advice, wish I had read this 10min earlier.

  75. Cheers Will,
    I just completed a major mural project designed by local artists and painted by 50 Elem School kids, Australian Aboriginal dot style,
    using hardware store matte acrylic house paints on Tara Sign cloth canvas, for the local Recreation Center.
    18 feet long by 52 inches in height
    It is planned to mount it in the pool area which is high in chlorine laden humidity.
    It will definitely need to be sealed.
    What do you advise?

    1. Hi Paul, sounds like an amazing piece. I wouldn’t use a polymer varnish outside as they are not intended for external use, the Golden MSA varnish would work outside, here is a page about the varnish from the Golden website, with specific advice on mural painting.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks Wiil.
        It will be placed in a big room with an inside heated pool in Wyoming, hence the humidity factor.
        Does this change your advice?

        1. Hi Paul, mmm, I’m not sure regarding the humidity factor, I would email Golden Technical support ([email protected]) to double check the varnish has been tested within these conditions.

  76. Hello!
    You seem to be the perfect person to ask. I have just bought a large canvas acrylic painting that is I framed and unsealed. I want to hang it in my bathroom. I have a pretty decent ceiling fan for humidity etc but still obviously cautious of the steam affecting the painting overtime. I’ve been told by a few ppl to ‘seal it’ as I’d really not like to have to frame it. I was told I can do it myself… Eeeeee lol… Can you please recommend what would be the best way to do this? (How many layers? Paint or spray sealer? Etc – the paint itself is chunky/bumpy in some areas, it does not all sit flat on the canvas) I really appreciate your help as I’m not the most knowledgeable on this topic


    1. Hi Julia, applying a acrylic polymer varnish with a brush will be the easiest method for you, but the painting may-well have already been sealed by the artist so you wouldn’t need to apply a coat yourself.
      Hope this helps,


  77. This summer family members each painted custom made paint-by-numbers (of Tahoe). Obviously cherished art! I’m sealing them per your recommendation (isolation coat- so far). I would like to tone down their brightness and give them a more vintage look…can I add any tint to the varnish, and if so, any suggestions?

    Obviously not an artist,

    1. Hi Roberta, you can just apply a thin coat of yellow ochre dulled down with burnt umber over the surface and then varnish ontop.


  78. I wanted to varnish my finished work and decided to use Reeves matte finish.
    However the result was almost nil so I purchased a bottle of gloss varnish. I applied two coats in opposite directions. I am not happy because the varnish has left wide streaks down the whole of the work.
    Is there anything that I can do eg. Go over the sections that are not covered by the gloss? Please help.

    1. Hi Lina, the matte varnish would have been applied but would have looked like a matte sheen, it still would have been protected, just not a glossy finish. You can apply another coat of varnish to even the sheen.

  79. Hi Will,

    Thanks for such an awesome sharing.. I have a question. Sometimes I mix glitter with my painting ( I paint in acrylic). I love the looks when the light hits the canvas……YET when I put the varnish, the glitter doesn’t shine the same anymore..

    could I apply the glitter with a medium base transparent, after the varnish to highlight.. ?

    would that work?

    Thank you!


    1. Hi Maria, nice to hear from you, I haven’t really experimented with glitter on my paintings, but in theory, yes, applying the glitter afterwards would give you that sheen, the best thing to do is create some mini experiments with different varnishes and glitter ratios to see which aesthetic you like the best.
      Hope this helps,


  80. Hi Will,
    I am in a bit of a dilemma. I shipped 4 varnished oil paintings to Miami which were unpacked and exhibited (in good condition), then they were repacked and shipped to San Francisco and sat in the crate for 3-4 weeks. The paintings on panel were wrapped in 4 ply plastic, two layers of 1/4 inch pink insulation foam, fitting perfectly in a wood crate. I noticed a subtle texture on the foam which made an imprint through the plastic onto the surface of the varnished painting; similar to what bubble wrap can do (which I know not to use). I use Winsor Newton Artists Gloss Varnish. Can I resolve the issue by applying another coat of varnish?? Please advise! Thank you, Jaime

    Please note that I varnished the paintings 3 days prior to packing and shipping to Miami, but they were fine at that point.

    1. Hi Jamie, dang, I’ve been there with the bubble wrap varnish scenario and it isn’t pretty, the options are either

      1) to apply extra coats to even out the texture

      2) to remove the varnish and start again.

      I would be tempted to try to ‘re-create’ the imprint effect on a small test piece of canvas and then try both options, otherwise you could spend your time applying extra coats, still not achieving the desired aesthetic and then having to remove extra coats of varnish.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks Will,
        I actually had a older painting in my studio that was shipped the same way. I unpacked it and found the same marks. It’s seems to be that compression and time spent in the crate will eventually make odd markings on the varnish. Mostly noticeable if you have a dark flat colors. Good news though, I applied another coat of varnish to the already varnished painting and it fixed the issue. Thanks for the advice!

        1. Good news Jaime, pleased the extra coat of varnish fixed it.

  81. Hi there. After varnishing an acrylic painting with an isolation coat, followed by a golden uvls polymer varnish in satin finish (brush on, not spray) I’m noticing a small error in one section of the painting. (Some white gesso dust from the table got onto my brush as I was varnishing and now there are a few white speckles that I can’t seem to get off with my fingernail). The varnish is now dry. Can I paint over this and then re-varnish, or do I have to remove the varnish first? Thanks!

    1. Hi Greta, if they are only tiny specks you could get away with just touching them in with paint and then re-varnishing.

  82. Hi Will,
    I wonder if you can help – I have recently taken up acrylic painting and varnished a finished piece. Unfortunately I hadn’t heard of putting an isolation coat on and applied a coat of Matt varnish. I have what appears to be cracks in it that are very obvious – do I remove the varnish from the section and touch up the paint if any comes of? Do I have to remove the varnish from the whole painting or are there any other ways I can save it? I am not sure why the cracks appeared as this is the first time this has happened.
    Any advice greatly appreciated. Thanks

    1. Hi Ann, nice to hear from you, mmm I’m not sure why the cracks have appeared so early on. If the varnish layer is very thick and the painting gets knocked, this can cause cracking, but its usually on Dammar based varnishes that have become brittle over time, how many layers of varnish where applied?

  83. I’ve just found your website, having failed to find answers elsewhere to a problem I’ve never encountered before – as happened to one of your correspondents up above, I varnished an acrylic (and I’ve been painting in acrylics since the 1960s) and some of the colour lifted, while a thicker area of white turned into a soapy smear. I was fortunately able to remove the paint that had made the (very worrying!) mess, and over-paint (with a different brand) so that the painting is almost exactly restored to the way it looked before the disaster.

    This was just one relatively small but crucial area of the painting – in full light: it would seem that the paint just hadn’t dried throughout before I varnished it, even though I gave it (I think) 24 hours’ drying time.

    I’ve never been in the habit of applying an isolation coat, and have got away with not doing so for the last 40 years or so – but I shall be applying one in future. However, this can’t be the the whole answer: acrylic paint shouldn’t lift like that, still less smear. The word ‘saponification’ comes to mind … what do you think? By the way, the painting was made on a canvas board, ie canvas stretched over board and universally primed. I won’t name the paint brand on a public forum, because if it’s not the fault of the paint it wouldn’t be fair. But it’s a brand I’ve used for many years now, and is known as a fine-grained acrylic which can also be reduced to an ink or watercolour consistency. I’m conducting my own fairly exhaustive experiments, but would be very interested in your view.

    1. Hi Robert, nice to hear from you, that sounds really strange, I’m trying to decipher the brand from your clues but couldn’t guess 100%, 24 hrs should be long enough for a hardening on the paint film (depending on thickness of application) and whites are usually pretty stable (sometimes blacks can be a bit temperamental if applies onto a non-absorbent surface). Have you been able to re-create the smearing in your tests?


      1. Hallo again: the short answer is yes and no: I’ve not been able to replicate the smearing effect, because I took precautions against it, but I do think I’ve found the cause, both from my tests and from talking to the paint manufacturer, and a consultant to a paint manufacturer who is himself a painter in acrylic.

        I believe that I didn’t leave quite enough time before varnishing, and that I also slightly over-diluted the paint: although I don’t believe either was the main reason. Nor – and this is why I haven’t identified the brand publicly, but would be happy to tell you privately – do I believe it’s the paint, which I’ve used for many years. (In fact I used two brands of acrylic, one of which I’ve used since around 1964 with no problems.)

