The Different Types Of Artist Varnishes

What are varnishes and what are they used for?

A varnish is a transparent and protective film, which purpose is to protect the painting. You can think of the varnish as the final appearance or layer of your painting. Essentially it is the most effective way to keep your painting well maintained. When varnish is added to a dry painting, it can help to prevent colour alteration allowing your painting to continue to look beautiful, even as time passes. 

As varnishes are used to preserve a painting, they do the vital job of protecting it from getting ruined by external forces such as moisture, light or dirt. Rather than dirt or dust sticking to the painting, it will stick to the dried varnish which will be easier to wipe off. There are a variety of varnishes available with different benefits, depending on the finish you want and if you paint with either oil or acrylic. 

Depending on the varnish used the painting will be left looking glossy, matt or have a satin finish. In this informative blog, we discuss the different types of varnishes and their different uses so that you can varnish with confidence!

 Types of Varnishes:

  1. Acrylic varnishes 

Acrylic varnishes provide a glossy, saturated finish suitable for acrylic paintings to enforce a shiny finish as well as helping to enhance brighter colours. This varnish dries to act as a protective, flexible, dust-resistant surface over acrylic paint, whilst also protecting against UV damage. Depending on the product, acrylic varnish is usually non-removable. We recommend the New Masters UV Resistant Varnish (Satin) for acrylic paintings, as this varnish increases the chemical and physical resistance of your acrylic paints, and can help to protect them from ultraviolet light, increasing the durability of the painting. 

  1. Gloss Finish Varnishes

Gloss finish varnishes are often chosen because they are best at protecting and maintaining the brightest and deepest colours.  For a glossy finish, try Roberson Picture Varnish Gloss. This varnish is made of nearly colourless liquid and dries to a clear non-yellowing, non-blooming high gloss film.

  1. Matt Finish Varnishes

Matt finish varnishes are a similar product to a gloss finish varnish, however, it leaves a non-blooming, non-yellowing matt finish and offers tough protection. We recommend Schmincke’s Matt Film Varnish, which is a spray varnish that offers an age-resistant, quick-drying, non-yellowing, colourless, resin-based varnish. This gives the artwork elastic protection, whilst being UV-resistant and is suitable for all artist colours, prints and photos. Something to bear in mind when using a matt varnish is that it can potentially dull the painting colours. 

  1. Exhibition (Temporary Varnish)

An exhibition varnish is used as a temporary varnish to protect touch-dry paintings if you need to display them before they are fully dry. Rather than waiting 6 months to a year to use another varnish. Exhibition varnish can provide the same thin, protective layer to a painting, after 8-12 months then you can apply your permanent varnish. Try Roberson Exhibition varnish for a 6-month temporary picture varnish. 

  1. Safer Varnishes (for those in studios/shared spaces)

A lot of varnishes are made using a mixture of resins and volatile solvent which if inhaled or used often can cause long-term problems with breathing, swallowing and digestion. We recommend Roberson studio safe varnishes, available in either a permanent finish or a retouching finish. These varnishes are studio friendly meaning the product is non-aromatic and non-flammable with a pleasant orange smell instead.  The solution is made with Damar crystals and studio-safe solvent also enabling a clear gloss finish. The retouching studio-safe varnish is ideal for dull or sunken areas of a painting that need lifting.

  1. Picture Varnish

There are 3 types of finishes Picture Varnish can provide; matt, gloss or satin.  All three are a pliable glossy varnish which does not yellow, in order to protect the painting. The best results come from using the varnish a year after the paint has dried. This is a thicker consistency than other varnishes due to beeswax and often can become a slightly milky texture. It is important to note, if you are painting with oil, you should allow six months for an oil painting to dry and cure before applying a final picture varnish. You can shop our range of picture Varnishes here.

  1. Spray Varnish

Spray varnishes are sold in different sizes and are most suitable for use on artists' colours, prints and photos. Spray varnish works effectively on fragile surfaces that may be disturbed by a brush. However, the artwork must be completely dry in order to use spray. Varnish spray is age-resistant, quick-drying, non-yellowing, colourless, resin-based varnish, which gives the artwork elastic protection, whilst also being UV-resistant. Shop our range of Schmincke Spray Varnishes here, available in  Glossy, Picture and Matte formats to suit your needs. 

Tips for Applying Artist Varnish

Before applying permanent varnishes you need to ensure your artwork is completely dry to avoid any smudging. Whilst applying your varnish, whether it’s spray or by brush, ensure you even out the varnish, avoiding any lumps, bubbles or uneven sections over the artwork unless you intend to enhance a specific part. Make sure you mix the varnish well and work horizontally for maximum control and precision. Before adding a second layer, if using gloss varnish, wait at least 24 hours until the first layer is fully dry. 

Is varnishing right for me? 

Typically, varnish is highly recommended for keeping your piece of artwork the best quality, it can be for decades or even centuries. It will also determine the final sheen of a painting, elevating pigments and tones. 

However, it is important to note that in some cases, varnishes aren’t always used by artists due to the intensified coloured pigments that light reflects from changing the surface appearance of the painting. This is ultimately each artist's personal preference and all elements such as the painting medium, style and finish required should be considered before varnishing.

If you would still like help to determine the best varnish for your painting, pop into our London store or give our friendly team a call!

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