        I got the first clue when I took a close look at the boards I’ve been using – tucked into the weave is a shiny substance (why I don’t know: anti-fungicide?) which in places is concentrated, and repels water. If it does that, I reasoned, it would also repel paint: and I tried it; and it did. I then heard from the paint-maker’s consultant, who advised me that he’s encountered the problem before, exclusively with canvas boards and some brands of stretched canvas: a substance is added to some of them in manufacture which presents a shiny surface, to which acrylic paints, especially the finely ground ones, won’t adhere (or they will, but they then lift if you try to glaze over them or varnish them).

        His solution, which he learned from a technician at Liquitex (which I can name, because it isn’t my usual paint and isn’t the one that lifted) is to wash the canvas board, with warm water to which a small quantity of washing-up liquid has been added; and then obviously to dry it, and/or to coat the board with an acrylic matt medium – brand doesn’t matter. I’ve washed my boards as recommended, and have removed the shiny areas, I’ve also used a treatment of my own – having washed one of the boards, I gave it a thin coat of acrylic gesso (the one I used was Daler-Rowney’s Cryla): this seems to work well, and also provides a rather pleasanter surface on which to work. Another board I have washed but not applied an extra coat of acrylic gesso – I’ve yet to try that one, but have no reason to think it won’t work.

        I must say – after nearly 50 years of painting in acrylic, I was taken aback to say the least by this problem; I think I’ve managed to solve it, with a lot of help. But makers and suppliers of painting boards and canvases really do need to be a lot more careful about what they use for priming, or what their suppliers use. Otherwise, not only are paint-makers going to suffer suspicions about their product, but painters are going to find their work being ruined – and it’s hard enough to paint already, without finding your work disappearing before your very eyes….

        The boards, incidentally, were made in India, but sold in the UK by a very reputable retailer whom many of us use.

        1. Hi Robert, thanks for the update on getting to the source of the problem with the painting, yes I don’t know why so many canvas boards have a protective repellent coating onto them, it’s the complete opposite of what a gesso surface is designed for, thanks for also including the different techniques you’ve tried to achieve a good painting surface to start from using the boards.

  84. I have just finished an acrylic painting for my granddaughter and put Damar varnish on it to protect it – now I am reading from your column that you need to put an isolation layer before the varnish. I did not – what is going to happen? Have done several paintings for my grandchildren and always just put the varnish on – hope I haven’t ruined them. Thank you in advance for your response. From Cincinnati, OH – love your site! Thanks again.

    1. Hi Joan, the paintings and varnish will be absolutely fine, it just makes it harder to remove and replace the varnish in the future without an isolation coat.

  85. Hi Will,

    I would really appreciate some advice from you. I am currently making a large sculpture that will be cast in resin. I have chosen resin as, to my knowledge, it can be painted over with acrylic paint. I will need to add a varnish over the paint to protect the work as I would like it to be displayed outside for a year. Can you offer advice on using varnish on a painting that is on resin; is the Golden range of varnishes still recommended for this? Do you know if this varnish is non-toxic? (As the sculpture is to go in a local park, I can’t have the varnish do any harm to passing animals like dogs or birds). Any other tips for fixing a painting on resin would be very much appreciated.

    Thank you,


    1. Hi Paula, I haven’t personally used the Golden range of varnishes onto resin so wouldn’t want to say for sure, but you could contact Golden technical support directly that will be able to help.


  86. I’m planning on having some of my photos printed on canvas, then I thought I’d do some highlights with acrylic paint to add some texture, dimension, individuality, and interest. What would you suggest to finish these as far as isolation coats and varnish? They would be sold, so no maintenance would be preferred.

    1. Hi Nikki, you can get specialised varnishes that are designed for giclee inkjet prints, but you might find this article of interest that goes into more details of a mixed media approach.
      Hope this helps,


  87. Hi Will,

    I typically varnish all my paintings using Golden Polymer Gloss Varnish. I recently completed a very large painting (78 x 64 inches) for my solo exhibiton and I’m worried about varnishing. I’ve varnished larger paintings before (42 x 52) in the past and had some issues….pooling, streaks, etc. I’ve got my technique down pretty well using a soft 4″ OX hair brush. With the canvas being so large, I’m afraid there will be lots of pooling toward the center of the painting. Spraying is not an option. Do you have any advice on varnishing a very large painting? Different techniques possibly? I’m doing several test pieces and if they fail to work, I’m afraid I’ll have to leave it unvarnished because it’s too risky. Thank you very much in advance. -Shawn

    1. Hi Shawn, I usually work in sections for large scale paintings and work towards a line or shape that will hide any joins, for example, painting from the sky down to the horizon line, and then from the horizon line to the bottom of the painting. But having a look at your pieces I can see that would be harder to achieve within the confines of your paintings. The polymer gloss can dry off quite quickly when you’re working so appreciate it isn’t the easiest varnish to apply on larger areas, have you tried any of the MSA or Gamvar varnishes at all?

      1. Hi Will,

        Thanks for the response. I haven’t tried the MSA or Gamvar varnishes, but I’m looking into the MSA. Right now, I’m doing several test pieces seeing which technique works the best. One test I’m using a grid like pattern, taping off sections, and varnishing each. Another test, is using the same grid, but not using tape. So far, the tests are coming out great…my only concern is where the overlap lines are…it’s a bit shinier, but when i do a second coat in the opposite direction, it all seems to level out. Using the tape wasn’t as bad as I thought. I thought for sure the tape would seep underneath the tape, but so far, it’s a very clean edge. The small issue here is that in the right light, you can see a faint hair line of where the tape edge was. If not I’m not 100% confident in my final test pieces, I will most likely not varnish the big painting. Although I hate not doing so, it could be too risky.

        1. Hey Shawn, yes I would definitely give the MSA a try to give you a little more working time, good luck.

  88. Hi Will,
    I am in a right stew here. I have just finished applying a coat of golden soft gel gloss to a couple of acrylic paintings but I see I have got the proportion of gel to water wrong. I have applied 1 part gel to 2 parts water instead of the other way round. Oh dear. What do you suggest I should do now? Many thanks, Bridget

    1. Hi Bridget, no worries, just mix in some more of the soft-gel until you have a consistency of heavy cream. If you add 3 more parts of the gel you’ll be away.


      1. Thanks Will; I am relieved I don’t seem to have ruined my ‘masterpieces’.. I think I will wait a day to let the first coat dry completely before I do the second – this time I will lay the gel on good and thick as you suggest. Thank you so much.

  89. Hi Will
    I’ve been painting with acrylics on canvases for years but someone has recently asked me to paint the top of a table. However, now I am having difficultly finding out which is the best varnish to protect it with. I need something durable which will not scratch over time. Some sites advise using an acrylic varnish, others a laqueur, another a furniture varnish and now I don’t know which one to choose?

    1. Hi Jo,

      I wouldn’t advise using an acrylic varnish for a high use surface such as a tabletop.

      Personally, in our painted furniture adventures, we’ve found the most durable is an oil based floor varnish.

      Now, it will yellow over time, it isn’t as clear as acrylic painting varnishes, but it will be much, much more hard wearing.

      You can get water-based floor varnishes but I’ve found these can stain more easily and if the surface of the table ever needs cleaning with stronger products that are bleach based the water-based varnish can easily mark.

      If you look for a floor varnish that has a ‘polyurethane’ finish and says to be ‘cleaned with white spirit’ that will be the most hardwearing. A satin finish can work well, just make sure to really mix the varnish well because the matting agent will have sunk to the bottom if it’s been on a shelf for a while.

      Hope this helps,


  90. Hi Will
    I am primarily a watercolor artist, but have just found a love of acrylic paints.
    I have 3 acrylic paintings that I decided to varnish. My problem, (and heartbreak) is that when I went back to take a look after the 1st coat of varnish, there are brush marks everywhere! I used Liquitex Satin Varnish
    Is there anyway of fixing this or are they ruined?
    Thank you in advance..

    1. Hi Joanne, you can often apply an extra coat or two of varnish with a soft bristle brush to smooth out any of the brushmarks.


  91. Thanks for all the help and encouragement you give to amateur artists as well as those more experienced. I love how your videos make things so understandable and your enthusiasism for art is obvious and contagious.

    I spray varnished some of my first paintings before I had heard of an isolation coat. Would it be possible to put an isolation coat over the varnish to stop it from yellowing and then apply more varnish over the isolation coat.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments Sibyl, pleased you’ve been enjoying the videos. You wouldn’t need to apply a coat of isolation coat and then varnish ontop. Your existing layer of varnish will protect the painting, it just would need extra care taking if (in the future)the varnish was removed and replaced so not to damage the painting surface.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Will,
        Thank you for your quick reply. Your help to those of us who are just beginning is invaluable and keeps us from getting too discouraged.
        Thank you, also, for not seeming to think that any question is too silly to ask.
        Have a great day!

  92. Excellent article! Thanks for posting it. A little note as of spring 2015, Golden have redesigned their website, so all the bookmarks we all may have won’t work. I’d collected quite a few, so I emailed them for a solution to my lost links. One tip: replace the “www” with “oldsite” and the link can be found again. They have such a wealth of information on their site. Once the actual title at the top of their document is found, I put that title in their new search field and most material then has a new location and of course, a new web address. Thanks again for the excellent writing!

    1. Thanks for letting me know Nancy,

  93. Hi Sir,
    This is sandeep and i am a beginner in acrylic painting.
    I have did a painting on a canvas which is hard bound behind so is this ok or we need to do painting on canvas stretched frame.
    And pls let me know how should i preserve the acrylic painting.

    Thanks in advance!!

    1. Hi Sandeep, painting on a hardboard surface is absolutely fine. You can protect the surface by applying a varnish as detailed in the article.

  94. Hello, Will,

    First of all, thank you for all the wonderful articles. They are the greatest source of information i have found so far in one place, i couldn’t stop reading. i even took notes :)

    Now, i might be a bit off topic here, as you are all painters. I am making wooden toys for my girls, and i came across a problem: as i do paint their wooden dolls with acrylics, i need a durable coating that will last.

    So far, i have used diffrent varnishes: clear acrylic, yacht varnish, floor varnish, mod podge :), the martha steward sealer, the triple thick…. some yeloow, some get tacky, some crack…. i just cannot seem to find the perect sealer for my toys and i need help.

    And as i live in Romania, we dont have any options, and i need to order my supplies from the US.

    what would you recommend for small wooden dolls painted with acrylics?

    All the best to you and again thank you for all these great pieces of information.


    1. Hi Madalina, nice to hear from you, it can be tricky to have a protective surface when it will be handled a lot. Have you tried a wax? such as a cold wax or beeswax? It’s a natural product that will offer a slight sheen and protection to the surface. It won’t be as hard wearing as say a yacht varnish but can be easily re-applied.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Dear Will: Your willingness and knowledge to help all who are striving to be better artists is phenomenal! Thank you again. No need to reply! Keep painting. Never knew acrylics could be so beautiful!

        1. Thanks very much Joan, pleased you’ve been finding the articles helpful.

  95. Hi Will,
    I just applied about 3 coats of Winsor&Newton gloss spray varnish for acrylics to a 16×20 acrylic painting on stretched canvas. It is a horse portrait with lots of dark areas. I was having a difficult time with the finish being uneven. After 3 coats it is now so shiny you have to angle the painting away from glare and there are one or two spots where I guess the spray went on to heavy so I’d like to fix that. My question is should I still apply another coat from a well shaken can to even out the finish? Also I was thinking to spray a coat of a satin finish by the same manufacturer in hopes to tone down the shine or will that still fade the dark colors slightly even with so many underlying layers of gloss? I like how the gloss makes the colors vivid but I’m not digging so much uneven shine… Are some brands of spray varnish more glossy than others? This was my first time trying the W&N. I previously used Blair gloss spray var 800 for acrylics without issues but that was on canvas board and this was first time on stretched canvas so just wondering if it’s the brand of varnish or surface ?
    Thanks for your advice

    1. Hi Lisa, yes, you can apply more layers to the surface to even out the finish. Gloss varnish is super shiny and the level of sheen to the gloss can vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. You can apply a satin coat ontop to lessen the sheen, this will lessen the intensity of the colours and make the darks appear slightly lighter. It’s often a balancing act between a varnish shiny enough to bring out the colours yet not too shiny to give lots of unwanted glare.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thank you Will. I did about 3 more coats and it has improved things drastically. The coating is now more glass like and less distracting (it was like a million diamonds sparkling before) I dare not spray any more because it seems to be just where it needs to be now and I do not want to overdo :)
        Thank you for all this information and making me brave enough to keep on with a few more coats! It was terrifying to think I had ruined my artwork.

        1. Good one Lisa, pleased the extra coats have helped to even the sheen and give you a better aesthetic.

  96. Good morning!
    I have been painting wooden boxes with acrylic paint for a few years now and I seem to be finding that the clear coat I have been using has become very tacky. I’m not sure what to do here. would you be able to recommend a clear finish to use with acrylic paint? I’m looking for a gloss finish on most but a matte finish on others.

    1. Hi Danielle, have you tries a wax at all? having varnishes onto wooden surfaces can be tricky due to the tackiness left with some painting varnishes.

      1. Well I haven’t tried anything because I have no idea what or how to really. I have zero art training what so ever, and I’m not sure about “terms” I have been painting with acrylic paint on wooden projects (tables, chairs, dressers, trinket boxes etc.) For years and I sell them online, but i have never had a sticky or tacky feeling to them before. Its so weird I’m wondering if I should use a brush on finish now and not the clear spray finish anymore? My production is at a standstill right now…. :(

        1. Hi Danielle, spray varnish will always be easier to apply than the wax, you might find this article of interest in relation to varnishing or waxing painted furniture. (It relates to painting over chalk paint not acrylics but might still be helpful for you)

  97. Hi Will,
    I am a printmaker as an artist but have recently found myself completing a 6 foot x 8 foot acrylic mural on canvas dropcloth. I am needing to take it from Colorado to Florida where I plan to have it stretched professionally then placed against a wall in a private home. this is a child’s mural and I am thinking that it may be more durable by applying a sealer of some kind. It needs to remain “rollable” and able to travel, probably by airplane to get it there. It seems you would recommend using a spray varnish (Golden matte or gloss?) for such a size as this. Front and back a good or bad idea? Will it remain flexible enough to travel and also be durable for the long term? Would it be better to apply after the final stretch on site, or be helpful to do it before it makes the trip? I’m thinking of rolling it on a carpet or mailing tube (painting out or in?) and checking it through luggage on SWA in a ski bag. HELP, any ideas and knowledable suggestions will be most appreciated. Maybe, I need a total change of thinking? Thanks!

    1. Hi Patty, that sounds quite a piece! for varnishing you would only need to apply to the front of the painting. The acrylics would be flexible enough to roll as they are, and although you could varnish before hand there is more chance of having a tacky surface when the varnish is applied.

      For rolling in a heavy duty mailing tube below are the packaging guidelines from the Saatchi Gallery that you may find helpful.
      What you’ll need:

      Glassine paper or acid-free archival tissue paper

      Heavy duty mailing tube with plastic end caps(depending on the size of your canvas).

      A second tube of smaller diameter for inner support. (You’ll roll your artwork around this tube and insert it inside the larger tube.)

      Packing tape

      Bubble wrap

      Step 1 – Sandwich your canvas between two layers of acid-free archival paper. Make sure that the canvas is completely covered by the paper.

      Step 2 – Roll the paper-covered artwork—paint side outward—around the smaller tube to provide inner support. DO NOT roll too tightly as this can damage the painting!

      Step 3 – Next, roll a layer of bubble wrap around the artwork for padding and to seal out moisture. Seal completely with tape.

      Step 4 – Place this tube within the outer mailing tube. Fill extra space at the ends with extra bubble wrap, but take care not to crush the edges of your painting. Place the end caps on and seal them shut with packing tape.

      Step 10 – Affix the shipping label to the package and put clear tape over the label so it doesn’t get removed during shipment. Clearly mark the tube as “FRAGILE.”

      Hope this helps,

  98. Thanks Will. I feel more confident now in getting this to Florida safely but will likely have a door to door delivery service as I would guess TSA would only mess us the careful packaging! Your assistance is most appreciated!

  99. Hello Will,
    I am a professional artist typically working with oils. However occasionally I work with acrylics. This month I have used acrylic on tvo commissioned paintings due to lack of time for the oils. The first one, a small 6″x6″ on mdf, I managed to completely ruin with W&N artist’s acrylic gloss uv varnish. When I applied the first coat it became kindof slimy. The varnish literally thickened into a cloudy slime in seconds. In an attempt to salvage the painting I grabbed a clean cloth, soaked it inwater and wiped off the varnish……and parts of the painting. The only thing I can think might be the problem is I only let it dry for a couple of hours. (I was using thin layers). Now I have a finished 15×15 painting on canvas. Been drying 20 hours. Also worked in relativelt thin layers. I was very hectant to use the varnish on it, but did a test on my pallette and on side of the painting. Seemed fine. So I crossed my fingers, closed my eyes (almost) and took a big chance. while I was applying the varish it seemed to thicken a little an looked a little cloudy. But not as much as the one before. I desided to leave it be and now it looks like it dried ok. Is this usual with acrylic varnish? If not what am I doing wrong?

    1. Hi Linda, yes usually 24 hours drying for acrylics is best to wait before varnishing. Most of the polymer acrylic varnished (that look white when wet) will give a cloudy appearance when first painted on and then dry clear. Gloss will dry the clearest. Have you applied an isolation coat or painted straight ontop of the paint surface?

      1. Thank you Will, no I didnt use isolation coat. Just browsed through your link, great info. thanks a million, Will read it thoroughly later today. Linda

  100. Hi Will,

    I have been painting and sketching since my childhood days. I’ve used poster paints in those days. I stopped painting when I was in college. Now I have resumed my painting after 20 years and I learnt how to use acrylics through online tutorials. Practice has improved my blending of paints together.
    I have been reading your advice to everyone and have learnt a lot here as well. I have few questions I needed your advice with..
    – My poster paint paintings on canvas are faded. Is there any way to revive them?
    – If not, can I paint with Acrylic on top of it directly or I need to prepare the canvas first?
    – I’ve been painting on canvas, canvas board and paper with Acrylic, can I varnish them all with same technique?
    – Do I need to varniah them now or I can wait some time till I have a good collection? Will the paintings fade in few months time?
    – How do I store acrylic on paper paintings if I plan to frame them later?

    I’m sorry for so many questions, please find some time to reply to them. Really appreciate your guidance.


    1. Hi Rakesh, to answer your questions:

      – My poster paint paintings on canvas are faded. Is there any way to revive them?

      You could add a gloss varnish to revive the colours slightly but it wouldn’t make a massive difference.

      – If not, can I paint with Acrylic on top of it directly or I need to prepare the canvas first?

      Yes, you could paint acrylics on top.

      – I’ve been painting on canvas, canvas board and paper with Acrylic, can I varnish them all with same technique?

      Canvas and canvas board, yes, paper I would be careful with due to the buckling of the paper if it too thin, a light spray varnish application would work, but test on the paper you’ve used first before applying to your finished pieces.

      – Do I need to varnish them now or I can wait some time till I have a good collection? Will the paintings fade in few months time?

      It’s best to varnish sooner rather than later as the longer you leave the paintings the more chance there is of dust sticking to the porous acrylic surface

      – How do I store acrylic on paper paintings if I plan to frame them later?

      In a flat portfolio.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks Will, for patiently answering each of my queries. It was a big help. I will take your advice and preserve my paintings accordingly. Will try on sample paper I’m using before I varnish the real work. As for my previous poster color work, I think it makes sense to save the ones that are still decent and repaint on the ones that cannot be saved. Once again, thanks, really appreciate your support to all of us out here.


  101. Hi Wiill,

    I know this article is based on acrylic paints but my question is in regards to applying varnish on a canvas print. I have purchased the Winsor & Newton Gloss Varnish Spray and have not used it yet because it does not mention if it is compatible with Canvas prints (and no where online mentions this). However, I have used the a Winsor & Newton Gloss Gel on my Canvas print and I did not like the result and wanted to ask 2 questions. 1) Can I apply the Spray varnish on-top of this Gloss Gel and (2) Will I be able to use the Windsor & Newton Gloss Varnish Spray on a Canvas print?

    1. Hi Dennis, for applying varnish onto a canvas print I would use a purpose made varnish for the process.
      The ink for a Giclee canvas print is usually water based, so solvent-based oil varnishes are best avoided, however, there are some specialise solvent based varnished designed for giclee prints,(you can get specialised acrylic based solvent spray varnishes that are designed specifically for giclee prints) but I wouldn’t like to say for sure that the Winsor & newton Glossy wouldn’t affect your prints.

      1) Can I apply the Spray varnish on-top of this Gloss Gel

      Yes you can

      (2) Will I be able to use the Windsor & Newton Gloss Varnish Spray on a Canvas print?

      If it’s a solvent based varnish I personally wouldn’t although you could contact Winsor & Newton technical help to check for sure, if you find out let me know.

  102. Hi

    I have varnished an acrylic painting on watercolor paper,without isolation with liquitex gloss medium and varnish and now I have streaks in my painting…not milky…just shiny every other width of brush. Can I fix this….should I put another thin coat on top…I diluted the solution with ester when I did it by 20 percent

    1. Hi Rose, you can apply another coat ontop to even out the streaks in the varnish.

      1. Thanks, I will give it a try

      2. Hi Will

        I have put another coat of gloss medium &varnish from liquitex on my painting of acrylic on watercolor paper. I am still getting the streaks of shine and not shiny. I realize I may have yo keep giving it more coats to even it out. Question is should I still dilute this in water? Or should I be putting on just a varnish product now with no fluid medium in it? If so do you have a varnish you would recommend.

        Thanks so much for your advice…I’mj just hoping I haven’t ruined these paintings

        1. Hi Rose, if there are areas of non-shiny and shiny this can be due to the absorbency of the watercolour paper, did you apply an isolation coat first? or go straight on with the varnish?

  103. Hello Will

    You’re amazing when it comes to generosity in sharing your skills and knowledge. You will surely be doubly blessed.
    There’s one thing I would like to know; if an acrylic emulsion could be used to varnish a finished, fully dried acrylic painting on canvas and would there be any adverse effect on the painting. I know a friend uses it.

    Thank you Will.

    1. Hi Jo, when you say acrylic emulsion, do you mean like an acrylic medium? if so I personally wouldn’t as it forms a strong bond with the acrylic making it harder to remove and replace in the future, however, if you’re happy to varnish the painting and leave that as the final finish you can find some combined polymer gloss mediums and varnishes like the Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Hi Will,
        Thank you for the advice. I will take that to mind. I will try the Liquitex gloss medium and varnish.
        More power to you and God bless.

  104. Hi Will,
    I applied an isolation coat on an acrylic painting. I waited 1 week to make sure the layer was dry before I applied the Golden matte varnish mixed with the recommended ratio of water. I thought I had applied the varnish evenly, as I kept checking for sections I might have missed. Problem: There are a few spots that show shiny brush strokes. The rest is the way it should be. Did I not varnish over those spots, thus showing the isolation coat? Would I be able to carefully varnish over these small spots? What did I do wrong and how can I fix it? Help!
    Thanks Will..I’d appreciate your help.

    1. Hi Pat, the few shiny spots will be areas that have been missed with the matte varnish and are the gloss of the isolation coat shining through. You can just apply another layer of varnish on top to even the sheen.

  105. Hi Will! I need help!!! I just varnished a 58″ x 37″ acrylic trypdic on birch plywood panel. I use Utrect Matte oil varnish on all my acrylic paintings. I have never done the isolation coat but I am going to look into that next time i varnish. Until then, I have noticed that when i varnish, some of them dry with a slight gloss even though i used matte and some dry very matte. Well, the trypdic dried one panel gloss and the other 2 are matte. I re-varnished the matte ones but they still dried matte. I can’t match them to the shinery one which is no good since it is all one painting when it hangs.!! Do you have any suggestions on how i can even this out? I have to ship this piece out by Monday so i only have a 4 days to resolve this.. Hopefully you will get this in time to respond. Thank you! Katie

    1. Hi Katie,

      If you have a matte/gloss combo from the same tub of matte varnish its due to the varnish not being mixed thoroughly before applying.

      It’s a common occurrence with matte varnishes as the white matting agent in the varnish often sinks to the bottom of the pot, so if it’s not mixed through the top of the varnish will be more glossy than the bottom (was the panel that has dried glossy the first one varnished?)

      I would re-varnish the glossy one to match as there will be more matting agent remaining in the varnish so it won’t be able to create the first level of sheen.

      Hope this helps,


  106. Hi will
    Came across your article and find it very helpful. Although I was always into art in school I just started doing some paintings to sell. So you may laugh but my question isn’t about acrylic it’s about enamel…..I had a bunch of spray paint I used in wood burning and thinking it was acrylic I did an abstract painting. Well didn’t take long for me to realize my mistake, however the picture turned out nice. So I’m wondering does enamel need a varnish of any kind and if so what?

    Another question, I am thinking of making prints of my art work to sell and wonder what you think of that and do you have suggestions on the way to do that?
    Thanks, appreciate your time

    1. Hi Andrew, for varnishing enamel you can use a matte varnish called ‘Testors Dullcote Matte’ that is a spray varnish and gives excellent matte varnish results, for satin and gloss, Humbrol do spray versions of both.

      Making prints of your artwork can be a good idea, you can either scan or photograph the artwork depending on size. For the best quality prints look for (in the UK) a Fine Art Trade Guild approved printer with archival papers and giclee pigmented inks. These will give the most accurate colours and representation of your artworks.

      Hope this helps,


    2. Thanks Will, I appreciate the advice and look forward to continuing to
      Learn from you through your blog

  107. Hi, I have done an acrylic painting on plywood. I let it sit and dry for a solid 48 hours before I did anything. When I went to varnish it the paint smudged. I quickly wiped as much of it as I could off hoping to get all the smudge (its black wording on a white wash background) but it dried to quickly and I wasnt able to get it all. I was wondering if you had any tips on how to save my painting?

    I don’t understand what happened as I recently did the exact same thing (Same bottles of paint/same surface) and it worked perfectly!

    Thank you for any help you could give!

    1. Hi Kaitlyn, oh no! the only way to bring the painting back would be to paint over the white wash effect up to the black wording, that’s very strange that the exact same paint and surface had previously worked perfectly. I would try a test section on a scrap piece of paper/canvas and try to recreate the effect and then paint over that to see if it blends in well as sometimes repainting can be much more effective that you would initially think but a little practice on a test piece will give you better results when tackling the first painting.

      1. Thank you! I’ve begun doing a new one. Thank God my client was understanding. I think it might not have dried enough. Which sounds a little crazy because it was on acrylic and it sat for 48 hours, but that’s the best I can come up with. I am going to try to use the messiness to my advantage and make it look ‘aged’ hopefully I can resell it after that. :)

  108. Hi Will,

    I am glad i found you here! I just need some help!! I just finished painting on a glass using acrylic, solvent based glass color’s and glue (fevicol) to give texture on the glass.
    1. Could you please suggest me what kind of varnish could be used ?
    2. Does it need isolation coat and how many coats do you suggest should be applied?


    1. Hi Sharanya, it’s tricky due to the different paints and glass surface, for glass paint a gloss polyurethane varnish is often used, like Duraclear gloss varnish, as it provides good adhesion to the surface and good protection.


  109. Hi there, I am looking at painting birds with acrylic paint onto Macrocapa slices. The slices are wet wood at the moment. I have been told that I should seal the wood first so it doesnt crack as it drys out. If I spray a coat of oil based varnish can I then paint on top of this with acrylic paint. I would then finish with more layers of varnish. Will this work?

    1. Hi Robyn, ideally you would work on a fully dried surface as you might have an issue with the acrylic forming a good adhesion to the oil varnish surface.

  110. Hi Will,

    Your site is extremely helpful, thank you!

    When applying layers of aerosol varnish to a textured canvas, do I need to let one layer dry completely before applying the next?

    1. Hi Krys, yes, ideally you would let each layer dry first before spraying the next.

  111. Hi Will – I have a painting that is being presented at an art show. It had two coats of varnish (liquidex – high gloss), but I decided it would look better if I added another coat. Unfortunately, after the varnish dried I noticed lint. Can I sand this or should I just give it a couple more coats of varnish?

    1. Hi Mary, I would be tempted to use a lint roller that you use on clothes first to see if this removes it. If you were sanding, I would be very careful and use a high grit paper, like a wet and dry sandpaper that can have a 1500 grit so you don’t damage the surface, then you would be able to apply a freshcoat of varnish.

  112. Hi Will,

    I’ve bought some Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic Varnishes (Gloss and Matt).

    Do you know if I need to thin them out with water or anything else before application? If so, does it need to stand for a while, like after mixing soft gel and water for the isolation coat?

    Just mixed my first jar of isolation coat today, now letting it stand for 24 hours.

    One other question… I’m looking to varnish some acrylic paintings I finished a few months ago, which have been standing around (at times covered and at times uncovered)… I suspect it’s possible they might have accumulated a small amount of dust… Do you know if there’s a way to get rid of some dust before starting on the isolation coat, such as blowing on the painting with a blow dryer, or wiping it off with a dry or a wet cloth? Could kitchen roll work for wiping it off?

    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Therese,

      Acrylics tend to attract dust to the surface due to the nature of the paint – as in the tiny microscopic holes that are left when water evaporates from the paint surface as it dries attract dust – also, hot environments can make the acrylic more susceptible to dust due to the Thermoplastic nature of acrylics;

      “Thermoplastic” means that the relative hardness and flexibility of the polymer are influenced by changes in temperature. As temperatures increase, acrylic becomes softer, more flexible and may become tacky. As this happens, any debris present can become adhered to the surface and will subsequently require relatively aggressive methods for removal.

      So acrylics can be tricky to clean, the best way is to try a dry approach first and only then use a wet/damp approach

      I would go for compressed air and a soft brush, A ‘rocket blower’ used for cleaning photography sensors can also be a good method for smaller paintings or even a cool hair dryer.

      If the air and brush aren’t touching it then a moist cloth (ideally using deionised water) over the surface is the next way to go. Too much pressure onto the paint surface and you run the risk of possibly pushing any dust further into the microscopic holes.

      Hope this helps and they come up sparkling!


      1. Thank you so much, that’s very helpful!

        Should I dilute my varnish with water before application?

        Thanks again!

        1. Hi Therese, it depends on the varnish, there should be directions on the varnish bottle you’re using for the recommended dilution amount.

  113. Hello Will,

    I would like to start off by saying thank you for your many insightful pieces on isolation coats and varnishing acrylics on this website. They have been very helpful! I am not an artist by an stretch of the imagination and have very minimal experience with acrylics, varnish and painting, but I am definitely keen to learn.

    I have a canvas which I made for my 21st birthday. It is just a medium-large sized canvas painted a solid black with about 7 coats of poster paint (which I now realised that using acrylic paints would have been a better course of action). My guests have written birthday messages on the black canvas surface with a Golden Metallic Sharpie Permanent Marker. It has since been around 4-5 months, and now I intend on hanging up the canvas.

    So I guess, in order to make this post slightly easier to respond to, my 2 questions are:

    1. Aside from brushing off any surface debris with a lint-free cloth/ soft synthetic brush, is there any other “prep work” that needs to be done (in terms of cleaning or otherwise) before varnishing?

    2. Will my choice of a GLOSS varnish affect the clarity/”readability” of the messages on the black canvas? I have read that acrylic artworks with a large amount of dark colours should be varnished with a gloss varnish to attain a darker more “true” black, but I am not sure whether the glossy finish/sheen will reduce the “readability” of the golden metallic writing on it which is relatively dense and small in size. The product I have purchased is Liquitex gloss medium and varnish. Do you think this product will be a suitable fit, given my concerns?

    Thanks so much in advance!

    Warmest regards,

    1. Hi Jason, pleased you’ve been enjoying the articles and a belated happy birthday!

      Gloss varnish is the best choice for keeping the darks, dark, but applying a gloss onto the metallic writing can lessen the glimmer of the metallic paint, if you have a small sample you can test on first to see if the final aesthetic is one you are happy with.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Hi Will,

        I have taken your advice and tried applying the Liquitex Gloss Medium and Vanish to a small sample. This as you have predicted, resulted in a dramatic decrease in the glimmer of the metallic ink.

        I have read that “sealing off” acrylics (e.g. through varnishing) is crucial to ensuring its longevity. Since gloss varnish would impact on the aesthetic appeal of the artwork, are there any alternatives to gloss varnish?

        Is there anything you would recommend I try (i.e. a different varnish, a different application, a completely new approach or even particular ways of displaying the canvas)

        Thank you so much!

        Warmest regards,

        1. Hi Jason, all varnished will change the aesthetic final appearance of your artwork, so it’s just experimenting with matte, satin or gloss to see which one you prefer. In this article you can see the different effects on a black surface depending on the type of varnish used.

  114. I am working on an 8’x8′ backdrop for a photographer. It is painted with acrylic paints and will be rolled up to be shipped and stored. The curveball here is that it will have copper leafing on it. I want to make sure I am sealing it correctly so the copper doesn’t tarnish but that it is very well protected since it will be used often and not simply hung on a wall. I want the acrylic to have a matte finish. Do I need to put an isolation coat on the acrylic, then matte varnish and THEN place the copper leafing, then seal the leafing? What products should I be using for each of these isolation/varnish/seal steps?

    This is the most helpful article I’ve found yet! Thank you so much for taking the time to help us all out!

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Yes, that would be the best approach,

      Put an isolation coat on the acrylic – Using soft gel gloss
      Then matte varnish – using a matte varnish
      Then place the copper leafing
      Then seal the leafing

      I’m not sure what would be the best sealant for the copper leafing as I haven’t personally used it much in my painting practice. A spray usually works best but you’d have to be careful of overspray onto the matte surface, they might be able to be sprayed first and then attached?

      Hope this helps,


  115. Thank you for this very nice person many would appreciate your gift of helpness.

    1. Cheers Kenny, pleased the article helped

  116. Hi Will, I have created a painting (very small on canvas), that I absolutely love with metallic acrylics. Now when I hold it to natural bright daylight, I see what you mean on how lighting can affect the finish, so, I want to be sure I use the correct finish for this type of paint. I also have the problem of, now that I have waited a bit, (roughly 3 weeks?), while researching the perfect finish, that the paint has “sunk down” somewhat and I have lost some of the metallic effect in small areas. I have had past paintings “Sink”, and have restored them with a Golden medium mixed with a closely matched and applied repainting, but unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the product immediately, so, now I just want to apply some permanent and quick coats to saturate and pop the colors again, without having to repaint. Any suggestions as to which products I can use to pop, restore, and seal with little effort as I truly am happy with and want to leave my finished product as it originally was painted, but just a little enhanced is all. I know Gloss can make colors pop, but worry that with the frosty metallic finish that it already possesses, it may be too much when the light hits it and will lose definition of the subject matter. I appreciate your help in this, and am truly anxious to get it finished and protected so I don’t lose anymore!! Thanks, Angela

    1. Hi Angela,

      Gloss varnish will give you the most saturated colours but it will lessen the effect of the sparkle of a metallic surface. I would try a test piece first to see how much the gloss alters the glimmer effect before applying to your finished piece.

      1. Thank you for your help! You are a huge help and inspiration in my journey!!

  117. Hello, I forgot to put an isolation coat on my acrylic painting and sprayed varnish. Is it too late to apply the isolation coat? Should I put the isolation coat on top of my varnish? Please let me know your thoughts.

    1. Hi Anna, yes, the isolation coat would have to go underneath the varnish to separate the paint layer from the varnish layer. You wouldn’t need to apply an isolation coat ontop of the varnish layer.

  118. Hi Will

    I painted a fairly dark painting in acrylic. I recently noticed that when you look from the side some parts have a milky effect. I used a flow medium to dilute the paint. Do you think this could have caused this?
    Can I fix this and will varnishing the painting eliminate the milky effect.

    1. Hi Maureen, it could have been the flow medium, adding a varnish won’t eliminate the milky effect but it with a gloss varnish it might lessen it to the extent you’re happy with the finished aesthetic. I would try to recreate the milky finish on a scrap piece of canvas/paper and then apply a gloss varnish to see how it works before committing to the varnish on your painting.
      Hope this helps,


  119. Hello. Thanks for all the great info. I am painting a flat wood panel door in my condo. I will not be able to lay the door flat for varnishing. Brushing the varnish on could cause drips. I thought of using spray varnish but am concerned about overspray on the walls surrounding even if I cover them with newspaper. Any suggestions?
    Thanks, Joanna

    1. Hi Joanna, with a polyurethane wood varnish from the DIY store you’ll be fine brushing on the varnish without laying the door flat.

  120. Hi Will. When it comes to varnishing an acrylic painting can you use any varnish or does it need to be a specific Acrylic varnish? I’ve been writing about dammar and mastic varnish when used for oil paintings and just wondering whether they would be suitable on Acrylic paintings and if there’s a benefit to using such varnishes over acrylic ones.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Shona, when using natural vanishes like Dammar, the varnish will yellow much more and be more brittle than using a modern synthetic varnish. The benefit would only really be if you wanted to create the illusion of an Old master style yellow glow to the acrylic painting.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks Will

  121. Hi Will. Hope this reaches you.

    Have just finished a painting that I am very pleased with. It has a lot of purple in it and when I varnished it with a half mix of satin and gloss ot turned out very dark and also unrecognisable. Sob sob. I have repained the very dark bits but am afraid to revarnish. Any ideas.

    Just found your blog.. Fantastic.


    1. Hi Laurel, has the varnish fully dried? satin varnish will contain a small amount of matting agent (which is white but dries clear) so when you first paint it on it can look milky, but it will dry clear.

  122. Hi Will,

    Could you suggest a minimum drying time for the isolation layer and for the varnish layers? I’m cutting submission very fine but want to achieve this affect.


    1. Hi Paul,
      The isolation coat ideally needs 24hrs, a polymer varnish could be touch dry within an hour, good luck with the submission.

  123. Hi Will,
    I want to add a very thick layer, looking like
    Glass, very shiny. My paintings are from large to very large.
    Thank you for your advise

    1. Hi Brigitte, you can apply multiple layers to create a glass-like look. The thicker the varnish layer the more brittle and susceptible to cracking if knocked, but I’ve known some artists build up 30-40 thin varnish layers to a painting.

  124. Hi there, Most of my paintings have a heavily textured acrylic paint surface.
    I have had mixed results with using a spray can to varnish.
    I recently have seen handle grips that go over a spray can for paint and stains. Will this
    work for spray varnish? Is there another solution such as a motor sprayer to do this?
    I thank you in advance for any information and advice you can give me.

    1. Hi Bob, I haven’t seen those handle grips before they look great! yes, they would work to give more control over spray can. I know on Golden’s website they have technical notes on ratios for spraying an isolation coat using an airbrush compressor:

      ‘Spray Application (of an isolation coat)

      If you want to spray and have access to an airbrush or spray gun, then use 2 parts GAC 500 to 1 part Airbrush Transparent Extender. Two to three coats should provide substantial coverage although more may be applied if necessary.

      To determine if you need to apply a second or third layer of isolation coat, once the first coat is dry look at the painting at an angle and an even sheen should indicate an even surface ready for varnish. If the surface is not even then apply another coat.’

      But not sure on the specific ratios for spraying a diluted MSA varnish, or the specific manufacturer recommendations.

  125. Hi Will,
    Thanks for the great blog. I am planning an exterior calligraphy project on natural vertical granite. I browsed the Golden website and think I narrowed it down (which materials to use that is). Golden Fluid Acrylics seem to be the right choice for this application. I’m in Maine, USA where the weather, especially in winter, can be pretty brutal. Can you give me your recommendations for an exterior black acrylic and a matte protective varnish or other coating that will work on natural (fairly heavily textured) granite? Thanks!

    1. Hi Dan, you might find this guide useful from Golden: Mural Painting, as they have a list of recommend pigments for mural painting. Carbon Black and Mars Black are in their recommend list. The guide also lists ‘Finished Mural Protection’ recommendations.
      Hope this helps and good luck with the project.


  126. Thanks for the great tips. I realize you’ve probably answered this question already, but 296 comments is a lot to read through so I’ll ask:

    I want to varnish a painting my dad painted years ago. It would benefit from restoring it to a nice even sheen. The problem is I don’t know if it’s oil or acrylic. Can you recommend a varnish that would be good for either? I think I’d like a semi-gloss sheen to it. It’s quite a dark painting with blacks and greens.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Molly, most varnishes will say on them if they are suitable for oil and acrylic, the Gamblin Gamvar range of varnishes are good.

  127. Hi Will,
    please help me get something straight. I’m trying to professionally varnish an acrylic painting. so in order to do that, i need to do a couple of isolation coats with permanent water based, then a mineral spirit based coat. is that correct? can you please fill me in on how to do it and what to use?
    Thank you,
    Josh Brannon

    1. Hi Josh, you would apply one coat of isolation coat using soft gel gloss diluted with water. Then think of if you want a gloss, satin or matte finish, then apply either a polymer or MSA based varnish.
      Hope this helps,

  128. Hi Will
    I wish I had read your info before I varnished my latest canvas with a JoJonson satin varnish. Unfortunately I havent brushed out to the edges properly and now am left with a build up of dried varnish on one side. How can I gently and safely get the surface back to a smooth finish – Or is it too late now to fix it?
    I was thinking of lightly sanding some of the rough bits? I am at a loss now and very disappointed – my inexperience screaming at me now dammit!!

    1. Hi Velma, unfortunately, once the varnish has dried on the edges you would have to use a varnish remover to smooth back the surface, if it’s only slight you could try a practice piece on a scrap piece of paper with super fine sandpaper, but sanding can tend to make the gloss surface of a varnish go matte and then leave you with an uneven surface aesthetic.

  129. Hi Will,
    I have just completed a large 24X48 acrylic painting on canvas. It is mostly in shades of red. I have added some highlights with metallic copper acrylic. I believe the shinier finish brings out the colors best overall, but there are areas of the painting that have a dull finish. I’d like to apply a finish over the entire painting that will make the colors pop and not lose the metallic effect of the copper color. It looks so cool when the sun hits it.

    Would you please recommend the best option (product and method of application) for me?


    1. Hi Ginny, the best varnish to bring out the colour and saturation would be a gloss varnish. However, this may change the reflective quality of the metallic copper acrylic. I would paint a test piece of the red and the metallic copper acrylic onto a piece of scrap canvas and then try a gloss varnish over the entire section. Then you can judge if it’s the look you’re after before starting varnishing your large canvas.

  130. This is nice and all for most people but in my case I need something else. My painting is 15’x20′ yes is huge so I need something to seal it before it starts cracking I thought of some kind of polyurethane but I don’t know could you point me in some direction? Thanks

    1. Hi Jorge, a polyurethane varnish can give a hard surface protection but it will yellow over time.

  131. Hello, Will. I just surfed in and what a useful and fantastic post you’ve done! I’ve not read through all of the comments, yet, but good info there, too.

    I am not a painter of paintings but of furniture. In my world, creative furniture painting is art and, of course, finishes are a big deal as furniture takes more of a beating and even has objects set on it. I saw the question from the fellow who does huge paintings where artist size products become ridiculously expensive. While I don’t know what Golden or any other art supply manufacturer makes it’s varnishes out of, I would recommend that people look into it. “Varnish” is kind of a catch all word that includes everything from polyurethane (plastic) to shellac to lacquer (natural resins) – all different products, all clear, some available in non-yellowing formulas and all having different benefits. Manufacturers also tweak those products, as you’ll find reading wood worker sites. I’m curious, now, to find out if any of those are removable in ways that don’t harm the base coat and if any are the same products as the more expensive artist products.

    With the internet, we can find so much info and it’s often interesting the things you learn (like latex paint has no latex and is the same product as acrylic paint!). A gallon of glazing medium from the home DIY store is sure a lot cheaper than a little container of an equivalent artist product and, I’ll bet, is the same in some cases. Painting furniture requires I buy large sizes and the glazes I make look no different from those used on paintings. Something to think about for the artist looking to save money.

    1. Cheers Susano, pleased you found the article of interest.

  132. I just started painting in acrylic. I was mystified by the issue of varnishing but your thorough discussion of what to use, why, and how was just what I needed. I successfully varnished my first paintings with confidence and excellent results, and am now demystified. Thanks so much! I’ll check out your other articles, too. What a wealth of info!

    1. Good one Susan, really pleased it helped.

  133. I’ve been very successfully varnishing my acrylic paintings for some time. I do apply an isolation coat first.

    How long after an acrylic painting is finished should I wait before applying varnish? I was told one should wait 3 months to avoid the painting clouding up beneath the varnish. So, I dutifully wait 3 months then apply the isolation coat and the varnish. Can it be done sooner?

    Many thanks. I find this an outstanding website!

    1. Hi Evelyn, if you’re painting with acrylics you can apply an isolation coat within 24 hrs, then 24hrs later a varnish layer (a little longer if using thick impasto paint)

  134. Hi Will! I wish I’d read this post before incorrectly applying a finish to my acrylic paining!
    I bought the Golden Soft Gel (gloss) and the Acrylic Glazing Liquid (gloss). I then accidentally mixed the two up and used the Acrylic Glazing Liquid for isolation – diluting it 2 part glaze, 1 part water. Can I now go over the glaze with the Golden Soft Gel and then apply the glaze again after? Or should I apply another glaze layer without diluting it this time and leave this painting as is? Thanks for your time and the great site!

    1. Hi Ruti, yes, you could apply a soft gel gloss layer over the glazing liquid layer and then varnish on top of that. Some polymer painting mediums like the Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish can be used for both.

      1. Thank you very much! The finish looks great.

  135. Hi,

    I’d love to have some advice to what is the best type of varnish to put to my acrylic paintings. (I want to obtain a gloss finish)

    I want a varnish that can be applied inside my apartment so I can work during winter without having to go outside for ventilation.

    I had in mind the “Renaissance Wax” but maybe there are other options you could
    suggest to me.

    Thank you so much….

    1. Hi Patrica, I’d go for a Gloss Polymer Varnish, which will give you a higher gloss finish.


        1. Hi Patty, yes, that’s the one I use.


          1. Yupie!!, you’re the best, now I know what to buy, thank you again, you rock!!

  136. I am an amateur artist but do a some commissions for folk too.
    I have finished a painting and used Windsor and Newton gloss varnish spray as I have done for ages. It works for me.
    I did one layer. Then thought I would be clever and relayered for double protection and ran out a little way in. I have a some liquitex gloss spray so thought I would use it too.. but the aerosol failed and the client wanted it soonest. So stupidly tried to paint on with a brush the liquid version of the liquitex gloss causing instant bubbles. It dried before I saw it in the bad light.
    I need to.try to.remove it. Any suggestions? I am trying to.keep the integrity of the painting intact… not.destroy the acrylic. Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Andrew, Windsor and Newton recommend using Winsor & Newton Distilled Turpentine which has the strongest solvency.

      For their removable Liquitex recommend:

      ‘Wear a dual filter respirator (NIOSH approved) and neoprene gloves. Dampen a small piece of lint free, soft, white cloth with mineral spirits (not “odorless”) or turpentine – nothing stronger. Do not use ketones or paint removers.’

      So again, a distilled turpentine. Odourless mineral spirit won’t have enough strength to cut through the varnish.

      Hope this helps,


      not sure if the liquit

  137. Hi Will, Thank you for taking your time to answer so many questions. Very nice of you.
    I have been experimenting with gold pearlescent acrylics, and am almost finished with a painting using these. The problem is that this pearlescent paint creates a glare/shine that reflects light making it difficult to see the painting except at specific angles.
    Will using a matte varnish fix this problem? If so, is there a specific way I should apply it to help with this? And, are there any other solutions?
    Thank you for your time.

    1. Hi Jeff, a matte varnish will completely dull the sheen, I’d make some small postcard sized test pieces and try with different mediums/ varnishes to try and get the aesthetic you’re after as the matte might be a bit too much but a satin finish (half matte, half gloss) would work better.

  138. Hi there,
    I was wondering, when painting over acrylic paint, if its ok to sand between coats? I have an idea that the old japanning artists used to sand between many coats, and in this way ended up with a beautiful smooth surface. Is this the case? Sarah

    1. Hi Sarah, you’ll often find artists sand gesso layers between surfaces to create a smooth surface to work onto and then build up the painting from there.

      1. Hi Will,
        sorry I wasn’t clear!
        I was meaning painting VARNISH over acrylic paint, can the layers of varnish be sanded? much thanks, Sarah

        1. Hi Sarah, usually I wouldn’t sand between the layers on a painting as there is often texture on the painting.

          Sanding between varnish layers if often done on painted furniture where you’re after a smooth finish over a smooth paint application.

          If you’re working onto smooth wood for furniture you would apply one coat of varnish, let it dry, then sand with 220 grit paper. Apply another coat, then use a 300 of 400 grit sandpaper. (the higher the number grit, the smoother the sandpaper) and then a final coat of varnish.

          Hope this helps,

  139. Hello Will,

    I use a lot of paint in my paintings and so (being poor) I need to buy cheap acrylic paints. I would rathe ruse liquitex or golden, but i would go through a tube of most colours on each painting. There are 2 ‘problems’ with using cheap acrylics: one is colour sift and I think I have a handle of how the pain I use shifts and can compensate, the other is that some paints dry ultra glossy and some dry chalky matt. I have been trying to make use of this using matt for the distance and gloss for the foreground, but I read on your site here that your paintings should be either all matt or all glossy. So my question is if I get a spray varnish, will the matt surfaces still look different – just a bit more glossy?

    1. Hi Catherine, the finished sheen of a painting comes down to personal choice but I tend to favour an even sheen over the whole painting. I apply a gloss isolation coat first to even the sheen between the matt and gloss and then judge how shiny I’d like the final painting to be depending on the aesthetic feel I’m after.

      1. Thank you Will.

  140. Hello, at 50+ I am new to painting and daunted by the many products. I have started painting with acrylics and am not sure what spray varnish to use for a glossy finish. Please could you recommend one – not extortionately expensive. Also do I have to use an isolation coat with spray? Thank you.

    1. Hi Deb, if you look for a gloss spray varnish from a reputable brand like Winsor & Newton will work well. You only have to use the isolation coat if you’re spraying a removable varnish, but it will often give you an even sheen surface to then spray onto. Try a couple of test pieces, one with an isolation coat and one without to see which you prefer.

  141. Hi Will, I have been trying to find the answer to my questions about fixatives on line and this thread looked like it was headed in the right direction. I do mixed media pieces with various papers, text, acrylic, watercolor and Prismacolor. I have used different “glues” in the past including Matt and gel mediums, varnish, Mod Podge and acid free collage “glue”. I also put a layer of varnish or two on top of my pieces when I am done. My question is, if I use paper that is NOT acid free but sealing it with medium and /or varnish and fixitve, will that keep the paper from yellowing?

    Thank you! Kaytha

    1. Hi Kaytha, the main reason that paper yellows is due to the lignin within the paper fibres oxidizing. So adding a varnish layer to ‘seal’ in the exposure to air in theory would help to slow the yellowing process, but I haven’t personally done any specific tests on the subject. Newspaper, for example, contains a lot of lignin and goes yellow fastest. Higher-grade paper is chemically treated to remove most of the lignin and also bleached, but a little lignin usually remains.

      Hope this helps,

  142. Hello! I’ve just discovered your site, and I have a question. I’ve done a design in acrylic on a wooden table top. It’s a 50’s era (small) end table, and it was sanded, but some wood grain remained. Also, some of the colors I used didn’t cover the tack coat well, so I had to apply several coats, resulting in some ridging. Does all the above apply to this project? I wasn’t aware of the isolation coat, and was just going to brush on a couple of coats of high-gloss varnish, so that the table can be used normally. Thank you for sharing your knowledge; I’m a complete rookie (but I learn quickly).

    1. Hi Judy, the isolation coat is mainly for if you want to remove and replace a varnish from a picture surface in the future without disturbing the paint film. For a wooden table top you can apply the varnish straight ontop, also, a polyurethane varnish is more hardy for a high use item like a table top.

      1. Thanks a million!! Just the information I needed!

  143. Hi,
    I am a high school teacher and some of my students and I have been working on a traveling mural exhibit. We are trying to get the message out in the community that people should be kinder to each other. At the moment, we are in the process of painting our murals. We are using three 4′ X 8′ Lexan panels for each of our three murals. We primed with Sherwin Williams Extreme Bond Primer (2 coats) followed with a single coat of Home Depot’s Zinsser. We are using Behr latex exterior paints for our colors. These murals are meant to travel and be displayed in various locations throughout our community. They will be outside because of their size and because we want maximum visibility for the public. I have been researching clear top coats and I seem to be running across Golden Acrylic Varnishes. If you have a moment, I would very much like to ask a few questions? First, each of these three murals measure 8′ X 12′ so they are huge, which is a factor when applying the protective coats. What is the best way to achieve the best results for the protective clear coat? Cost is a factor. Next, these paintings are hand done so the finish is not perfectly smooth. Will this make a difference? Next, I am terrified of the possible yellowing effects of some clear top coats. These paintings need to last as close to forever as is possible. Which products do you recommend for our project? Finally, any advice you can offer will be greatly appreciated, as I am a novice in these endeavors. One of my primary concerns is to protect the work of my amazing students.
    Sincere Thanks,

    1. Hi Darlene, here is an article by Golden paint where they include their recommendations for mural paintings using Golden products. You can contact Golden paints technical support directly for more details, but most modern acrylic based varnishes have very little yellowing in comparison the more traditional varnishes, good luck with your project!

  144. Hi Will,

    Would it be okay to use the same brush for applying the isolation coat AND varnishing, as long as those are the only 2 applications you use the brush for?

    If not, should the brush used for applying the isolation coat also be like your varnish brush and only used for applying isolation coats, or can it be any old brush?


    1. Hi Andrew, I tend to use different brushes as I often use a mineral spirit based varnish and a water based isolation coat. If you’re using a polymer based varnish you could use the same brush, just make sure it’s well washed out after applying the varnish. For the isolation coat having a smooth brush is preferable so you don’t get lots of texture added by the bristles.


  145. Hi Will.
    Thanks for the wonderful article. I am a beginner painter, so forgive my ignorance. But do I apply the varnish straight out of the tube or do I mix it with water or anything like that? If so what is the ratio of mixing .
    I bought a product named ‘Camel Picture Varnish’ (Camel being the company’s name) and on the bottle it says not to use thickened varnish. What does that mean? Does it mean I should apply it thinly or does it mean I should dilute the varnish?
    I’m quite at a loss, a reply would be much appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Shine, it depends on brand but many varnishes need diluting first, it will usually say on the bottle or website of the the brand you’re using. If it’s a mineral spirit based varnish it will need diluting with a solvent (usually distilled turpentine) The one I use is diluted 3:1 (3 parts varnish to 1 part solvent)
      Hope this helps,

  146. Hello Will Kemp,

    Thanks so much for your articles, really helpful. For the first time I get why and how I should varnish.

    One thing remains unclear: cleaning an acrylic painting that has a non-removable waterbased varnish on top. I just purchased Maimeri non-removable waterbased picture varnish (matt and gloss). I work from home, so I don’t want solvents. And I don’t mind that it’s non-removable, as I sell work. But I want to be able to tell a buyer that they can clean their acryclic painting. Not cleaning by removing the varnish, but cleaning as you would clean a dirty mirror. The seller doesn’t know, Maimeri informs me that it can be done, but with great care as the varnish is very delicate. ‘Delicate’ how? Will the varnish come off?

    What would you advise me: get rid of the Maimeri and buy Golden waterbased varnish that can be removed with ammonia? Can that varnish be cleaned with water?
    Or can I stick with the Maimeri varnish, and clean a painting with that varnish with water and detergent?

    I hope you can help, thanks in advance!
    Best regards,
    Cynthia van der Hoogte
    the Netherlands

    1. Hi Cynthia, I don’t think the varnish would come off with a light wipe over with a damp lint-free cloth as the water-based varnish from Maimeri is based on an Acrylic resin, however, they would be able to advise most accurately on the durability of the acrylic resin they use. The Golden polymer varnish can be cleaned with water. The matte and satin varnish won’t be as durable as the Gloss varnish. Golden have a pencil test to measure hardness

      Hardness/Mar Resistance: Relative to acrylic paint, varnish yields a slightly harder, lower tack surface, which is less susceptible to embedding dirt. ASTM D 3363, Film Hardness By Pencil Test, Scratch Hardness is “HB”.

      Hope this helps,

  147. I finished a paining with acrylics and it turned out beautiful, I was very pleased. I wanted to varnish it and used liquitex gloss medium & varnish. I just did one coat and after it dried it looked foggy and the colors not as fresh, I was dissappointed , what can I do now??

    1. Hi Elsa, gloss varnish should enhance and bring saturation back to the colours, it’s usually a satin or matte varnish that will add a fog due to the white is the matting agent. Try another sample on a small test piece to see if it still dries foggy. Also, the varnish will appear translucent when wet but transparent when fully dry.

  148. Hi,
    I loved your article. I came across it while researching on how to protect my acrylic on canvas. There is a slight twist to it, my acrylic painted is gilded with gold foil using PVA glue. I’m not planning on using an isolation coat. It’s a gift and I’m running short on time. Do you think a varnish spray will make any of these materials dissolve & run or lose their hold onto the canvas? Also a few details have been added using silver oil based metallic ink…. I’d be so so very grateful to have your opinion on the same. Thanking in anticipation.

    1. Hi Karishma, the spray varnish would only dislodge the gold foil if you sprayed too close to the surface, however, the varnish will change the sheen of the gold leaf and the metallic ink won’t appear as metallic. Try a test piece first with the spray varnish to see if you’re happy with the finished aesthetic before committing to your final piece.


  149. Hi Will Kemp,

    I`ve finished a mixed media painting, oil and acrylic. I would like to know which kind of surface protection (varnish) I can use. #Thank yu for your help.


    1. Hi Maria, most varnishes will say on them if they are suitable for oil and acrylic, the Gamblin Gamvar range of varnishes are good and can be painted on when the oil is touch dry.

      1. Hi Will,
        I like the Gamblin Gamvar range as a varnish. You replied that you can paint on them when the oil is touch dry. Does that also apply to acrylics? I find some of the newer paint like Golden’s OPEN and newer mediums like ‘blending medium’ when used with my colors bleed through a conventional isolation layer and the greys mix with the colors. I would like to isolate & preserve my monochrome underpainting (grissaille) so I can paint the colors over the top without having the 2 layers interact. Any advice how best to do that?

        1. Hi Jacqueline, is this issue just with the Golden OPEN paints? as it can sometimes take a couple of weeks for the paint to be fully ‘locked’ so any other layers ontop wouldn’t affect them.

          This is from the Golden website:

          In order to assure all volatile materials have completely evaporated, work using OPEN Gel and Medium should dry for a minimum of 30 days prior to application of a varnish, and a minimum of 2 weeks before application of an isolation coat. Paintings using thicker films, or a large number of layers applied in a relatively short period, may require a longer drying time.

          Hope this helps,


  150. Hi Will,
    I just finished a painting in acrylics on mdf board. I’d like to varnish it to make the colors a bit more vibrant. I wonder however, if it will be a problem to scan or photograph the artwork later.


    1. Hi Carlos, scanning and photographing when the surface is matte before varnishing will be easier as you won’t have as much glare from the lights.

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